What’s so important about Melty Blood?

If you were on games social media recently, you might have noticed that the announcement of Melty Blood: Type-Lumina got a lot of old fighting game players very excited. I was just about jumping out of my seat for joy.

But what the hell is Melty Blood? Isn’t that the game from the hotel bathroom jokes? What makes this particular game so formative for so many people? As a member of the Melty Blood generation, I’m glad you asked.

Back in 2002, I was in anime club at an engineering school. Aided by a school-provided laptop and an educational-grade Internet connection, I was starting to find my people, my aesthetic and my tastes.

Anime and video games were how we spent our plentiful downtime, and sharing the material was a way of life. We gathered around laptops to watch Azumanga Daioh and Samurai Deeper Kyo together. We brought our Dreamcasts over for Guilty Gear XX and Capcom Vs. SNK 2; I learned for the first time what it meant to be “good” at a fighting game. There was just so much stuff, and the piracy floodgates were open.

My favorite discoveries were the doujinshi games: Japanese indies. (Despite pervasive misinterpretation, doujinshi refers to any self-published material.) I had no idea who made these games — hobbyists — where they came from — Comic Market — how you were supposed to get them — 1,000 yen — or how they didn’t get sued for their blatant copyright infringement. But by 2002, there were many experienced, prolific semi-pro Japanese game developers releasing exciting new games every few months.

And among them were shockingly high quality arcade games featuring all the characters from anime that we watched. It was totally in my strike zone! I could name these games forever: AirRade, Eternal Fighter Zero, Demon Hunter Mai. Traditional action games had already fallen out of the mainstream at this point, and so I became obsessed with these indies who so skillfully carried on the lineage. (And of course, the Touhou series is its own story.)

The best group by a long shot were French Bread (though this wasn’t their name in these days). A lot of doujin software approached professional quality, but French Bread were *there*. The art, the game feel, even the music were all on point. Usually in doujin games you got one or the other, not all of them. If not for their copyrighted lead characters, these were games good enough to sell in a store for full price.

(The opening video of the original Melty Blood. To have a full-on opening movie and theme song was itself bold.)

And in December 2002 French Bread dropped the very first release of Melty Blood. This was a collaboration with a bigger rising star: Type-Moon, who you may know as the originators of the Fate universe. Fate/stay night wouldn’t exist for a little while; instead, Type-Moon was coming off the success of their breakout hit Tsukihime (literally Moon Princess), a dense and tightly plotted horror visual novel. Like Queen of Heart was the unofficial fighting game based on To Heart, Melty Blood was the official “Tsukihime Fighter”, telling a new story with the same characters while preserving some of the parody spirit of the early French Bread games.

We didn’t know any of that at the time. What we did know was that for an amateur production in 2002, Melty Blood featured some stunningly detailed and professional-grade pixel animation. It could stand next to any SNK game, even some of Capcom’s. The level of detail and passion was evident. And it played great! Were these people really just hobby game developers? How?!

The fact that the source material wasn’t available in English just made the characters more mysterious and fascinating. Who were these people, and what was their world like? Melty Blood, like Tsukihime, was realist fantasy in the modern world. Anime was loaded with pastel hair and unreal costumes at this time, but Type-Moon gave players refreshingly plain, sober characters that hid wildly complicated supernatural powers and weird in-jokes I couldn’t yet understand. It took years until it was possible to read Tsukihime in English, but Type-Moon made a fan of me before even that.

Melty Blood was an amazement and an inspiration. I didn’t become a game developer, but to think that some fans had put together something like this in their free time — even if T-M and French Bread were the “pros” of indies — was one of the things that made me think that maybe I could make my own way in this new world I was discovering.

It was vindicating to see French Bread go pro and Melty Blood turn into a popular arcade franchise in Japan (Melty Blood Act Cadenza and onwards). Melty was actively developed for a decade, finishing with the PC version you can currently buy on Steam, Melty Blood Actress Again Current Code. The final Melty Blood game was extremely developed and mature by this point, bursting with characters and fighting styles.

Melty Blood in the FGC

And so this unabashedly advanced fighting game came to live a second life in the online fighting game community.

In the years before the Steam release, MBAACC was a hit, again, in piracy. You couldn’t really blame people: for years the only way to own the game was to buy a $100 out-of-print limited edition Japanese DVD of a single anime episode. Fans passed the game around freely, equipped with fan-modded rollback netplay. All you needed was a friend’s IP address to have a fully-featured online fighting experience literally a decade better than the Japanese majors were willing to offer. Why wouldn’t you play Melty?

The moon princess disappears

Opening for the console port of the Fate/Stay Night visual novel

Meanwhile in Type-Moon country, Fate/Stay Night was a day one hit that eclipsed its predecessor in popularity by several orders of magnitude. With a massive and dedicated cult following, Fate immediately became a dependable nerd franchise. Eventually the Fate mobile game, Fate/Grand Order, would make billions of dollars and eclipse the original Fate/Stay Night in popularity by a similar magnitude.

So imagine how eclipsed, how forgotten, little old Tsukihime was at this point.

A remake of Tsukihime and a new Melty Blood game had always been in the plans; it had just been so many years, and Fate was so massive, that they were fairly presumed dead.

For its part, French Bread has been busy with its superb original title Under-Night In-Birth. With advanced, thoughtful game design and aesthetics heavily inspired by Type-Moon’s urban fantasy, UNI obtained a similar cult following to Melty and enjoyed a community boom many years after its original release.

So the sudden reappearance of both projects is a cause of joy for both old Type-Moon fans and a cult corner of the fighting game community. We were all here: we were just dormant, so there was an explosion.

And personally, Melty Blood was the only game where I was ever able to make my opponent run out of the arcade screaming, so I’ll always have that emotional connection with it. Thank you, Arcueid Brunestud.

Sooolar wind. Anime/games writer. Sometimes on @polygon? @Kawaiikochans is the sum of my efforts. Serious about stupid.