Currently, fighting games are in a strange state. With the world the way it is, many have been forced to seek refuge and opponents online, forced into their game of choice’s network environment in order to play. Traditionally, many older fighting game titles, including the big ones like Street Fighter, Tekken and Super Smash Bros., all use a delay-based netcode to transfer the data between players, which based on your connection quality and distance away from each other, can cause issues during a match, like stuttering, slowdown and pauses.
It now seems, however, that with the release of Melty Blood: Type Lumina and Guilty Gear – Strive – earlier this year, Rollback Netcode is now the new buzzword and possibly the standard going forward. The service is far more optimised for fighting games online, creating a better user experience for both players, and its great to see developers French Bread implement Rollback in Melty Blood for online. However, it does seem to have come with its own share of problems as well.
Melty Blood: Type Lumina is a fighting game series based on the Tsukihime visual novel series that tells stories of the Church versus Vampires, with the Tohno family and protagonist Shiki caught in the middle. Tsukihime was released back in 2000, and as such, many of the characters have received only visual updates, staying true to their original designs. This leaves you with an unusual cast for a fighting game, including Japanese maids, nuns, anime high schoolers, martial artists and ancient vampires. At just fourteen fighters to choose from initially, that may seem on the lower side compared to other games that have been out for much longer, but given how differently each character plays and some of the crazy stuff you can do with the game mechanics, any more than fourteen and the player might be in danger of being overwhelmed when they go online and have to remember loads of different match-ups at release.
Whilst characters are important to any fighting game, the way it plays and feels in a match will always come first to me, and I’m happy to say this is one aspect in which Melty Blood shines. Instead of light, medium, and heavy attacks, Melty labels its buttons ABC, and you can link back and forth through your attacks in any order, such as BCA, CAB, CBA, etc. You can also just mash out any of the attack buttons for a full auto-combo as well or even do a combination of both; it’s an incredibly fluid system, and when you start adding your other normal attacks into the mix, you can create some cool combos with relative ease with each character. On top of that, you can cancel into special moves called EX Specials, which cost meter, and Moon Drive moves, which are another metered version of your special moves, all of which you can combine to make some monstrous combos and make your opponent wish they hadn’t accepted the match. It’s a breath of fresh air compared to, say, Strive’s more rigid gatling structure and offers more freedom and chance for player expression, and it’s a lot more beginner-friendly as well, even if your first few matches are just you hitting endless auto-combos.
I spent most of my review time playing as Saber, a sword-wielding knight from the Fate series, and Michael Roa, Melty’s villain and one of the vampires known as Dead Apostles. Each had a different playstyle, with Saber utilizing her sword for multi-hitting, combo-heavy moves, whilst Roa relied more on his speed and lightning projectiles. The game’s Tutorial and Mission Modes do a good job helping you learn the mechanics and how to play each character properly. Training Mode also has pretty much everything you’d need these days in a fighting game minus frame data, but that seems to be the standard these days.
For most people, the majority of any fighting game is usually spent fighting others online, and as mentioned earlier, thanks to the Rollback Netcode, Melty Blood’s online experience, for the most part, is really good. There are a few early teething problems, with the Network Mode disconnecting and kicking you back to the main menu before and after a match occasionally, but when you’re in a match, the online experience is fairly solid. I was playing on the Nintendo Switch version and didn’t find an issue with getting matches, with the game throwing opponents at me very quickly. There was the odd game against players from Japan where the connection wasn’t great, but I’m prepared to put that down to external factors, like distance between us (I’m based in the UK) and the fact I was playing on a Wi-Fi connection. There have been reported problems on the PC version of the game, with players having to constantly watch the character openings to a fight in order to ensure a smooth connection during the match, but this doesn’t seem to be an issue on the console versions.
Unfortunately, Melty Blood doesn’t really do anything different from your old school fighters in terms of single-player content, with an arcade mode that doubles as Story Mode for each character, Score and Time Attack, as well as a Boss Rush Mode you have to unlock and that actually continues the Story Mode somewhat. If you’re a hardcore Melty or Tsukihime fan, you’ll likely enjoy the extra story elements and surprise you get for unlocking Boss Rush mode. Mission Mode does have a lot more for you to do as it teaches you the basic to advanced combos of each individual character.
Single-player content is something fighting games have struggled with recently, with the ones doing it well being the exception rather than the standard. Melty Blood has done an okay job here providing the basic single-player modes you’d expect in most fighting games, and the added inclusion of Boss Rush Mode is a nice bonus. Whilst I appreciate the game’s approach to Story Mode, it would have been nice to be treated with animated endings rather than a series of pictures, it already has a gorgeous opening animated movie featuring all the cast, so some 30-second clips for completing the game’s arcade mode would have been a nice throwback to old fighting games. I feel that was a missed opportunity.
There are a few more missed opportunities with the game’s customisation modes options as well. Whilst you are able to fully alter each character’s different colour palettes, French Bread have only given you a small option of colours to pick from and often combined different sections of the character that you would probably like to colour individually, such as their sleeves and their undershirt. For your online ID, you create the standard Fight Card you see in a lot of other games, but the special Titles are mostly all in Japanese, so it might be best to brush up on your kanji.
Melty Blood: Type Lumina is a modern fighting game wrapped in an old school, arcade-style presentation. Developers French Bread have done an excellent job making the series accessible to newcomers whilst at the same time allowing more experienced players to be more expressive. On top of all that, they packaged it with a great soundtrack too and top notch visuals. The overall aesthetics of the characters and setting may not be to everyone’s tastes, but if you are a genuine fan of fighting games, don’t let that be the thing that stops you from getting sucked into the world of Melty Blood.
Developer: French Bread
Platforms: PS4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PC
Release Date: 28th September 2021