With Melty Blood: Actress Again now an official game for EVO 2010, the audience for a game with a comparatively small player base has grown by possibly hundreds of the size it used to be. When this is combined with the fact that the game itself is not only complex but also very different from what the audience is used to, the result is this: a very large amount of people have no idea what in the world is happening! Although it turned out to be a bit lengthy, I’ve written this to help the average competitive Street Fighter to understand this new, up-and-coming competitive game that Japan has been enjoying for years. Whether you want to understand MBAA just to watch, or you plan to learn and try out the game, what I’ve written here should help you get past the minor details and mechanics and see the bigger picture in the game.
First and foremost, there are many Melty resources that many people still do not know about. The three most useful are the MBAA wiki, Melty Bread, and the IRC channel #mbaa on irc.mizuumi.net. Without at least one of these three, it would probably be impossible to actually learn how to play MB as a new player in the US, so utilize these as much as you can.
One of the biggest obstacles in learning Melty is the difficulty in understanding the overall flow of the game, and basically its general “feel”. Often this is because it incorporates so many mechanics, several of which are unique to the game, that just to play the game without it looking like a match of a SF game, you have to become more than familiar with air movement, reverse beat, and a number of other very necessary things that can make things overwhelming.
However, with what most people know and understand about SF4, the process of learning the game can be made a lot easier by pointing out the many similarities and parallels that MB has with SF games. Like most fighting games, the different “phases” of MB’s gameflow can be split up into offense, defense, neutral or midscreen, and transitioning between these phases. Seeing as how the game starts at neutral, let’s start there:
Neutral game in MB is not too different from footsies in SF games, but there is another dimension added to it–the air. For those who don’t know what I mean by neutral game, it’s that time when each player is about half-a-screen away from each other, just outside the range of each other’s pokes, focusing not on getting in or getting away, but controlling their space. There are many reasons why this zoning happens in the air for MB: you have little risk in terms of the damage you can suffer because of shorter combos (not counting counter-hits), anti-airing in MB from the ground is much harder than in an SF game, and your reward is greater in damage from being able to score jump-ins on grounded opponents, and counter-hits on air opponents.
Learning how to play air-footsies in MB is really tough, but the first step is understanding all of the movement options you have. Everyone has the same jump, airdashes differ a little from character to character, superjumping forward from the ground leaves you in the air at a unique trajectory, and a super double jump is a new addition that can also take you farther while already in the air. C and H moon have air dodge which not only add another movement option, but obviously will dodge anything your opponent pokes with which can directly be offensive or defensive as well as a movement option. Lastly, there are also character specific moves that can alter your momentum and trajectory.
Actually playing footsies with your air pokes can turn out to be complex. First, understand that of the directions that you can move, what do each accomplish? An air backdash is sure to be evasive enough to get you away and out of the situation, but you will never be in a position to punish anything or counterattack at all. And on the flip side, a good forward air dash is such a direct and in-your-face maneuver that if you’re airdashing at an opponent who isn’t moving backwards, you better be rushing with a move that can win or you might as well have not airdashed in the first place. Jumping upwards can often be evasive, yet still put you in a position to counter attack, so if you feel your opponent might airdash directly at you with an attack, an upward jump will avoid this and tag him with a jump-in as both of you land; this is and “jump back, airdash forward” make up the fundamental SF “walk backward to avoid poke, counter-poke” basic footsie maneuvers of MB. To further complicate things, some characters with a fast fall or divekick-type attack can actually change the situation by landing faster than their opponent and choosing to be below their opponent; characters with good anti airs or air attacks with more upward hitboxes can really make use of this. All of this only covers the movement of footsies, without even touching upon the use of your air normals.
Thankfully, the use of air normals is a bit simpler in MB. For the most part, every character has at least one normal for the following three situations: air-to-ground (usually j.C, the ideal jump-in), air-to-air poke (usually j.B), and a fast air attack (almost always j.A, or basically your aerial jab). Combined with movement and your other air options, you have to use these to achieve your main objective against your opponent in the air, which most of the time is to gain the offensive, either through getting one of your air pokes blocked and gaining the momentum, or landing a hit into a combo and a knockdown, resulting in offensive momentum. The latter has a twist: landing a counter-hit means that the opponent cannot recover until they hit the ground. This means you can land before them and follow up with a combo that will deal around 40% life and knockdown which is a rather high payoff for some footsie game.
But how do we use our air moves to this objective? Well, firstly, a strictly air-to-ground move is really useful at any time the opponent is below you, so this gives you not only a way to attack from in front of them, but also above them, likely avoiding their attack. But how do we use this and our other two buttons to score air hits? Given that j.B is our air-to-air, and j.C is our air-to-ground, and j.A is our jab, the situation looks a little like this:
-j.B would lose to opponent jumping forward and doing j.C
-jumping forward and doing j.C would lose to jumping up and doing j.A
-any attempt to j.A when out of range would likely lose to j.B
-superjump from the ground at an airborne opponent to bait a j.C
-if you guess that he does not take the bait and block, you get j.ABC or some similar air blockstring that will score you momentum into a ground blockstring
-if you guess that he does take the bait and j.Cs, you can jump up or away and then airdash forward and hit him with whatever you wish
-if you guessed that he’d take the bait and were wrong, he can use his movement options to get away from you or he can use j.B when you come at him which is less likely to lose than a j.C
-if you guessed wrong that he wouldn’t take the bait and were wrong, he would hit you in the face
In reality, this is oversimplifying things more than a little bit, but it serves as an example of how the footsie game can play out in two dimensions.
Things can get even more complicated because there are even a few specifics for other moon styles: depending on moon style, air normals can be airdash cancelled on block, creating air frame traps ideal for counter-hitting airthrows, and Crescent and Half moon styles get access to an air dodge which functions a lot like a roll in SF games…but it’s for air footsies. The mindgame rabbit hole goes that deep.
All that overwhelming information aside, when does all of this stop?
Offense and defense basically start when one players scores a random hit on the other and it leads into a knockdown, or when one player throws out a move that the other player blocks and it leads into a blockstring on the ground. The game flow shifts back to neutral once both characters are out of range of each other’s normal attacks UNLESS one of the characters has a special move that can lead things back into their offensive despite being out of range of normals, for example the infamous EX deer.
Simple enough, but what next?
Rushdown in Melty Blood is a little unique but you’ll see that it’s made up of parts of play that you’re already familiar with. First off, normal moves are much, much more useful and used more often than special moves for offense and for really most of the game. A lot of the rushdown consists of greatly varying blockstrings either completely airtight or littered with frametraps, depending on whether you’re trying to beat attempts at a clean EX reversal or trying to beat something like an alpha counter or a poke to get out of pressure (aka random mashing). The great variation arrives with whiff cancelling and reverse beat, or one of the most difficult yet most defining features of Melty Blood.
Only and Crescent and Half moon can reverse beat, which is why Full moon is often the recommended moon style for SF players. Before I explain whiff cancelling, first imagine this: if FADCing normals in SF4 costed no meter, but each time you did it, damage you dealt over the next few seconds would be reduced by 25-50%. This is very, very much how whiff cancelling in MB works. It lets you extend your offense, is technically unsafe, although requires focus and very good reaction to stop or punish. This is basically what happens when you see someone doing a seemingly endless blockstring on someone else in the corner. They string together some blocked moves, unexpectedly end their string with a whiffed standing A and suddenly start a new string with a dash or with moves that will move them forward. Learning how to use this and the rest of your moves to blockstring on-the-fly in MB takes YEARS of practice, so don’t expect to get it right the first time.
Full moon offense is easier, although weaker. Full moon characters are often given better zoning tools, but for offense, they often possess more moves that are safe or advantageous on block, giving a much more familiar and strict rushdown and mixup sometimes similar to characters like M.Bison’s lockdown with scissors or Urien’s Aegis Reflector mixups in the corner.
What about mixup? Mixup is for the most part the same as you already know, with one minor exception: because of the crossup protection in MB (if the opponent is facing away from you, you can block their move both left or right), ambiguous crossups are instead done as setups that are ambiguous as to which side the offender will LAND on and attack from, rather than the side they will be on when the defender gets up into their kick.
All that’s great, but what if you’re on the receiving end?
Defense in MB has a lot of blocking. Because throws are generally high risk and low reward (i.e. they are not really used), you’ll find yourself wanting to block most of the time. The trick to not taking damage is to block correctly, and the trick to escaping or punishing is to find the gap in the offensive string. Blocking correctly is as simple as reacting to overheads and guessing right on certain mixups, but finding the gap in the offensive string can be tough, but remember, there always is one, and you have an alpha counter as well as a parry for expected frametraps. And remember, whiff cancelling is never advantageous on frames, so if you expect it, that’s your way out, as long as they don’t fake you out and kara cancel that standing A into the last few moves they haven’t yet used in their attack sequence (i.e. their attack string did not end, the A was cancelled into and out of).
If you’re coming up from a knockdown, chances are you’ll have some kind of orb, flame, summon, plant, or some other “item on the field” on top of you that will force you to block and will give your opponent lots (and I mean lots) of frame advantage, forcing you to deal with any high/lows they decide to run on you while they are safe to do so. Occasionally this madness won’t happen and all that happens is a simple meaty and you’ll be facing standard pressure without crazy mixups…or your opponent will back off SF4-style expecting a wakeup EX and the game will flow back to neutral.
Lastly, as a general rule, try your hardest not to ever ground throw or ground tech (tech recover, not tech throw) while on defense. It’s just a bad idea and common beginner mistake and you’re gonna get smashed in the face for it, hard. If you really, really want throw tech, at least option select it (exactly the same as in SF, crouching lp+lk) as the risk of doing so will go down considerably.
Other than that, there’s not much that can be done about teaching defense in MB. Just block, block a lot, and focus on doing something when you see someone whiff a standing A. There isn’t much fireball-keep-away, reaction defense (as featured in a recent front page SRK strategy article), etc. It’s much more like a mindgame of when you think your opponent is out of shots and is vulnerable because he’s busy reloading.
With all of this, I hope that learning MB becomes easy for all of the new players we see in the future enough that our community can finally grow to truly rival other games. I leave our learners with a few quick, generic tips:
-It might be easier to learn the game with a full moon character rather than a character with more offensive and defensive mechanics. However, realize that your offense and rushdown will likely be weaker and you’ll spend more time learning zoning and learning to spot gaps in pressure strings for you to escape out of or make more risky reversals against. However, this also means less time learning how to reverse beat and when you shouldn’t heat or dodge.
-Unless the game’s at neutral and you know it’s safe, don’t ground tech ever. I know I’ve said this three times already, but a stupid ground tech is the easiest way to lose 30% life right after you just lost 30% life, and new players get into a very bad habit of doing it.
-Take tiers with a grain of salt. The tiers in this game are always rather tight and every character in this game is solid at worst. Play the character you like, because then you will play them more and you’ll learn faster and like the game more.
Some work taken from my own Guide to Learning MBAA as an SF Player, this article was originally supposed to be a revised version but the original is too much of a mess format-wise and not suitable for an article. Nevertheless it is still worth checking out if you’re still interested, it has probably 5x the information given here.