Is it worth the money? — DNF Duel

After only a year and a half since it was initially teased, DNF Duel is now officially available for fighting game fans to dive into something new.

Now that we’ve spent a decent amount of hours with the Arc Sytsem Works and Eighting co-developed fighter for this review, we’re here to let you know whether DNF Duel is worth spending your money on or not at launch.

For those of you who don’t know, DNF Duel is a fighting game spin-off of the Korean online beat ’em up RPG Dungeon Fighter Online with its playable characters pulled directly from the available class types of the original.

Dungeon Fighter Online reportedly has reached over 850 million players worldwide since it released in 2005 with the vast majority of their base being found in Asia.

As such, DNF Duel is catering more so to those audiences and less so for the West, but that’s not inherently a negative or anything.

I just wish Neople and Nexon had changed the name in the West to Dungeon Fighter Duel instead of using the Asian abbreviation for Dungeon & Fighter, but again, that’s not a big deal.

Now talking about the fighting game itself, DNF Duel takes a decent amount of what Granblue Fantasy: Versus set up with a focus on simpler inputs married together with the frenetic action and style you’d expect from the Marvel vs. Capcom 3 developers.

I will admit that I wasn’t immediately loving the game upon first picking it up, but in the hours that I’ve spent diving into its unique combat structure, I’ve come to appreciate what they’re doing a ton more.

DNF Duel comes packing 16 playable characters (15 at the start plus 1 more unlockable) pulled from Dungeon Fighter Online’s various classes that manages to cover just about every fighting game archetype imaginable — even some that we don’t see very often.

The setting blends together magic, technology and martial arts with different focuses for each character that all mesh well, so it should be easy to find at least 1 class that appeals to you whether that be big hammer guys, laser gun girls, fast slashing dudes and the playable boss, who messes with space and time.

Characters like Swift Master, Ranger, Launcher and Lost Warrior all offer something rather unique to the genre, but there’s no real standard Shoto type to cover the basics — so just pick who you think looks / sounds the coolest.

Pretty much everyone seems busted and overpowered too, so it’s going to be interesting to see how the balance shakes out.

DNF basically functions as a 4-button fighter with 2 buttons dedicated to normals and the other 2 for Specials, which the game calls Skills.

The controls feel fairly tight and satisfying with the variety of melee and ranged weaponry providing a special flavor to everyone while remaining loose too in the sense of building combos, which we’ll dive into in a second.

What will probably be a bit disappointing to some is that the normals are about as shallow as you can get with most characters’ moves functioning largely the same, and it’s made even more noticeable with the lack of command normals.

That can make the game feel limiting and too simple at first although that quickly changes when you realize what DNF is trying to do differently.

Skills are essentially the real meat of the combat system here with the regular moves functioning almost like bigger, cooler normals that can be used not just to end combos, but start them and extend them too.

Combos get really crazy really quickly once you internalize that many Skills are made to cancel into each other to provide different routes and situational uses.

They don’t all universally link together, however, so you’ll have to spend some time exploring the cast to see what possibilities are out there.

The even more powerful MP Skills blow those doors off the hinges too by using your regenerating MP gauge to use, but these can get so wild that they can look at level 1 Supers in MvC games in some cases.

Inputs for Skills do use simple directions to pull off, so even some of the longest combos aren’t as taxing on dexterity, which does feel fitting with the fast pace of the game.

MP Skills do have traditional motions available for them too, but the only benefit is causing your MP to regenerate faster.

While DNF’s implementation of normals is a bit too homogenous, the Skills are what truly differentiate the classes and make them stand out from one another.

More depth can even be found by changing up when during a Skill you cancel it. Doing so early in an attack can create unusual setups or waiting until the end is often the fasted route to more damage.

Managing MP is pretty important, but running out isn’t inherently a death sentence in part because it recharges pretty quickly.

There’s one more way to extend combos too using the Conversion system.

In DNF, about half of the damage dealt by combos remains as recoverable white health, but you can use Conversion to cash that potential life out to use what is essentially a quick Roman Cancel from Guilty Gear. Just instantly recover from whatever move you’re doing and hit something else.

When starting out, Conversion is easily overlooked and unnecessary, but knowing when to use your HP as a combo resource will likely be key to sealing rounds at higher levels of play.

With each character possessing at least 8 Skills at their disposal, matches are almost always engaging and action packed plus the mind games they can bring.

The action may be a bit too much for some, however, considering combos can go on for 10+ seconds with no way to interact if you’re the one being hit, and some of the last in-game trials can do almost 90% of your health.

I do still wish that DNF had a Burst feature to make these long combos a bit more engaging for those on the receiving end, but there is at least a Guard Cancel to break out of block strings at the expensive cost of 100 MP.

If you’re not a big fan of comeback mechanics in fighters, DNF might be a harder sell as well because the game essentially has 3 of them.

As you take damage, characters gain access to more and more max MP to use, and when the life bar reaches 25%, it unlocks the cast’s Awakened ability (which generally boosts an aspect of a fighter like speed or damage) and the Awakening Skill, which works like a full-powered Super that can easily be combo’d into from just about anything.

This can make the ends of matches even more crazy and frantic when just 1 touch can turn the tide of battle.

Note: Online servers were not available for the review period, so we couldn’t test out the game’s online features.

While we couldn’t test the online early, DNF Duel does indeed use rollback netcode, and my experience with the previous betas were about as good as you’d hope and expect.

It is quite disappointing, however, that DNF Duel is launching without cross-platform play between PC and PlayStation and no word on it coming at a later date, so picking where you play will be important.

DNF Duel is not ArcSys’ most beautiful or ambitious game, but it also clearly did not get the same budget that Guilty Gear Strive, Granblue and Dragon Ball FighterZ received.

Don’t get me wrong though. The 3D anime style still works and looks great, and there’s an abundance of time when the game is a true work of art, especially seeing fighters like Swift Master in motion.

It’s largely that some characters standing around and even menus can look either a bit muddy, glossy or have too much aliasing, even when running at 4K resolution on PC at max settings.

Not every game needs to be an earth-shattering blowout, and it does help that DNF is only priced at $50 USD — so they seem to know it too.

I will commend the developers that DNF probably has the best animations of ArcSys and Eighting’s 3D games as well as some absolutely eye-catching effects on Skills and gorgeous Supers.

DNF’s soundtrack probably won’t blow your mind or anything, but the scores generally fit well and aren’t distracting while the sound design around attacks are satisfying for the most part too.

Character designs are all pretty darn good and varied without clashing whether you’ve got the holy Crusader, wildman Berserker or karate dude Grappler.

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The game offers voice over languages for Korean (by default), Japanese and Chinese, but there’s no English dub, which will be disappointing for some.

For PC specifically, there is no fullscreen option available, only windowed or borderless.

I did also notice some odd hitches during a few cutscenes and loading screens as well as color options sometimes not loading correctly, but the PC version seems to be otherwise fine at launch.

One last gripe is that the PC version only offers the Xbox button layout for displays and doesn’t even allow you to change them to the corresponding attack icon.

The game mode offerings and features included are the weakest aspect of DNF Duel’s package, as it’s just the bare minimum of what is expected of modern fighting games.

You have Story Mode, Arcade Mode, Survival Mode, Free Match, Training Mode, Tutorial, Ranked Match, Player Match, Gallery, and that’s it.

Training Mode just includes the basics you’d expect with dummy recording, meter options and quick changes to characters / stages, but it unfortunately doesn’t come packing the frame data.

And that’s a real shame too because this is the fighting game that I feel needs it most in recent memory since some big moves with long recovery animations are actually plus on block (which DNF does at least tell you in the description most times) and some fast attacks are seemingly negative.

It can be really scary to press a button after a block string because you can’t simply eye an attack to gauge whether or not it’s your turn.

Instead, they put in a counter for the “Unconscious” state, which basically provides a countdown during a combo of how much time you have left until the other character automatically recovers, so that is at least useful for figuring out combos.

Story Mode isn’t a cohesive narrative. Rather, every character has their own story filled with about 9 chapters done in the style of a visual novel and about 1 fight per chapter.

The plot itself is about as mediocre as you can get with the cast being gifted with the MacGuffin “Wills” that brings them together and fight like they’re JoJo Stand users.

Characters don’t really have any meaningful relationships or growth between each other. Just beat up someone and move onto the next.

Hell, most of the characterization is done through the side characters, which makes them more interesting than the main roster unfortunately.

It’ll take you about an hour to clear out a single story mode (unless you mash through the dialogue), and luckily, you only need to beat 1 to unlock Lost Warrior.

Arcade and Survival don’t have much to offer except for money to purchase some online customization options and gallery unlockables.

Out of all of them, Tutorial is actually probably the most fleshed out and useful, and I highly recommend everyone check that out because they offer character overviews, summaries of their strengths, and tutorials specifically catered to each of their unique skills and abilities.

Combo trials in the mode are actually more helpful than usual too since they quickly teach you how the game’s combo structure works and which of a character’s Skills link into each other.

There’s gonna be combinations you’d never think of without checking out the later trials before experimenting more yourself.

Finally, it includes Challenges too that offer to test your grasp of fighting game and character-specific concepts like anti-airs, dealing with projectiles and escaping pressure.

DNF Duel’s mode offerings and overall presentation do not push the genre to anything we haven’t already seen before (or done better) and won’t be the main draw to players, but it is instead the unique take on energetic action that’ll be the big appeal.

Despite its simple first impressions, the system ArcSys and Eighting crafted seems to have an unexpected amount of depth and creativity packed in that lets you keep making new discoveries even after hours of play thanks mostly to DNF’s very open Skill-canceling mechanics.

The game is only $50, which makes it a bit of an easier sell than if it were $60 or $70, but this certainly won’t be for everyone.

If you enjoy the thought of something like Granblue Fantasy: Versus being injected with some of the crazy blood of Marvel vs. Capcom, then DNF will probably be worth your time.

That is of course assuming you have other people to play with or mostly care about training and hopping online because there’s not much else to do.

If getting hit with 10–15 second combos doesn’t sound as fun or you have a distinct and specific hatred for comeback mechanics, it may be best you hold off for now.

I wasn’t an immediate believer of the game, but I’m having a lot of fun with DNF now (especially Ghostblade) and am excited to hop online and find out what ridiculous stuff people are coming up with already.

Note: EventHubs was provided a review copy of DNF Duel for the purposes of this review and performed using the PC version of the game.


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