Arc System Works has become a leading developer and publisher of modern fighting games. Along with increasingly popular original projects such as Guilty Gear, the success of games such as Dragon Ball FighterZ and Granblue Fantasy Versus has attracted the attention of other companies willing to collaborate in developing their own fighter. DNF Duel is another result of this trend: a one—on-one fighting game based on the popular Dungeon & Fighter universe and developed by Arc System Works, Eighting and Neople. While it’s clear that the game is fundamentally simplified and somewhat put together, DNF Duel is also strangely unique and undoubtedly fun.
Unlike other fighting games, the DNF Duel list consists of archetypes of different classes, rather than more specific characters such as Ryu or Chun-Li. All these classes are taken from the successful online game beat-em-up Dungeon & Fighter, and players choose from a lineup of 16 fighters who have titles such as “Berserk”, “Ranger”, “Grappler” and others. Each character has a relatively small set of movements, and all of them can be easily performed using the Smash Bros-esque input system that ArcSys previously experimented with in Granblue Fantasy Versus.
Despite the anime aesthetics of the game and the always impressive presentation of ArcSys in Unreal Engine 4, DNF Duel avoids many of the common elements of a typical “anime action movie”. There are no universal double jumps, air blocks, air jerks, advancing guards or related systems in the subgenre. Instead, DNF Duel creates a much more mundane game with huge potential for comebacks; defense counters are the only defensive mechanics, and each player gets access to a one—button hit with more damage as soon as his health drops below 30 percent.
However, this does not mean that DNF Duel is slow or lacks exciting combos. The company Eighting (which also co-authored the sometimes comical Marvel vs. Capcom 3) did not ignore this game either. Almost every character has some kind of movement (or movements) filling the screen that can be linked together to take absurd damage once your opponent makes one mistake. In most cases, the only thing that limits the length of the combo is the unique MP system, which replaces the super meter with a pool of magic that is used for each special move.
The total MP available to a player increases as he takes damage, which means that a player with low health can potentially be more dangerous than a player with higher health (for better or for worse). However, these big punishments aren’t that hard to master and execute —the characters are designed to be easy to pick up and play, and that’s the main thing that makes the game so enjoyable. As in the lesser-known Fantasy Strike fighting game, DNF Duel successfully optimizes the learning process thanks to simplified data entry and wide confirmation of strikes, which allows all players to perform optimal combinations as quickly as possible.
The fundamental simplicity of DNF Duel is both its greatest strength and its most debilitating weakness. Although each character’s playing style is different from the others on the list, their individual game plans remain basically the same in most matches. The small move lists combined with the lack of overhead, EX-moves, or supers mean that most characters have very limited options for higher-level strategies. There is some premeditation behind this in DNF Duel — after all, every character is based on an archetypal class — but these rigid play styles reflect the same problem as games like Street Fighter 5. DNF Duel also copies one of the biggest problems of Street Fighter 4 with its excessive zoning and generally limited mobility. The sheer force of zoning could be reduced by adding at least one more defensive mechanic, be it air blocking, offensive defense, or even parrying. However, at the moment, more than half of the playing line-up can be closed by a decent zoner.
When it comes to content in DNF Duel, the modes offered are nothing special. The game comes with a standard set of fighting game options: arcade mode, survival mode, training modes with challenges and basic story mode. Competitive modes are the focus here, and their quality was relatively ambiguous at launch. Online lobbies are currently not very functional, with excruciatingly long waiting times, error codes, random disconnections and the lack of the ability to search by connection strength. On the other hand, a rating game tends to be much smoother and uses the ArcSys network rollback code. It may not be perfect in every match against anyone on Earth, but the network code is definitely reliable, and it’s great to have another Japanese fighting game that implements a well-thought-out rollback.
In general, DNF Duel is a very pleasant action movie, despite its seemingly haphazard design. Eighting, ArcSys and Neople threw a lot of moves and systems on the wall to see what would take root, and also simplified the high-performance tricks of other games.