The Fighting Game Adaptation To A Game Rooted In Fighting Games
It's hard to imagine in three years, the original DNF will enjoy its 20th anniversary as the IP explodes in popularity seemingly overnight in the West. Prior to the announcement of DNF Duel, Dungeon and Fighter was a relatively niche Korean MMO with an extremely dedicated fanbase in Asia. It was a side-scrolling beat-em-up MMORPG that featured simple sprites and gameplay suited for its time. The gameplay wasn't turn-based nor "wait for cooldowns to attack," but it was an honest brawler with an interesting PVP mechanic. Western players, specifically American fans, will know DNF as Dungeon Fighter Online and it is still going strong despite a rather rocky mid-point.
Originally, Dungeon Fighter Online was released in America via Nexon, with the service shutting down at some point in 2013. This was replaced with the "global" version with multiple servers in different regions. Responsibilities shifted from Nexon America to Neople and shortly after the game was "reborn." While I hadn't played the game in a while, hopefully, the following images of my (low-level) Chaos can show that I am at least aware of the source.
Too Many Classes, Too Little Time
While I am not too familiar with the development process of DNF Duel, one roadblock that I'd assume came up in conversation was who would make the cut. As of this post, there are 16 classes in Dungeon and Fighter with well over triple the number of sub-classes. Limiting over 60 classes to sixteen characters had to have been a difficult task, especially with every class playing differently from the other.
I think they captured the core classes correctly. You have the fan-favorite hyper-aggressive Striker, the zoning Ranger, and the hybrid Troubleshooter and Hitman among others. I wish all fourteen base classes had a representation as for some reason, the Female Slayer isn't in DNF Duel. But there are two Agents (again, Troubleshooter and Hitman). They could have EASILY added Spectre, I mean look at her.
DNF Duel's Simple Controls Reflect Dungeon And Fighter's Simplicity
A four-button game, DNF Duel is one of the easiest fighting games to understand and control by default. There's a light attack that combos into itself, a heavy attack that doubles as a sweep if done from a crouching stance, a "skill" button that acts as the character's special move, and an "MP Skill" that acts, very roughly, as the character's super. There are no "super attacks" in a conventional sense in DNF Duel. Instead of a traditional Super Meter, plays have an MP gauge that starts at 100, and using "MP Skills" costs a set amount. The MP meter refills automatically but increases as the player land successful hits.
If the player uses an MP skill that lowers their MP below 0, they enter a state of exhaustion where they cannot use any MP skills until it fills up again. Meter management is important in this game as being below a certain number may lead to certain death. It's very easy to have an entire round spiral out of control in DNF Duel, as certain characters, namely Striker, have amazing block strings. Guard Crush exists in this game and once a guard is broken, the opposing player can go in for the kill.
If Everything Is Unbalanced, Everything Is Perfectly Balanced
It's also important to note that you aren't safe when you're blocking as MP Skills will do chip damage to the defender. The health in DNF Duel also works differently from other fighting games as attacks deal both insane damage and not enough damage. A percentage of damage attacks deal takes the form of "white damage," turning part of the gauge white. Players familiar with tag-style fighters, or even non-fighters, will understand that part of the health gauge is recoverable damage. If no damage is taken after a while, their health recovers.
However, using an MP skill will immediately convert all white damage into red damage that isn't recoverable. Think like how Street Fighter 4 had the Focus Attack mechanic and you can "absorb" hits until you get hit. DNF Duel works the same way, but remember MP skills does "white damage" even on block. Block too much and your guard breaks, which means your opponent is now free to use an MP skill to turn ten seconds of block strings into actual damage.
You're probably wondering, "How do I get out?" Well, if you have at least 100 MP, you can spend that to Guard Cancel and create breathing room. The kicker here is you need at least 100 MP. Nothing less. This makes meter management the difference between life and death because if you're under 100 at the wrong time, this happens.
So What's The Big Deal? Why Is DNF Duel The "Worst" Game?
You're also probably wondering the same thing as the mechanics are easy to follow. Party hard, but don't party too hard that you become blackout drunk. Easy enough right? Well, what if I told you there was a character at the time of this writing who was so good that the rules didn't apply to him? Meet Crusader, a character that is just as much of a nightmare to keep away as he is to keep out. Already a very strong character amongst a sea of sharks, Crusader also has an infinite. Infinites in fighting games are nothing new but having one that's easy to pull off is a different story.
Fighting games generally have a way to prevent infinites from occurring whether it's damage proration, making it harder to juggle, or simply locking the attacker out from further damage. DNF Duel has a very weak method of damage proration that it might as well not exist. Here's another Twitter clip below showing how easy it is to apply it round start. There is no further setup required except a microdash that isn't the worst thing in the world execution-wise.
From a logistics standpoint, there's so much objectively wrong with the game that it's expected from Eighting. I realize I am injecting way more embedded tweets than normal, but the reader needs to understand. Eighting is the company responsible for many "nightmares" in gaming including Dark Phoenix from Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3. By the end of its cycle every character had an "infinite" and layers of "jank" in some form. You can even dial the clock back a few years prior when they gave us the most hilarious infinite in all of gaming courtesy of Luvia from Fate Unlimited Codes.
So Why Is DNF Duel The "Best?"
Because every character has a certain degree of "jankiness" that it becomes less of an ordeal and more of party. There are very few games where you can obliterate an opponent only for the opponent to return the favor tenfold. That, plus its incredibly simple commands, fast paced gameplay, and general foundation makes DNF Duel a joy. It is a frustrating game and you will lose more to random things happening than one can care to explain. You have the tools to ruin someone's day just as much as they have the tools to ruin yours. As I mentioned earlier, if everything is unbalanced, everything is balanced.
If you don't wish to deal with the competitive side of DNF Duel, there is a fleshed out story mode for fans of Dungeon and Fighter's lore. Being an MMORPG first, there are literal decades of lore that is abridged and split across 16 characters. Each story is self-contained but there are some overlap. If you wish to know why you are being attacked by a random Troubleshooter as soon as you enter through a dimensional portal, that question will be answered when you play as Troubleshooter.
DNF Duel Is The Most Enjoyment I Got Out Of A Fighter In A While
When I covered The King of Fighters 14, it was probably my most anticipated title and I quickly grew frustrated as a fledgling player. With DNF Duel, it was a game I always knew was going to be a trainwreck. Sure, it was a train, but it was the one doing the wrecking instead. There hasn't been a game like this for quite some time. One that is self-aware that it is a load of lard but it's a beautiful experience to behold.
DNF Duel is most certainly not everyone's cup of tea, but that's okay. It proves that fighting games are a vast genre from the technical fighters to the absurdly simple. This game checks all the qualifications of the latter, but it's beautiful to play, watch, and experience. Just don't pick Crusader and we're good.
DNF Duel is available on Steam, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation 5.