Arc System Works is keeping the fighting game community full this year, with its continued support of Dragonball Z FighterZ, Guilty Gear Strive, and the re-release of Persona 4 Arena Ultimax. Even the forgotten Granblue Fantasy Versus is getting rejuvenated at EVO come August. With so many games vying for a spot in the competitive zeitgeist of the fighting game community, releasing another flashy fighter right now may seem a bit hasty. Either way, Arc System Works has delivered another solid anime fighter in the form of DNF Duel.
DNF Duel shares a lot of similarities with other recent Arc System Works fighters. It boasts beautiful, anime-inspired graphics with flashy specials and supers, and it was designed to be approachable for beginners. Additionally, the game is relatively slow-paced and doesn’t have the same quick brawls like some of Arc System Works’ older titles. This all seems to be the recipe for success, and most Arc System Works games possess some if not all of these traits. In other words, it was almost impossible for DNF Duel to fail.
So you have to wonder how DNF Duel differentiates itself from some of the more recent releases. Fortunately, DNF Duel has a variety of mechanics that help separate it from the crowd of its fighting game brethren.
The seeds of volition
DNF Duel boasts an impressive roster for a new fighting game, giving players 16 characters to try out. That is, frankly speaking, above average for a new fighting game from Arc System Works. Guilty Gear Strive launched with 15 characters, and Granblue Fantasy only had 12, so DNF Duel wins out altogether. (I’m bracing myself for the inevitable DLC passes.)
Additionally, DNF Duel‘s characters are all impressively varied, with characters like Swift Master and Lost Warrior standing out due to their notable movesets. I personally took a liking to Ranger because I’m zoner scum, but anyone who enjoys a specific character archetype will find someone to play here. Rushdown fanatics should enjoy the fisticuffs of Striker, while delirious grappler players might want to take a spin at, well, Grappler.
DNF Duel follows an easy-to-learn, hard-to-master trend that’s intended to make fighting games appeal to a wider audience. Because of this, DNF Duel is probably one of the simplest fighters I’ve played to date, with easy-to-input moves and a limited number of buttons to learn. This can turn off players who prefer inputs that render them with carpal tunnel, but, otherwise, the easy inputs are appreciated. There are also harder versions of these inputs that you can perform to receive increased meter generation, but they still aren’t really that difficult.
The nitty gritty
Each character has a Weak, Medium, Skill, and Magic button. Generally, certain weak moves can link into medium moves, which link into skills, which link into magic. Magic moves also require a certain amount of SP from the meter that generates passively throughout the fight. In a unique turn for the genre, as long as you have any SP at all, you can execute a Magic move. Additionally, some mechanics instantly grant you a certain amount of SP, making it possible to unleash endless strings of Magic moves.
This seems to be where most of DNF Duel‘s depth lies, but I did find myself wondering if it could use a little more substance. The defensive options are pretty limited. Some characters have reversal actions and dragon punches, and all characters have a Guard Cancel move that costs 100 meter. However, offense is incredibly strong in this game, with high damaging combos and a Guard Break system that cancels your block if you block for too long. Characters don’t even have an air block. DNF Duel‘s skill ceiling is my greatest concern. I’m not convinced it will reach the competitive heights of some of Arcsys’ other games.
There is a comeback mechanic in the game in the form of the Awakening system. When you’re at 30% HP or less, your character gains a unique passive that might regenerate health, increase your chip damage, or increase your movement speed. Characters also gain a one-time usable Super, which are long, beautiful, and potentially irritating. With how easy meter gain is in DNF Duel, locking supers behind Awakening and making it usable only once was necessary. That said, I will miss unleashing flashy moves at will like I can in other anime fighters.
Regarding inputs, there is a strange inability to bind keys that I didn’t notice immediately, as I used a controller while playing through this game. This is a weird oversight and another entry in a large book of frankly bad PC porting. Arcsys has been in the PC arena for quite some time, but they still haven’t treated this platform with a ton of respect. I’m not sure how many players play fighting games with a keyboard, but it’s still worth mentioning.
Going to the ‘net
DNF Duel boasts rollback netcode, which is the netplay of choice nowadays for fighting games. As opposed to delay-based netcode, which often leads to lag spikes and heavy input delay, rollback netcode is designed to “predict” your movements in an attempt to make online gameplay smoother. While games like Guilty Gear: Strive have amazing netplay through this method, simply having rollback netcode isn’t a guaranteed recipe for success. I wasn’t able to participate in the game’s numerous open betas to test out the rollback netcode, so my first experience going through the ranks online was during launch.
Fortunately, the rollback netcode is pretty solid. It’s not as glossy and smooth as it is on Guilty Gear: Strive, and that can be for a variety of reasons. But compared to fighting games with delay-based netcode, the difference is still night-and-day. I fought players from a variety of different regions, and matches ranged from great to playable, but they never dipped into horrible.
Like most fighting games these days, solo play is pretty limiting. I wouldn’t recommend grabbing this game if your intent isn’t to hop online and grind. There’s an Arcade Mode where you can fight against the rest of the cast to earn points, an endless Survival Mode that gives you upgrades and boosts between fights, and a lame Story Mode that’s a glorified Arcade Mode with voice acting. You do have to play through the Story Mode to unlock a new character, which is at least a nice incentive and something I missed in recent fighting games.
Fighting game magic
Overall, DNF Duel is a reasonably good anime fighting game, but its simplicity might put a nail in its competitive coffin. Most anime fighting games have a shelf life, and for one based on a niche property like Dungeon Fighter Online, I’m not sure how long this game can survive in the current climate. Generally, I’m okay with simplifying fighting games, but DNF Duel may be the entry that pushes that a little too far.
Regardless, I’m still ready to scour Twitter for the latest Ranger tech. And I’m sure many of my fears will be unfounded as time progresses and players better than me discover new things. The release of a new fighting game is exciting, and DNF Duel is a fun addition to Arcsys’ large library of flashy, anime fighters.