Branching Path: Melty Blood Actress Again Current Code's Steam Version
Welcome to the first installment of Branching Path, a little experiment that's been brewing in my mind for a few months now. RPG Site, as you know, specializes in RPG media of all shapes and sizes from all corners of the world. Every now and then, there are little special projects that some of us here want to share and write about. Though most of these won't be RPGs, it provides a glimpse into what we also treasure beyond RPGs.
In this first Branching Path, I want to focus on what will probably end up being the most surprising localization of this year - Melty Blood Actress Again Current Code. Released on PC via Steam on April 19, this fighting game has had quite the journey in seeing an official release outside of Japan. I'm going to warn you now - explaining the life of this series is... a bit of a mess.
To briefly sum up its history, Melty Blood originally released on PCs in December 2002; its sequel, Melty Blood Re-ACT, launched two years later on the same platform. Picking up momentum from the Japanese community, the Melty Blood series hit Japanese arcades in March 2005 with Melty Blood: Act Cadenza and later that year in July, Melty Blood Re-ACT received an update known as Melty Blood Re-ACT Final Tuned.
Melty Blood finally got a console release in August 2006 with the release of Melty Blood Act Cadenza on the PlayStation 2, but it had substantial balance changes to its arcade counterpart. Thus, Melty Blood Act Cadenza Ver. B released in arcades to reflect the PlayStation 2 version and finally, that version of Melty Blood saw a PC release in July 2007.
This almost brings us to the conclusion of the long, convoluted history of Melty Blood's timeline. Once again, another new Melty Blood entry made its arcade debut in September 2008; its name was Melty Blood Actress Again. This installment was brought to PlayStation 2 in August 2009 hosting new alterations once more and so, that version received an arcade release in July 2010 under the name of Melty Blood Actress Again Current Code.
Two more version updates were distributed to this latest iteration of Melty Blood on May and October of 2011 until at long last, this final version saw a PC release.. unconventionally. The only legal way to obtain Melty Blood Actress Again Current Code on PC was to purchase the Limited Edition of the 3rd Season Blu-ray volume release of Carnival Phantasm, a beloved anime show that parodied the Type-Moon intellectual properties of Tsukihime and Fate/stay night.
Think about this for a second. Imagine you wanted to play Street Fighter V, but it was only sold as an add-in bonus on a roughly $85 Blu-ray set that was produced in very limited quantities in Japan only. Factoring in shipping and any other additional fees, the prospect of forking over $100 to play a fighting game just doesn't carry that much appeal to the mass market. Of course, more devoted fans of the Melty Blood series spent much more since they had to either mod their PlayStation 2 or buy a Japanese Playstation 2 in order to experience all the other prior versions as well.
While the PC release of Melty Blood Actress Again Current Code in Japan operated well for its offline modes, its online mode was a bit of a nightmare from what I played of it many years ago. In order to compensate for lag between online opponents, it would crank up CPU usage to worrisome levels and that wasn't enough to really alleviate noticeable input lag and frame stuttering. To top it all off, its matchmaking server was officially shut down in October 2014.
Overall, Melty Blood has had a long-running complex history of updates in regards to sequels and version parity across different platforms all adding refinements along the way whether in the form of additional characters, introducing system mechanics, and tuning the current balance in an attempt to even the playing field. It has been 14 years since the original release of the first Melty Blood game and almost 5 years since the PC release of Melty Blood Actress Again Current Code. Now, Arc System Works has taken on the task of publishing its first official English release.
The passion, loyalty, and energy from the Melty Blood community certainly helped make this localization on Steam a reality. Every step of the way, each of Melty Blood's PC releases have had fan-made English patches and even though they teeter on the borderline of legality, this helped expand that community gradually; I'm sure that seeing Melty Blood Actress Again Current Code now on Steam is one of the highest rewards they could've hoped for.
As a matter of fact, two very talented individuals from the Melty Blood community, Mauve and Madscientist, built custom online multiplayer clients for the PC versions of Act Cadenza Ver. B and Actress Again Current Code respectively. While they were easy to use after spending a little bit of time understanding their interface, it still required a separate program. These clients are still impressive to this day because they minimized input lag by incorporating rollback netcode (now seen in Street Fighter V) and kept frame stuttering or "laggy matches" to a minimum. Also featuring a spectator mode, this helped Melty Blood keep a competitive scene alive throughout all these years.
Melty Blood's appeal doesn't stop just at its fluid flow of combat and easy-to-understand controls. Its roots come from one of Type-Moon's most popular visual novels, Tsukihime. Many memorable faces are playable in the game with their own unique moveset; in fact, each character has a Crescent Moon, Half Moon, and Full Moon fighting style that not only grant characters different moves, but also influence how the game's structural mechanics behave as well. There are 31 selectable characters along with their 3 "Moon" styles - that's a grand total of 93 "characters" in Melty Blood Actress Again Current Code.
There's a wealth of knowledge and terminology to learn for those who want to truly learn the game and luckily, there're many helpful resources out there that lay all of that out in an intuitive manner from the basics to more advanced concepts. Now that we've finally caught up with present day and present time, I want to just share some of my overall impressions on the Steam version of Melty Blood Actress Again Current Code.
First off, I want to call to attention that the series just oozes style especially through its music. The Melty Blood series is often revered for its score that emphasizes the harmony of the piano, violin, and keyboard. It casts an atmosphere that is reminiscent to a classy restaurant or a jazz bar but it also isn't afraid to highlight intense combat situations and will add in more traditional rock sounds to heighten the tempo in its soundtrack. The series prides itself on its wonderfully unique library of music.
Jointly developed between Type-Moon, French-Bread, and Ecole Software, playing Melty Blood Actress Again Current Code is still a very delightful experience to play. Whenever I ponder about what I consider to be an ideal ebb and flow in a fighting game, Melty Blood comes to my mind. It's fast and hectic, but methodical; there's no unused portion of the battlefield and fighters have to be constantly aware about their position, what their options are at that place, and what their opponents can and can't do to them at that time.
The game utilizes four buttons of A, B, C, and D that consist of the former three being mapped to weak, medium, and heavy attacks respectively while D functions as a defensive tool that can parry when timed and executed properly. Pressing A and D simultaneously throws opponents while various motions and button combinations perform a character's special attacks.
An arcade mode is available for each of the 31 characters that feature their own small tales; fans of Tsukihime will definitely want to check this out since there are plot-threads that do spawn off from that story. I've played a handful of the character's stories and the localization does a great job capturing the jubilant and quirky personalities from the cast. Encounters with key individuals in arcade mode lead to some goofy dialogue sequences that were an absolute joy to revisit.
Versus mode allows players to fight locally against an opponent, fight against a CPU, watch CPUs fight one another, or access saved replay matches. Training mode provides a playground for experimentation to further improve a player's skills with a host of standard features including input displays and manipulating training dummy behavior.
Melty Blood Actress Again Current Code on PC supports various resolutions up to 1080p and though the game is displayed through a 4:3 aspect ratio, side bars displaying a character's move-list fill in the empty space during battle. Separate filters for both characters and the screen can be tinkered with depending on if a player wants to smoothen out the pixels of the character design and the UI. Lower end machines that may suffer framerate issues during graphically intense stages can turn off their animation to help boost technical performance on them.
The biggest overhaul in the Steam version of Melty Blood Actress Again Current Code lies in the Network Mode; its original PC release in Japan had its fair share of significant flaws and I was extremely curious to see how well Arc System Works improved upon it.
So far, I think the current state of the game's online mode is a bit mediocre, but there's definitely room for improvement. I find it a tad worse than the rollback client since the Steam version operates on a traditional latency structure so input lag can be an issue at times. The game has only been released for a few days as of this time, so I'm hopeful that future patches can help tighten this up.
To put it into perspective, I've only had one match out of 25 matches that I considered unplayable with massive input lag and performed poorly with constant freezes mid-match. Mileage will definitely vary with everyone; it seems that the netcode performs better the closer the opponent's region is. Playing against friends from the other side of the United States was decent, but playing against a friend that lived in my area was much more responsive.
Thankfully, locating matches through the game itself is easy; ranked matches seek players through an internal matchmaking server though filters can be put into place to ensure that the connection quality is serviceable and skill level is somewhat even. Player matches allow players to join or create lobbies for up to 6 players; private slots can be put in place to invite friends through Steam.
For ranked matches, players can check another player's profile before accepting a match to see their skill level and most importantly, the percentage of disconnects he or she has. This was a nice little tidbit to warn players beforehand.
Taking everything into account, the most significant flaws in Melty Blood Actress Again Current Code's Steam version lies in its mediocre netcode and some standout bugs that will most likely be ironed out in a reasonable timeframe. The fact that this even came out on Steam in the first place and is now officially available in a convenient matter to the mass market is nothing short of astonishing.
These improvements may be coming sooner than I initially imagined. The author of the fan-made multiplayer client for Melty Blood Actress Again Current Code's initial PC release, Madscientist, has expressed his desire to assist Arc System Works in improving the netcode and has announced that his rollback netcode will be integrated into the Steam version soon! As of the time of this writing, it has just been revealed and I imagine more details will be revealed in a few days. Frankly, I find it amazing that the Melty Blood community and publisher are able to work together to improve the experience for everyone.
If you're wondering if you should buy it, it honestly boils down to whether you like fighting games and/or want to support more insane localization projects like this. It was one of the last games I thought would ever see an official release worldwide but here we are. While it's an easy game to dive into and have fun casually with other newcomers, learning the ins and outs of it is a journey in itself.
Breathing life into a 14 year old series is no easy task and releasing a 5 year old game into the overseas marketplace for the first time ever is crazy to think about.
But miracles do happen. Thank you for reading this debut installment of Branching Path.