Publisher: JP Arc System Works, US Aksys Games, EU PQube
Platform(s): PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch
Release date: US & JP February 20, 2020, EU February 21, 2020
Links to Purchase
The Under Night In-Birth series has been running since 2012 and if you’ve never heard it then it’s because it isn’t exactly a mainstream fighting game on the level of a Street Fighter or Tekken or Mortal Kombat, however, if you are part of the FGC or Fighting Game Community then you are more than aware of how critical and hype this series is. It’s not your typical fighting game in the sense of having a bare bones story or arcade mode because if you’ve played either of Arc System Works’ previous fighting game juggernauts, Guilty Gear or Blaz Blue, then you will feel right at home here. Like those 2 titans, Under Night In-Birth is a visual novel and fighting game that has a very involved story that you’ll want to dive into as it covers the central focus of the series being the phenomenon known as the Hollow Knight that draws in all the various characters of the game that are either Voids or In-Births. The series has seen a total of 3 updates or revisions with the latest one being Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late[cl-r] which was announced at EVO 2019 which adds in substantial balance patches to each character as well as includes a new fighter. Is Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late[cl-r] a fighting game worth diving into if you are a fighting game fan or is the visual novel aspects of the game worth you getting wrapped up in the chaos of the Hollow Knight? Let’s find out!
The story of the Under Night In-Birth series takes place in a modern day setting with a fictional twist of occurring during a phenomenon known as the Hollow Knight which summons forth all sorts of demons such as Voids which are shadow-like creatures that require a power known as EXS or Existence. Humans normally cannot see Voids but there are exceptions to this known as the In-Births. During this event there are two factions with the same goal but varying methods of maintain order to areas impacted by the Hollow Knight being the Licht Kreis and the Nights Blade. The story centers around main characters Hyde Kido, Linne, Seth, Wagner, Orie, Yuzuriha, Hilda, and with [cl-r] Londrekia and their involvement during the Hollow Knight; especially Hyde as he is the lead character and the wielder of the legendary Insulator and his relationship with Linne the Immortal.
Lost yet? Well there’s so much going on and if you want to immerse yourself in what’s going on then make sure you go into Chronicles mode and then arcade mode after to get the full story of what all is going on as it’s nearly impossible to do a synopsis to cover everything that’s going on. Ready? Let’s move on and talk about the gameplay.
When it comes to the gameplay, UNICLR is an incredibly responsive fighter regardless of whether you play using an arcade stick or the standard controller of your console. I played this primarily with my HORI RAP V on Nintendo Switch as well as the Fighting Edge and the Switch Lite; while on PS4 I played with the standard PS4 controller and both my Razer Panthera EVO and Hori RAP N. Inputs were incredibly smooth as I’m a Hyde amd Akatsuki main with my backups being Linne and Londrekia. Since I grew up in the arcades of the 90’s, I’m used to using QCF/QCB/HCF and more or for the uninitiated; Fireball, Tornado Kick, and Dragon Punch motions. The beauty of UNICLR like all Arc System Works games is that they are incredibly easy to pick up and play yet to master them is a daunting task in and of itself. You get a weak, medium, and strong attack with a focus button which allows you to do a mid air forward hop which functions similar to GG and BBs’ air dash maneuver.
You can do your normal attacks and inputs with weak or medium attack but when you do them with the strong attack you end up doing your super combo like moves. The ability to easily chain together combos is a god send as you can chain together the weak attack into medium into strong attack back to medium back to weak into strong into a special attack and then chain that into your ultra combo like move to finish it off. There is honestly someone for everyone to be able to pick up and play with; If you typically play with a shoto character or Ryu/Ken style character then pick Hyde, Linne, or Akatsuki.
If you want more to do aside from arcade mode then you can go into training, trails, and best of all is the Chronicles mode which is the visual novel part of this game where you get the backstory of the game and get to see what the motivations are for the various characters and how they all got dragged into the Hollow Knight. This mode alone will net you dozens upon dozens of hours of to content to read so if you’re into that then hit up chronicles mode and if not just dive into arcade.
Graphically the game is GORGEOUS! The way the characters are drawn and brought to life with subtle animations is truly amazing. The way that Linne attacks with her dagger and sword and twirls them around is something that needs to be seen in motion as her animations with them are so detailed. Even the huge characters are animated very well and fluidly. The backgrounds are hit or miss as some are well animated with great details and some others are very bare bones with basic 3D items in backgrounds. On the Switch Lite the game looks absolutely STUNNING with great detail and no jaggies on anything. On my launch Nintendo Switch and PS4 Slim/Pro the game looks good although you can see some slight jaggies on characters although it’s not THAT noticeable.
The OST of this game is simply AMAZING even if it’s the same OST since the 2012 release but with each revision we get a new character and new music. Each track is good for getting you in the mood to want to fight and perfectly suit the characters. My favorite theme is Linne’s “Night Walker” as that piano prelude melody into the song is unlike anything else as it tells a story of mystery and melancholy and astute resolution and it simply sticks with you and when I think of Under Night In-Birth this is the first theme that sticks in my mind. Hyde’s theme is also amazing as it has that reluctant hero vibe that raises up to justice to it. The music in chronicles mode as well as in the cut scenes when characters are talking to one another is also very good and fits the atmosphere of the relationships between the characters such as when Hyde confronts Hilda you can feel the extra tension as the music sets the stage for their encounter.
The voice acting I can’t say if it’s good or not given that I don’t speak Japanese but I do like it and I feel that the voices of the characters fits with them as Hyde’s VO succeeds in sounding like a reluctant hero and Linne’s VO does well with the monotone emotionless tired warrior.
As far as the downsides I see are few and far between but chief amongst them is the fact that there is no English voice over which for some can be jarring if they played BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle they’ve heard Hyde and Linne and the rest in English but for some reason (and just as there is in BlazBlue Central Fiction and the Guilty Gear sequels to Xrd) there’s no English voice cast. For me it’s not a major issue but I also see that it does impact those who enjoy games and the media who prefer an English voice cast to connect especially when you go into the Chronicles mode visual novel and will be sitting for hours reading and listening to all the dialogue in Japanese.
The other Issue I see for many who aren’t hardcore fighting game fans is the presentation of the story as the mainstream crowd may be used to the Nether Realm studios style of presenting the story versus having to go to the Chronicles mode and then Arcade mode’s disconnected nature. UNICLR has a very deep story but many may shy away from it because of the amount of investment required to figure out whats going on much in the same way BlazBlue and Guilty Gear are, however, this also is why those 2 titans are the cult classics that they are.
I’ve noticed that the loading times from VS screen to matches in the Switch version are a bit longer than the PS4 version as after you see the VS screen in the PS4 version it goes straight to the match however in the Switch version there’s a moment of pause lasting sometimes up to 10 seconds before it leads the match and if you play on the Switch Light or undocked it’ll be slightly longer than that which is…..Odd. Maybe a patch will fix that issue. But at the time of this review at launch that is a very noticeable issue if you buy the switch version.
Final point of contention is the fact that this is effectively just another update to a game from 2012 and not a “new” entry to progress the story so many may find difficulty in wanting to invest money into it because of that. And this is where the divide between the casual and hardcore gamers comes in because to a Casual they may not see much to invest in but to the hardcore who understand how significant balance patches are with nerfs and buffs this is worth the money; there’s always been this divide when it comes to fighting games especially as they don’t so much cater to the mainstream gamer the way it used to in the 90’s and while Casual gamers may drop some cash to try out a title to see fi they will like it, the hardcore fans are the ones that keep these kinds of games going yet at the same time for the sake of growth new fans especially casuals are needed for the sake of sustainability and this is the fine line that many companies that make fighting games struggle with.
With substantial balance patches, a new character, extended story, and an already phenomenal cast of characters and gameplay; Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late[cl-r] is a MUST HAVE game if you are a fan of the franchise and or are a fighting game fan. If you don’t fall into either of those categories and are a story first kind of gamer or are into manga and visual novels then this is most definitely for you. If you don’t fall into any of those 3 camps then this may not be for you as any Arc Systems Works game is an investment that pays dividends to those who go all in. Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late[cl-r] gets the KASANOVA SEAL OF APPROVAL!