DNF Duel is another fighting game made in collaboration with powerhouse Arc System Works. For those who are fairly deep into the early MMORPG scene or play a lot of Korean MMOs, Dungeon Fighter Online remained a staple since its original release in the mid-2000s. Arc System Works adapted the core strengths of this title and incorporated its signature style into what turned into an exciting and approachable fighter.
Ark System Works managed to retain the essence of each of the original classes from Dungeon Fighter Online in DNF Duel. I was particularly surprised at how well the Ranger, which was my main during the short period of time I played the MMORPG, translated into a fighting game. Staple attacks from the MMO appear in his move list, with animations almost identical to the sweeping kick he can perform.
Each animation is particularly punchy, with snappy, over-exaggerated movements making each action feel particularly dynamic. In retrospect, it almost feels natural that a fighting game would somehow manifest from the Dungeon Fighter Online series. Arc System Works nails the general feel of each of these classes. Every character looks good and works well. The Hitman is the standout for me among the roster. Mostly because I loved his design, his ability to balance medium range projectiles (which are really just short bursts of rounds sprayed from his SMG), and the long, sweeping slashes of his sword.
I found each character relatively easy to pick up, which was great. I honestly fall between the “average fighting game enjoyer” and “someone who really wants to be better at fighting games but never nails the execution” range. DNF Duel made every character feel approachable, with combos being easy to execute even for the most inexperienced of players. It doesn’t take the same kind of finesse or intense concentration as earlier Arc System Works, like previous iterations of Guilty Gear or BlazBlue. This makes the game feel a bit more approachable.
The more complex aspects of the game are relegated to an MP bar that will charge up over the duration of the match. Using certain attacks will drain the MP bar, and these are usually the flashiest and most powerful. Thankfully, the gauge refills relatively quickly and only after a few seconds of consuming a percentile of your bar. This works similar to a “super” bar in other fighting games, with the addition of being able to convert damage into MP.
Additionally DNF Duel has a story mode that allows people to fight their way through scenarios tailored for each individual character. Playing through the Hitman’s story had me chasing down leads with an assassination bureau, whereas the Vagabond’s storyline saw me pursuing a supposed worthy opponent. While the end result is mostly the same, with the final battle for the story mode culminating in similar events, it’s a nice bite-sized adventure that allows the cast of characters to interact with one another. Albeit it is on a mostly surface level, as the narrative really isn’t anything to write home about. The story mode isn’t as lengthy as Granblue Fantasy Versus‘, for example. However, you do get to unlock a secret character by beating the story mode for the first time.
The story mode is where the single player experience ends, as the rest of DNF Duel is relegated to online or couch co-op fights. The general experience of the player may vary based on their skill level and what they’re looking to achieve through online play. I’m not a particularly competitive person, so I didn’t mind getting beaten time and time again by a player that was infinitely more skilled than I was. I was just happy that there was little to no lag. This made the duels at least feel fair in one regard, even as I was getting pummeled into the ground by Strikers and Berserkers.
Since DNF Duel uses the same visual style as Guilty Gear Strive, the game looks great. The cel-shaded art style really brings out the best in the character designs and effects. However, its backgrounds feel somewhat lackluster by comparison. There are a few that stand out, like a warmly lit tavern and the white stone square in a costal city, but the other arenas feel like they’re just there. In regards to the score, there wasn’t any piece of music that was particularly memorable. Which is odd, considering Arc System Works’ history of having incredible and distinct soundtracks for games.
Surprisingly, DNF Duel doesn’t have an English language audio option. It instead opts for Korean, Chinese, and Japanese dubs. That isn’t to say the voice acting isn’t great, particularly the Japanese dub of the game. Those with a honed ear will be able to pick up familiar voice actors reprising their roles.
Overall, DNF Duel is a great fighting game. It appeals to casual players, while still offering a fair bit of complexity to keep more experienced players entertained. It’s definitely a title I’ll go back to from time to time. Ultimately, it feels like a game that could develop a consistent following in the years to come. If it gets the right opportunity, that is.
DNF Duel is available for the PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and PC.