Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Under Night In-Birth EXE:Late (PS3)



Out of Japan's arcades, and onto the PS3 home console French-Bread's spiritual successor to "Melty Blood' aims to capture both the casual, and hardcore gaming community with it's easy to pick up, but hard to master build. At the heart of it is a story about a once a month event known as the "Hollow Night" in which 'Voids (creatures who feast upon EXS/Existence)', and 'In-Births (Individuals who have become infected during an encounter with a Void)' battle throughout the night in order to sway the balance of order, and chaos. There are a handful of different rival factions, and lone individuals who end up getting caught in the fray. Each of them must fight their way through a kill, or be killed tournament the likes of which could change the outcome of life (or the lack thereof) as they know it. You'll find the order of the Night Blade, Licht Kreis, Third Reich, and a few others are amongst those who find themselves drawn to fight in the bloody battle. Each faction of course has their own views on the situation, and intend on going about things as they see fit. In total there are 16 hard hitting fighters who each sport their own weapons, and unique fighting styles. Whoever comes out on top at the end of the ten man/woman tournament will go home the victor only to await the next Hollow Night, and it's many unusual encounters.



In 'UNIEL (Under Night In-Birth EXE:Late)' you'll find a collection of modes sandwiched between indie-esque anime art, and a basic menu system that in no way reflects the goings on of other 2D fighters like that of the BlazBlue, or Guilty Gear fame. Having not played French-Bread's 'Melty Blood' game/s prior to this endeavor I can tell you in all honesty that the character design, both anime and not is decently done, but with a slight less professionalism than what most will be accustom to from 'Arc System Works', and 'Aksys Games'. Where the game really shines though is the pixel constructed character sprites that are impressively animated, and more gorgeous onscreen than their anime art counterparts. The fighting system alone is one to behold, and is actually unlike any fighter I have played to date. I say that with the utmost respect.

Before I jump too far ahead of myself let me go over the game's multiple modes of play. After getting past the nicely animated anime intro, and the following title screen you will happen upon a list of modes that you can engage in from the start. At the top of the list you'll find in place the standard fighting game 'Arcade Mode'. This 10 opponent bout will have your character  of choice (Hyde, Linne, Waldstein, Carmine, Orie, Gordeau, Merkava, Vatista, Seth, Yuzuriha, Hilda, Eltnum, Chaos, Akatsuki, Nanase, Byakuya) fighting nine standard characters, and a final boss in the form of the projectile spamming lady of the night known as, 'Hilda'. As you go about your business hammering the ever loving sh*t out of the opponents you encounter you'll be blessed with intermission quotes, and dialogue driven conversations with certain characters of interest. Thus fleshing out the story of UNIEL the best it can be explained.


Each character in the game, as one might expect, wields their own weapon of choice, and dons their own unique fighting style along with their own story. Some fighters are weaponless, and depend on melee combat in order to dispatch the enemies before them while others depend upon their 'EXS' capabilities, projectiles, and weapons. Whomever you choose to go with will require a proper management of a few different in-game meters/gauges. These meters/gauges which include an 'EXS', or 'Grd' will afford the player some special attacks, and boosts that are akin to what you'd find in the 'Street Fighter 4' game series. The 'EXS' meter/guage for example acts very much like a 'SUPER', or 'ULTRA' meter/gauge in SF4. It has two sections, and once filled up to a certain point through combat, and dealt damage you can unleash more powerful versions of your characters' special attacks. Should you allow the EXS meter/gauge to fill up to max capacity (200.00) you can unleash an all powerful attack that is akin to an ULTRA from SF4. This attack will encompass a good portion of the screen, and will include an anime style image alongside the character as they do their extra special attack. Another function of the EXS meter/gauge includes a 'Veil Off' feature in which the character will go into a red aura state after the player presses (SQUARE + X + CIRCLE +TRIANGLE). In this limited state which is governed by a quickly depleting EXS bar of a similar reddish color the players damage output will increase significantly allowing for a quicker victory.

When it comes to the 'Grd' meter/gauge you'll find that it's diamond style (Think 'CvS2') form fills up as you hold down the EXS designated button (X), or perform various actions in battle. It's function is sort of like that of a tug-of-war going on behind the scenes in which your actions build it up to it's peak. As both players continue fighting, retreating, and performing various actions the gridded meter/gauge will fill up affording the player who wins the tug-of-war 10% extra damage output. Once filled, and used the Grd meter/guage will reset allowing the next player a chance at the boost. Like the EXS meter/gauge, and it's helpful features the Grd can also sway the balance of the fight should you be willing to invest in it. Along with the before mentioned EXS button (X) you'll also find that the button doubles as a shield should you press back with (X). As far as the other face buttons go you'll find a 'Light (SQUARE)', 'Medium (TRIANGLE)', and 'Heavy (CIRCLE)' attack which usually only varies slightly in action delivery aside from the obvious damage output differences.


Past the 'Arcade Mode' listing you will find in place two versus modes in which you can take the fight locally with a friend, or fight against the CPU in a single fight. The versus modes are basically the same as that of the Arcade Mode encounters with the exception of the inclusion of story mode elements. In this set of modes, like the previous one you will be able to select your character, and their color before moving forward with the fight. It's a good set of modes for honing your skills for the tournament scene, or any other form of offline/online play that you should desire to take on.


Next up on the list is the 'Network Mode'. If you've played any Arc System Works, or Aksys Games fighters in the past you'll know that this mode is reserved solely for online play. Unlike the BlazBlue, or Guilty Gear games though UNIEL is a little more bare bones in delivery. Like the main menu the Network Mode menu consists of simple menus, and sub-menus, only these tie-in with ranked, and player matchmaking setups. You'll be able to do a quick search for an online duel, or set a custom search in which your matchmaking requirements (connection strength, game completion ...) can be tweaked to better find a match suiting of your needs. There's even a simple form of lobby room matchmaking in which you can create a room for others to join so long as they fit the requirement's listed demands. When creating such a room all the management is up to the creator/host. This includes such things as naming the lobby, and setting the rules as well as kicking a player. You'll even find that rooms have in place a spectating feature that kicks in automatically shortly after a player has entered the room as well as a simplified version of text chat with pre-selected comments, and emojis that can be chosen from via a pop-up menu.

In network mode you can even do the usual profile setups in which you choose an icon, a plate, and a title for yourself which will be displayed as you encounter other online gamers. The icons, plates, and titles like other purchasable items in the game cost the in-game currency 'IP', and offer up a decent selection for those looking for customization options. You'll even find that you can use 'IP' to purchase ten extra character colors for each character in the game. That sure as hell beats paying $2 a pop for color palette DLC! It should also be noted that the players' connection stats/ping are displayed before the acceptance of any match, and that it is rated n a scale from '0-4' with zero being the worst possible connection. I can tell you from experience that gaming against people from distant countries is not a viable option in this game as the netcode is likely the worst I've seen in such a fighter. Even in the more local playing areas my connection (which is usually a full 4 ping in online fighters) was a 2 at best. The Network Mode is definitely one that could use some improvements.


After the network mode listing, and all that it entails there are a couple of modes of play in the "Attack" tradition. These two modes include both "Score Attack", and "Time Attack". As one might imagine both modes are similar to arcade mode in that they require a full 10 combatant victory, but differ in that the story elements are replaced by objective elements. In 'Score Attack' your goal is to get the highest score possible using your character, and their fighting abilities. Combos definitely matter in this mode as they'll score you the most points possible. With that in mind you'll also want to keep the fight going as long as possible without ending it too quickly. As far as 'Time Attack' goes it is a time based playthrough of your encounters in arcade mode. It skips all the dialogue driven cutscenes, but keeps track of how long it takes you to defeat all ten opponents. Results from either playthrough can be uploaded to the leaderboards should you desire to do so.

The final legit mode of play comes in the form of one of my all time favorite fighting game modes. This is none other than 'Survival'. Survival mode, as it were is a ultimate test of skill, and character understanding. In it you will choose your character, and battle until your life bar is fully depleted. How far you make it, and how many wins you accumulate greatly depends on how well you understand the game's mechanics. It could theoretically go on for a lifetime, but realistically it will only last as long as your console does not overheat. Like 'Time Attack', and 'Score Attack' your winnings can be uploaded to the game's leaderboards when prompted to do so. It should also be noted that your life will refill slightly as you progress, but should your life bar get fully depleted it is 'Game Over!' for you.


For those of you looking to perfect your UNIEL skills there is in place one last mode that you might be interested in. This mode is of course 'Training'. In 'Training' you will be able to set things to your liking including how the opponent acts/reacts as well as how various in-game mechanics function. It's good for learning combos, special attacks, and fight setups you might have trouble getting past. Should you fancy to train in 'Training Mode' while waiting for a fight in 'Network Mode' that is an option as well. Like I said earlier on though this game is geared towards casuals, and hardcore fighting game players alike, so stressing over the perfection of your UNIEL skills is not exactly necessary unless you are trying to train for a tournament. I personally learned 90% of each of the fighter's move sets without even having to reference their command list (which is also included in the training mode options menu). If you've played any 'King of the Fighters', 'MvC (Marvel vs Capcom)', BlazBlue', or 'Guilty Gear' game you should not have any trouble picking up on this game even though the fighters sport some of the most unique move sets I've ever seen.

Lastly there are the game's extras. Like other Aksys Games, and Arc System Works fighters UNIEL has in place a multi-tiered 'Gallery' filled with purchasable, and unlockable art, videos, and special illustrations. This includes everything from opening intros to ending credits, and even chibi style art of the characters. Compared to BlazBlue's, and Guilty Gear's offerings though the gallery in UNIEL is quite the modest display. Upon unlocking/purchasing everything you will get a silver trophy which is not half bad. Other perks that come along with the game are the intact Japanese voice-overs which cannot be changed in the options. Thankfully for all those English speaking, and reading players out there there is an English subtitle in place though.

The Verdict ...

After this verdict delivery I may become known as the strictest Aksys Games, and Arc System Works fighter critic out there. Bare with me though ...

UNIEL from a veteran fighting game player's standpoint is good in some ways, and poorly delivered in others. Offline the game is not all that bad despite it's simple menu based construction, and screens filled with tiny UNIEL lore that you'll never fully grasp. The character design, and combat works fluidly together along with the four button mechanics that do not demand too much from the gamer. As I mentioned before I was able to pick up on the characters' move sets without ever bringing up the command list, and that in itself makes this fighter very attractive to me. Any gamer who knows the usual directional inputs of fighting games can figure it out with ease like I did, and that only leaves mastering the character specific combos, and strategies which is a good thing. All you need to do is know what each face button does, that and what the meters are for. As such offline is this games shining achievement.

When it comes to UNIEL's online offerings though that's where things begin to go drastically downhill. At heart this is a fast paced combo-centric fighter that leaves little room for error when facing off against an online opponent that know what they're doing. With the slightest amount of lag it can throw your game way off course. Unfortunately I encountered a sh*t ton of lag, and netcode issues when playing online locally, and abroad. The local online players I went up against tended to have a 2 bar ping like myself making for a slightly one-sided fight. The netcode in such a match isn't terrible, but at the same time it can sway the outcome significantly. When it came down to the game's worst experiences I found that it was tied mostly to online fights against Japanese gamers. In these long distance battles my ping dropped to a zero status which made the fights a horrible joke. No Japanese player would even accept a fight request from me seeing that I had a zero ping. I understand that this fighter was "birthed" in Japan, but come on! When is a fighting game developer gonna create a netcode that is globally friendly!? Seriously!? I  would love to play against Japan's best. Unfortunately that is not an option here.

Other complaints I have lie with the storytelling, and the fact that it seems so haphazard in delivery. After playing through all of  'Arcade Mode' I got the basic understanding of what was going on in UNIEL. With the amazingly in-depth dialogue conversations in place though I couldn't help, but feel like I was butting in halfway through the story. The developer obviously had a full story in mind when creating the game, but it just wasn't delivered in a fulfilling manner. Like a lot of the game the story felt a little too simplistic to be associated with the Arc System works, and Aksys games brand name. On a scale of things I could say this game was halfway between being BlazBlue, and being the generically crafted "Chaos Code". It's as if it's stuck in limbo like the In-births the game is all about, neither being one thing or the other in regards to completeness.

I want to like that game, but being limited to enjoying offline modes of play only serves to lower my suggestive rating. If you like the offline scene, and are looking for a new, and unique fighting game that delivers in the way of combat then UNIEL is good. If you are hoping for a solid online gaming experience I fear this game is not fit enough to warrant a recommendation. The netcode is just not favorable for an online fighter. That is my verdict.

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