Competent, yet bland, you will probably either love or hate UNIEL. Possibly both.
Soft Circle French-Bread's latest (North American released) fighting game, Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late is a highly competent, beautifully animated, and intricate fighting game. It's also unbelievably complicated, oddly paced, and rather generic. Even more than most fighting games, I would definitely call it not a game for everyone (myself included), but at the same time, the game is decisively proficient enough that for those who it is a game for will find it more than to their liking.
The “story”, told through the game's arcade mode, is nearly entirely irrelevant, and literally just an excuse for these anime characters to be given abilities, opportunity, and setting to beat the stuffing out of each other. None of it is particularly memorable or unique, although guest character Eltnum from Melty Blood's story is a somewhat amusing, very meta screwball comedy about the idea of protagonists and the calling out of publishers.
The fighting systems fare far better than the uninteresting story and characters with some interesting ideas at play. The core of it centering around the GRD system, a sort of momentum gauge that appears bottom center of the screen. Play aggressively successfully, and gain GRD blocks. Play overly defensively, or get hit, and lose GRD blocks. Every couple of seconds, a timer ticks over and awards the player with more GRD blocks filled a damage boosted state called “GRD Vorpal”, which can then be burned by double tapping a button to both gain super meter and rapid cancel an animation, allowing for longer combos. It's an interesting alternate take on Arc System Works' Negative Penalty systems, which directly rewards the attacking player as opposed to directly punishing the retreating one, and I think it's a much more compelling system than Negative Penalty ever will be. Smart Steer, this game's version of a Persona-style auto-combo is also a welcome addition, making an attempt to lower the barrier of entry. I wouldn't necessarily call it a successful attempt, but it's an attempt nonetheless.
On the other hand, outside of a few interesting mechanics, the core of the fighting falls into a bizarre tempo that results in it being incredibly difficult to understand things such as when to switch blocks or how to time your combos. Combine that with some just plain terrible hitbox work (massive characters like Waldstein or Merkava having “low” hits aimed at normal sized characters heads) add to the confusion. I admit, these are primarily problems due to lack of experience. With enough practice, these points become non-issues. The problem arises, however, that because of these issues, I don't particularly want to continue playing to clear them up.
And so I exist in the Under Night In-Birth opinion limbo, wherein I play it, recognizing that it's probably a fantastic fighting game for those willing to put the time into it, yet completely lacking the drive to do so. I'm turned away by the generic nature of the characters, the world of this fighting game is just not compelling enough to keep me hooked, like the ridiculousness of something like Tekken or KOF, or the pedigree of Persona. But at the same time, worlds and characters aren't something most people come to fighting games for, so is that really something that can be held against the game?
I'd like to leave the score blank, if I could, but as it stands, in my head, I'd give it four stars. In my heart, I'd give it two. So I suppose I'll split the difference.