Despite its illustrious history, the fighting game genre has always been viewed as a notoriously difficult one for newcomers to access. Ever Street Fighter 4 hit the scene in 2008, developers have been trying to figure out how to make these 1v1 arcades games both welcoming and competitive with mixed results.
Melty Blood Type Lumina may be the title that proves that fighting games can be both easy to get into and have veteran appeal.
For context, I’m a veteran fighting game enthusiast who’s been playing them since Street Fighter 2 first launched on the SNES. I’m not a pro by any stretch of the imagination, but I have enough experience to know what makes these games complicated and appealing at the same time.
I have tried many titles, and Melty Blood Type Lumina is one of the few games where I could start playing matches and having fun without much training room time. Its implementation of auto-combos and easy-to-grasp core mechanics enable Type Lumina to strike a balance between a game that most gamers can pick up and have fun with and one that gives hardcore players the freedom of expression and intense mind games they crave.
The Melty Blood series takes place in the world of a manga/anime/visual novel series called Tsukihime. The first visual novel follows a young man named Shiki Tohno, who can see Death Lines after suffering an injury. Cutting these lines, whether they are on a person or object, results in their demise and the removal of the meaning of their existence—heavy stuff.
Shiki receives a pair of eyeglasses from a mysterious individual and manages to live a relatively everyday life until he meets Arcueid. Soon after, he’s thrust into a world field with vampires, Apostles, and magic. The original Tsukihime takes place roughly around 2001, with the rest of the Melty Blood series falling somewhere in that timeline.
Type Lumina takes place within the 2010s and is considered more of a companion game, so to get into the story, you won’t need any catching up to do.
Staying in step with past iterations, Type Lumina delivers its story with a mix of a visual novel style and fights against AI-controlled characters. Each of the 14 fighters has their own story, which ties together with the rest of the cast, so there’s plenty of reason to complete all of their story modes.
The visual novel segments are fully voice acted in Japanese with the dialogue translating into English. Unfortunately, there is no English dub. The overall pacing of the story segments was good enough, and the story has quite a few gripping moments that kept me hooked. Like with most fighting games with this narrative style, though, it suffers from a critical flaw.
The fights in between feel pointless because of the game’s AI opponents. On easy mode, they’re barely a challenge. Crank up the difficulty, though, and they start playing like they’re on cheat mode. They can read your inputs and hit you with the correct answer every single time, at precisely the perfect frame. To be fair to Type Lumina, this is an unfortunate side-effect of the genre that developers have yet to improve.
Visually, Melty Blood Type Lumina is a stunning testament that 2D hand-drawn sprites are still eye candy. Every character in the game has been meticulously drawn and animated, making it easily one of the best-looking titles that use the lost art of sprite work.
Hit sparks and effects all have their own distinct glow and hue that make them very easy to distinguish during the heat of battle. There’s a clear sign of intent infused in every detail of Type Lumina’s visual design. You can even tell from the faces that appear during a Moon Drive activation which character is the one about to stomp all over the other.
While graphics and story are all well and good, fighting games live and die by their battle systems. There’s great debate over how complex can be too complex when it comes to these games. Some may argue that the intimidating number of bars and moves to keep track of that drives players away.
Others say that fighters are at their worst when they’re too simple. On this spectrum, Type Lumina is a bit of an oddity - but in a good way.
There’s a handful of core mechanics to learn in this game. Normal attacks, special attacks, Moon Skills, EX moves, Arc Drives, Last Arcs, Moon Drive, and shield, this list looks pretty long at face value, and it barely scratches the surface of the game’s intricacies. At the same time, though, there’s a simplicity to several of these mechanics that inches Type Lumina closer to the simple side of the spectrum.
Shielding is a defensive mechanic that can be used with the press of a button. If your opponent’s attack hits your shield, you have an opportunity to use one of three follow-ups, each with its own advantages.
As a mechanic, it feels natural in execution, and using it during battle has immediate applications that don’t take long to figure out. But that doesn’t mean that Shielding is a “get out of jail free” card.
Your opponent can also counter some of your follow-ups with their own shield leading to what is known in the community as Shield Wars. In essence, the shield mechanic creates its own rock-paper-scissors situations and forces you to adapt based on how your opponents respond.
The Moon Gauge is another straightforward mechanic that can be used in simple ways while also having a fair amount of underlying complexity. This yellow circle that lives next to your health bar can be spent on either a Moon Drive activation or to use Moon Skills.
Both of these mechanics are pretty powerful and make Moon Gauge management a big decision during matches. Moon Drive is an activation that freezes the action for a split second and buffs your character with properties such as increased damage and a triple jump.
The pause effect is quite significant because, on defense, it can give you extra breathing room to see what your opponent is doing on their approach, allowing you to choose the perfect response. Moon Skills are also pretty strong and straightforward to execute.
By hitting two buttons and a directional input, your character will perform powered-up versions of their special moves, which can quickly turn the tide of battle. As Moon Gauge is gained by landing attacks, it’s the kind of resource you want to be mindful of using at the right time.
This is a brilliant marriage of newcomer accessibility and hardcore competitive nuance as a design for fighting games.
One other smartly executed mechanic in Type Lumina is the Rapid Beat. By repeatedly hitting any of your normal attacks, your character will execute a grounded combo that launches and follows up with a short air combo that ends in an air throw. It’s otherwise known as an auto-combo which is a hotly debated topic within the fighting game community.
Make them too strong, and there’s no point in using better optimized manual combos. If they’re too weak, though, then they’re useless. Rapid Beats feel like they strike that perfect balance of being useful without overshadowing player-made combos. The amount of damage you get off a Rapid Beat is high enough to make them dangerous. They also lead to a knockdown with your character at close proximity, which means you’ve got an opportunity to apply pressure.
What makes Rapid Beats even better is how they can be iterated. You can start your journey by playing exclusively with your RBs while learning the ropes and slowly expand them by incorporating air jumps to extend the air combos or using them as follow-ups after successfully landing Moon Skills.
Not only does this give you a sense of progression as a player, but also it teaches you how to build your own combos.
Rapid Beats aren’t without their problems, though. Because of the fast pace of the game, it’s easy to have stray inputs that end up putting you in a combo sequence on your opponent’s guard that can be punished quite easily.
If you’re a serial button spammer like yours truly, then you’ll have to start being mindful of how much you mash.
To further supplement its ways of easing players in, Melty Blood Type Lumina features an extensive tutorial. It covers everything from basic movement to how all of the game’s various mechanics work.
There’s even a set of missions for each character that teaches you their special moves and combos. Combos are categorized as Beginner, Intermediate, Expert, so you can practice those that suit your level before progressing to more complex strings.
The structure of these teaching modes is pretty standard. You are given an explanation of the mechanic you’re learning about and then are allowed to use them in a scripted scenario. While this works quite well as a means of input to the player, it doesn’t provide enough broader context to help assimilate their new skills.
This is something most fighting game tutorials suffer from, and Type Lumina doesn’t fare any better. What ends up happening is the game bombards you with a bunch of new terminology and skills and then tosses you into the deep end to try to use whatever you learned in actual matches.
Where Melty Blood Type Lumina truly shines is with its online play, specifically its netcode. For the uninitiated, netcode refers to how a game handles its online play communications, especially when connections become unstable. The gold standard in the fighting game community is what is known as rollback netcode and Type Lumina, thankfully, has a solid implementation of it.
Rollback netcode effectively uses an algorithm to correct desyncs between players by reverting the game back to an earlier state. Thanks to improvements over the years, this system makes these minor adjustments happen seamlessly, which is the exact case with this game.
All matches that we’ve played so far, whether Ranked or Player, have been incredibly smooth with very few instances of noticeable lag.
There have been reports that Type Lumina matches can stutter if one of the two players skips the battle intro. These reports have primarily been about the game’s PC version, but our tests on PS4 and PS5 haven’t reproduced this issue so far.
If I had one nitpick, it would be with the player lobbies. When setting up rooms to play matches with your friends, you can only have one match playing at a time while the rest of the room has to spectate and wait their turn. This decision feels like a step backward when other games allow for multiple matches to occur in the same room.
Melty Blood Type Lumina may not be a flawless game, but within the context of fighting games, it’s a true gem. Its battle system is brilliantly executed in a way that accommodates players of all levels of experience. If you’re new and just want to have fun, you can do so, even in Ranked mode. For veterans of the series and genre, there’s plenty of meat on the game’s proverbial bones with tons of nuance to explore. It’s not aiming to innovate in areas such as tutorials and single-player content. But if you’re interested in picking up a new fighting game, whether you’re brand-new to the genre or a seasoned pro, Melty Blood Type Lumina has the goods.
Pros & Cons
- Stunning 2D hand-drawn sprites that are true eye candy
- Intricate battle system that strikes a healthy balance between accessibility and high skill
- Solid online netcode that results in smooth matches
- Extensive tutorial that includes practical combos
- The story may not interest you if you’re not already invested in the Tsukihime universe
- Player lobbies lack features that are now standard in the genre
- Tutorials lack any means of enabling the player to more extensively practice new skills