DNF Duel PS5 review. From BlazBlue through to Guilty Gear Strive, Arc System Works is well known as a purveyor of sophisticated, aesthetically stunning two dimensional fighters. Co-developed by Arc System Works along with Eighting and published under the label of Korean publisher Nexon, DNF Duel could easily pass as one of Arc System Works own marquee efforts, but there is a notable difference which would separate it from its immediate peers.
Whereas the likes of BlazBlue and Guilty Gear often pride themselves on providing a wellspring of deep fighting mechanics twinned with a satisfying, if steep learning curve, DNF Duel takes a softer approach, dialling down the barriers to play in favour of a more accessible, though still sophisticated experience that both veterans and fresh faced, wannabe scrappers can enjoy.
DNF Duel PS5 Review
A Gorgeously Accessible And Polished Two Dimensional Scrapper
Based on DNF (Dungeon and Fighter), an action RPG franchise that has largely held its roots in Korea, DNF Duel essentially takes that franchise and reimagines it as a two-dimensional fighter. While this is probably something of a kick for fans of that series (of which I admittedly do not belong to its number), its reach into the West has been modest to say the least and many folks will likely not appreciate the heritage that serves as the creative bedrock for DNF Duel. Again, those that do however, will find much to enjoy in witnessing their favourite characters being retooled in such an eye-opening and visceral fashion.
An unfortunate upshot of this approach for non DNF fans is that the characters in DNF Duel don’t actually have any names of their own so to speak, but merely have class descriptions instead such as ‘Striker’, ‘Grappler’, ‘Inquisitor’ and so on. While not seemingly a big deal on the surface of things, naming the characters in the DNF Duel roster in this way makes them all seem very impersonal, which in turn makes it difficult for players to form the sort of connection with them that might be effortlessly made with the Sol Badguy’s and Axl Low’s seen in the Guilty Gear games.
Indeed, the lack of personal identity (at least as far as DNF Duel’s naming conventions go), would seem to be at complete odds with the retina-popping art style that generously bleeds through every character in the game. From the ferocious scarred musculature and wild blonde hair of the Berserker, through to the rugged, Wild West visage of the Trouble Shooter, the cast of DNF Duel is impressively varied, it’s just a shame that none of them have been graced with their own namesakes.
Into the game proper, DNF Duel boasts all the expected modes that one might expect from a Arc System Works joint. You’ve got all the usual online, practice, offline and story modes, though it’s really in the latter DNF Duel goes a little bit extra. Rather than inflicting a bland, one-size-fits-all narrative on the player, DNF Duel boasts a unique story for each of the fighters in its sixteen strong character roster. Told in a series of fights that are interlinked by a mixture of real-time cutscenes, still art and voiced dialogue, DNF Duel’s stories, while more than a touch esoteric and heavy on the dialogue, are still enjoyable affairs that add a whole heap of value to an already robust genre offering.
Beyond the dialogue heavy trappings of its expansive story mode, where DNF Duel truly impresses (as any decent fighter worth its salt arguably should), is with its core combat mechanics. Refreshingly, DNF Duel doesn’t rigidly prescribe that everyone who might pick up the controller is some sort of combative savant that can rattle off a series of uninterruptible, long-string combos and wreck their opponent in just a few seconds. DNF Duel isn’t that game at all.
Instead, DNF Duel opens its arms to players of all skill levels and genre affinity and that begins with the combat system. Simply put, it’s extremely easy to get started with DNF Duel, as the relatively simple inputs allow combos start and flow effortlessly, while special moves can be quickly and easily performed, allowing players of even the lowest skill levels to get playing in earnest.
Once players are ingratiated with the basics, DNF Duel begins to slowly feed additional layers of complexity and sophistication into the proceedings, enabling DNF Duel with sufficient latitude to provide the requisite levels of mastery that more veteran and accomplished players would demand.
Not only does every character have their own special and signature moves, counters and combos that can be pulled off, DNF Duel also leverages an ‘Awakening’ mechanic, which allows characters unleash devastating super attacks whenever their health falls beneath thirty percent. As you might well expect, this mechanic lends itself to some savvy tactical and risky play, as players who are getting battered from pillar to post can use an Awakening attack to turn the tables, while aggressors who put their opponents under that thirty percent health threshold, need to be wary of an Awakening attack being fired off at any point.
By far though, it is the white damage and MP systems that really succeed in providing DNF Duel with a huge amount of depth that can’t be appreciated at a single, cursory glance. In DNF Duel, HP (health) is essentially split into two different types – white, which can be recovered when blocking and red, which cannot be recovered at any point. This essentially means that special attacks which deal red damage become a priority and it’s these hefty attacks which often tend to gobble up precious MP points. This allows players an opportunity to regain health that they would have otherwise lost in fighting games and thus keep the fight going.
Speaking of MP (that fancy blue bar which lurks under your health meter), this is a resource that is an absolute game-changer to say the least. In DNF Duel, MP can be restored by either being idle, or by using attacks which do not consume it – essentially making it a desperately finite resource that must be applied tactically to be of use. The real wrinkle with the MP system in DNF Duel however, is that users can elect to swap over some health into MP by using a special ‘Conversion’ mechanic. The kicker is that because you can convert any health, including the recoverable white kind, into MP and so DNF Duel provides players with yet another tool for their arsenal when it comes to turning the tables on their foes, as defensive players could soak up a whole bunch of white damage, recover and then use that unleash a veritable hailstorm of MP powered attacks. It’s a superbly constructed set of interlocking systems that really rewards player mastery in spades.
Perhaps the elephant in the room where DNF Duel is concerned, is just what a treat it is to the senses. Visually DNF Duel excels as it essentially adopts that same luscious visual style of Guilty Gear Strive, where highly detailed three-dimensional character models are set against equally resplendent backgrounds on a two- dimensional plane. It’s quite simply a beautiful game to look at and echoes the same heady calibre of polish that was evident in recent Arc System Works games such as Guilty Gear Strive.
This lively attention to detail is even evident when you’re not scrapping too, as even the numerous menus and other aspects of DNF Duel’s UI are rendered with similar style, helping to make the game feel like the ultra-polished, ultra-stylish that it is – not to mention one that can stand shoulder to shoulder with Arc System Works finest efforts.
Also as one would expect from a fighting game that emerges from underneath the shade of Arc System Works umbrella, that soundtrack in DNF Duel is absolute raucous, punctuating every fight with a high-octane, ear-lobe thrumming mix of cheese metal that suitably accompanies the flamboyantly flashy action that constantly and reliably unfolds on screen.
Beyond its single player offerings, DNF Duel’s online modes are also handily boosted and supported by the inclusion of Rollback netcode, which ensures that fistic contests against potential challengers from all over the globe is not only stable, but rapidly responsive too. You know, as it should be.
While DNF Duel isn’t quite able to unseat Guilty Gear Strive, what Nexon and Arc System Works has conjured here is nonetheless deeply worthy of commendation. A welcoming, two-dimensional fighter boasting a honeyed aesthetic that caresses both the ocular and aural senses, DNF Duel makes a great representation as a fantastic entry point for genre newcomers, as well as being a reliable source of instant gratification for brawling stalwarts.
DNF Duel is out now on PS4 and PS5.
Review code kindly provided by PR.