Over the past couple years, the fighting game scene has grown quite considerably with numerous triple-A and indie titles hitting the market. So when a new fighting game hits the market it needs to hit the floor running to be noticed. Developer French Bread (with console porting help from veteran fighting game developer Arc System Works) has come out with a game that wants to compete with that higher echelon of fighting games. And in most respects, they ended up succeeding.
For those who have played recent fighting games such as Persona 4 Arena, BlazBlue or Guilty Gear, you'll notice that the narrative in UNIEL is a bit lacking. The general gist is that the main protagonist Hyde is drawn to a power called Existence (EXS) and a phenomena called "Hollow Night" which lets him see shadowy creatures known as "Voids", usually invisible to the human eye. After running into them you'll either be consumed by them or become a being known as an "In-Birth" that can wield the power of Existence.
Similar to Arcana Heart 3, the narrative is told through text-based scenes with a background and the characters talking on the screen. While it's simplistic in its implementation, what's there is enough to keep the player interested seeing it through to completion. It would have been nice to have seen something similar to last year's story-heavy fighting games, but for an indie effort it's serviceable.
And what's really important anyway in a fighting game is the gameplay, of which UNIEL brings some noteworthy approaches and advancements. Their entry plays somewhere in-between air-dashing games like Arcana Heart 3 and more grounded and methodical titles like Street Fighter IV, although in practice it's a little bit closer to Street Fighter IV as you'll generally stay on the ground.
Proper spacing takes precedence in UNIEL. Some fighting games have characters that are short or long-range exclusive, but in UNIEL each character has some form of a long-range attack. This creates an interesting dynamic as it lets the player be aggressive with up-close attacks but still play a game of keep-away to bait the opponent into putting themselves into a vulnerable position.
This dynamic ties into UNIEL's "GRD" system. In the bottom-center of the screen there's a meter that activates every 17 seconds. Every time that cycle completes, one of the players is awarded "Vorpal" status, which increases their damage output and the ability to perform a "Chain Shift", which lets them perform special combos exclusive to this state and even obtain the ability to temporarily pause the fight.
While GRD can be charged manually (with the added bonus of depleting your opponent's), this isn't the optimal way to do it as you'll make yourself a sitting target doing so. The right way is to gain GRD by landing attacks, blocking you opponent's attacks successfully and moving forward towards your opponent. On the other hand, moving away from your opponent, backdashing and your opponent blocking your attacks all decrease your GRD.
Because of the two dynamics, UNIEL's GRD system fixes the classic fighting game flaw of a player "turtling" their way to a win, as it rewards high-level play and punishes those who try to break the system. That said, the GRD system isn't an instant win-like game breaking system as it's more of a temporary advantage. I'd love to see other fighting games utilize a variant of this system as it's a fresh change of pace for the genre.
As far as the other games modes go, there's most of the ones you'd expect here. Arcade, Training, Versus, Time Attack, Survival and Score Attack are all represented here alongside a Gallery mode in which you can use money earned from these modes to unlock various content. The online functionality was pretty solid, which is expected from an Arc System Works title. Both fights from North America and Japan went off without a hitch, any major lag or disconnects, although due to the game's more indie nature there's worry if in a year or two from now there will be enough players around compared to the more popular games.
The artwork and musical score aren't standouts, but the music fits the darker mood and theme of the game and the artwork has a nice balance between being easy to follow on the screen during the game's more chaotic moments but still being stylized enough to feel unique.
Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late is a breath of fresh air for a genre which has been deluged with titles both middling and in the upper echelons, either due to their gameplay or their heritage. It's open enough for newcomers to get caught up to speed and not fall into bad practices due to the GRD system, but also rewards advanced players for playing correctly like they already do. The game's title might be a bit of a mouthful, but the game is distilled to close to perfection for a game from a more indie developer.
|The GRD system teaches newcomers to play correctly and rewards veterans.|
|Story isn't a standout, but it's serviceable enough from a indie developer.|
|Character and setting graphics mix well with the game's more darker feeling theme.|
|If you want a story more on par with BlazBlue or Persona 4 Arena, you won't find it here.|
|The single-player options are your standards for the genre, so there's nothing new here you haven't seen before.|
|Due to the smaller amount of content, if the online dries up in a couple years it'll become an issue for the game.|