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DNF Duel Is A Flashy & Fun Fantasy 2D Fighter That’s Missing Substance

Platform(s): PS4 (version played), PS5, PC
Genre: 2D fighting game based on a Korean MMO that’s influenced by Guilty Gear, now produced by the folks behind Guilty Gear

It’s amazing how DNF Duel, a fighting game based on the Korean MMO, is being handled by Arc System Works, given that the original Korean MMORPG it’s based on is influenced by Guilty Gear and 2D beat-em-ups. This makes the collaboration a “coming full circle” sort of deal.

But does it seal said deal? Is DNF Duel a worthy addition for both casual and hardcore fighting game fans? Yes, and here’s why.

Class Act

DNF Duel lets you pick between 16 characters named after Dungeon Fighter Online’s classes, and then battle it out in 1-versus-1 mode on a 2D arena just like your 2D fighting games. This being an anime fighter, inputs are pretty lenient and combos-slash-follow-ups are plentiful with most basic attacks/normals being able to chain with other special attacks and Mana-using moves. While the game’s fighting mechanics may seem similar, there are a few key differences.

There are no air blocks, and most of the game’s characters have simplified inputs for their specials and trademark attacks. Your Special button is usually where your Launcher’s ballistic weapons and Striker’s chainable kung-fu moves will be at, while the aforementioned Mana moves will be souped-up versions of them with different properties from your anti-airs to your hard-hitting slashes, as well as hard-to-jump-over projectiles. As the label suggests, Mana moves eat up your Mana Bar that’s below your health bar. If it’s empty, you cannot use Mana moves and have to wait a bit to recharge it from exhaustion.

Here’s the kicker: when you get hit by regular attacks and special moves, you lose life but also have parts of it greyed out. This bit is recoverable over time. However, if you get hit by a Mana move, it’s all gone.

Grey health is important not just because of potential recoverable health if you are on the offensive and keeping opponents pressured, but because of the game’s Conversion mechanic. By using Conversion, you sacrifice grey health to gain back a good chunk of mana and also cancel out of whatever you were doing. This is a lovely risk/reward system as you play more of the game: suddenly every unsafe move you have can put you back to neutral and safe if you spend a little bit of grey health. Best of all, if you convert a huge amount of grey health, you recover a lot more Mana, which means you can chain additional Mana moves that will usually put you at an advantage.

Furthermore, each class has an Awakened state that’s triggered when their life is low, as well as additional passive abilities. These usually give specific buffs, like the Trouble Shooter’s ability to detonate the mines he lays on the floor to the Vanguard’s ability to deal more chip damage compared to the rest of the cast. Oh, and being in Awakened state lets you pull off a damaging Super move, though most of them aren’t invincible and can’t be use as a wakeup option.

Attack The Block

These slew of mechanics also reveal one big caveat, if you can call it that. The game has limited defensive options. Apart from blocking, evading (via a direction and the guard button), and a pushback move from a blocking stance, that’s pretty much it for universal guarding options. Still, every class in the game has the tools to either make you take reigns in the offensive or one additional parry or anti-air that blows enemies away. This may cause some ire for players used to neutral-focused titles like most of the Street Fighter entries, but DNF Duel is a tailored beast of a fighting game. It sorts of hearken back to the days of classic Guilty Gear but with simplified inputs for potential mass market appeal and an offensive combo-filled gameplay that’s sorely missing in most 2D titles these days. Even Guilty Gear Strive, as awesome as that fighting game is, feels like a different fighting game than its predecessor. And for that, I’m happy DNF Duel is taking its anime fighter approach seriously courtesy of the makers at Arc System Works and Eighting.

Despite all that, if you’ve been playing fighting games for a while, your fundamentals can take you pretty far. Just make sure you go to the tutorial and figure out your basic combos for the characters you want to use, be it the rushdown-savvy Striker or the footsie-reliant Vanguard. Every archetype is amped up to the 11th degree like a Spinal Tap concert, and I adore the game for that.

Speaking of tutorials, I applaud the dev team for making its training section as thorough as possible. This bit comes with not just each Class’ rundown but also a number of basic and advanced combos to put to good use in offline and online competitive play, but also challenges to make you figure out if your chosen Class is the right one for your playstyle.

Online play for DNF Duel is really, really seamless and smooth. The PC version I’ve been playing for hours show little to no lag on my end, with modes like Ranked and casual lobby play very easy and intuitive to get into. Sure, I could use less Enchantresses in my random matchups, as they’re usually annoying to deal with, but that’s on me for not knowing the matchup proper.

Fantasy Strikeout?

DNF Duel is flashy, easy to get into, and has enough content to keep you entertained. While I feel that the game could use a tad more content beyond Story Mode and a few other challenges that are pretty standard, it’s at least a bit more substantial than Guilty Gear Strive’s launch version. While the game’s combat is more offense-oriented, there’s thankfully a lot more substance in its combat than meets the eye that makes it worth the US$50/RM200+.

DNF Duel is at a crucial stage where its first six months or so will determine its lifespan among the ever-fickle fighting game community. But for what it’s worth, this fantasy duel is worth the trouble and effort to get into. With its variable base cast and similar-yet-fresh fighting game mechanics with a ton of nuances, coupled with some modes here and there, this game is clearly above and beyond dungeon-dwelling material.

Pros

  • Fun fighting mechanics and gameplay that focuses on offensive play & combos.
  • Flashy 2D animation & aesthetics.
  • Great selection of characters with different archetypes.
  • Online play is smooth.

Cons

  • Needs a couple more modes & a meatier Story Mode.
  • Pretty broken core fighting system & overpowered characters.

Final Score: 70/100

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  1. DNF Duel Teases New Spectre Character; Coming To Switch Next Year | KAKUCHOPUREI.COM

    December 4, 2022 at 12:58 pm

    […] a Nintendo Switch port that’s slated for Spring 2023. For more on DNF Duel, check out our review & features on the […]

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