What the heck is DNF Duel and its inspiration Dungeon Fighter Online?

Over the holidays you may have seen a trailer for a new Arc System Works fighting game called DNF Duel. Since the 2021 lineup of new fighting games is pretty sparse, it was easy to get excited about a new ASW project. But who are these characters and what is this fighting game all about?

Consider this a spiritual sequel to Granblue Fantasy Versus, the breakout hit ASW fighting game of 2020. GBV is a fighting game interpretation of a free to play mobile game that is very large in Asian territories but is kind of unknown in the west. DNF Duel is the same thing, but instead of a mobile game, it’s an odd combination of beat em up and MMO.

DNF Duel is based on Dungeon Fighter Online, a Nexxon property that you can, in fact, purchase here in the states. Basically, it’s an MMO with fighting game mechanics. Dungeons take the form of beat em up style corridors and while characters have abilities on cooldowns that cost resources like any other MMO, they can be triggered by using fighting game style inputs. As a result, there is no shortage of DFO combo videos online, showing off what each of the games many classes can do.

That’s what you were seeing in the DNF Duel trailer video, character classes being interpreted into full-on fighting game characters. As you might imagine, it’s actually not that much of a stretch. DFO’s classes already have established normals, specials, and even specific gimmicks that can basically be copy-pasted over into a fighting game (onto high-res cel-shaded polygonal models of course).

And there are a lot of them because DFO has been around for a very long time. It first released in 2005 and has been getting updates ever since. Its early days were rough, with low-resolution sprites and few frames of animation. However, the game has had several graphical upgrades, U.I. enhancements, and more, allowing current generation characters to move fluidly and the game's sparse fantasy-inspired story to be told through beautifully animated cutscenes.

Speaking of animated cutscenes, DFO is much more than just a game. It’s an empire of media. An anime was released in 2009 alongside a manga, and two ONA’s (that’s original net animations, anime published directly to the web) were released, one in 2017 and one just last year in 2020. This is the main way to experience DFO’s story considering, as I said before, it’s sparse in-game.

Believe it or not, it is one of the highest-grossing video games of all time. Over 700 million players played DFO at its peak, and it grossed $15 billion in sales since it came out. So you can imagine how the announcement of DNF Duel is actually a really big deal in places that aren’t the U.S.

What’s going to be the story of DNF Duel? Well, I can’t tell you that. As I said before, the characters shown in the trailer were actually just interpretations of the many unnamed character classes that you can play in DFO. I can, however, tell you a little bit about the mechanics.

One of the major mechanics of DFO is the ability to cancel your special abilities into other special abilities. Not every class had this ability, but many of the aggressive fighter classes did. Some support classes could also grant you special buffs that would give you special canceling rules. Essentially every character had some sort of gimmick that determined how they could cancel their moves and extend their combos.

Take another look at the trailer. Do you see how characters flash with a white spark every so often? That’s the cancel mechanic at work. It allows the characters to go from one special directly into another and that allows for some incredibly sick combos. It’s not clear whether or not these characters will follow the same gimmicks their DFO counterparts but it’s fairly clear that this game will be very combo heavy, much like its property of origin.

And why not? Because ASW isn’t the only company making this game. Developer Eighting is also producing it, and they are most well-known for a little game called Marvel vs. Capcom 3. If you can think of a more combo-centric fighting game I’d like to hear it.

If that’s gotten you hype, then it might be worth taking a look at DFO. It’s a pretty fun game and there’s a reason it’s so popular. It certainly feels like one of those early free-to-play online MMOs like Ragnarok Online and Maple Story, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t feel good. Take a couple of character classes for a spin and you’ll start to see why DNF Duel has such appeal.