If you’re the average video game enthusiast in North America, then you’ve probably never heard of Dungeon Fighter Online. It’s an instance-based MMO beat-em-up hybrid made in Korea and hardly anyone knows of its existence here. I myself have played that title for a few hours and found it to be thoroughly overambitious, with a control scheme based on arcade inputs despite how awful those feel to use on keyboard, and an english translation that reads like it was done by an intern. If you can believe it though, DFO is actually one of the largest and most successful online games in the eastern hemisphere, so it was only a matter of time before something was done with the brand to attract new players across the world. Today’s review covers such a title, because this site wouldn’t be the same without a new fighting game review every month!
Co-developed by Arc System Works, Eighting, and Neople, published by Nexon, and released in June 2022, Dungeon and Fighter Duel is a one-on-one health bar deletion game for PC and Playstations 4 and 5. Its premise involves warriors representing classes from the original MMO taking the fight to each other across a variety of imaginative locations. Players interact with the game through traditional fighting game combat, as well as some visual novel style story cutscenes in the dedicated narrative mode. Please note that I played the Steam version of the game for this review.
Just to get it out of the way first, the main story of DNF Duel sees adventurers from across the world of The Gate, and even visitors from other planes, awaken to a mysterious energy called the Will of The World through the intervention of a celestial being called Nemyr. These Wills drive the characters towards fighting one another, and each character with them strives to collect the Will of other adventurers in order to journey through ancient portals and accomplish personal goals. I’m not going to sugarcoat it, this story mode is a mess. While you might find a character or two that you enjoy learning a little (and I mean a little) more about through this mode, once you’ve played one story mode you’ve played all of them. They all go through the same locations in the same order to reach the same ending, and said ending does very, very little to actually elucidate what Nemyr’s goals were, why she’d want to be so secretive about the whole affair, and what the benefits of stopping her are (this isn’t a spoiler by the way, most stories make it painfully obvious that she’s sprouting the Wills to pit everyone against each other very early on). Maybe you get more from playing this if you know the original story, especially because NPCs from DFO make cameos in various cutscenes, but even if I did know the source material that wouldn’t excuse just how repetitive and boring playing through the story mode is. Just play through the story mode to unlock the boss character, maybe beat Launcher’s story for some unique dialogue which just barely adds more context, and then play the other ones only if you want achievements.
While I’m on the subject of the story, I just wanted to mention that the game’s script both in the story and in other parts of the game are peppered with typos and errors, which is very frustrating to see in this day and age. I guess this would be explained if Neople were the ones in charge of the script, but it’s not as though this game’s script is as big as some of Arc System Works’ other titles thanks to reusing a ton of scenes so it baffles me to see them not catch these things. I just pray the translators and QA staff weren’t under some terrible corporate crunch or something, and I hope these errors can be addressed in a future patch.
The gameplay of DNF Duel is its true highlight, and there are a lot of subtle iterations on fighting game conventions that give it a distinctive feel. The most immediate difference the average player will notice is in that game’s button layout. Of the four basic attack buttons, light and medium attacks function about how one would expect, but the heavy button is instead called the Skill button because while it does often have the usual hard-hitting strikes attached to it, other moves such as projectiles, movement options, and even counters, can all be performed with this button depending on the character you are playing. The fourth button activates MP Skills, which are essentially special attacks tied to a mana gauge below your health bar, and these can be performed either with just a single directional input or the classic quarter circle and Shoryuken motions to refund mana faster. This control scheme helps less experienced players do cool things sooner when starting out, but also doesn’t ultimately dumb down the high level combo game. My only complaint in this regard is that input detection for the traditional inputs is kinda funky and very often results in a lot of accidental Shoryuken-type specials. To be fair the game’s meta hasn’t yet advanced to the point where knowing optimized MP management demands these inputs, but this does have implications for the game’s competitive future. One other especially interesting decision in the game’s universal mechanics is a lack of air mobility and an inability to block while airborne. While plenty of other fighters have this aspect to them, this is rare in anything from Arc System Works’ catalog and as a result gives movement a very deliberate feel.
Of course, there is one major gameplay aspect which is both a good and bad thing depending on who you ask, and that’s the fact that it was developed by Eighting. This studio is capable of making exactly two types of fighting games: really fun casual and intermediate experiences that devolve into broken strategies at the highest level due to the presence of infinites and crazy setups, or the same thing except the game has Magneto in it so people don’t care that professional matches basically end seconds after round start. Make no mistake, the gameplay feel of DNF Duel is excellent from the moment you hit the ground running and well worth investing time into for playing with your mates, but if you have any interest in going super competitive with it then be warned, this title comes from a long pedigree of games with ‘unfair’ strategies and you need to be in tune with what your willing to put up with. At the very least, the developers have already shown their willingness to reign in this particular title since patches have come out to address certain discovered tech like infinites.
All that aside, no fighting game is complete without a good roster and DNF Duel does not disappoint. While the thought of a cast of characters made up nearly entirely out of classes from an MMO with only very loosely defined ideas about who they are as people sounds horrible on paper, in practice they have been smartly adapted to be more lively characters which are very fun to play. Even characters that come from the same base class manage to play in ways that separate themselves from each other. The Hitman and the Trouble Shooter are both specializations of the Agent class, but Hitman plays the role of a calm professional who dominates the midrange with fast and long reaching attacks while Trouble Shooter is a showy mercenary who can pressure opponents with explosives. Likewise the Berserker and the Ghostblade are both derivatives of the Male Slayer, but Berserker is a crazed monster who sacrifices his own health to gain the upperhand while Ghostblade is cold and quiet as he coordinates attacks with his spectral partner to perform lengthy combos and blockstrings. To say nothing of how characters can have special ways of interacting with universal mechanics, such as the Striker who can cycle between her normal and Skill attacks in Melty Blood style cancel routes, or the Crusader who for the most part only has universal cancels into MP Skills and relies on timed links to compensate for the massive range and damage on his attacks. Between the variety of characters on display and the simplicity of the controls by which they are piloted, it is impossible not to find one that suits your preferred method of play.
Beyond the main versus and online play modes (the latter of which has excellent netcode) however, there isn’t too much to engage with other than the story, arcade, and survival modes. This seems to be another distressing trend within this second major age of fighting games where we receive games with excellent core experiences and fun characters, but only a minimum amount of side content due to both the high expenses of creating games from scratch in new engines every time and the emphasis on online competition which seems to have all but overtaken the collective unconscious of the FGC. Not that I think fighting games shouldn’t have good online connection, but competition is healthier for the soul if you can do it in a spirit of fellowship with the person sitting next to you instead of raging against a faceless stranger on a ranked ladder. Hopefully in a few years when rollback is seen as a given and new releases are willing to reuse assets like in the olden days we’ll see more robust games on offer, but for now limited content seems to be the absolute state of the genre. At the very least, this game’s take on Survival Mode is a little bit more interesting than most, with you being able to spend your score between rounds on regenerating health, bonus stats and so on.
Presentation wise there’s not much that can be said of DNF Duel that hasn’t already been made apparent through Arc System Works’ work on Guilty Gear Strive. Every character is animated with a power and panache befitting its heavily anime inspired style, with attack smears and particle effects being a real highlight for the game in particular. Some may compare this game to the previous titles and notice that characters are a little lacking in terms of Strive’s insane detail regarding both clothing and the stage backgrounds. In my opinion however, aside from DNF looking just fine on its own, the scaled back aesthetics have their own charm and even make the game less intensive to run on older hardware. Locations like the bright city of Heydon Myre and the burning crags of the island of Zelva are no less pleasant with a few less npcs and bloom effects than its contemporaries. The game also has some well drawn comic stills from the story mode to help sell certain encounters, and are probably the best thing the story mode has going for it. The music mainly consists of remixed tracks from DFO, but despite my relative unawareness of that soundtrack it manages to rock hard with its excellently paced short loop tracks. I’m not crazy about a huge number of tracks, but the ones that aim true really hit the mark. Great presentation overall.
Lastly as for what we can take away from this title as Catholics, I’m sure many of you got your eyes on it initially due to the inclusion of the character Crusader as he is one of the most aesthetically Catholic characters ever put into a fighting game and whipped up a flurry of discussion (read: memes) when he was first announced. Well first off I’d like to preface any discussion of him by clarifying that no, he is unfortunately not actually Catholic but rather a priest of a fictional religion that exists within the world of Arad. He even calls his deity by name quite often, Lemidios the god of light and life. The elements of Christian symbolism were put there by the original work to quickly communicate his occupation and concept more than anything. With all that being said, considering the dude looks like a Templar Knight, wields a historically accurate blunt weapon, and speaks in phrases which 85% percent of the time could believably come from the mouths of Christ’s followers, none of his fictional elements prevent something genuine from being said about our own lives of faith through his existence. Indeed, this character whose symbolism was likely nothing more than shorthand, by the grace of God, is actually depicted in a rather profound way, and it all comes together when Crusader is taken in the context of his rival Inquisitor.
As one of the very first characters revealed for the game, Inquisitor has significantly less notoriety than Crusader but is nonetheless intertwined with him as a member of the Priest class umbrella (albeit in the highly fantastical Female Priest variant). Both serve the same deity, but emphasize very different elements of their own scripture. Inquisitor is before all else a punisher of sins and quick to condemn others in the name of her faith, expressing her divinely gifted power through flames of judgment. Crusader by contrast is an extremely humble and orthodox man, almost never being the instigator of a conflict and concerned with the salvation of even his most fallen adversaries. Even the story mode (for all its faults!) manages to reinforce this divide by further developing the Inquisitor as blindly zealous and the Crusader as thoughtfully discerning and pious.
In a sense these two characters are manifestations of two interpretations of the Catholic Church, one a popular myth which exaggerates and sensationalizes its history for the sake of justifying dissension from it, the other a gentle reflection of what it earnestly strives to be, if not what it truly is. When these two characters are played against one another in a match, you are witnessing a representation of our own Church’s struggle against its maliciously misremembered history as much as you are watching two larger than life anime characters settle doctrinal disputes with weapons as big as they are, and I greatly enjoy both characters more for it. Beyond their story modes, fighting games are uniquely capable of framing little micro-narratives through versus mode like this one, and here we see how they can truly be used to say something meaningful. Let us be reminded to strive not only to dispel the caricatures which the world would paint of God’s people, but also live with the virtue befitting the Church which Christ founded to be as Himself to the world.
In conclusion, DNF Duel in many ways exemplifies some of the weaknesses of modern fighting games which are starting to become all too common, but also exemplifies some of the greatest strengths the genre can offer us as a whole. Though frustratingly shallow in casual content as a result of being caught up in the demands of a post-Covid online competitive culture, its delightful battle mechanics and infectiously pleasing presentation more than make up for it. Despite the obscure origin, DFN Duel is without a doubt a game much more than its roots, and even if the MMO were to shut down its western servers tomorrow I’d be grateful to it for giving us a piece of its legacy in one of the coolest fighting games known to man. Just uhh… please pay your QA department more you guys, it’s embarrassing.
Art and Graphics: 5/5
DNF Duel’s fantasy setting heavily features magical elements, and while most of it is divorced from any realistic references to magic, the character Enchantress does mostly fight by cursing people with dolls. Magic circles also occasionally make appearances. The Berserker and the Ghostblade have a demon and a ghost respectively living in their right arms, and the Vanguard wields a cursed weapon called a Demonic Lance. In general DNF Duel features a surprisingly large number of edgier anti-heroes in its roster. References to fantasy deities aren’t uncommon, and Lemidios and the Great Will are sometimes (if not mostly) referred to with the capitalized script usually reserved for God alone. Battles involve a variety of weapons, spells, and fighting styles, but blood is very rarely drawn. The exception to this is Berserker, who uses his own blood to enhance his attacks. Some foul language is present.
There are a few female characters who show skin and wear tight-fitting clothing, but it’s actually the men who are most often sexualized with a few of their number revealing much of their torsos. The gallery also features unlockable artwork from the original DFO, and if you know anything about that game’s artwork it’s that its characters more often than not wear very sensual clothing. Said gallery also has summertime promotional material with the cast in swimsuits.
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