There’s a long and storied history of turning existing game franchises into competitive and exciting fighting games. The visual novel Tsukihime becomes Melty Blood, for instance. That tradition is alive and well with ArcSys’s latest, DNF Duel. Based on the long-running and massively popular Korean online beat-’em-up Dungeon Fighter Online, DNF Duel follows the ArcSys formula by offering gorgeous visuals, over-the-top action, and a parade of unique characters. While the game originally released on most other platforms last June, the game is now seeing a release on Nintendo Switch.
DNF Duel is a one-on-one fighter where a cast of sixteen characters, all based on playable classes from Dungeon Fighter Online, duke it out. While this game has a lot of the visuals and flair of titles like Guilty Gear and Dragon Ball FighterZ, the gameplay doesn’t feature their universal air dashes, double jumps, and crazy movement. DNF Duel only has a few buttons: a light attack, heavy attack, Skill, MP Skill, Awakening Skill, and guard.
Like most fighting games, special attacks can be done using the MP Skill button with quarter circle or “dragon punch” stick motions, but this game also brings in the simplified move shortcut controls from Granblue Fantasy Versus, another ArcSys-developed spinoff fighter. Basically, light and heavy attacks do simple attacks on the ground and in the air, but pressing a direction and the Skill or MP Skill button will perform a corresponding special attack, Smash Bros. style. The MP Skills are your strongest specials, and are governed by a replenishing special meter, called the MP Meter. It starts at 100, but jumps to 200 when your health gets lowered. Basically, when you perform an MP Skill, it uses some of your MP. When it reaches 0, you are Exhausted and can’t use an MP Skill until it replenishes enough for that move’s cost. As long as you have 1 MP, though, you can still use an MP Skill, but its cost will take the meter below 0, making it take longer to refill. For instance, if you have 10 MP and use a special that costs 30 MP, you have to wait for the 20 MP to refill before you even hit 0. This creates a fun risk/reward system in every match, where resource management is crucial.
Even health is a usable resource in this game. DNF Duel has two types of damage: Red and White. Red damage is plain ol’ damage straight to your health bar, caused only by MP and Awakening Skills. White damage is caused by everything else, which turns a portion of the damage you take into a white bar. If you do not take any Red damage for a little while, you will automatically start to heal some of the White damage. If you are hit by an MP Skill while you have White damage in your health bar, ALL of the White damage will be depleted. However, White damage can also be used offensively. By pressing heavy attack and the Skill button, you will do a Conversion, turning all of your White health into MP Meter, allowing you to perform more specials, and cancels your current action, allowing you to react sooner or create new combos. Finally, when your health is low enough, you enter Awakening mode, which grants each character unique buffs and gives them access to their Awakening Skill, which is this game’s version of the super attack.
Overall, the game has some simple yet fresh mechanics. The gameplay feels tight and responsive, and while having so many different attacks on two skill buttons can take some getting used to, once you get the hang of it, the gameplay loop is addictive.
Presentation wise, the game is quite pretty, even on Switch, where the resolution takes a hit but the framerate is rock solid. Characters are unique and have some beautiful animations and particle effects. The music features that trademark ArcSys guitar sound, which is always welcome. Overall, it is pretty impressive what the team managed to do when porting the game to the Switch.
The biggest question mark for the game is its online capabilities. As of writing, I couldn’t find any online matches (the game isn’t out yet, after all), so I cannot comment on its quality. Disappointingly, while the other versions of the game feature rollback netcode, which is generally regarded as the preferred method of connection for online fighting games, the developer stated that the Switch version will instead have delay based netcode. While this isn’t necessarily a death blow, it does cause some concern and is quite disappointing, as other games like Skullgirls and Power Rangers: Battle for the Grid have rollback on the Switch. As such, I will be writing the full review of the game after launch, once I have gotten some online matches under my belt.
Overall, though, DNF Duel has come to the Switch surprisingly intact with little sacrificed, and is a fun time for any fighting game fan. Be sure to keep an eye out for my full review soon.