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DNF Duel open beta early impressions: Great netcode and tons of style but does it have the substance to compete?

Posted by Dakota 'DarkHorse' Hills • December 18, 2021 at 9:13 p.m. PST • Comments: 58

Many around the fighting game community were quite intrigued by DNF Duel based solely on the short trailers and character designs shown off up to this week, but how does it stand up now that we've gotten our hands on the brand new title?

Well now that the open beta test for the Dungeon Fighter Online spin-off has been "open" for a day, we have some early thoughts on if Arc System Works and Eighting's next outing is something special or just a different flavor of what we've already seen before.

Since this is an initial beta test, of course the servers were immediately broken once it went live last night, so I didn't end up getting the chance to do much of anything with the game then.

I did, however, manage to squeeze in at least two dozen matches today while trying out about half of the available roster of 10 characters.

As far as visuals go, DNF Duel is a very pretty game, even on a base PlayStation 4.

The game isn't as technically impressive in the graphics department as ArcSys' other recent works like Guilty Gear Strive, Granblue Fantasy: Versus or Dragon Ball FighterZ, but the overall art style / direction help carry DNF with vibrant colors and characters making every attack really pop.

Duel's core gameplay feels like an odd mixture of Granblue, BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle and Persona 4 Arena, which certainly isn't a bad thing to me, though I've seen others describe the game as something like a simplified Guilty Gear Xrd.


At its basics, DNF uses four basic attack buttons between Standard A, Standard B, Skill and MP Skill plus two more for Guard and Awakening Skill.

Like Granblue, the special attacks in this game are performed with simple inputs of pressing a direction with a Skill button.

While you can perform more traditional inputs for MP Skills, doing so only seems to add the benefit of faster MP recharge, so Duel is much more built around these simpler inputs compared to GBVS.

One thing that helps separate this game from most others in the genre is that there's way more special moves than there are normals, which puts more emphasis on the flash and flair though may not be for everyone.

This setup makes all of the characters appear nearly identical on paper, but in practice the developers seem to have done a good job of differentiating the cast with wildly different play styles.

It also leads to interesting design choices like the Ranger's main shots being on his normal buttons while his melee attacks are his regular specials.

Characters and Gameplay

Thus far, I've only played matches using the Berserker, Hitman, Crusader and Ranger with each of them feeling quite powerful in their own ways.

Berserker can maul you from in your face to close to mid-screen with a barrage of slashes and energy explosions.

His Frenzy Install unlocks even bigger and more brutal attacks, but it comes at the cost of constantly draining his health, meaning he can essentially KO himself if not used carefully.

The Crusader is slower of course but hits like an absolute truck and can put you in the corner anywhere on the screen thanks to his Deflect Wall. Some attacks like Miracle Splitter and Spear of Victory are still fast enough to catch opponents off-guard too.

Hitman can lock you down with his extremely long crouching slash canceled into multiple specials in a row, but you have to pay attention to your range to make sure the opponent can't escape.

The Ranger is the most gunslinger-iest gunslinger I've probably ever seen in a fighting game with being able to pick you off with potshots from anywhere on screen and lob some grenades too.

DNF Duel's main sauce comes down to its ability to cancel specials into each other, which helps mitigate the lack of normals while doubling down on the flair.

It appears that most Skills can be instantly canceled into MP Skills, but Skills into Skills or MP Skills into MP Skills availability varies quite a bit between the cast.

These help to give the game more of a free-flowing identity that is among the easiest to pick up, but still provide seemingly enough depth to get pretty creative.

As the name suggest, MP Skills drain a character's MP to use, which is different than other games' use of EX meter since it recharges over time, when using Conversion and hitting combos.

Most of these moves feel understandably powerful and a bit balanced by the limited resource, but things can get nutty by the end of rounds where you can get double the MP and just start tossing out attack after attack.

Awakening Skills are quite strong considering they're Super moves available by simply tapping a button at low life. These are generally very easy to hit confirm into off of just about anything though they can get blown up otherwise since they're not reversals.

Matches feel fairly well paced although admittedly a bit slow towards the start of some rounds since the walk and general movement speed isn't as fast as a typical "anime fighter." Things can get pretty frenetic though towards the end of rounds thanks to the aforementioned MP boost.

Online Play

The netcode of DNF Duel deserves praise, as every single one of the matches I've played thus far have been buttery smooth with no visual rollbacks present at all aside from maybe one time. I think my opponents appeared to feel the same too, considering we'd almost always immediately hit rematch and jump right back in for around an average of five games in a row.

It's too early to say for sure, but first day impressions have me putting the netplay right up there with Guilty Gear Strive. I do wish there was a way to see connection status' though in the beta.

The game's lobbies are your typical ArcSys fair (outside of Strive) with chibi avatars roaming around and sitting at arcade cabinets to fight. There's not much else to say there except there is a nice addition to spectate matches that are already in progress though in the beta they seem to take a while to load and can act pretty wonky at times.

We don't have access to really any other features outside of that, so it's hard to say what the overall online experience will be like in the full game.

The biggest downer of the beta is that there's no Training Mode available anywhere, so you're forced to hop into actual matches when trying to figure out how a character works for the first time. This feels quite limiting to trying to learn combos and what specials do on the fly and leads to many matches where either you or your opponent aren't fighting it out like you'd want.

Overall, DNF Duel makes some strong positive first impressions with its unique take to handing you a ton of special moves, but we'll have to do some more digging to see if there's as much substance as there is flair.

We plan to do a more in-depth impressions / review once the beta is over, so stay tuned for more DNF Duel coverage on EventHubs.

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