DNF Duel Beta: The good news and the bad news

Last Updated December 21st, 2021

DNF Duel, the new fighting game joint developed by 8ing and Arc System Works based off the obscenely popular Dungeon Fighter Online, recently had its first online beta. After a whole weekend of play, it’s safe to say that there’s good news and bad news. The good news? DNF Duel represents a positive shift in the way we develop fighting games that will make them more popular and accessible than ever before. The bad news? Well, if the purpose of a beta is to find bugs, glitches, and flaws before a formal release, this beta did its job and then some.

The Most Popular Game You Never Heard Of

It’s easy to be insulated from the Dungeon Fighter Online craze if you have only ever experienced the American video game market, but it is one of the most popular games in the world, the third most popular if you go by player count. It boasts a user base of seven hundred million players. That’s insane even when compared to our titans of gaming. So of course, DNF Duel already has a leg up by having a hefty install base that will naturally take interest in it.

However, it also has an advantage in DFO being kind of fighting game oriented to begin with. It’s a beat-em-up MMO and its characters are all designed with fighting game mechanics in mind. That means that each of its spectacularly designed characters and classes already have a move-set, just waiting to be adapted into 8ing’s mechanics and Arc System Work’s signature animation style. These characters just ooze personality. Even if you weren’t a fan of DFO, it’s hard not to fall in love with Ranger’s duel pistol gunslinging, the high-flying ninja antics of Kunoichi, or the cute dragon pet of Dragon Knight.

The Main Mechanics

But style is only one half of the fighting game formula, substance is the other and DNF Duel has a very interesting take on the “easy to play, hard to master” concept. It does away with all special move inputs. There is no need for quarter circles, dragon punch motions, or anything else other than a simple tilted direction and a button press.

There are four main buttons in DNF Duel. You have a light and heavy attack, a “skill” button, and an “MP Skill” button. Skills are essentially special moves while MP Skills are even more powerful special moves that cost MP (this game’s version of a super meter) to execute. Optionally, you can also map buttons to throw, use your awakening skill, block, and the special “conversion” skill, but these functions can be executed using combinations of the main four buttons (or in the case of block simply holding back).

Attacks in DNF Duel deal two types of damage, red and white damage. White damage can be restored over time as long as you don’t get hit. All chip damage is white damage, but also some particularly powerful attacks only deal white damage to offset their heavy impact. Red damage cannot be restored and inflicting it also takes away all of an opponent’s white damage. You have to inflict red damage to win a round, as white damage will not take away your final pixel of health.

This is where the new “conversion” mechanic comes in. By activating conversion, you will purposefully inflict red damage on yourself and trade in all your white health for MP. In addition, the lower your health falls, the higher your maximum MP rises. This may sound like a small benefit, until you also realize that conversion can cancel you out of any move and return you to neutral, like a roman cancel in Guilty Gear. Thus, it can be used in much the same way, extend combos, keep you safe after an unsafe move, create unique pressure strings, and more.

Every Character Unique

And that is all there is to DNF Duel. Sounds simple huh? Well, it is… until you factor in the myriad of character-specific mechanics. Every character gets access to an “awakening” mode once their health falls into the critical range which fundamentally changes their mechanics. They also gain access to an awakening attack, an incredibly damaging super move that can even the odds.

Characters also have lots of special systems that set them apart from each other. Some characters’ normals cancel into each other, some don’t. Some normals have auto combos attached, some don’t. Some characters can cancel normals into skills or MP skills, some can’t. And then things get even more complex from there.

Striker’s skills and MP skills are all multipart moves that can cancel into each other. Crusader can set up walls, heal himself, and buff himself to make his moves have extra effects. Dragon Knight can control her dragon independently of herself, like a puppet. Grappler can hold buttons to charge his moves and get special effects. There are a ton of these special mechanics, from Hitman’s moves which unlock as he takes damage, to Berserker’s ability to steal health from the opponent and spend it on powering up his moves. Again, this feels similar to Guilty Gear, in that each character is like learning how to play a completely unique fighting game. The gimmicks never quite get as complex as Guilty Gear’s, however they extend to some basic stuff, like normal cancel rules, that Guilty Gear wouldn’t even touch.

This makes learning new characters extremely rewarding. There is someone on the roster who feels like a natural fit no matter what fighting game you are used to. Want to play a grounded footsie-based game? Choose a character with powerful single normals. Used to the many different strings of Mortal Kombat? Choose a character with multi-part specials. You get to play the exact game you want when playing DNF Duel, which is sure to make it appeal to a wide variety of gamers, both in and out of the fighting game community.

That is… if you can play it at all.

Rough Around the Online Edges

For as wonderfully addictive as the gameplay was, it was near impossible to experience it. The servers were up and down all throughout the beta period, with more downtime than uptime. Finding rooms and matches was nearly impossible. There was no ranked gameplay or quick match option, but this could be attributed to it being a beta build. The rooms were reminiscent of the rooms we have seen in other Arc System Works games like BlazBlue, but they too had constant connection problems. Matches would frequently disconnect, players would be booted out of rooms, and even menus would glitch out. There was an issue with the main menu turning invisible if you got booted from a server. It was a comedy of errors.

If you managed to find a match, however, the netcode was fantastic. It’s the same netcode that powers Guilty Gear Strive, and it operates just as well here. Online play is virtually indistinguishable from offline play, and that’s something few games can boast.

But simply put, DNF Duel has a lot of work to do if it’s going to take off when it launches in Summer 2022. Right now, it has an incredibly solid base game with interesting characters that’s easy to get into. However, that doesn’t mean anything if the menus don’t work. Menus, matchmaking, and more need to be addressed, because the fighting game community will not deal with 15-minute match searches and sporadic disconnects, much less the casual gaming crowd. There are a lot of things that are forgivable considering this was just a beta, however, Arc System Works has been known to let issues go unfixed from beta to initial release, and if they don’t fix these issues the initial release of DNF Duel will be a disaster.

If they do fix them, however, DNF Duel stands ready to be one of the most popular fighting games of 2022. Add this to rumors of it being free to play, an upcoming suite of things like tutorials and training modes, and even more new characters down the line, and this might be the exact formula we need to introduce more casual gamers into the realm of fighting games. At the end of the beta, we could most accurately describe our opinion of DNF Duel as “skeptically hopefully.” Just fix the problems Arcsys, and you have a blockbuster on your hands.