The DNF Duel Open Beta, much like everything else to do with the fighting game based on the Dungeon & Fighter series came out of nowhere- it was just suddenly announced, along with a week’s worth of daily new character reveals, all ready to be played that weekend.
It’s no surprise that Fighting games are on the up and up- games like Street Fighter V and Tekken 7 are going strong, and this year saw multiple big new releases like Guilty Gear Strive and Melty Blood Type Lumina, while older titles like Blazblue Centralfiction got resurgent playerbases.
With that in mind, DNF Duel has a lot to prove with its open beta- and how well it did on its first showing isn’t exactly something to be proud of.
One thing I really have to praise about DNF Duel is that it’s actually really fun. Made by 8Ting of Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 fame, DNF Duel plays like the midpoint between the extremely beginner-oriented Granblue Fantasy Versus and the more in-depth anime or hyper fighters like Melty Blood.
Your basic combo routes are really similar to titles like Skullgirls, where they’re usually some variation of A>B>C>Special move. I’ve always liked these gatling routes more than the mash-friendly autocombos a la Blazblue Cross Tag or Granblue, since they do encourage a little more learning to press each button instead of panic mashing.
One thing that does feel weird though is some of the buttons can feel weirdly unresponsive. Maybe it’s just my bad luck that I was playing the slower Inquisitor and Crusader, but it almost feels like there’s a soft cooldown on some normals.
Special Moves and Roman Cancels
One praise I really have to give to DNF Duel is its unique mechanics. This is where the Granblue comparisons really come to a boil, because it feels like it’s covered all the things that irked me about that titles’ design choices. Just like Granblue, DNF Duel has mechanics in place to punish you for over-using special moves. Rather than a cooldown system a la Granblue, DNF goes for an MP bar. Each special costs MP, and once you use too many you enter MP Exhaustion and that means having no special moves until you regenerate it.
I really like this feature because not only does it stop spamming, it also acts as a way to end your opponent’s combos, too. Eventually they’ll run out of MP, so you’ll naturally get your own window out.
Outside of special moves, there’s also one really great use for your meter- the game’s guard counters. These are basically Alpha Counters from Street Fighter, where you can forcefully take back your turn by hitting forwards and two buttons while guarding to counter your opponent. It’s a surprisingly difficult mechanic to have in an otherwise simple game, and once DNF Duel comes out I can totally see it being an early goal for new players to learn to master.
I’m also a huge fan of how the game handles grey health- in most fighting games, this health is recoverable if you can go long enough without getting hit, but outside of that has no real function (that being said, Nova in UMVC3 famously had a whole mechanic centered around his gray health). In DNF Duel, it’s tied to the game’s Conversion mechanic- aka Roman Cancels from Guilty Gear.
Simply put, you can’t use Conversions if you don’t have grey health, and you don’t have grey health if you’ve never been hit or aren’t actively taking back Neutral. It’s another really clever mechanic built around capping off players that are too good, without giving players too much of an advantage without putting in some elbow grease.
This kind of sums up what I love about DNF Duel- almost every mechanic is designed in this way that’s good to introduce new players to more advanced mechanics, while also finding a way to level the playing field without overly absurd catchup mechanics.
A Little Too Simple At Times
That being said, it does feel sometimes that DNF Duel is almost afraid of how much fun it can be. There’s a few mechanics that almost feel neutered- as if one person wanted to have more in-depth gameplay, only to have someone cut them off for fear of alienating new players.
This is most obvious in the roll. Each character has a roll they can use as a spot dodge, that even crosses up players at close range. A game making crossups a universal mechanic is a huge deal, and thanks to DNF Duel’s simpler inputs you could actually do some pretty mean guessing games.
Well, you could anyways, if it worked. On top of the regular hold-back-to-block DNF Duel also has a Guard button, which blocks in any direction, no matter where your character is facing. Considering characters have really strong setup tools (Berserker and Inquisitor especially), the fact you can’t really force your opponent to play guessing games really feels like a last minute cut.
There’s also the game’s air combat- that is to say, there isn’t any. You can’t guard in the air, so jumping becomes a huge commitment. There’s also no airdashing, similar to Granblue, so if you came to this game hoping for high-speed Hyper shenanigans expect to be disappointed.
Finally, there’s also the game’s supers. Just like Granblue supers aren’t really meant to be a tool as much as they are a catch-up mechanic. They’re tied to your health just like Fatal Blows in Mortal Kombat 11, meaning you won’t get to use your big cinematic move unless you’re already on the back foot. I really don’t like this, since the supers look really great- locking them to only getting out of pickles feels counterintuitive.
Worse still, it’s not even the best button to use in that situation. Unlike most fighting games supers aren’t invincible on startup, meaning you need to be at low health and still be playing your best game just to use your super, when you have a one-button invincible DP that’s always by your side.
A Terrible Beta
Gameplay aside, there were problems with the DNF Duel Open Beta itself. While the netcode ran great, the beta build was incredibly light on features- no training mode, no private rooms. Your only choice to learn your character was to play against other people- who may not be sporting enough to let you get used to your characters first.
There’s also the game’s lobbies. If you’re looking to play with your friend, you’ll be spending a lot of time just refreshing the lobby list until your friend’s name decides to show up. Considering you don’t even get to try the game until you pass this screen, it’s not a great look for the DNF Duel Beta. Worse still, when the servers had to be taken down, they gave players a CPU Battle system where you don’t get to choose the characters you play.
Closing Thoughts On The DNF Duel Open Beta
From a gameplay standpoint, I’m hyped for DNF Duel. It really looks like the game to solve all the gripes I had with Granblue Fantasy Versus, while still being easy enough for newcomers to get into that I won’t have to sit down with a bunch of open manuals like a dad doing his son’s math homework trying to explain what Dead Angle is.
That being said, I totally wouldn’t mind if the game decided to miss its own Summer launch date for more time in the oven. If the current online is how they plan to ship it at launch, that needs to be redone to accommodate some sort of friend-invite system, at the very least. Training mode is also a must-have for any fighting game, and the ability for people to sit down and figure out how far each character can go is gonna be integral to the game’s lifespan.
One thing that’s certain though, is that the memes about the Crusader’s piety are freaking hilarious and I’m all here for yet another rendition of “Our Lord in heaven, hallowed be thy frames”.