A well-made, beautiful, and empty castle.

We're well into the golden age of fighting games, folks. With the return of Street Fighter to prominence, so raises all of the other FGC ships. Suddenly, we're filthy with not only options, but fantastic options. The likes of Mortal Kombat, Tekken, Guilty Gear, Street Fighter, and more all have fantastic games at the moment! We're eating good in the proverbial neighborhood. But, there's still a fighting game caste system at work and, underneath that upper tier is UNDER NIGHT IN-BIRTH II: Sys: Celes, our subject for review today.

In a bubble, the long-awaited sequel to last decade's favorite fighting game to play in the bathroom of your EVO hotel is a great product. A smooth gameplay experience with a variety of characters and little delay in action. However, we're well into an era where fighting games simply cannot be a delivery mechanism for its combat. Slapping on a single-player arcade mode with some story text and calling it a day doesn't cut it anymore.

You'll find no better anime-style fighting game around if all you care about is combat. However, the candy coating surrounding UNDER NIGHT IN-BIRTH II lacks the style of its more impressive genre peers. That said, If you're okay with plenty of substance then there's a snappy and fun fighting game to be had.

UNDER NIGHT IN-BIRTH II review: Features

If you're a relative newbie to the franchise, UNDER NIGHT IN-BIRTH II carries a legacy of other "anime" fighting games. Much in the vein of BlazBlue, Melty Blood, Skullgirls, Guilty Gear, and others, there's specific trademarks to this type of fighter. This includes air dashing, 2D-ish sprites, and the beloved "Magic Series" attack system--Light, Medium, and Heavy attacks all chaining from one another.

Let's go over the features found within this newest iteration. Here's a review of the key UNDER NIGHT IN-BIRTH II features:

  • New Characters: Kaguya, a sharpshooter and acrobatic, with long-range combat; Tsurugi, a rushdown brawler with a shield; and Kuon, who uses levitating blades and raw energy to annoy the crap out of you in Arcade Mode.
  • Enhanced Replay Mechanics: Players can take control of the fight at any time during a replay to experiment and learn from different perspectives. This includes manual control in replays, the ability to fast-forward, reverse, and move frame to frame​​​​.
  • Training and Tutorial Enhancements
  • Character Customization: Players can now customize the color schemes of every playable character.
  • Gameplay Mechanics: Retains the series' complex gameplay systems while adding new battle mechanics like the "Creeping Edge", "Celestial Vorpal", and new attacks
  • Rollback Netcode
  • Performance and Control Options on Switch: A high frame rate even in handheld mode. It supports various controllers, including Joy-Con and Pro Controllers on the Switch.
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Honestly, the trope of anime fighters being complicated affairs meant only for the--and I mean this lovingly--craziest of fans comes from UNI. For a new player such as myself, the number of bars, systems, and mechanics at work reminds me of how I felt learning about Roman Cancels in Guilty Gear for the first time.

However, where an overwhelming majority of anime fighters fail to teach you its systems in a meaningful way, UNI2 delivers as a professor. The tutorials and mission modes do a fantastic job and teaching the game's complicated systems.

Moreover, UNDER NIGHT IN-BIRTH II is one of the smoothest fighting game experiences out there. The combat never feels sluggish or unresponsive, with a constant high frame rate and control scheme. I'm especially a fan of the Smart Steer system, which allows for players to create a loop of Magic Series combo strings.

Anime Nonsense No-Jutsu!

With all the game systems and mechanics at work, it's easy to feel overwhelmed playing UNDER NIGHT IN-BIRTH II. This isn't made any easier by an aesthetic and look that is best described as "every anime trope ever, all jammed into one game."

Set in its own universe and telling the tale of the Hollow Night, UNI2 features every anime stereotype ever. Emo protagonist? Ancient evil that somehow still looks like a BTS member? Tsundere girls screaming at you? They're all here!

But that's also part of the problem with the overall package, isn't it? Nothing looks bad here in regards to design. But, all the same, nothing stands out. There are no iconic characters here to gravitate towards like other fighting games. Likewise, the overall product feels like a late-00's anime DVD box set you bought on a whim at Best Buy.

It all looks fantastic in motion, but it leaves zero lasting impression.

And while we'd all like to say that looks don't matter, it's the gameplay.... That just ain't true, is it? The overall package of a game matters. And, along with that, a lack of slick visuals, modes, and explosions all leave UNDER NIGHT-IN BIRTH II feeling somewhat cheap.

We can make jokes all we want about the absurdity of Tekken 8's menus featuring Kazuya's glistening body and mean eyes. But, we remember them, don't we? It stands out. Outside of its gameplay, there's little memorable about UNI2.

Unfair? I don't think so. Fighting games aren't a meritocracy and things such as aesthetic, game modes, stories--they all matter. So, the fact that UNDER NIGHT IN-BIRTH is fantastic to play just isn't enough. Players of all backgrounds and experiences play fighting games now, and you simply need to offer more than an Arcade Mode, some combo missions, and 720p menus.

Modes, and a lack thereof

The biggest problem facing a review of UNDER NIGHT IN-BIRTH II is a lack of content. This may not matter to those of you dedicated to the FGC cause and ready to play UNI2 in every Denny's parking lot and hotel bathroom from EVO to CEO. However, for the rest of us there's just a lack and depth of activities when compared to its genre peers. I do think that UNI2's Mission Mode is fantastic, thorough, and a great guide.

But combo missions do not make the game.

Each of the game's 24 fighters has a storyline in Arcade Mode, but it's just pure anime nonsense. It's clear that this game planned to live or die by its online offerings--the rest is simply appetizers. And we're happy to report that playing online was a smooth, lag-free experience... Once you find a match.

If you're planning on grinding out games online, be prepared to wait. Maybe it's because we're a month removed from launch, but it wasn't always easy to find games.

UNDER NIGHT IN-BIRTH II review final thoughts

If you're already hip to UNI and its hardcore fighting game ways then this purchase is a no-brainer. However, at fifty dollars and against the likes of Tekken 8, SF6, and MK1, UNDER NIGHT IN-BIRTH II doesn't deliver a comparable solo experience. If you decide to dive head-first into the world of the Hollow Night, you'll find a fast, fun fighter.

Rating: ***1/2 (Thumbs Up)
System: PS5, PS4, Switch, PC
Players: 1-2
Publisher: ArcSys
Genre: Fighter
Grades: Outstanding; *****, Very Good; ****,
Good; ***, Fair; **, Poor *

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