By Michael Sagoe (Mikedot)
Back in 2009, F2P game publisher ‘Nexon America’ decided to bring over a popular online action game from South Korea, one that mixes arcade beat ‘em up action with MMO-like features, and it was known as Dungeon Fighter Online (DFO; Dungeon & Fighter / Arad Senki in Asian territories) and it was considered a cult classic among PC gamers out there. Featuring fast paced combat and a 2D pixelated presentation, as well as some addictive PvP modes, this game had everything it needed to keep gamers occupied for years to come.
Unfortunately, tragedy struck and incompetence from Nexon America caused DFO’s potential lifespan to shorten. Within a few years, the game became overwhelmed with botters, hackers and a ton of other problems which caused the game to receive an early and undeserved grave. Since then, Nexon America made announcements to the gaming press stating that they would only focus on publishing western developed games from now on, dashing any hope for an English DFO to make a return…
That is until Neople, the developers behind DFO, claimed the rights back from Nexon America to host a Global version of the game themselves, thus bringing the world of DFO back to players new and old. DFO Global was also updated with several new classes, new skills and a new storyline, allowing players to enjoy a more up to date version of the game that’s closer to its Asia-released counterparts.
But despite all the ups and downs of its initial English release: Is DFO worthy of having a second chance at life? Well of course it does. As an avid fan of the series since its initial release in South Korea back in 2005, I can safely say that DFO provides a feeling of nostalgia and entertainment that many F2P online games can only hope to achieve.
The control scheme for DFO is not like your typical MMORPG, as it uses the arrow keys for movement, Z key for skills, X key for basic attacks, C to jump and space bar for support skills. With these few available key combinations, players can pull off a ton of different attacks and combinations with directional inputs similar to traditional fighting games such as Street Fighter. The timing for these attacks, however, have very strict timing in order to perform, so in the midst of an incredibly difficult battle, players may find themselves performing the wrong attacks at the right time. Fortunately, the game also allows players to perform attacks using the A thru H keys, as well as the 1 thru 6 keys. Not only that, but players can also “lock” certain skills onto their hotkeys so they can only be performed using their hotkeys, so for those crucial attacks that you always need to be able to perform on the spot, DFO gives players that option.
Some attacks also require very subtle taps on the directional keys in order to aim those attacks, such as the gunner’s ability to aim straight or aim down towards the ground in order to attack shorter enemies, and this can also be difficult to deal with in a tough fight; but with some practice, most players should be able to adjust accordingly.
Because of the relatively simplistic control scheme, DFO can easily be adapted to controllers, gamepads and arcade sticks, allowing players to enjoy the game from the comfort of a couch, or have the game set up inside an arcade cabinet. The possibilities for enjoying this game are vast.
Dungeon Fighter features a vast amount of character classes (currently 12 included) along with several different sub-classes for each. From sword masters, magicians, priests, gunners, thieves and more, there’s something for everyone, and every character is made to deal tons of damage, including the support-type classes.
Once you’ve leveled up a single class to LV15, players must choose a subclass that fits their playstyle, and the amount of uniqueness put into each class is very noticeable. Even the gender variants of the same class have several differences from each other such as different hitboxes and animation speeds, which also adds to the game’s diversity. A Male Striker won’t play quite the same as a Female Striker, or a Female Spitfire playing the same as a Male Spitfire, etc.
A big missed opportunity for initial character creation, however, is that players won’t be able to customize the way their character looks when starting the game, but will rather have to obtain avatar items for their character later on. At the time of this review, there wasn’t many avatar items available, but Neople promises to release a few sets every months, as they have several years of avatar items built up from the game since its initial release. Despite this, avatar items allow players to change their character’s face, hair, clothing and more, all while keeping their character’s stats intact, so players are free to fight and look good while doing so.
Other forms of customization include an enchanting and magic stone system that allows players to upgrade their equipment with higher stats. Beyond this you even have a creatures system that lets players bring along pets into battle, offering unique skills to supplement your goal of being a more unique snowflake. Each of these system are straightforward and while they do not present anything special compared to upgrading and pet systems in other MMOs, they certainly do get the job done.
Gameplay and Features
The world of DFO is presented with an MORPG structure similar to online games such as Phantasy Star Online, Vindictus and many others titles that rely on towns as quest hubs. From these towns, players can also meet up with other players, chat, group up, buy, craft, sell items, and more. Once players have gathered a party of up to four members, they can venture out into one of several different dungeons with difficulties ranging from easy to medium to hard. Even more difficulty settings beyond hard mode are also available later in the game.
The best way to describe DFO’s gameplay would be a mashup between Capcom’s “Dungeon & Dragons: Shadows of Mystara” and Arc System Work’s “Guilty Gear X,” where combat relies heavily on fast action and faster command execution. Each and every class in the game is capable of performing devastating combos, juggles, grapples, overkills, backstabs and more, and this is all possible very early on in the game. Once they’ve reached their “awakening” state, each character’s power curve takes a sharp spike with each level, evolving towards near demi-god levels. This becomes necessary as the PvE challenge of the game becomes insanely challenging at an equally rapid pace.
From level 1 to 16, the enemies and bosses in the game may seem like a cakewalk, but once players reach level 17 and up, the kid gloves come off. You can expect enemies to deal real damage that will make you second guess willingly taking a hit. I’m talking about Dark Souls style damage that just feels unfair before you adjust your playing style accordingly, but almost every challenge in the game was designed to be completed solo. If there’s a will, there’s a way, and players will feel good when they’ve completed a tough boss after struggling with one for hours or days. This gives a feeling of true satisfaction, which is once again not found too often with MMO gaming today, when most of them are focused on instant gratification.
Of course, some players should be prepared to waste a handful of potions as well as life tokens, which are the equivalent of those game tokens or quarters that gamers would dump endlessly into those arcade machines back in the day, also adding to the nostalgia and old-school gaming feel.
The dungeons themselves are like a mix between a classic beat ‘em up structure, where each room contains a handful of enemies that must be defeated before moving on, and a rouge-like RPG where most maps are randomly generated, so you may not be running through the same layout twice, which adds a small bit of replay value.
PvP content in DFO is a completely different entity compared to its PvE content. So different, in fact, that it could be a separate game on its own. The fighting game mechanics are emphasized now more than ever, and command execution becomes crucial as players will live and die by how well they can chain combos together. Stats in PvP are also equalized to ensure that skill is the main factor for winning matches, and with Free-For-Alls, Team Deathmatches, Elimination and more, there’s a match type for everyone.
Every class (except the Knight and Creator class) can be used in PvP mode, and despite some classes having obvious advantages and flaws, every class feels viable for competition. Classes are also occasionally getting tweaked for balance, so despite what tier lists and popular opinions will say, players should feel free to bring whichever class they want into battle. Showing you can overcome any class with your character of choice again offers that rare feeling of true accomplishment.
One of the best things that I personally enjoyed about the game is how many free features and convenience items that have been provided. While the developers plan to allow players to purchase items from their item mall using real money, many features that were recently available as a cash-only item or feature in the original DFO have been made available with no catches or bullshit. All players have to do is complete dungeons to earn a special currency called “Mileage.” Players can then use the mileage to purchase permanent items for the item mall. These items and features include free skill resets, free inventory upgrades, fatigue point potions and more.
Despite all these great aspects for the game, it does come with a few flaws. The biggest issue that players will have to contend with in DFO is the fatigue point system. Simply put, this system puts a limit on how many dungeon rooms a single character can run through each day. Once the player is out of fatigue points, they cannot enter another dungeon for the rest of the day. If they run out of points while in a dungeon, however, they’re still free to roam through the entire dungeon as normal. This system puts a huge damper on single character progression and can be incredibly frustrating, especially when a player is close to earning their next level or being one item drop away from crafting that fancy new piece of armor they’ve been working towards.
Still, there are a few features in the game that do not require any fatigue points in order to use, including PvP modes and the Endless Tower mode which acts as a basic gauntlet challenge. And of course, since fatigue points are only tied to a single character, playing on an alternate character for more dungeon action is also a possibility.
DFO also takes some of the more common aspects found in MMORPGs. By doing so you’re stuck with quite a mixed bag of things you’re fond of, and other elements you wish would have died off in MMORPGs by now. Elements such as passive stats on equipment will affect a player’s success in a dungeon more often than it should, and at times it can feel downright unfair. For instance, it is possible to “miss” an attack even if a player is attacking an enemy at point blank range, simply because the accuracy stat on a player’s equipment wasn’t high enough. Despite the core combat being heavily based on skill, command execution, and timing, all of this can only get a player so far when statistics are involved.
The quest design is also a bit overwhelming at times as the game will generally bombard players with tons of available quests. Even though players can only have five quests visible at a time, completionists (like me) will attempt to complete as many as they can. But without careful planning and management over fatigue points, players may have to run through a single dungeon multiple times to complete all quests, which of course will waste extra fatigue points that could be used in the next dungeon.
Lastly, since bouts in DFO’s PvP are centered on combos, players will spend most of their time attempting to bait opponents into dropping their guard, allowing them to combo and juggle them for long periods of time, with most combos being able to deplete 30% to 60% or more of their HP. Anyone familiar with high level competitions of Ultimate Marvel Vs. Capcom should feel right at home. While these long combos are very difficult to pull off consistently (and are very entertaining to watch), players that are on the receiving end of a fat combo cannot do much to escape or recover from the attack unless their opponent screws up and drops their combo all together. Those that are not too fond of combo-heavy PvP may be turned off by DFO’s PvP altogether.
Visuals and Presentation
For those that love old school visuals, Dungeon Fighter Online has the 16-bit arcade vibe down to a T. Characters and environments all have a solid pixelated look and feel while still having small details put into them. Most players may never notice how much work has been placed into visuals of the backgrounds and foregrounds for each map and town, but they’re honestly quite impressive.
But this 16-bit style also comes with some flaws: While the special effects for each attack animation are flashy and fun to look at, most attack animations themselves only have a few frames of animation put into them, which can be a bit confusing at times, since certain skill attacks tend to reuse the same animations with other. The result is high level attacks becoming a mesh of dozens of recycled animations and effects being overlayed on top of each other. This area of the game hasn’t seen much improvement since its 2009 launch, so don’t expect a full overhaul if you’re returning to the game. There has been a few resolution updates at least, with the highest resolution available now being 1280×720 with a 4:3 screen format, which may not look too good if stretched to the max resolutions of modern monitors.
While the visuals remain 16-bit, the sound design is more modern with high quality music and voices. There’s plenty of orchestral and fantasy oriented music placed in the game that make walking through towns and exploring dungeons a very enjoyable experience. Then when things heat up in epic dungeon battles, you can expect the heavy rock and electronic beats to accompany your glorious combos.
Now, personally speaking, the voicework for each character and NPC is hard for me to judge. Key point being they’re still in Korean. There is one NPC in the game, however, that does have English voice acting, which is the ever popular “Danjin” the pot-headed gamble merchant from the early entries of Dungeon Fighter’s lifespan. Strangely enough, I wasn’t too fond of Danjin’s new voiceover, as he sounds too “clean” and trustworthy in his voice, compared to Danjin’s old voice where he sounded crazy and weird, but in a “so bad that it’s good” and humorous way. I know that it’s a bit strange for me to say, but Danjin’s old voice really grew on a lot of veteran DFO fans, and for me as well, so it was very difficult to get used to.
Dungeon Fighter Online features all the traditional MMO social features including friends’ lists and guilds, and they are both recommended for those that wish to get as much as they can out of the game. Players can have active players on their friends list help those players out by mentoring them during dungeons, allowing both players to gain bonus EXP. Guilds, on the other hand, can gain tons of different benefits depending on how big their guild is and how many players are active, including bonus EXP, extra life tokens and more. In other words, if you plan to play for more than 2 hours a day, its time to get social to maximize your experience.
For those that aren’t too social, however, DFO includes a feature that is the equivalent of a dungeon queue finder for most MMORPGs known as “Quick Party,” which lets players to search and instantly form a group based on the dungeon that each player wants to participate in. This is, however, a bit of a wildcard feature as players may get paired up with players with bad connections or players that are focused on completing the dungeon in their own way. Still after most of us have spent the last couple years pugging in MOBAs, nothing feels too bad in comparison.
The community itself is very lively, active and passionate about the game they’re playing, so newcomers should feel welcome as there’s tons of friendly players that are willing to group up or invite others into their guild. Thanks to Neople’s strong support and watchful developer eyes, toxic players and gold farmers are surprisingly few and far between (at least when compared to the original DFO when it was hosted by Nexon America, anyway…)
Dungeon Fighter Online has proven itself to be a timeless classic and the love and support shown by the game’s developers only proves that this game should have never disappeared in the first place. With its heavily skill-based combat, excellent PvP structure and old school vibe, DFO is a game that every fan of beat ‘em ups and fighting games alike should try out. Despite some of its issues, the pros definitely outweigh the cons on this. I don’t tend to speak highly of F2P games these days, but this one in particular gains my highest recommendation.
Ready to see Dungeon Fighter Online in action? Check out JamesBl0nde’s Refresher Video on our sister site, MMOHuts!