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The Game That Replaced Melee at Evo (UNIST Review)

Fernando Mendez | Posted on September 18, 2019

Did This Game Deserve to Be at Evo?

Back in March, I discussed the absence of Melee from Evo’s 2019 lineup. This decision caused many Melee players and spectators to be upset, including me. While new games to the lineup such as Soul Calibur VI and Mortal Kombat 11 were expected for the Evo lineup, many were shocked by the inclusion of Under Night in-Birth. How could this game replace Melee, a game that has been in Evo for six straight years? So I decided to take a look at Under Night In-Birth (aka UNIST) to find out what makes it special enough to make it to the Evo stage.

The Best Fighting Game Tutorial Ever!

UNIST Tutorial

UNIST Tutorial

Since I was starting fresh with UNIST I decided to try out the tutorial first. Most other fighting game tutorials give a brief explanation of the basics without going deep into its core mechanics. However, UNIST’s tutorial is one of the most in-depth and helpful guides in fighting game history. The tutorial has 179 different lessons organized into five difficulties. These lessons cover a wide range of topics that can be applied to every fighting game while others teach the mechanics unique to UNIST. Each lesson clearly explains how to perform a certain action before and during the trials. If you’re having trouble, the game has demos that show you how to perform a combo or action. UNIST also has character-specific missions that challenge the player to learn helpful combos with their desired character. If the player is struggling, they can have the game perform half of the combo and have the player do the rest. Even though I’m a fighting game fan, the tutorial taught me so much about fighting games that I never knew about before. I would highly recommend anyone to get UNIST just for the tutorial.

Beautiful Visuals and Music

The game is created with pixel art done in an anime-style similar to other ARCSYS games like Guilty Gear and BlazBlue. Every movement in UNIST is animated with character and flair that can keep up with the game’s fast gameplay. The UI highlights all the important data in a match without being overwhelming. Subtle quirks such as a flash and sound playing when you gain a bar on the meter go a long way in conveying information to the player. The game has 20 characters, each with unique characteristics and traits that make it easy to understand their role in a glance. Every attack has weight because of each character’s detailed animations. Even when the characters are standing still, there is always something in motion like a cape or hair. The game boasts an amazing soundtrack with each character having their own fantastic theme. All of this boils together into a game that is a delight to play and watch.

Simple, Yet Complex

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Is the game any fun? Well, I’m glad to say it is. The game feels great to play with controls that feel very responsive, especially with the game’s movement options and simple controls. Similar to Marvel vs Capcom 3, UNIST has three attack buttons (light (a), medium (b), and heavy (c)) and a special button (d). UNIST is easy to start at an entry-level because of its simple combos that can be done by pressing each button in a succession (a>b>c) or by pressing the light button to perform an auto-combo. At the bottom of the screen, each player has their GRD meter. The meter can be filled by moving toward your opponent and playing aggressively. However, it can also be lost by moving away from the opponent. Whoever has the most after a certain time will gain an extra damage boost and the ability to cancel special moves. The GRD mechanic encourages players to play aggressive rather than defensive because it punishes the player for giving up neutral. Even then, several defensive options can help counter aggressive playstyles. It’s a perfect balance that keeps the combat consistent. I only scratched the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this game’s mechanics. Although it may seem a bit daunting, I highly encourage people to learn UNIST’s mechanics as they are the core of this game’s outstanding gameplay. If you still don’t want to dig deep into the game’s mechanics, don’t worry. The game is still a joy to play, so much so that you don’t need to know everything to have fun during the first playthrough.

Lackluster Single Player Modes

Arcarde Mode UNIST

Arcade Mode Dialogue

Single player-wise, UNIST has a story that is long…too long. The story plays out like a visual novel with chapters that have to be unlocked by “playing” other character’s stories. It sounds cool except for one problem. There’s absolutely no gameplay! There is even an option to skip the stories, which I did, especially since each chapter feels like the same length of a novel. If you are looking to read a visual novel, then I highly encourage this mode. Sadly, I find it boring and not a part of the core game. The arcade has you go through the classic trope of playing as one character and fighting multiple different fighters in a row. What makes this unique is that every character is given an intro and they are given interactions with other fighters. I like when arcade modes add a bit of flare outside from the normal arcade endings. There is also a time-attack mode that is similar to the arcade mode except you pick your first opponent and the objective to go as fast as possible. Survival mode has the player go against an endless wave of battles until the player loses all their health. Both these modes allow the player to upload their score online. These are a fine distraction, but there is nothing concrete to keep me coming back to these modes aside from earning in-game currency.

Customization and Online Play

Akatsuki's Customization

You can earn skins for every character!

One thing I like about UNIST is that it doesn’t ask for any extra payments. Everything that can be unlocked can be bought with in-game currency that is gained by playing the game. In UNIST you can earn various pieces of customization such as skins, titles, and icons. I wish more modern fighting games were more generous with their content instead of locking them behind a paywall. Thankfully, UNIST is free of these issues by being a key example of how to keep customers pleased.

UNIST also has an online mode that is okay. Similar to other Japanese fighting games, UNIST’s net code heavily relies on how close each player is to each other. Playing against anyone that is a bit far away will usually lead to noticeable delay. Thankfully, UNIST has an option to filter the best connections. Also to my surprise, UNIST is fairly active online. Queueing up for matchmaking barely took longer than 30 seconds, and once a match is over I could immediately queue for another one. Annoyingly, you can’t have a quick rematch with an opponent you just played. Thankfully, the matchmaking reliably queued me against players of a similar skill level. Most of the games I played online were fair matchups which helped me ease into the game during my first playthrough. The online experience was better than I thought, and I look forward to spending most of my time here in the future.

Final Thoughts

UNIST at Combo Breaker

UNIST at Combo Breaker

After practicing UNIST for Combo Breaker, I was able to get a grasp of how to play UNIST. The game’s combat was simple to understand for fighting game fans like me and I didn’t think much of it. However, when I played and watched UNIST at Combo Breaker I was shocked by how high the skill ceiling is. I saw as players would heavily utilize block strings, mixups, and applying pressure. Every character was given a chance at the spotlight as even characters who I thought were just the boring main/shoto character had some tricks up their sleeves. There is still more that I need to learn about UNIST, and I look forward to learning every step of the way.

UNIST is a fantastic game that deserved to be at Evo. The game’s fundamental mechanics offer an in-depth system that encourages players to play aggressive, resulting in adrenaline-filled battles that are never dull. Sure UNIST doesn’t have nearly as much of a cult following as Melee with its lack of singleplayer content and legacy, but it doesn’t have to. UNIST succeeds in the fast-paced anime-style gameplay that distinguishes itself from other anime fighters. It’s thanks to the people in the UNIST community that Evo recognized the game’s potential. In Evo, UNIST received 1,156 entrants, the sixth-best out of nine. Melee’s 1,351 entrants for Evo 2018 was the fifth-best out of eight. If it were not for Evo’s 2019 lineup, I probably would have missed my amazing experience playing UNIST for the first time.

I strongly recommend UNIST to anyone that wants to give UNIST a try. Not only is it easy to get into, but it also has one the best tutorials in fighting game history. However, it’s not too simple to drive fighting game veterans away. It’s a perfect blend of mechanics and content that make this a complete package. That is what I would say but during Evo, a new trailer was announced revealing a new version of the game called Under Night In-Birth Exe: Late[cl-r]. This game is planned to release early 2020. I suggest you wait until then. Either way, the current version is still a blast, and I highly recommend it to anyone.

Rating: 9/10

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