DNF Duel review: Delightfully Nice Fights

Is Nexon and Arc System Works' adaptation of Dungeon Fighter Online into a fighting game a match made in heaven?


It’s been a long time since my days of happily grinding characters in Dungeon Fighter Online, but I enjoy the memories fondly. I don’t have the time to put countless hours into an MMO these days, but the pick-up-and-play of a fighting game is always perfectly my speed. With that in mind, color me intrigued when we learned Guilty Gear and BlazBlue developer Arc System Works partnered with Nexon to make an adaptation of Dungeon Fighter Online known as DNF Duel. It’s an absurdly easy game to approach, sometimes to a fault, but this is another decently solid fighter from the Arc folks in a year where FGC has been eating well.

Keep it classy

DNF Duel kind of follows the premise of Dungeon Fighter Online in a world where interdimensional doors allowed for the discovery of magic. But the doors suddenly closed one day. However, some doors (also known as Wonders) have activated once again and adventurers go looking for the power that exudes from said doors for their own purposes. More importantly, these Wonders imbue certain adventurers with “Seeds” that make them special and allow them to fight it out against one another to gain further power.

It might be a little odd to follow if you haven’t been around Dungeon Fighter Online at all, but the adaptation of DFO music, environments, and concepts are also quite cool, mostly gorgeous, and will likely make for a lot of fun for players like myself that have experienced the MMO. Being able to have a bar brawl inside the Moonlight Tavern or battling by the fountains of Hendon Myre are absolutely things I can appreciate.

Maybe one of the more amusing parts of DNF Duel is that it doesn’t have named characters. The roster is all based on advanced classes from the MMO. You’ve got gunner types like the Ranger and Launcher, magic types like the Enchantress and Swift Master, sword wielders like the Berserker and Ghostblade, and quite a few more. What’s more, they did a fairly decent job of bringing these classes to fighting game characters. Each class is interestingly adapted to round out the roster with grapplers, zoners, rushdown, poke game, and more.

It's all fairly easy to access, too, thanks to the way DNF Duel is designed. There aren’t complicated special move inputs in this game. Instead, you have a series of normal attacks, special skills, and MP special skills. You can use normal attacks and skills as you please, but MP skills drain a special gauge under your life bar. The MP gauge will refill over time, but if you drain it fully with MP skills, you can't use them till the gauge fills up again. Finally, when a character’s health goes down beneath 25 percent, they activate an Awakened State that has different effects. The Berserker steals HP with successful attacks where the Vanguard does more damage to guard meters. And finally, you can press one button to use a super Awakened move in this state. This setup makes it extremely easy to grasp pretty much every character’s move set and capabilities, for better or for worse.

I say “for worse,” because balance in this game feels very shaky due mostly to its simplicity. Characters like Launcher, Crusader, Grappler, and Troubleshooter can easily dominate a match in even slightly capable hands where it feels like some other characters have to work so much harder for success. One might say that’s a skill thing, and that’s true, but it also doesn’t bode well for the longevity of meta evolution and community health in this game. I’ve already seen high-level players like Goichi and Sonic Fox putting together Touch of Death combos that only require one hit before you take out a character’s entire health bar. Obviously, that’s expert play, but it’s a shockingly short time to discover what could be considered overpowered situations.

That said, you could also just enjoy everything DNF Duel offers for what it is and there’s a lot to explore. The game has several online and offline modes, including a Story Mode for every character, Arcade Modes with score counters, and Tutorials and Combo Trials to thoroughly learn what each character can do. I really enjoy that last one because while you can discover your own setups for characters, it gives you a rundown of combos you might not have thought about otherwise.

For online play, DNF Duel is packing some tasty rollback. Building off of the already stunningly good netcode that made Guilty Gear Strive easily the best fighting game of 2021, DNF Duel somehow feels even better. For one, it doesn’t take a long time to log into the online systems like Strive did. Once I was in there, almost every single match was crisp and clean no matter who I faced. I have already played around 200 matches in online play against a wide variety of opponents. I only experienced truly difficult lag or net issues in less than 10 of those matches. One bad match in 20 is quite incredible and I’m impressed that Arc System Works could somehow improve something that already felt so good in GG Strive.

What Wonder awaits?

Between the well-adapted cast of characters, stages, and music from Dungeon Fighter Online, this is both a love letter to DFO fans, as well as a quality and accessible fighting game to boot. It will be interesting to see how much longevity this game has in it, though. Where some characters have risen to the top in past fighting games with enough exploration and discovery, DNF Duel feels a little too easy to crack. It’s the most unbalanced of any Arc System Works fighter I’ve played in recent memory, and that makes me concerned for its community health. That said, it’s still a fun fighting game to play with good offline modes to boot. If you want a good-looking fighter that doesn’t take too much practice to access and feel good about, or if you just love Dungeon Fighter Online and want to play a game that adapts it well, DNF Duel might be the brawler you’re looking for.

This review is based on an early PlayStation 5 copy supplied by the publisher. DNF Duel is out now on PS4, PS5, and PC.

Senior News Editor

TJ Denzer is a player and writer with a passion for games that has dominated a lifetime. He found his way to the Shacknews roster in late 2019 and has worked his way to Senior News Editor since. Between news coverage, he also aides notably in livestream projects like the indie game-focused Indie-licious, the Shacknews Stimulus Games, and the Shacknews Dump. You can reach him at tj.denzer@shacknews.com and also find him on Twitter @JohnnyChugs.

Review for
DNF Duel
  • Good adaptation of Dungeon Fighter Online
  • Solid and varied cast of fighters
  • Beautiful visuals and soundtrack
  • Excellent netcode
  • Wide variety of online and offline modes
  • Very simple and accessible controls
  • Perhaps even too easy to control
  • Character balance is flimsy
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