Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Dungeon Fighter Online

Dungeon Fighter Online is a free Massively Multiplayer Online Game (MMO) that surprised me. I went into it with extremely low expectations; one of my friends effectively pressured me into it. I looked at it and I saw a snapshot of much of what I disliked about Japanese society manifested in a video game; scantily clad young girls fight in this game alongside incredibly emo-looking young men with predictably blinding white hair. I saw the gameplay and thought it looked boringly simple; it serves as a fighting side-scroller akin to what one would often see in the murky arcades of a decade ago. Basically, I went into it kicking and screaming although, until this moment, my friend doesn't even know I was so resistant to the idea of playing this game.

But, hey. I actually turned out liking it.

The Magnificent Melee

Imagine, if you can, the game you played as a child. Imagine those games where you took control of incredibly buff men alongside lithe and dangerous kung fu fighters. Do you remember taking them through endless screens of rampant and violent combat? Do you remember sliding in those quarters as fast as you can, just so you could beat that accursed boss?

Dungeon Fighter Online takes this genre, long since past its prime, and perfects it into gloriousness. Not satisfied with this alone, it takes the game online where you can venture into dungeons with the entire rest of the world. Not yet finished, it taps into the richly detailed and completely preposterous artsiness of Japanese anime. Short teenage girls wield magical staves that spew pillars of fire and summon bizarrely cute demons from the ether. Skinny brooding men with light hair leap into the air and spray bullets in every direction, pausing every so often to pose stylistically. It looks like it comes straight out of a John Woo movie. You throw yourself into the fray; monsters of all shapes and sizes are hurled away from you in all directions. You walk, run, and fight through swamps, mountains, and cavernous depths. Striding through town, you feel half drag queen, half ultimate badass of the world.

Basically, Dungeon Fighter Online throws so much madness at you that you can't help but like it. It takes a grand refuge in audacity; when you see a priest beat a monster to paste with a massive, two-handed cross, you can't help laughing at the sight. The plot is threadbare, the character interaction near nonexistent. But you don't care. Instead, you gleefully and manfully charge into a two-story tall minotaur and suplex it into the next galaxy, scramble greedily for the loot, and scamper off into the next area with addictive haste.

Skills and Flourishes

The gameplay of Dungeon Fighter Online is as simple as it is addicting. Beating the tar out of your resident unmentionables gives you experience, gaining a level allots skill points, and skill points can be assigned to a number of different moves and skillsets that vary widely from class to class and subclass to subclass. You get your quests from the main town, from all manner of bizarre creatures and people. These quests involve maintaining a certain amount of style points (not kidding), mastering techniques, clearing areas, and (the funniest) beating a certain zone within a certain amount of time. The timed missions, instead of being stressful and frustrating, for me embodied the spirit of the game. Under a time limit, you charge into the fray without reservations; in this chaos you really see the madcap combat play out, and you see your practiced skills shine gloriously.

This brings me to my next point. This is the most free and most casual MMO I have yet to encounter. It costs nothing to install it and play it. If there are microtransactions somewhere, I have yet to notice them or see them as integral to the game. The missions are also fast (3-10min long), wildy addicting, and with multiple variations and iterations to each separate zone (harder modes, more advanced enemies, etc). Creating a group, particularly with friends, to go out and kill enemies is very easy and very fast. The population of the game seems immense from what I have seen and, although each combat area is instanced and only available to those in the group, the game still somehow feels populated and active. The speediness of the missions means you don't spend very long away from people anyways, and there is no travel time involved. Endlessly varied items and drops reminiscent of Diablo II also keep you coming back for more.


Dungeon Fighter Online comes highly recommended, although only if you are okay with the genre (side-scrolling beat-em-up) and artistic direction of the game (Japanese anime-esque). If not, then you might consider trying it anyways; I was highly skeptical of the lasting appeal of both concerns, yet I turned out liking it regardless.

My only caveats so far are that, based on my time so far, there is only one town and central gathering place for the players. This explains why it feels so populated, but also feels confined. Part of the appeal of an MMO is the opportunity to explore a vast and diverse world. One does this through the different combat missions, but it doesn't feel quite right that there is only one town within which you can see denizens of the world and walk amongst them. Also, the gameplay is fast and casual, but it gets old if you play it for too long at one time. Breaks between sessions is good because it allows one to think of new things to do in the combat gameplay.

To be fair, though, this game is free AND it is excellent. Most 'free' games have some sort of monetary hurdle you must overcome to truly make it work. Guild Wars you had to purchase in lump sum up front before you can enjoy the lack of a monthly fee. Lord of the Rings Online is only free up until around level 25. By contrast, at least as far as I have played it so far, Dungeon Fighter Online is absolutely free and makes little effort to trip you up with things that you have to/should buy to move onward. A great game, and one I'll be playing from time to time without any feeling that I have to play it in order to justify its presence on my computer. As it should be.


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