It’s hard not to see the similarities between DNF Duel and 2020’s Granblue Fantasy Versus: they’re both 2D fighters developed by Arc System Works; they’re both based on a franchise that’s hugely popular overseas but lesser known in North America (in this case, Dungeon Fighter Online); and most notably, they are both deceptively complex. Simplified controls and a guard button can easily spell the end of a true competitive fighting game, but ArcSys and 8ing (the team behind Marvel vs Capcom 3) didn’t add them at the expense of skill. Instead, DNF Duel is a game of resource management, patience, and creative problem-solving wrapped up in a nice package, though it might not be as user-friendly as expected for newcomers.

DNF Duel joins the growing number of fighting games using simplified inputs to help you get to grips with its control scheme. Special moves can be performed by simply pressing a button or by combining a button with a direction, but those who go further using the more traditional quarter-circle moves are rewarded with better resource refills. It’s nice to have the fast option while still getting a boost for putting in the extra effort, and the streamlined inputs mean the fights are all about figuring out what each character’s moveset can really do.

DNF Duel Characters

For example, the Striker can chain together special attacks in ways that other characters cannot, making her particularly adept at keeping up the pressure and often tricking opponents into thinking they can counterattack safely so that they are not. Many characters also have invincible reversals upon awakening, quick hits that can convert to big damage, and gigantic screen-filling objects like the Inquisitor’s Giant Wheel or Kunoichi’s Fire Tornado. They’re some really savage characters with really absurd moves, and a big part of the difficulty curve is learning how to deal with those attacks. Being beaten by one gave me concrete goals to work against in practice mode, and a great sense of satisfaction when I didn’t let someone off the hook later. But until you know what to do in a given situation, it can be difficult to handle a lot of every fight by learning these tricks.

Rather than assigning entries to a cooldown like Granblue Fantasy Versus, DNF Duel ties your skill MPs and guard cancels to an MP meter, with the strongest screen-clearing moves often consuming the most MP. The twist in this comes from the ability to convert white damage (the temporary damage you gain from blocking and being hit by less powerful moves) into MP. When you convert, it also returns your character to a neutral state, allowing you to chain together moves that wouldn’t normally be possible, or making certain risky moves safer by allowing you to block when you would normally be punished. Finding creative ways to use my MP and knowing when to convert my white damage often meant the difference between winning and losing, and I really liked the flexibility the system offered.

The move also took me a while to figure out. At first, DNF Duel felt heavy and unwieldy. Although this is an anime fighter, there are no air guards, no double jumps, and no air dashes other than some character-specific moves, so the action remains relatively anchored. There’s also exhaustion to consider, the state you enter when you run out of MP and your MP-specific skills no longer work. Combine that with characters that can harass you in full screen and lock you in completely if you’ve used all your MPs, and you have a pretty frustrating on-ramp when learning the systems and roster. But once DNF Duel starts clicking and you learn what moves to look for, when to press a counterattack, and when to go all out on Conversion, its quick decision-making leads to some really fun and satisfying times where you can take a big hit. risk a larger gain.

Luckily, there are a few offline options to help you learn these myriad systems, as DNF Duel has several offerings for those who prefer their battles to be a solo affair. Arcade and Survival modes are standard fighting game fare, with Survival letting you use your accumulated score to make purchases of greater attack power, health refills, or even things like increased stats. guard crush to break through your opponent’s defenses. The arcade mode is simply a series of eight one-on-one battles, and they can get quite tricky on the higher difficulties. It was a good way to familiarize myself with the characters and help me understand how to stay out of bad situations.

I would consider wheel lockup a bad situation.

I would consider wheel lockup a bad situation.

Unfortunately, the DNF Duel Story mode is pretty boring, even by fighting game standards. All 15 starting characters have a series of visual novel-like vignettes during which almost nothing interesting happens before they’re forced to fight someone else for the thinnest reasons possible. Each character story can be completed in about half an hour, and other than providing insight into the cast’s personalities and relationships, there’s no reason to complete more than what is needed to unlock a secret character. There are cool custom artwork accompanying each story, but you can also unlock gallery ones for a small amount of in-game currency you earn by playing different modes.

The training mode options are at least extensive enough to make up for that, although the menus did require a bit of tinkering to set the conditions for what I wanted each time. There are game mechanic breakdowns, character-specific tutorials, and combo challenges, all of which were invaluable as I learned the ins and outs of each system. I especially enjoyed reading the information panes for each character, as they provide useful insight into how certain moves were intended to be used by the developers.

After Guilty Gear Strive’s fantastic restore netcode, I expected DNF Duel to play very well online, and luckily it seems to have so far. Most of the matches I’ve played have gone smoothly, even the ones I’ve played against people in Asia despite a few restore frames. Arc System Works is once again getting a little too cute with physical lobbies for my liking, working like they do in Dragon Ball FighterZ or Granblue with in-game arcade machines you approach to join a match, but get in player match rooms is a breeze. You can also set your lobby character, player card, slogans and what information you want to display for neat customization after purchasing different options with in-game currency or unlocking them through specific challenges.

“once DNF Duel starts to click…its quick decision-making leads to some really fun and satisfying times…”

While queuing for a ranked match, you can pause in Practice, Tutorial, Arcade, and Survival modes, which is always a good way to alleviate long queues as there’s no unfortunately no cross-play between the Steam and PlayStation versions. I haven’t had any queuing issues yet, but DNF Duel just came out and is already a bit of a niche title, so hopefully the player pool stays active enough that the lack of play crossed does not become a problem.

DNF Duel continues the ArcSys trend of having fantastic 2.5D art. If the developer hadn’t established itself as the leader in this space after Granblue Fantasy Versus and Guilty Gear Strive, that reputation should be solid by now as the characters and scenes are simply stunning. Each cast member has a distinct look and is easy to tell apart in the heat of battle – it’s impressive considering how amazing they are on the move too, with clothes rustling, colorful effects flying and supers that are as unique to their skills as they are explosive.

Unfortunately, the music doesn’t quite hit the same bar, as it’s mostly mundane rock with a few fun highlights here and there. But all of the character art, music, and voice lines can be viewed in gallery mode after purchasing them with in-game currency. There are tons of rooms to browse, and fans of the original DFO should also find plenty to like here, as the art options aren’t limited to DNF Duel.