Early April gave PlayStation owners the chance to test out Dungeon Fighter Duel in the second online beta test ahead of the game’s official release on June 28th later this year. Both beta tests gave players the chance to challenge each other online using a lobby system with access to up to eleven characters and a chance to really see what the game would play like, how the combo system feels, and most importantly, find out how the rollback netcode for online play handles.
The online play experience so far is very good, probably on par with Guilty Gear -Strive- when you’re in a match. During the first beta test last year, there were a few issues with disconnects and lobbies crashing, which thankfully had been worked on and improved during the second beta. I’d expect and hope the problems with online to be ironed out come full release, just improving the overall lobby experience. The lobby system right now is very similar to the style used by ArcSys games, with your mini-Avatars playing on Arcade machines dotted around a small area.
Personally, I don’t mind this style of online lobbies in fighting games, but the more menu-based styles you get in games like Tekken 7 and Power Rangers: Battle for the Grid, for example, are far more streamlined and functional for players. In my experience with this Avatar-style lobby, they also seem more prone to issues, such as Strive’s infamous “Failed to obtain Duel Station information” error, where you just won’t be able to fight certain players on specific Arcade machines in the Lobby.
Here’s hoping in the full release that online Ranked mode is similar to Street Fighter V or Tekken 7, and you just queue up or wait in Training for an opponent. In my opinion, that type of system is far more effective and less time consuming to find a match.
Now DnF Duel is actually a spin-off fighting game from Dungeon Fighter Online, a 2D beat ’em up-style MMO, and each of the playable characters are literal classes in the game like Hitman, Berserker, Fighter and Crusader. Whilst each of the characters look visually great, they win no awards for originality when it comes to names.
It does, however, fit DFO’s lore (this is a very brief description of Dungeon Fighter Online’s story) where the general population is being trained (sort of) to become stronger to stop some otherworldly beings, which does sound like a pretty good background setting for a fighting game, in my opinion. There’s been a lot of effort and attention paid to the source material when it comes to translating these MMO classes into fighting game characters, with a lot of moves found in DFO being faithfully brought over to DNF Duel.
The Dungeon Fighters
Despite their lack of names, the characters in DnF Duel are incredibly fun to play as, and as a whole, the cast all look pretty cool too, with most character designs taken straight from DFO’s martial arts meets traditional fantasy art style.
Each playable character basically represents the different classes available in DFO and have been transformed into fighting game archetypes as well. Kunoichi plays as you’d expect, utilising various ninja tools and techniques, such as shurikens, teleporting, fire-breathing and summoning a giant toad, which alongside her shadow clone-inspired victory outro, reminds me a lot of Naruto.
Ranger has twin guns to keep his opponents at a distance and zone them out, as well as having some crazy gunslinging combos. The Hitman also uses guns and a sword to create wild combos and also has ridiculous range whilst also being dangerous up close.
Grappler moves slow and struggles to get in, but once you do, you can combo your various throws into one another, and similarly Fighter can chain her special moves into one another unlike anyone else.
Crusader is a hulking man of the Lord and uses his divine faith to drop a huge hammer and magic cross on his enemies, for his Awakening he sprouts angel wings whilst dropping righteous laser blasts on heretics. Each character has unique, crazy attacks, and everyone feels different, but at the same time, the simplified control scheme means each character plays similarly on a technical level.
Combo System and Universal Mechanics
The game’s universal mechanics, simplified controls and combo systems make DnF Duel feel like a cross between SFV and Marvel vs Capcom 3. Every character has two Normals, A and B, which act as lights and mediums, you then have “Skill” moves, which are basically Heavy attacks and “Magic Skill” moves that are like EX moves and cost 40 MP from your MP gauge. The Skill and Magic Skill moves are particularly devastating and often have huge horizontal and vertical range.
The general idea is to do A, A->B->S->MS and you’ll deliver a cool combo on your opponent, get a little bit more creative with which Skill and Magic Skill moves you use, and you’ll soon find yourself doing 30-second long block strings like the real pros. The game also uses a control scheme very similar to Super Smash Bros., with special inputs like Dragon Punches or Hadoukens being 100% optional, with the developers instead opting to focus on players just hitting one button and a direction with the D-pad.
Matches have a mostly grounded feeling, with you attempting to whiff punish the enemy, whilst moving in and out of range to bait an opponent and a lot of emphasis placed on trapping your opposition in the corner. When you start busting out the combos, that’s when you start getting that MvC feeling, and you can practically juggle your opponent with your different attacks, and it feels like the longer you can keep them airborne/off their feet, the more potential you have to extend your combo for even longer.
Unlike SFV or The King of Fighters XV, you can pretty much cancel any move into a special, giving you a lot more freedom and creativity with your offence and combos, granted DnF only has two Normal attack buttons, whereas most other fighters usually go with 4-6, which is just another way of how the DnF developers have simplified the execution required to pull off combos.
Early impressions of the game after the two betas are very positive, and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience; however, there are a few things I feel are letting DnF Duel down a little bit, the first being just the overall slow movement of characters, whether it’s walking, jumping or dashing, everyone feels like they are in slow motion.
I appreciate bigger bodied characters are going to be slower, but even the smaller characters, like Kunoichi, struggle to dash in on the opponents. The issue becomes more glaringly obvious when you factor in the general high speed and range of everyone’s attacks. It can become a real problem to even get close to an opponent at times, and that doesn’t feel fun or fluid when compared to the combo system.
This leads on to my second issue with the game so far, and that’s the defensive mechanics. Often it feels like there isn’t anything you can do when you’re caught in the corner, trapped by your opponent’s continued pressure, and as they slowly reduce your guard meter, you’re left with little to no options at the moment.
There is a Guard Cancel mechanic, but that requires 90 MP out of a possible 200, when compared to the cost of Magic Skill moves at 40 MP, it makes it difficult to even have enough meter to perform a Guard Cancel anyway. I don’t really see the reason to make the cost of Guard Cancel so high, and even if that cost was cut in half, I don’t think it would be game-breaking. You do also have a forward roll as well that offers a lot of defensive properties but poor recovery, so you can still get punished easily.
These might be issues that get addressed or become easier to get around once the full release is out on June 28th, but even still, DnF Duel is an incredibly fun fighting game as it stands and very accessible to those unfamiliar with the genre.
We still have little to no information about what type of single-player content the game will have, which considering the way DnF Duel has been marketed so far, that isn’t really a concern, but if there is a Granblue Fantasy: Versus–style story mode with RPG elements, it would be a good selling point to show off. So far, 2022 is setting up to be a jam-packed year for fighting games, and DnF Duel has done an impressive job so far at making itself stand out and be noticed.