Melty Blood is a 2d fighting game that deserves the utmost respect. Every component of this game shines with an attention to detail that other games would do well to study. Even the lengthy graphic adventure sequences, things I typically ignore in other fighting games, had this beautiful sheen I couldn't help but take notice of; advanced kanji seemed more purposeful, more accessible to my beginning Japanese brain than should have been. Melty Blood demands respect, and I unflinchingly give it.
As befits a tyrant king.
It lords its combo system over me and I have no choice but to respond in like terms; it is unforgiving so I must be accurate. If I am sloppy, I must bear my punishment quietly, steadfast in the knowledge that perfection just might be attained in the next round. A particular juggle has two heavy attacks in the first jump, each at the extreme beginning and end of the jump's duration. You must do three light attacks to get the proper distance before initiating the super. You must wait half a second, no more, no less, before doing a quarter-cirlcle back super in the air if you want the hits to count...
It's not that the really effective combos require such an obscene amount of precision over other fighting games; Street Fighter Alpha 3 V-ism combos are just as exacting, if not moreso. A few milliseconds, however, turns that extremely effective, 6000 damage combo you had planned into a 1000 damage mess of a move that not only destroys your chance at inflicting damage but the enjoyment one garners from the game. A single mis-move destorys speed and flow. It destroys fun. Not all of the fun, mind you, but enough that I can feel it: fun leaving my fingertips as they slip on sweat-doused Microsoft (non-usb) Sidewinders.
Take the ubiquitous crouching strong kick, for example. One would expect a single one of these to knock the opponent off his or her feet, with the possible option of allowing follow-ups of varying effectiveness. In Melty Blood, an isolated crouching strong kick knocks the character down for nearly three seconds. While three seconds doesn't sound like much time, it's a huge amount of time in a fast moving fighting game like this. That's three seconds that is spent doing something that is NOT playing. Three seconds of both players waiting for the one character to get up and resume the fight. Three seconds of NOT FUN.
This is the most extreme example that I can present from Melty Blood and one that is rarely found in games between experienced players. But there are other examples that are nearly as bad. Missing the early C on a jump, a handful of milliseconds (literally) turning the high damage combo into a no-combo. Entering the second half of a combo with a medium rather than a light attack, forcing a combo that is nearly 3000 damage points less. If only the game was just a little bit more forgiving, I found myself asking...
...and then I look at those replay combos that dot the internet. Wow...it seems so straightforward. It's just different. If only I could just absorb that combo model: not quite Queen of Heart 99 air juggle, not quite Party's Breaker combo starter, not quite Virtua Fighter exactness. I can see far more method than madness...I just can't feel it. Those hoops I have to jump through just seem too small. Those multiple windows of opportunity that I have to fly through to execute that perfect combo just seem to close too soon. I can see it though!
It's the clarity of the advanced combination system that frustrates me more than the combination system itself. I'm so close to the model...yet...nothing. So close, yet so far. Almost paradigm.
I'm spending so much time talking about this because there's nothing else to criticize in the game. The sparse, sometimes surreal, always impeccably pixeled backgrounds are nothing but pleasant, perfect frames for the action. The characters are a joy to behold. Designs like Shiki and Akiha exude a seriousness that befits the relatively dark treatment of much of the game's story. Characters like Kohaku are just side-splittingly funny, with references to such classic characters as Hibiki from Last Blade and Rimururu from Samurai Shodown. All of them animate beautifully, evoking memories of first sights of Mark of the Wolves and Samurai Shodown III. This is 2d fighting as I haven't seen in ages. The music, arguably the game's weakest link, is still perfectly up to the challenge of accompanying the beautiful visuals. While the background tunes are, at best, smooth and pleasant, the voice acting is perfectly done. I haven't come across a vocal performance of this caliber in a fighting game...well...ever. While I'm certainly fond of the many SNK Drama albums that are available, the actual in-game voices are easily trumped by the wonderfully casted Melty Blood characters. I look forward to the end of a vs. match because of the fun (and long!) lines of monologue (or dialogue, in the case of Hisui and Kohaku) that follow. No other game can compel me to do this.
Melty Blood is king among Windows based 2d fighters, demanding absolute respect (and exact timing) for its exquisitely crafted system. If you are willing to be its subject, be prepared to relearn your fighting game chops. Be ready to aim for only the most exact of play and dedicate the entirety of your ability to this game...
(Not that I don't sneak a game of Queen of Heart 99 or Last Blade 2 here and there...)
Vincent Diamante thinks Ciel kicks arse and takes names.