Never has the name for a game been so deceptive of how complicated it is since chess. Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late[cl-r] is, perhaps, the best and most accessible fighting game in a (new-ish) franchise for the past couple of decades. I know this may seem like an overstatement, but hey, this game is part of EVO this year, so I’m not the only one excited for UNICLR. What makes this great, though, is the fine, intoxicating mix of a game that is both easy to pick up for newcomers to the genre, and complex enough to satisfy hardcore gamers. This is the best fighting game I’ve played since The King of Fighters ’98. Period.
What makes this so special, though? Let’s take a look!
First off, the way it looks! And sounds. The presentation is absolutely stellar. The hand-drawn, anime/manga inspired look is amazing, very reminiscent of the Marvel Vs. Capcom franchise, but obviously quite more manga than comics. Even if you’re not really into those media, you cannot deny that the (hugely varied) character roster looks amazing. The locales, while they look great, are really mostly horizontal, single-level platforms, something for the players not to fall through to the endless, bottomless pit. I kinda wish that there were some environmental hazard elements here, a bit like in INJUSTICE. But it’s a different kind of game, so I can forgive it that. The sound is also great. Not only are a lot of character actions masterfully voiced (the Japanese VO amused my Japanese wife no-end), the music is THUMPIN’!
There is a story here, too, and this doesn’t feel tacked on at all. Actually, it’s almost like two games in one: a visual novel, and a fighting game. Of course, Arc System Works is no stranger to this, as they have franchises that do both (BlazBlue as a whole comes to mind), but for some reason UNICLR feels quite a lot more approachable. And I like the story, too! I won’t spoil anything, but the premise is deep, the characters have strong arcs and personalities… you know, this is quite a feat for a fighting game. Also, doing the VN part allows you to unlock tons of cool things later on in the game, so it feels more like a reward than a chore. It does help that the story is incredibly well written.
But the core of what makes a good fighting game is the fighting, so how does UNICLR fare? Well, it’s amazing. Trying to explain it in detail would take up 500 words, but suffice it to say there’s a gauge system and strategic ways of deploying that to your advantage at different stages of the fight. This builds a layer of strategy on top of the rapid combat mechanics, allowing for the game to go from good to great in the time it takes for you to unleash your fury upon your enemy.
There are many characters to choose from, with different play styles, to suit virtually any kind of player. I got on really well with characters like Merkava, Mika, Enkidu and Phonon, as I’ve always liked either close combat or ranged fighters. There are others that I simply couldn’t master, like Hilda, Vatista and basically every grappler in the game. It’s just not the way I play. But I got my a*s handed to me by my sister-in-law, while I was using my favorite character, and she was using a character that I didn’t understand at all. It just goes to show that the roster is able to accommodate at least one (but usually two, three or four) fighters for each style of player. It’s also a testament to the fact that the game is extremely approachable, even for newcomers, which brings joy to my heart.
The single-player content is surprisingly robust, too. Sure, fighting games are usually at their best when you play them with other people, but there’s 10 game modes here, so you can usually find some entertaining new way to hone your craft or get better with a new character, even if you, like me, have no friends.
I can totally see how this ended up in EVO. It has the best elements of franchises we love, with all the Japanese quirk one can handle. The roster is varied, the combat is approachable but with an added layer of strategy, the presentation is beautiful… It’s been a long, long time since this happened, but I have finally found what I consider to be a perfect game. There just isn’t a single bad thing I can say about Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late[cl-r]. And that, my friends, is all I can say about that.