Goodbye Dungeon Fighter: The Best MMO Ever Shuts Down
At 4:21 AM PST today, my copy of Dungeon Fighter Online spontaneously closed, never to open again. There was no fanfare, no final event, no goodbye message or even a “We are closing the servers now”. It just closed, four hours and 21 minutes late, as always.
Of course MMOs close every day so why does this one matter? Well, for me personally it was the best damn MMO ever made and three dreams come true in one game.
You see, Dungeon Fighter Online was originally released in Korea in 2005 as Dungeon & Fighter, an awkward portmanteau of Dungeons & Dragons and Street Fighter. It was created by a small company called Neople as sort of a more serious alternative to the then new and hot Maple Story. The original plan was just to throw together a game, run it for a year or two, and then let it fizzle out. It was meant to be a quick throw away MMO.
Instead it became an overnight success. Jam packed with players during the open beta, they delayed the full release to retool the game. They added more classes and greatly expanded the game to accommodate the newfound popularity.
The reason for it’s success was probably the brilliance of its concept: Dungeon & Fighter was an MMO beat ’em up. Using 2D graphics it was able to run on even the most low-end machines. The gameplay was fast-paced and fun and the combat surprisingly skill based. No other game like it existed at the time.
You see, unlike many entries in the beat ’em up genre, Dungeon & Fighter featured a massive movelist and a proper combo system. There are a few brawlers that have these features, but never to the same degree as Dungeon & Fighter. Couple that with the RPG elements inherent in an MMO and an ever expanding number of quests to undertake and you’ve got yourself a winner!
You see, this is how the game is three dreams come true for me as there were three separate things I really wanted that Dungeon & Fighter delivered on:
#1) An MMO With Action Combat
I hate the “click on enemy, wait until it falls over”-style of combat seen in 99% of the MMO genre. It’s abysmal. There is no interactivity! No game! Screw that! Give me action! Give me skill! Back in 2005 only PSO delivered on this and…well…it was basically closed then.
#2) A Beat ‘Em Up with a Move Set and Combos
Ever notice that a beat ’em up is basically a fighting game you play co-operatively instead of competitively? So why haven’t they evolved like fighters have? Why are so many just mindless button mashers? Where are the moves and the combo! Yes some games have a few of these, but they are ridiculously hard to find.
#3) A Beat ‘Em Up with Custom Characters
Even now that we can do good 3D beat ’em ups, they never have custom characters. Ever. For some stupid reason no one puts brawlers and customization together. Heck, even DFO’s own clones don’t manage to get this right! Every other beat ’em up MMO that has tried to follow in it’s footsteps features named characters with little to no customization! What the crap!
Needless to say, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the game. Unfortunately, I had to wait five years.
You see, Neople was a small company that could barely keep up with the updates to the Korean version of the game. They had no global presence. As such we wouldn’t see Dungeon & Fighter until Neople merged with Nexon. Now that they have Nexon’s money and resources, the game could come to America! Now I could play Dungeon & Fighter, now renamed Dungeon Fighter Online.
However, a lot of things happened in those five years.
Around the same time as Dungeon Fighter’s launch, a similar game called Rusty Hearts also launched with cel-shaded 3D graphics. The charming 2D sprites of Dungeon Fighter were looking rather dated and other action MMOs were just starting to pop up. How is it that for the previous four years when I was starving for an action MMO, they didn’t exist! Then just as we get Dungeon Fighter, a bunch of them show up to steal DFO’s spotlight!
Not to mention many people were suffering from MMO fatigue. Many of my friends I wanted to get into the game instead curled up into a ball and began screaming “NO! NOT AGAIN! NOT AGAAAAAAIN!!!!!” as they had just gotten off World of Warcraft.
That is not an exaggeration eithter.
Also, Nexon did not handle the launch well. The US release was years behind the Korean one and in their infinite wisdom they decided to double the amount of EXP required to level-up in the U.S. release. The cash shop was near non-existant and when implemented they went with the idiotic “gacha system” of random avatar item acquisition instead of just letting us buy the clothes we wanted. These issues would later be fixed, but it was too little too late.
Especially because Nexon decided to cannibalize the game.
Dungeon Fighter Online did not see much promotion or advertisement as it was. However, just as the game was getting good, Nexon released Vindictus. Vindictus is a gorgeous looking 3D action MMO that quickly stole DFO’s thunder. Being a more in-house production, they promoted the crap out of it.
Still, Nexon did updated DFO frequently and we soon were only a year behind Korea. However, just as we were about to get the big “Season 3” update, they stopped. We went from monthly updates to nothing for months on end until finally Nexon revealed they were shutting the game down.
The theory is that the new update was just too expensive. It would have added anime cutscenes, full voice acting, a new class, and more. These things would cost more money than was worth it for what DFO was bringing in. The playerbase had stagnated without proper promotion and advertising. The fact of the matter was that Dungeon Fighter was not suited for a PC audience. Had it been a console game, it may have succeeded, but it wasn’t.
You see as much as I hate to divide people up into classes, PC Gamers and Console Gamers really do have different tastes. Console Gamers prefer something fast paced and visceral. Something that involves timing and reflexes. PC Gamers would prefer something slower, deeper, more complex and strategic. This has led to continual aggravation throughout the years. Every time I see what I precieve to be an awesome action game flop on PC, it’s usually because it is more console-centric in its design. Meanwhile whenever I see a deep simulation or strategy game flop on console, I know it would do better on PC.
Of course that isn’t even getting into the beast that is the hardcore MMO gamer. A depressing number of MMORPG fanatics really do want the game to play itself. They want to punch their timecards, click on the right things, and be the best player in the game. I have often seen these people act with disgust and disdain for MMOs that actually require players to actively attack enemies. The action MMO is, strangely, a niche genre and there’s really only room for one or two entries in it.
Oh DFO tried to go to consoles. Dungeon Fighter Live was released for XBox Live Arcade, but it was a joke. With only 3 classes, no customization, and no second class (meaning almost no skills), the game was utterly devoid of everything that made Dungeon Fighter so good. It was a hollow shell of the real deal and the fact that they charged $10 for less than what you could get for free is an outrage. Yet, more people were actively interested in it than the real thing.
So with that, Dungeon Fighter Online was to close at midnight on June 13th, 2013. I decided to log on one last time to watch them turn off the servers. Seems I wasn’t the only one as there was a huge crowd of players in the middle of town, all decked out in their best avatar gear. You could tell these were hardcore fans. At the stroke of midnight, they tried to all shout “I LOVE YOU DFO!” in unison. It…went about as well as you would expect.
Of course, leave it to Nexon to screw even that up. It took them four hours and 21 minutes to actually close the servers. In the meantime, the players began to dwindle, all scratching their heads as to what was taking so long.
Then, at 4:21 AM the game closed. No warning, no “we’re closing the servers now” message. The game just closed. In fact, looking at another player’s video, I think they actually had to manually boot every player. Ha!
Meanwhile Dungeon Fighter Online never even got out of Beta in Europe. The region locked nature of the game prevented many people from playing it at all. However, it is still going strong in Korea 8 years after it’s initial release. However, the creation of a new game from the same company (called Cyphers) may indicate the once mighty game’s popularity is dwindling.
This, my friends, is the real shame of an all-digital world. Dungeon Fighter was a revolutionary MMO unlike anything else on the market. While other action MMOs have appeared as have some great beat ’em ups, none have put the two together as well as DFO and with as much customization as this game had. It is a milestone in gaming and one we won’t be able to share with future generations.
The worst part of it all, however, is that Nexon owns Dungeon Fighter now. That means that unlike many MMOs that come back, like Audition Online or Grando Espada, chances are we’ll never see Dungeon Fighter in America again. The very thing that brought it here in the first place is its downfall.