• Melty Blood Act Cadenza Review - Sony PS2

    Those of you whoíve read our Doujin Fighters feature will already be familiar with Melty Blood. If you havenít read it (and youíd better have a good excuse) then hereís a recap:

    The Melty Blood series of fighters first sprung to life on the PC as a collaboration between TYPE-MOON and French Bread, two Doujin software teams. The game itself is based on TYPE MOONís visual novel Tsukihime, which revolved around a young boy called Shiki Tohno. Recovering from an accident Shiki discovers he can now see peopleís usually invisible lifelines (which cause death when severed). Thanks to his unusual talent Shiki is recruited by a mysterious vampiress called Arcueid Brunestud to help her defeat another bloodthirsty vamp called Roa. Melty Blood is set 12 months after Tsukihimeís conclusion.

    Enjoying reasonable success in Japan following its PC release and gaining a cult, almost underground, following in the West, the game has gone through a number of revisions entitled React and Final Tuned. The game was also ported to the NAOMI system in Japanese arcades as Act Cadenza and it is this version that has been released on the PS2.

    The initial success of the series was largely due to the exceptionally high standard of its gameplay system, which had a depth that rivalled the professionally produced and longer-standing King of Fighters, Guilty Gear and Street Fighter series. However, now the game has stepped out of the PC league, where the competition was pale and flabby, and into the much leaner and established console super league, Act Cadenza brings the series into a whole new territory which it didnít have to worry about before. Fighting games almost never work on a PC, but consoles and arcades have been the genre's mainstay for years. Having had its format-based safety net taken away, the key issue is whether Melty Blood can compete with the established super-kings of the genre on their own turf.

    For those who have never played the game before, the choice of 16, predominantly female, fighters to choose from (three of which are new to this incarnation) might be a bit overwhelming. The usual mixed classes of speed, power and special moves are all present and itís to the title's credit that whichever character you start off with, the system is easy to get to grips with - more so if the player has any experience of playing a fighting game within the last decade. However as with any decent game of its type, it is mastering the characters and the deeper aspects which present the long-term challenge.

    Standard modes of gameplay such as Versus, Arcade, Survival and Training are by now a given with fighters, but the game also includes modes clinically titled A and B. Version A is the original release of Act Cadenza that launched in the arcades, while B is the version that was tweaked and balanced for the PS2 (and which will feature as the re-release in the Arcades at some point). Only of real use for serious fans who want to stay in the loop playing down the arcade, all the while still being able to play at home, it does make a nice addition all the same. However for those new to the game playing on Version B is highly recommended as it presents a more balanced playing experience.

    Thankfully changing modes and finding your way around the menus is simple, with the majority of text being presented in English. The brief snippets of game story are all in Japanese however, so understanding the limited plot progression and taunts may not be possible.

    It soon becomes apparent that despite its PC roots, Act Cadenza is far more than a button masher and that the vaunted system is incredibly complex. Alongside the standard fare of the Magic Circuit charge bar and parrying, dashes and recoveries, there are also more complicated systems of Circuit Breaking (cancelling out the use of the Magic Circuit and its subsequent build up for a certain amount of time) Bunker Cancels (interrupting blocking with specific attacks) and buffering moves. Tactical playing and making full use of a character's abilities are essential to getting the most out of each character, so much so that once the finer points are learnt itís possible to trump the lazy, club-fingered mashers every time.

    The combo system, just like the controls, is loose but responsive and also quite forgiving. This means that progression is satisfying as a character's abilities and potential are slowly discovered and mastered. All this means that while the depth of the play system cannot really be brought into question, the things that let Act Cadenza down here are, for the most part, technical issues.

    The 2D backgrounds of deserted moonlit streets, mansion grounds and baroque hallways are all wonderfully drawn, but the fighting sprites themselves are extremely blocky. While this was also a problem in the PC versions, here they actually seem to stick out more than ever. Given that the PS2 has proven to be more than capable of producing crisp 2D visuals itís extremely disappointing that the time wasnít taken to smooth out the characters' painfully rough edges.

    There are also some moments of flaky AI, particularly on the easy-to-normal settings where opponents will stand waiting for you to attack them, before being knocked about by whatever you care to dish out. These moments remain the exception rather than the rule and donít occur on the higher difficulty settings where the AI certainly does not shy from getting in your face and keeping you on your toes.

    Then there are the puzzling moments of empty space during the loading sequences, where the screen is left completely blank. These in particular underline the main problem of Act Cadenza on a console Ė it all feels roughly thrown together and more like a shoddy port, which really shouldnít be the case as itís clear that French Bread et al put a lot of effort into the game, somehow letting things slide on the tidbits that (despite being small) still matter. Itís a shame given that such a superb example of the home-grown genre deserves better and with the PS2 they had the perfect opportunity to establish the game's reputation further.

    Undeniably still very much a niche title, fighter fans willing to ignore the minus points and to invest the time, will find Melty Blood Act Cadenza gives them something rewarding and different to put their boot into.

    Score: 6/10