DNF Duel Review | Gamer on PC

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What is that? A beat’em up that forces style and substance to make friends.
Expect to pay $50/£41
Posted June 28, 2022
Developer Arc System Works, Eighting Co, Neople
Editor Neople, Nexon
Reviewed on GeForce GTX 1650, AMD Ryzen 5 3550H, 8GB RAM
Multiplayer? Yes
Link Official site (opens in a new tab)

A shirtless, incredibly ripped man with spiky hair and a fridge-freezer sized sword, and a woman who pulls out a bazooka for one of her weaker attacks? Yes, this is another anime style beat ’em up to toss on the stack. That said, you’ll want to hang on to this one. The glorious excesses of character design and attack animations are there to decorate, not distract.

Although it’s based on the MMO Dungeon Fighter Online, you don’t need to know anything about it (and not just because BlazBlue and Guilty Gear have already taught Arc System Works fans how to s expect a largely inscrutable narrative). What you do What you need to know is that DNF Duel is surprising in some very positive ways…starting with how it deals with character damage.

(Image credit: NEOPLE Inc)

There are two types of damage; red damage and white damage. The red works as intended, i.e. it’s a part of the health bar that disappears immediately and permanently. White, on the other hand, will slowly regenerate if you can let it. Most attacks result in a chunk of white damage and some red.

Each character has special attacks that require a portion of their slowly regenerating MP gauge to activate. These MP attacks, if unblocked, only deal red damage –and Instantly converts all white damage your opponent is carrying to red. I’ll come back to MP attacks, but what should already be clear is that using weaker attacks to “stack” white damage on your opponent’s health bar to clear it later is a tactic valid and often important.

Basically, it’s as complicated as the game gets – or, more accurately, DNF Duel goes out of its way to provide explanations for those who might need it. There’s a lot to the systems that can and will only be fully exploited at high-level play, but it’s incredibly welcoming to newcomers to the genre. This is partly due to the tutorial mode. The command list will not only tell you how to perform each move, with a brief clip, it will even give you tips on how to use the move offensively or defensively. It will tell you, for example, if a move is good for defending against aerial attacks, for finishing a combo, or if and how it could make you vulnerable.

(Image credit: NEOPLE Inc)

Surprisingly perhaps, there is no auto combo option. You know, where if you repeatedly pound a button like an angry chimp, you can unleash a series of devastating moves? Not an option here. It’s not necessary. There’s a wonderful simplicity to the controls; each attack is triggered by either a single button press or a button press at the same time as holding a single direction (although a few have options for slightly more complicated inputs if you prefer) .

Hit me baby

Yes, that means button bashers have the full range of attacks at their fingertips, including many that hit mostly or entirely screen length, but skill will always win out. Everything except throws can be blocked. Everyone has a forward dodge that can safely pass through anything. A badly timed attack will leave an opponent completely vulnerable for a split second, and that’s all you need to deal some serious damage.

There’s a wonderful simplicity to the controls; each attack is triggered either by a single button press or by pressing a button at the same time as holding a single direction.

He’s a four-button fighter at heart. Two buttons are for regular attacks, very weak, but the fastest in your arsenal and perfect for starting combos. Another is for your special attacks. These are more powerful and can be used without restriction, but never threaten to unbalance the game. Ghostblade, for example, has a special technique where he teleports through his opponent multiple times, hitting them with his sword with each pass. . If the first hit is blocked, however, it’s very easy to punish him for trying.

(Image credit: NEOPLE Inc)

It’s really MP attacks, and their relationship to the red/white damage system, that will draw a clear line between good players and bad guys. great players, and where the slightly more complex elements of the game originate from. You start out with 100 MP, with the max increasing as you take more and more damage. MP move costs mean that initially you can rarely do more than a few in a row before you deplete the gauge. This prevents people from spamming them. You box make an MP move that costs more MP than you have left, but then your gauge will remain empty until the excess MP finishes regenerating in the background.

DNF Duel’s risk and reward mechanism is called Conversion. With the push of a button, you can turn any white damage you carry into red, in exchange for an MP boost. The more you sacrifice your health bar, the more MP you are rewarded. This way you can extend a combo or do a surprise MP gauge recovery while getting close to death. It’s a very simple but potentially stunning mechanism.

It’s things like this that give the game depth and a tactical layer – a layer just as visible to casual players as it is to those who do spreadsheets on hitboxes and invincibility frames. That’s not to say newbies will stand a lot of luck against veterans of the genre, but if they want to put in the time to learn how to have a chance, it’s easy for them to do so.

(Image credit: NEOPLE Inc)

The concept of characters being awake, i.e. entering a state of power when they’re on their last bit of health bar, is familiar to fans of anime fights. As with so many things, DNF Duel handles things a little differently. The Awakened state triggers automatically when near death, and with it each character gains a unique buff. Striker gets a damage boost for example, while Berserker heals slightly with each successful attack. It also grants access to your character’s super powerful Awakening Attack. However, this move can miss or be protected like any other; and using it removes your buff whether the attack hits or not.

buff stop

DNF Duel is not more complicated or deeper than other beat ’em ups. It’s deep in a different way, and part of what that means is that it’s deep in a way that’s easy for people of all skill levels to explore and understand. I’m not interested in access control, just good game design, and the latter has spilled all over here like blood and teeth at the end of a particularly intense fight.

It’s deep in a way that’s easy to explore and understand for people of all skill levels.

There are 15 characters, plus an unlockable boss, just like the good old days. That might not seem like much when the average Naruto game tends to give you enough playable characters to populate a small town, but it means each fighter looks and feels unique. The simple nature of the controls means it’s quick and easy to get to grips with a new character, but you’ll need to spend a lot of time with each one in order to really learn them.

(Image credit: NEOPLE Inc)

The closest character to being overpowered is Lost Warrior (the boss of course), who has three attacks that can hit at any distance, two of which are MP attacks. All of them can be blocked however, and one cannot hit an opponent in the air. Similarly, Inquisitor’s gigantic fiery wheel of death can be incredibly annoying to take on, but it can be blocked or dodged. Learn what each character is capable of, stay calm, and you’ll always have a chance to emerge victorious.

Beat ’em ups really come to life online, and despite a few launch week issues that resulted in rare but annoying disconnects, that’s no less true for DNF Duel. Be sure to spend hours offline preparing, and you’ll have an amazing time.

There are three types of players. The majority play a balanced game, fumbling through systems to determine how and when to best attack and defend. A small number however have discovered a character (usually Ghostblade) or a combo they can and will ruthlessly cheese. Finally, an even smaller number of players have already mastered the game and will start tossing you through the air like juggling balls made of pain in seconds.

(Image credit: NEOPLE Inc)

That’s normal for just about any beat ’em up, but the beauty of this one is that, if you’re careful, you’ll (almost) always stand a chance against the cornier ones or, to a lesser extent , the most skilful of adversaries. Sacrificing all your MP at the start of a match for a Guard Cancel, for example, is a great way to send a cheeser flying before counterattacking; and a perfectly timed dodge can give you an opening against even the toughest opponent.

The more time you spend learning the characters and their moves, the glorious online matches become. Keeping an eye on your opponent’s MP gauge will let you know what they are capable of and what they aren’t capable of at any given time, and knowing the range of each Awakened move can mean the difference between a victory and a defeat. It’s all easy and fun to learn, because each character is so much fun to play.

There’s no shortage of players, and certainly no joy when you win a close game (or even fury when you lose one in which you’ve been demolished). It’s a game that feels as good as it looks, and that’s saying something.

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