In all of gaming, there has been only one beat-em-up MMO: Dungeon Fighter Online, developed by NeoPle and published by Nexon. DFO is popular enough to have received both a 26-episode anime series and manga. We can now add an Xbox Live Arcade game to the list as well: Dungeon Fighter LIVE: The Fall of Hendon Myre. But how well fares an MMO with the massive taken out?
Don’t go into Dungeon Fighter LIVE expecting a story-focused experience like Guardian Heroes HD. Since the bulk of the game is adapted from an MMO – a genre in which stories and quests are usually briskly read-through or skipped by players in order to get on with the action, narrative definitely takes a back seat to grinding for XP and loot. The overarching story here works well enough, though. The land of Hendon Myre is suffering from a mysterious disease called Phantasmalia which drives people crazy before eventually killing them (and not by drilling a hole in their heads with a flying orb). Who is behind the menace – monsters or someone worse? A party of three Dungeon Fighters (adventurers) stumbles into the conspiracy and will unravel it by the game’s end.
While DFL is a quality game, awkward design decisions often hamper the experience. Take the tutorial – normally a good thing to include in a game, especially complex ones like this. Before you can join in an online game or start playing offline with your own character, you’ll have to go through a mandatory single-player tutorial. When you start a local multiplayer game, if even one player is starting a fresh character, then one player must go through the tutorial before everyone can play. If all four players already have established characters, starting a new character (each person can have five) still requires another replay of the tutorial. It’s not a long or difficult sequence, but forcing other players to sit idly while someone goes through it, and/or making someone who has already played with another character repeat the process just makes no sense.
After playing through the tutorial as ae warrior priest investigating the disease, you’ll take control of one of three character classes: the sword-based Slayer, the female martial artist Fighter, or the lanky range-focused Gunner. Each one has their own advantages like range, movement speed, and damage output. They will aso feel much more unique as you delve farther into the game and unlock new Skills. For example, the Fighter gets a devastating Suplex move that works even on screen-filling bosses, while the Slayer gains control of a djinni that provides an Area of Effect buff for the party. In the beginning Slayer will probably be the easiest class to play, but I hear Gunner gains the highest damage potential by the endgame.
DFL’s combat starts out deceptively simple and easy, to the point where the demo may seem underwhelming to beat-em-up enthusiasts. Standard attacks use only a single button (X) - surely a legacy of the game’s keyboard-friendly origins. The same button also picks up items, sometimes leading to interrupted combos as fighters accidentally scoop up trinkets during the heat of battle. Double-tapping left or right initiates a dash (great for getting around quickly), while the A button jumps. Jumping attacks are kind of slow and wonky, making jumps better suited for dodging projectiles for the most part.
Characters also begin with a single attack Skill attached to the B button. Every Skill consumes MP and has a brief cool-down period before it can be used again, so you can’t just spam the same Skill. Before long you’ll gain new Skills, greatly increasing your offensive and defensive options. These can be activated by either fighting-game like motions or hotkeying them to combinations of Right Bumper, Right Trigger, and the face buttons, making for a total of 8 hotkey slots. Single-use items can also be hotkeyed; you’ll want to have a healing item attached to one such slot at all times.
As you kill enemies, practically every one drops loot of some sort. This ranges from gold and consumable items to a huge selection of armor and class-specific weapons. Some armor even provides additional bonuses if you can find the whole set. Naturally, the color of the drop’s name denotes its rarity, with Legacy and Unique items the most uncommon. Before long, pots get thrown into the mix. Collect and then break them for a chance at finding choice equipment. As you can probably tell, DFL has a terrific loot system that encourages replaying areas in order to find new stuff. Sadly, you can’t organize your loot in any way, but at least the best items are listed at the top of the Equipment screen.
Instead of traditional linear levels, DFL’s stages more closely resemble MMO dungeons. Each one consists of a series of interlinked rooms. As you visit them, the layout appears on a minimap at the top corner of the screen. Dungeons end with a clearly-designated boss room – it’s up to you whether you want to explore the entire thing or just head straight for the boss. Every dungeon comes in three (and later four) difficulties. After completing the Beginner version and any associated quests, you’ll unlock the Master version, and so on. Layouts don’t change at all between difficulties, but the quantities of enemies and their levels, drops, and completion rewards certainly increase in the harder versions.