Originally released on consoles and PC back in 2022 to a warm response, DNF Duel quickly suffered the curse of the fighting game drop-off. Now, with the support of a roadmap and a massive update schedule, DNF is ready to become the street fighter in its Nintendo Switch debut.
DNF Duel is a 1vs1, 2D fighter spin-off of the “popular” MMO meets Brawler franchise “Dungeon and Fighter”. While I personally haven’t met anyone who’s played or even heard of the franchise, Wikipedia tells me it has garnered over $20 Billion and amassed a player base of over 850 million. Not bad for something that hasn’t seemingly made that much of a splash on my radar!
It Doesn’t Make Any Sense Basil!
The story is as normal for an Arc System Works jam. In other words, mountains and mountains of technobabble. This comes with plenty of terms that I’d imagine are familiar to players of the base game but not quite as friendly to newcomers or people who’ve lived under a rock like myself.
The basic idea is that gates seem to be opening up and drawing strong-willed fighters together to collect each other’s “will” to help achieve their dream. There is a lot more detail to it, but honestly, most of it flew right over my head. I will say that even with no knowledge of the series, the scenarios were well enough written to keep me interested in the text-heavy story mode of the characters.
Ultimately it’s a fighting game. Excuses have to be made for why the roster is throwing hands at each other. I’m not going to knock the game for leaning into lore from its source material. I just want to point out that it certainly pays to be familiar with Dungeon and Fighters to get the most out of its story.
I Demand Satisfaction!
Now the story is out of the way, it’s time to discuss why you’re all here, the combat. The feel, the nuances, and the reason people have been throwing money at arcade cabinets ever since Street Fighter 2 and Art of Fighting hit the scene all those years ago.
DNF Duel, as you’d expect of an Arc System Works title, is categorized as an “Anime Fighter” much in the vein of Persona 4: Arena Ultimax, Phantom Breaker: Omnia, and Guilty Gear -Strive-. While similar to classics like Street Fighter and King of Fighters XV, these are often much faster paced and have different mechanics making them a little more geared towards hardcore players’ consumption. DNF: Duel makes a fantastic attempt at fusing the two types.
If you’re reading this, I’m sure you know generally how a fighting game works. I’ll just touch on what DNF does differently starting with its control scheme. You have 2 standard attack buttons and then 2 “special attack” buttons that replace your fighting game motions. This lets you focus on the tactics. If you don’t have the fireball motion muscle memory, you can still pull moves off the traditional way. This costs less MP and does a slight bit more damage.
Your MP meter replaces the traditional super bar where your bigger moves come out at the expense of meter usage. Unlike other fighters, this meter is constantly building even without you doing anything. It incentivizes special move usage, rather than expecting players to horde the built-up power shown on the meter. This works creates a different flow to fights than you would expect.
There is also a larger focus on status effects, buffs, and debuffs. The level of focus here is often a rarity in fighters, but they play into every fighter’s core gameplay style. It’s something that Arc System Works has become quite adept with and also has a huge effect on the flow of fights.
Different Yet Familiar
Despite being an “anime fighter”, DNF Duel is much more grounded than its kin. While this is mainly down to the lack of an air-dash ability, the characters feel weightier than you would expect and despite the frantic usage of super moves, it just has a more deliberate pace with a more neutered move roster. The closest game I can compare it to would be Granblue Versus, which is also published by Arc System Works. The lack of air-dashing and frantic gameplay surprised me considering this was developed by Eighting who are the team behind Tatsunoko Vs Capcom and Marvel Vs Capcom 3, both of which are quite fast and hectic “tag” fighting games.
The roster is a fantastic mix of 15 initially playable characters. These all fill different archetypes from the Dungeon and Fighter series. They have some interesting character designs but are named by classes such as Grappler or Striker instead of having actual names. For the bulk of the cast, you will have an immediate idea of what playstyle they have.
Same Old Song
Gameplay modes on offer are your standard fare. There’s an offline arcade ladder, practice, and tutorial modes to get to grips with the game, online casual and ranked, as well as a survival mode. Bonuses include a gallery full of art and movies for you to unlock over time.
Online works fine for the Nintendo Switch. That said, with the lack of crossplay and it being a predominantly WiFi-powered experience, no amount of Rollback is going to create a seamless arcade experience on the aged hybrid.
Every Rose Has Its Thorns
Graphically, DNF Duel is in the upper echelon of fighting games on the Nintendo Switch. It edges out previously mentioned titles and stands toe to toe with Dragon Ball Fighter Z, funnily enough, another Arc System Works jam.
Stunning cel shading and the most vibrant of colors are on display here. After looking at screens of Dungeons and Fighter, dare I say it eclipses it by quite a bit. The character designs are fantastic and just ooze anime edge. On top of that, they’re animated so seamlessly! The backgrounds do a brilliant job of mixing 2D and 3D and have some really interesting things going on, the boat train being a personal favorite.
The music is good here but sadly nothing too memorable. While it may not be as top-notch as Guilty Gear -Strive-, there’s nothing negative to say. The voice acting is again fine. There isn’t a whole lot here, but what is included works. Sound effects are spot on, so you have a clear indication of what was hit and what was blocked.
Now while the game runs at a buttery smooth 60fps, the majority of the time it does pay the “Switch Toll”. The visuals aren’t anywhere near as sharp as the other versions and have that jagged and vaseline-smothered look to them which doesn’t do the game justice. It’s fine on handheld, but when you dock it then it becomes quite noticeable.
DNF Duel is a fine addition to the rosters of fighting games on the Nintendo Switch. I can only hope that crossplay comes in the future alongside the number of updates and support Arc System Works has promised the other versions.
It’s a bit of a niche franchise when compared to stuff like Dragon Ball Z and may not quite have the appeal for more casual fans. That said, fans of the genre who fancy an anime fighter with a bit of a difference will find that DNF Duel stands in its league.
DNF DUEL IS RECOMMENDED
Many thanks go to Reef Entertainment for a Nintendo Switch review code for this title.
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Pride of utopia & greatest thing ever, I found the One Piece, Collected the Dragon Balls & won the Mortal Kombat Tournament in one night, it was quiet for me that night! Follow me on Twitter @powahdunk