Platforms: PC (Reviewed)
Time for a fighting game history lesson everyone. A long time ago, in a land far, far away, known only as… Japan… the fighting game community evolved differently than it did here in America. There, copyright laws are more lax and doujinshi, or fan-works, are not only common, they can sometimes be sold for actual profit. It’s there that a software development group named French Bread began development of a fighting game based on the visual novel, manga, and anime, Tsukihime. The game was called Melty Blood, and unlike the vast majority of doujin games out there, it was solid, fun, deep, and addicting.
This was back in 2002, nearly 14 years ago. It launched exclusively in Japan on Windows PCs and, even though it was solidly constructed, it would have faded into obscurity if not for a peculiar quirk of history. You see, fighting games were still in the middle of a massive slump caused by oversaturation in the 90s. Street Fighter IV would not usher in the modern fighting game renaissance for another 6 years. Fighting game fans were desperate for a good 2D fighting game experience and thus a few latched on to this obscure Japanese release, building up a small community that played it at major fighting game events.
There was enough support in both Japan and America to warrant the continued development of Melty Blood into a full blown fighting game series. A new version called ReAct came out in 2004, and yet another called Act Cadenza came out in 2005. In 2006 it found its way to the PS2 before a new updated version of Act Cadenza called Ver. B released on PCs in 2007. 2008 saw yet ANOTHER new version entitled Actress Again, now published by Sega, a big legitimate name in the video game world, on their Sega Naomi arcade platform. Actress Again would then be released on the PS2 in 2009. Three more versions of the game would come to Sega’s RingWide arcade platform, entitled Actress Again Current Code versions 1, 1.05, and 1.07 released throughout 2010 and 2011, until finally, at the very end of 2011, the definitive final release of Melty Blood, Melty Blood: Actress Again Current Code PC, was finally published by Guilty Gear publisher Arc System Works in Japan.
And only now, 5 years later, have we seen a fully translated version come to America, which is a shame because French Bread has gone on to develop newer and better fighting games, such as Under Night In-Birth and Dengeki Bunko Fighting Climax in that span of time.
Perfecting the Anime Fighter
Melty Blood was one of the first fighters to introduce and perfect the A-B-C control layout. For anyone unfamiliar, this means that it has three attack buttons of strength light, medium, and hard, as opposed to, say, the six buttons of Street Fighter. A fourth D button was used to “do cool things” with your super meter. Instead of having complex super motions, supers were performed simply by doing a standard motion with the heaviest attack button, making the game greatly accessible to new players.
In Current Code, players are able to choose from three different fighting styles, Full Moon, Half Moon, and Crescent Moon, when selecting a character. Full Moon style plays closest to Guilty Gear or other traditional fighters. Normals hit hard and combos are short with few extra systems to worry about. Half Moon and Crescent Moon styles start adding more and more systems into the game. Half Moon introduces reverse beats, which allow you to combo backward from heavy attacks into light attacks. Crescent Moon gets even more complicated by giving you full control over your meter management and extending your super meter to longer lengths. Bursting, activation of a powered up HEAT mode, EX Shielding, and more, are manually executed in Crescent Moon style while they are automatically activated in Half Moon style. In general, Crescent Moon gives you the most control over your character.
Surprisingly, all three styles are still used in tournament play today. While each style is not equally good for each character, being able to tailor the game’s mechanics to your own personal playstyle helps a lot. Full Moon is a great way to get to know the game, especially if you aren’t used to long combos. Crescent Moon is perfect for combo videos and people who love an aggressive and rushdown oriented style.
It would take an entire article just to go through all the mechanics of every fighting style, so it’s best to just jump in and experiment. However, there is one mechanic that deserves to be mentioned here, and that’s damage reduction. If you are getting hit by a combo in Melty Blood: Actress Again Current Code, you have a chance to reduce your damage by tapping buttons to the beat of your opponent’s combo inputs. This gives the player something to do rather than just watch themselves get pummeled. It also adds another level of strategy to the game, as smart players can purposefully drop their combos in order to make their opponents accidentally throw a whiffed move, punishing them with a high-damage reset.
Showing Its Age
Melty Blood is a story about immortal vampires and those who hunt them. Unfortunately, the game itself isn’t near as immortal. Its early 00s design shows through in its Steam release. Menus are hard to navigate through, and simply trying to find the right options in training mode will take you forever. It has the same mish-mash of modes games did before online functionality became a staple. It doesn’t even have an option to extend the fighting arena to a 16:9 aspect ratio. Instead, it is stuck in good old 4:3, and the extra space on your monitor is used to show you your move-list, which is a nice touch although it too is incomplete at times.
The graphics have not aged well. The sprites are remarkably low definition, although they do have a nice anime look to them. Character animations have fewer frames than you would think, especially when compared to more recent sprite-based fighting games. It gives the game a very stiff feel that takes a while to get used to.
The roster, while huge, is also redundant. Its 31 character slots are filled with clones, variations, and palette swaps. There are numerous joke characters who are either useless, annoying, or both. The tier list has huge gaps in it, with the best characters able to absolutely hose the worst characters almost every time. This reduces the effective roster to only about 10-12 core characters, which is still workable but disappointing.
The gameplay is incredibly satisfying, but you’ll note that its balance is also an artifact of its time. Some characters can get you into loops, juggles, and other incredibly powerful hit-strings, while others can barely string together three hits. There is no functional infinite avoidance system, and while infinites rarely crop up in competitive play, you will see one every so often.
A History Lesson Before a Game
There are lots of reasons why Melty Blood: Actress Again Current Code is an important game. Heck, if anything its arrival on Steam might mean good things for fans of French Bread’s newer fighting games. But it’s undeniable that Current Code feels lacking in certain areas. It doesn’t have the timeless simplicity of classics like Street Fighter III: Third Strike, nor does it have the complicated depth of more recent French Bread titles like Under Night In-Birth. Instead, it lies somewhere in the middle, a game with a million little complications that shows the rust of age. I can’t deny that, while playing Current Code, I kept wondering why I wasn’t playing Under Night, which was just a much better game.
If you missed Melty Blood the first time around, it might be worth it to pick up Current Code just to see what lead up to French Bread’s current success. However, if you have already played Melty Blood in the past, I can find little reason to pick it up again, other than to complete your collection or to host a retro gaming night. It’s more interesting than it is fun, and you’ll find your interest in the title waning quickly, especially without a supportive fanbase to keep you playing, and the fanbase has certainly moved on to other games.