Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late[cl-r] is the newest iteration in the franchise, and a respectable if nuanced improvement over the last title in the series. Slick presentation values combine with a frantic paced fighter that is surprisingly accessible to newcomers, even if it does not necessarily bring much innovation to the table.
The last release in the series [st] came out a couple of years ago, and really helped this somewhat lesser-known fighter with its involvement with EVO. At a glance, the Under Night series has a fair amount in common with the more popular BlazBlue series. Both of these games are published by Arc System Works, who admittedly know their stuff when it comes to the fighting genre. The anime-styled visuals with smooth framerates and hard driving music only add to the similarities between these two franchises, capped off with a slant towards fast and aggressive combat.
Despite these similarities, there are still several things that are distinctive about Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late[cl-r]. For starters, we have the story – which is admittedly seldom one of the most important aspects of a fighter, but kudos to the development team for giving it some focus here. The gist is an event called a ‘hollow night’ and the character is confronted by something called a void. If the person is bitten / contaminated by the void, they emerge as an in-birth – a supernaturally powered individual who comprise the characters in this game and have their own motivations going forward.
While story is seldom an area of focus in fighting games, one of the modes in Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late[cl-r] is the Chronicle mode, which is basically a series of Visual Novel styled scenes that play out and give further insight into the characters and provides more world building around them. This mode is completely non-interactive except for choosing which story to view in which order (and viewing certain stories unlocks others, so there is a bit of guidance there, but it is somewhat open still as well). All in all, it has a bit of zaniness to it with pleasant anime visuals that makes for a nice diversion within the game’s overall packaging.
In terms of modes, there is a fair number of them here. Nothing that is all that new or surprising to behold, but pretty much all of the standard variations from training to time attack to survival can be found here, though the core of the action is in the arcade mode where you choose a character who progresses through several levels with some cut scenes in between to flavor things up. You earn currency that allows you to unlock appearance variations for your characters, or buy plates for your name to customize your online appearance, things of that nature. While none of these are reinventing the wheel, there is a decent amount of content here and a good variety of things to do.
As to the core combat, Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late[cl-r] is a title that generally favors speed and aggression. There are two different systems at play as you combat your opponent. There is a gauge at the bottom of the screen that fills up over time and can help to power special attacks or slip you into a different state that enhances your abilities. There is also the GRD meter that builds as you block and attack, helping you to build up your special meter and pull off unique attacks for each character. It has a nice element of risk versus reward because of the way it rewards success but punishes failure. Turtling however, is seldom a sustainable option.
I have to say that Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late[cl-r] is one of the more accessible fighters out there. Button mashers can easily progress through the easier difficulties of single player content, simply using the steering system (think of it as an easy combo-linking system). Some characters do this better than others. Hyde is the default choice on the character selection screen for a reason. He has a nice mix of range and speed and easily linkable combo attacks that can be used to plow through much of the game. That might sound like an overpowered character, but there is plenty of nuance to be had here once you start digging into the characters. Like any good fighting game, no single attack or combination can be fully exploited to win any match. All of the characters have a very different look and feel to them, and there are ways to deal with anyone’s tactics with the right approach. However, it does require a bit of investment to learn the nuances of your chosen character(s) so you can make the most out of their abilities.
Now, this game is really something of an update to the prior release, as I mentioned before. If you already owned the prior game, you have options through free and paid DLC to get that version up to snuff without breaking the bank for a whole new game, but I am certain the question is – should you? The new ice-based Londrekia Light character is a welcome addition to the cast and feels unique enough that I enjoyed learning my way around this new combatant. There were some updated songs and environments as well. Where the mileage may vary is in the type of Under Night player you are. If you are someone who plays the game online heavily and really delves into learning what a character can do, memorizing ideal combinations and strikes, then the updated animations will probably be more noticeable to you than someone who played the title for a couple of weeks and has had it mostly in mothballs over the last year.