Doujin games are fantastic as a general rule. While indie devs over here tend to prefer cranking out cookie-cutter puzzle platformers, roguelikes and anything with pixel graphics. Japanese doujin circles tend to focus more on shooters and fighting games. Gotta say, I’d definitely rather play another anime-themed fighter than another pixel-art frustration platformer, but what can you do? In any case, fighting game champions Arc System Works have decided to surprise us all with a localized release of former doujin dev French Bread’s latest fighting hotness Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late. We’ll just call it UNIEL for the sake of everyone’s sanity.
UNIEL feels a lot like French Bread’s previous fighting game series Melty Blood. This means that it’s a little more deliberate than the average anime fighter. For example, footwork is important in any fighting game, but it’s really highlighted here. Like the typical anime fighter, though, UNIEL’s very combo-focused, so execution is a priority when it comes to practicing with and improving on your chosen character.
There’s a couple unique mechanics at play as well, the most significant being the Grind Grid at the bottom of the screen. This is basically a tug-of-war system that encourages and rewards aggressive play. Characters who dominate the Grind Grid enter the Vorpal state when an ever-ticking timer on the Grid depletes, gaining a slight damage boost, the Chain Shift special cancel technique and the mighty Veil Off ability that grants an even larger damage boost and infinite super meter for a limited time. Managing the Grind Grid is key to victory and it should be one of the first things a new UNIEL player works on.
Speaking of the characters, they’re a wide and varied sort, with 14 in all to choose from. You’ve got your laser-blasting satellite-summoning robot girl Vatista, your lizard-commanding beastmaster/demonologist Chaos and your Persona/Stand-summoning fencer Orie. Most of the usual fighting game tropes are here, so there’s grapplers, zoners, speedsters and a shoto or two. You’re not going to have any trouble finding someone you enjoy, in other words. There’s even a couple of guest characters from other fighting games, namely Sion (here called Eltnum) from Melty Blood and Akatsuki from Akatsuki Blitzkampf; these play largely like they did in their parent games, so you’ll have a head start if you’ve learned them previously.
I usually don’t pay too much heed to fighting game tier lists; it’s less because I doubt their validity and more because I don’t think I’ll ever play at the level at which they matter. In UNIEL, though, they do seem to have a little bit of veracity behind them, suggesting the balance might need some work. The monstrous Merkava, huge-armed grappler Waldstein and scythe-wielding Gordeaux dominate the top of the list, due largely to their impressive reach and priority. Meanwhile, close-range specialists without many mixup options like Seth and protagonist Hyde are, uh, kind of screwed and sit toward the bottom. If you’ll be playing with your friends, you should be ready to deal with “that guy” who chooses to main Merkava, in other words…
Purely as a fighting game, though, Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late works well enough to merit a recommendation. The graphics are as nice as one would expect from these developers, particularly with regards to the animation. The audio also lives up to these high standards. As for modes of play and such, you’ve got your story mode, your training, your versus mode and most importantly your lag-free network fighting. Naturally, the game is localized; this isn’t a huge issue for UNIEL, where the pertinent menu options were largely in English anyway so the game was always import-friendly. But it’s much less expensive to buy the game locally than to import it, so if you’re into fighters this one is really a no-brainer.