A Fine Scrap
HIGH Great character designs with varied combat styles.
LOW This Switch port performs worse than on Playstation or PC.
WTF ‘The Seeds of Volition Bring Forth a Challenger’ is a weird intro to each bout.
Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day. Give Arc Systems Works an intellectual property and they’ll turn it into a beautiful and competent anime infused brawler. When they’re not polishing their own Guilty Gear to a mirror-like sheen, they’re turning Kill la Kill, Granblue Fantasy and Dragon Ball into visually stunning hyperkinetic beatdowns.
This is a company with a real talent for turning franchises into fighters, and naturally they’ve gone and done it again with Nexon and Neople’s Dungeon Fighter Online side-scrolling series, which is now a one-on-one anime fighter. It actually first came out in 2022, but was only recently brought to Nintendo’s Switch — and while it took a few visual knocks in the transition, it’s still a fine experience.
As is typical for a fighter, the story’s not much to write home about. There was this world, then the world fragmented a bit, and then these magical gates appeared to let people meet up who were destined to punch each other in the face… or something. Beyond that, there’s a range of the usual game modes to choose from, such as Arcade or Survival, and while the script is largely throwaway it does have some beautiful artwork between matches. (The first NPC I saw in Grappler’s story mode had me wishing she was a playable character.)
Speaking of the roster, there’s a total of sixteen characters so far. Weirdly, they aren’t given personal names and are instead referred to by their class — Grappler, Kunoichi, Striker, and that sort of thing. Regardless, the cast are almost certainly what most players would want from an anime fighter. The designs are on-point with a varied array of manly men and pretty ladies punching each other across the screen in aesthetically pleasing ways, employing either their fists or a variety of weapons such as guns and magical attacks to gain the upper hand.
For anyone who hasn’t played a 2D anime fighter before, battles are usually play out at a decent clip with a ton of visual effects whirling around the screen. Characters zip in and out of range with a variety of dashes and evasive tactics, zoning at range by employing projectiles or closing the distance to land punishing grappling techniques or various combo strikes. While DNF Duel does slow things down a touch compared to some of the more aggressive anime fighters on the market, players can still be murdered in a hurry if they let their guard down and receive an avalanche of special moves.
DNF Duel is fairly easy to pick up, with special moves activated via directions and a single button press, and stronger specials coming from a button that implements the character’s MP gauge — a resource which rapidly refills after use. There’s also a dual damage system where characters take permanent damage from attacks, but also temporary damage that can be recovered during battle by simply not taking more hits to the face.
One slight downside about this simpler approach (and a lack of defensive options) means that I quickly started to play in patterns. After I found a good opening gambit for a character, I’d use that over and over to get inside the opponent’s space rather than having any real ‘footsie’ or mix-up game to break through their guard, leading to abusing the same moves repeatedly. That said, I like the combat fine overall, even if it’s seemingly not really tuned for high-level play.
A more serious issue, however, is that DNF Duel on the Switch comes with performance issues. The excellent character portraits in the menus and versus screens are razor sharp, but once into the game proper, there’s an immediately noticeable (and offputting) blurry sheen smeared over the characters. The crisp detail seen in the PC and PS5 versions is gone, and previously fine lines now look like they’ve been roughly sketched out with a graphite pencil. The same lack of definition also applies to backgrounds, meaning the Switch version comes up short in a comparison between available platforms.
It’s not the end of the world, admittedly, but a large part of DNF Duel’s appeal lies in how good everything looks as all kinds of chaotic craziness unfolds on the screen, so some of the concessions made to get it running on Switch are a disappointing compromise.
Another thing that should be mentioned is that the online lobbies are basically dead. The Switch version of DNF Duel uses delay-based netcode instead of the universally-preferred rollback model, which unfortunately means a worse online performance and presumably no chance of ever seeing crossplay being activated to connect players up with people on other platforms.
The unfortunate result is that in a genre known to shine when taking on opponents of similar skills from across the world, most players will instead have to treat DNF Duel as a primarily single player experience or find matches through online forums and fan communities rather, than simply hopping on and playing online at their own convenience.
I found DNF Duel to be enjoyable overall, but this cool, high-energy anime fighter with great characters and an appealing style is hampered by a lack of depth, low online playerbase, and the Switch’s hardware. That said, when it comes to a bit of brawling on the go, players could certainly do a lot worse than this. It’s not going to be the next big thing in fighting games, but it doesn’t have to be in order to still offer a fairly solid experience.
Rating: 7 out of 10
Disclosures: This game is developed by Eighting, Arc System Works and Neople and published by Nexon. It is currently available on PS4/PS5/Switch and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Switch. Approximately 6 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. 4 hours of play were spent in multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T and contains Blood, Mild Suggestive Themes, Use of Alcohol and Violence. This is a fighting game in which players can select from 16 characters in a fantastical world/storyline. Players use punches, kicks, and special moves to deplete opponents’ health bars in frenetic on-on-one combat. Fights are highlighted by cries of pain, dramatic light/sound effects, and screen-shaking effects. Cutscenes sometimes depict still images of characters with blood-splattered faces and clothes; one image briefly depicts a monster corpse impaled by several weapons. Some female characters are designed with revealing outfits (e.g., low-cut tops, deep cleavage) and jiggling breasts.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game offers subtitles. The subtitles cannot be altered and/or resized. As a fighting game, the gameplay should be almost fully accessible without sound.
Remappable Controls: Yes, this game offers fully remappable controls.