Shoryuken review: Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late[st] is a deep (and satisfying) mine of fighting game techniques

By on February 9, 2018 at 1:00 pm
Under Night In-Birth Exe Late(st) promo UNIST

Under Night In-Birth Exe: Late[st] is a mouthful. Commonly abridged as UNIST, this fairly niche anime fighter from French Bread — published by Arc System Works (Aksys Games in the West) — occupies a strange space in the fighting game realm. Though it has an intensely anime aesthetic, it’s not an air-dasher, and it places more emphasis on a sort of rock-paper-scissor fundamentals. At the outset, it shines with excellent sound, graphics, and feel of combat, and it hosts a fairly large cast of 20 characters now. While it’s overall easy to pick up — it has auto combos, and can be fun to play without delving in too deep — there’s enormous depth below the surface awaiting patient and dedicated gamers.

 

Late[st] lags about two years behind its arcade release, bringing additional characters and balance changes. We see modifications to series’ mainstays like Gordeau, a menacing scythe wielder; Waldstein, a grappler who fills the screen; Vatista, a zoner that attacks with beams, and others. Everyone can find a fit in the diverse cast. The flow of battle is still governed by a Grid at the center of the screen, which fills with blocks for both players. Whoever has more at certain times enters an empowered Vorpal state and accesses Chain Shift, a sort of “YRC” or “Rapid Cancel” in loose translation that cancels most actions, pauses the game to get a quick look, and gives meter back to the user. It’s crucial to pay attention to this tug of war, as well as to remember that the resource meter conserves between the rounds. Being unable to attack after recovering in the air also distinguishes this title from related ones, keeping the action more grounded. New to UNIST is a Cross Veil Off mechanic, which reminds me a bit of Gold Bursting in BlazBlue: Continuum Shift. A fighter can extend their combo by releasing the rest of their energy to unleash multiple super attacks in a row.

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While fans of the series will pick apart the nuanced balance changes between UNIST and its predecessor, UNIEL, the biggest difference between the two is the single-player content. The [Late]st edition packs a sprawling Tutorial mode, Mission mode (combo challenges), and an expansive story mode titled Chronicle. The Tutorial is a welcome addition, since it thoroughly explains the nuances of French Bread’s fighter.

Other than tune-ups for each member of the cast, four additions make their way to the roster. Mika is a small girl with big fists, while whip-wielder Phonon can dominate from long range. Most notably, Late[st] adds console originals Wagner and Enkidu. Both of them stand out in their own ways, but gel with the rest of the cast. Enkidu seems very beginner-friendly, as the martial artist has lots of rekkas — his special moves have easy follow-ups, and even his normal B and C attacks can be repeated up to three times in a row. Wagner resembles SoulCalibur’s Sophitia a bit with her short sword and shield, and her specials ignite the stage with quick, drill-like dashes. She can further enchant her sword or shield to strengthen moves. I found both fighters to be exciting choices that are flashy and fun to play, even if Enkidu is generally regarded as a weaker character.

Unfortunately, the netcode isn’t on par with BlazBlue: Central Fiction’s, so it will be a little tough (but doable) to be a netplay warrior. I’ve compared my connection with a friend with whom I played stable BBCF games; the UNIST lag with the same person amounted to about 4-6 frames, just a bit beyond a good threshold. However, I still had quite enjoyable games with someone in my city and a someone in an unknown location (a 3-bar). Network Mode also feels a bit barer than Guilty Gear Xrd REV 2 or Dragon Ball FighterZ as it lacks the avatar lobby and unlockable goodies, it’s only plain menus. To be honest, though, it doesn’t detract from the experience very much. [Note these impressions are based on network conditions prior to the wide retail release in the West. – Editor]

Phonon_Screen_01

Chances are though, if you’re looking for some content, you’ll spend some time in the new to Late[st] story mode. The Chronicle Mode is definitely worth rifling through if you’re a visual novel fan. The well-written chapters — which focus on specific characters — humorously clash between supernatural Night creatures with reminders of daily, modern life. Yuzuriha points out the inconvenience of laws prohibiting carrying around Japanese swords around civilian areas; shortly after she gets a smartphone for the first time with an app called “LINNE” for communication. We witness Byakuya’s traumatizing transformation from blissful, prosaic life and discover how his powers came to be. It’s a bit verbose, but overall, the language paints the action and the emotion through scenes that show how many of the characters in the series came to be who they are.

While it’s meaty, it can be picked apart in digestible, shorter chapters, which focus on telling the origin of the cast and how the Night creatures came to be, and how people discover their EXS powers (incidentally, the name of the main power resource). As a side note: there’s undeniably a large amount of text in the game, but sadly, the translation has quite a lot of misspellings and mistakes which can distract from enjoying the tale.

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And speaking of EXS, you’re not alone when it comes to wading through the breadth of fighting game terminology. As some may have already heard, the Tutorial Mode is incredibly robust this time, covering not only tech specific to this game, but it also does an excellent job teaching methods applicable to most air-dashers (if not simply most fighting games in general). You’ll learn how to do an empty jump into mix-up, a reversal backdash, how to Dragon Punch out of pressure, and even learn some UNIST-specific option selects that the game is famous for. While some crafty players can use record functions to program an enemy dummy to practice situations in most fighting games, UNIST comes ready with an exercise for nearly every technique it presents. Even if the explanations are a little terse, this is practically a complete, interactive Wiki right in front of you. It may be tough to get newcomers to muster up the will to sit through so many segments, but it’s easier than ever before to get on par with such an in-depth fighting game.

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There are some things holding back the English release of Under Night, however. January has been packed with some big fighting game releases, so it’s tough to see this rather niche title gaining much traction among them (or sustaining the attention of those who play multiple fighting games). Furthermore, many fans of this series probably already grabbed the Japanese-language version. It’s a shame, because I feel it’s really worth getting the localized UNIST for its robust Tutorial and lengthy Chronicle Mode. In a time when single-player content sometimes doesn’t make the cut, UNIST raises the bar for all fighting games when it comes to teaching its players how to master it.

It’s never been easier to get into this title, but it won’t succeed without a reasonably-sized community. UNIST features a memorable cast and intensely strategic elements that forge a unique title — even if at the outset it looks similar to other anime games. Although the market is getting crowded, we still enthusiastically recommend this title to the fighting game community at large. You may be surprised just how much you’ll like it; the game does require dedication, but it rewards you a lot for it.


Under Night In-Birth Exe: Late[st] is available now on Amazon and PlayStation Network for $49.99 on PlayStation 4, 3, and VitaReview copy and screenshots provided by Aksys Games.

Luke "Woocash" Siuty is a Chicago-based writer who specializes in ArcSys titles. A Guilty Gear veteran, he plays Baiken and commits atrocities by playing Sin when he's not busy pondering the ArcSys Cycle. He's always down to talk on Twitter, so send him tips. He's good at OS-ing in real life, not so much in video games, though.