Let us instead go backwards to the time when this was a good idea.
With February rolling by, the latest update to French Bread’s anime fighter UNDER NIGHT IN-BIRTH has arrived, bringing the very elegant full title to UNDER NIGHT IN-BIRTH Exe:Late[cl-r]―woof. On top of a new name, the update has brought new stages, music, balance changes, and the brand-new character Londrekia (again with the names!). The update also brings UNDER NIGHT IN-BIRTH to the Nintendo Switch, a debut for the series which has perennially appeared on Sony platforms. In terms of content, UNICLR is a pretty standard update to an already existing fighting game, however, with three major updates made to the original UNDER NIGHT IN-BIRTH, this could be the best representation of the series yet.
Gameplay in UNICLR remains standard from past UNI games and consists of four buttons to control your character, referred to as ABCD: light attack, medium attack, heavy attack, and ~*special button*~. The game’s simplicity carries through from this button scheme to the actual fighting. Combos are performed simply by canceling a button from a lower strength attack into an equal or higher strength attack; this means that if you land a random A attack against an opponent and don’t have a combo prepared, a simple A>B>C will do and your opponent will think twice about getting hit by stray jabs. This is where the UNI series gets really elegant, a complete beginner won’t have to worry about any timing on their attacks and can pull off whatever combo they can happen to press, while an advanced player can really use all the freedom of this sort of combo structure to perform stuff you wouldn’t otherwise expect from a stray hit. I have always found UNI games to be great to introduce to new players for this reason; combined with a unique aesthetic, anyone playing the game for the first time can really feel the fluidity of gameplay, and when a game feels immediately good to a new player, there’s a strong chance they’ll stick with the game.
For players familiar with fighting games or wanting to learn how to play the UNI series beyond just the basics, don’t worry, notice when I described the gameplay earlier I mentioned it being “elegant”. The game is definitely NOT shallow and as soon as you look deeper into UNICLR this becomes more apparent. The beauty of the game is that you only really need to learn what you want to, so a beginner’s basic skills in this game will directly evolve into more advanced skills later because things like combos or spacing will never be fundamentally different unless you choose a character or playstyle that avoids certain elements of the game. While an autocombo is present (which isn’t really a bad thing), UNICLR differs from games like Blazblue: Cross Tag Battle where the main focus of combos falls on the autocombos available to a character; instead, it’s a quick substitute for A>B>C that has more advanced applications found by experienced players, so it has situational uses but doesn’t rule over your other combos. Everything in UNICLR can be taken advantage of by the player to the extent they want, so plenty of depth is present once you begin to critically look at mechanics like assault and the vorpal cycle, which are critical for high-level play.
In addition to learning the system for yourself, the tutorial in UNICLR is incredible and serves as both a useful mechanism to teach you the game as well as a meaningful chunk of content in the game itself. Beyond simply teaching you how all the mechanics of the game work (so you can forget them and start mashing buttons once you get into a game), UNICLR also teaches you theory on how to use them consistently from beginner to expert to make sure that players not only can do the inputs but understand when and where to use certain moves. If you’re a beginner, this is probably the best way to learn how to play any fighting game, as the tutorial will teach you about relative safety, how to use your attacks, and how to think effectively in-game. With over 100 missions teaching everything from basic movement to the various option selects present in UNICLR, I truly think this is the best tutorial to learn how fighting games generally work and how to play them. The tutorial also has extremely helpful tips for veteran fighting game players as well, and even though I know how to play the game, I will still find myself going through late missions in the tutorial to make sure I understand how to respond to a situation correctly. Character specific tutorials are also present and are as helpful as you would expect by providing tons of combos and strategy tips to explain how a character typically plays or when to use certain moves. At every step of the way playing UNICLR, the tutorial will be there to help.
Moving on from hard gameplay, let’s talk about the aesthetics of UNICLR: they’re great. UNDER NIGHT IN-BIRTH is an anime fighting game series, so if you’re averse to the sound of Japanese sung anime openings, look elsewhere (your loss!). Beyond the simple statement of UNICLR being an anime game, the game oozes a feeling of eeriness and coolness, making the more lively characters a welcome stirring of the pot when you get sick of seeing boys with dark jeans and trench coats on screen. The music in each UNI game has always been great, and this installment is no exception, with lots of soft synths and the occasional shredding guitar solo, like music to ride a motorcycle at night to. Continuing to where you fight, most of the game’s stages are like the gameplay; beautiful but streamlined. Based on the lore of the game which I am admittedly not an expert on, most of the stages take place in different locales at night, whether it’s a playground or a mall, the stages are exactly what you expect, and they greatly reinforce the mysterious mood. The character’s songs combined with the menus and stages really pull the game together into a cool and calm package when most fighting games try to make things as exciting and frenetic as possible. Also, with UNICLR being an anime game, you get no shortage of cool overly dramatic moments. Leaving the song selection on auto will cause certain character matchups to play a special song due to rivalry or adversarial conflict in the story. Along with the huge amounts of gibberish English text on the screen and the dramatic, mysterious anime soundtrack, UNICLR makes no point to hide its Type-Moon, Melty Blood origins.
Despite the unique aesthetics of UNICLR, my one complaint with the game may be others’ favorite part: the roster. Functionally, the roster leaves nothing to be desired; it provides many unique playstyles through each character and there’s no shortage of fun to be had playstyle-wise. My issue, however, is that most characters simply lack the extra oomph I crave when I look for characters in other games. With the overall chill and dark mood I described before, most of the character designs are also quite simple, much like something in the Melty Blood series, another game the developers previously worked on. Many characters’ outfits consist of pretty ho-hum getups, and while there certainly are some characters that break the mold like Gordeau and Waldstein, the fantasy of what each character should be doing in-game based on how they look isn’t always clear based on their designs. Characters like Linne and Seth have always fallen flat to me for this reason; even if I think they do super cool things in-game, it doesn’t feel like I’m picking a super cool character on the character select screen. This has been remedied with each subsequent version after UNI (the first in the series) as more unique and over the top characters have been brought in, and I feel that for most people UNICLR should not have this issue with the addition of the very cool Londrekia rounding out the roster. Obviously, this is a pretty minor issue, I’ve still found a character I enjoy playing in Gordeau, yet I never truly feel like my itch for a character has been completely scratched looking at the UNICLR roster.
In total, UNICLR is truly a great game and time will tell if it becomes one of the more memorable fighting games of this era. While we haven’t quite gotten enough time to see how all the balance changes have shaken out in the long term just yet, if it’s anything like past UNI games, no casual player should have to worry about picking a “useless tier” character unless they are really looking to optimize their gameplay (and transitioning beyond a casual mindset). Community support for UNI has always been great, with people looking to play this game pretty much throughout the fighting game community. With the game scoring another consecutive appearance at EVO 2020 for the series, it’s safe to say this is likely the best general representation of UNDER NIGHT IN-BIRTH so far and perhaps the best of anime fighting games as a whole.