This by-the-numbers platform lacks the usual WayForward zest.
Dear reader, if you, like me, are unfamiliar with the multimedia franchise RWBY, here’s a brief summary: It’s a American web cartoon done in CG created by Monty Oum for Rooster Teeth Productions. Unfortunately, Oum died during production of the show’s 3rd season but production continued. It currently consists of eight seasons (“volumes”) and has been adapted into several different manga series, a few novels, comics, a spinoff TV series, a few other video games, podcasts, and even a crossover cartoon movie involving the Justice League.
The story concerns four young women, Ruby Rose, Wiess Schnee, Blake Belladonna, and Yang Xiao Long, who are “Huntresses” who protect their world (Remnant) from demonic creatures called Grimm. It’s clearly a beloved series, but jumping into Arrowfell with absolutely zero knowledge of the characters, the world, or the ongoing plot (it takes place during season 7) may not have been the best idea. The story was written by the series’ writers, features cutscenes in the style of the show, and features plenty of NPCs from the show along with voice acting from the cast. Longtime fans will probably get more out of the story than I did, but RWBY has issues that extend beyond the reach of canon.
You, the player, control the four girls–switching between them as the situation demands it–and traverse an awful lot of similar-looking 2D platforming environments fighting monsters, finding treasure chests, and doing errands for people. Each of the girls has a specific skill: Ruby has a short invincibility dash that can extend her jump, Wiess can create temporary platforms to get higher, Blake can create temporary shadow clones of herself to attack enemies and stand on switches, and Yang can destroy large blocks.
All that sounds great, right? Sounds like a modern take on Castlevania III, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, the girls’ skills are extremely context-specific and, while they might be useful during combat, are more often used to solve puzzles and find new areas to explore. Even that sounds fun, but you’ll be doing the same kinds of puzzles for the entire game. There’s no novelty after the first time you solve a switch puzzle using Blake’s shadow clone. The girls eventually get powered-up versions of these abilities, but they just…give you one more of everything: Ruby can dash slightly longer, Wiess can create a second platform, Blake can spawn a second shadow, and Yang can…destroy slightly larger blocks.
Sometimes, you’ll need to combine their powers. That is, create a couple of platforms with Wiess to reach a switch with Blake, then dash through the open door with Ruby. While fun, those puzzles are few and far between.
Combat is about as rote as it gets: each girl has a specific melee weapon, but all deal comparable damage. They all have a ranged energy attack as well, but using them depletes your energy (we’ll get to that). There’s a dearth of enemy types as well. You basically get three groups: Grimm monsters, steampunk-looking people, and soldiers. You’ll fight endless numbers of these grunts, often in “ambush” kill rooms, and you’ll get real tired of it by the time the credits roll. The game also desperately needs a “backdash” ability, the kind you’d see in most of the Igavania games and Shantae games, because normal enemies will often charge you before attacking.
The girls share an energy meter and heart tanks. When your energy bar is depleted, you’ll lose a heart. However, losing a heart doesn’t refill the energy meter, so you’ve got to track down energy pickups (easily farmed by smashing objects) or risk losing hearts quickly. You’ll also find coins, which are used to buy energy and heart-refilling snacks, new heart tanks, and skill points from merchants. You’ll also typically find skill points in the field hidden in treasure chests. All of the girls have four attributes, which each have four levels of power. You’ll use skill points to improve these stats one by one. I’m sad to say that, even when fully powered-up, none of the girls are unstoppable powerhouses.
You’ll explore tons of distinct areas of varying sizes but will quickly be frustrated by the lack of any kind of map. You’ll often have to revisit stages to find new things, but because they all kind of look the same from room to room, you’ll often get turned around. Some of these areas are impressively by frustratingly large, making the lack of a map all the more bewildering.
And what, praytell, are you doing in these areas? You’re almost always finding something for somebody. You know how, in Shantae games, you’ll be occasionally asked to find an object for somebody to trigger the next part of the plot? You know, like finding the crustaceans for the scientists in Seven Sirens, or the stone tablet for the bereaved man in Pirate’s Curse? Well that’s literally all you’re doing in RWBY. Somebody in town will say they need you to find something, like a piece of ore, and you’ll got to comb through areas you’ve already been in to find it for him. You will do this dozens of times. Everybody wants something else. The RWBY gals are less huntresses and more errand girls.
Eventually you’ll uncover a conspiracy that probably means something to fans of the show, but it fell flat to me. Oh, I should mention the boss fights, because there are some boss fights in the game. They are all extremely easy, relying on a small number of telegraphed attacks that are easily avoided. The final boss even gets several rounds, none of which were remotely challenging. I eventually just started pounding things with Yang’s fists of fury and every fight was over in less than a minute.
I like the character animation and designs, as well as the character portraits during dialogue. I even like the music, which isn’t exactly toe-tapping, but remains pleasant throughout. My suspicion is that RWBY: Arrowfell was not necessarily made for me, but for younger fans of the show, gamers who don’t necessarily have the “mad skillz” required to play a more challenging game. To that, I would point to my seven-year-old nephew who, without any help, completed Kirby and the Forgotten Land and got everything. Kids are up to challenging games. Man of you readers grew up on Battletoads and Ghosts & Goblins, for Arceus' sake.
Fans of RWBY might find something enjoyable here, but it just lacks the sort of care and polish that goes into most of WayForward’s catalog, which is a shame.