Esports and fighting game tournaments are blowing up right now, but they are by no means a recent phenomenon. Going back to Smash Bros. Melee, further back to Street Fighter Third Strike and beyond, dedicated fans have gathered together to hone their skills and test them against each other in various fighting games. These communities were largely fueled by the accessibility of these games. While Japan had arcades and game centers, American communities lived and died on video games getting localizations and console releases. Melty Blood received neither.
Now, some fourteen years after its original release in 2002 and five years after this iteration’s Japanese release, Arc System Works brings an official localization of Melty Blood: Actress Again Current Code game to Steam, with achievements and network play to boot. It’s a game that, all these years later, still manages to have enough gameplay depth and polish to stack up against modern fighters, even if the package as a hold fails to live up to those same standards. Even so, this release of Melty Blood finally provides an official way for both long-time fans and first time players to enjoy one of the best fighting games on the market.
It originally debuted in the form of a visual novel/fighting game hybrid spinoff of the Tsukihime series, an adult visual novel series from Fate/Stay Night and Kara No Kyoukai creators Type-Moon. Fans of their work, such as myself, will appreciate the numerous recognizable playable characters in the game, most notably the protagonist of Kara No Kyoukai, Shiki. Even the brief amount of story content contained in the arcade mode has numerous winks and nods to a lot of Type-Moon works, providing a lot of enjoyment for fans who know their stuff.
The bulk of enjoyment experienced with Melty Blood, though, obviously comes from the gameplay. Melty Blood isn’t just a great example of a game being easy to pickup but hard to master, it’s a game where the distance between these two experience levels is comparable to the distance between the Earth and the Sun.
What I appreciated the most in the game is the simplicity of the move inputs. Most of the attacks in the game are really basic motions like quarter circles or z-motions, so even if you’re someone who’s terrible at fighting games but still wants to experience Melty Blood, it’s very friendly for button mashers and stick slappers.
On top of having a beefy cast of 31 characters to choose from, each character has also has around 40 color palettes. I’m a sucker for customization, especially in fighting games, so a wealth of selectable colors like that is something that makes me very happy. For fans of the Groove system from Capcom vs. SNK 2 or the character variants from Mortal Kombat X, each character in Melty Blood also has 3 different play-styles to choose from, each one designated by a different phase of the moon.
Half moon characters have more defensive options and longer potential combos, full moon character sacrifice combo potential for raw power, and crescent moon characters fall somewhere in the middle. While your character looks identical no matter which phase you select, the sheer variation in gameplay performance and options makes it feel like the roster is expanded to nearly 90+ options.
The game uses a four-button layout, with three of those buttons being attacks of various strength and the final button being used for numerous defensive options. Players can use it to nullify chip damage, as well as perform parries called EX Guards that allow you to swiftly nullify an enemy attack and go in for the counter. There are also numerous other options like dodge rolls, special shield cancels, bursts, and even a system that allows you to nullify damage and recover from knock-backs sooner by mashing a button.
On the offensive side, there are just as many options and systems. One of my favorites is the clash system, where two attacks that collide with one another can cancel each other out, creating a satisfying sound and flash of sparks. There’s also a unique combo system that allows you to string together strong attacks with weaker ones that let you push your opponent into the corner and create nearly infinite links and loops. On top of the numerous systems involving usage of the meter, Melty Blood has more depth than the Atlantic ocean.
Unfortunately, the game does nothing to explain any of that depth to you. While the game features a robust training mode, it lacks any significant tutorials or intros to the possibilities before you, forcing you to go to online guides and forums if you want to learn about any of it. The lack of help for those hoping to become more advanced players is a huge detriment to the experience.
On top of this training mode, Melty Blood has…not much else. With only arcade, versus, online versus, and the aforementioned training mode, Melty Blood is as basic of a package as it gets. Online play has no kind of custom player emblems, titles, or cards, and is simply a very bare-bones way to play with friends online. While I mentioned the bits of story featured in the arcade mode, they’re tiny morsels, and some of it is actually poorly localized. There were numerous times where arcade mode or win-dialogue featured typos or awkward translations. The gameplay in Melty Blood is so polished, it’s a shame the localization, while not entirely as important as the actual fighting, couldn’t be on the same level.
In still images, the rest of the games visuals might seem as barren as the aging, silent menus. It has a 4:3 aspect ratio and chunky pixel sprites that pale in comparison to more recent titles like Blazblue or Under Night. Seeing the game in motion is an entirely different experience, though. With smooth animation, intense speed and satisfying hit sparks, the blocky sprite art will be the furthest thing on your mind.
Stages are a bit harder to make an argument for. Many of them are very basic, some being almost entirely still images. While a handful of the wealth of available stages are iconic, a majority of them just feel very basic. The music for these stages, on the other hand, is incredible and varied, with jazzy fight tracks, cinematic boss themes and more. It’s music reminiscent of the era that the game comes from, and it’s sure to tick the nostalgia meter for fighting game fans.
Melty Blood maintains all of the charm and polish that made it so popular in the fighting game community all those years ago. Long-time fans finally have an official way to enjoy this cult classic, and it’s an almost museum-like look into an iconic chapter of fighting games. Despite a lackluster package surrounding the awe-inspiring gameplay, it’s a game that has stood the test of time and people who are passionate about fighting games owe it to themselves to pay it a visit.