RWBY: Arrowfell Review (Switch eShop)
About a decade ago, Rooster Teeth launched a new anime web series called RWBY, which went on to spawn a reasonably successful media franchise. Still – apart from a rather unfortunate hack ‘n’ slash game that bombed – RWBY’s only representation in video games consisted of a handful of mobile games and cameo appearances. In an attempt to change this, a new project called RWBY: Arrowfell was announced in 2020, led by WayForward and Arc System Works. Now, almost two years later, the game has finally been released, and well… that’s it okay. Those waiting for the RWBY series to finally get a great video game adaptation will just have to keep waiting, but RWBY: Arrowfell is still a decent, if flawed, game.
RWBY: Arrowfell is set sometime in the seventh volume of the anime, just after Ruby, Weiss, Blake, and Yang have become officially licensed huntresses. As they carry out missions while trying to make a name for themselves, they soon stumble upon a mysterious military technology that seems to attract the Grimms and become caught up in a wider conspiracy as they investigate its origins. It’s not a particularly compelling story, but it provides just enough incentive to keep you engaged, buoyed in part by fully voiced actors at key story beats that mimic the animation style of the show. Those of you without a background in RWBY may be a little lost at times when it comes to how various characters and organizations relate to each other, but the narrative is kept simple enough that things don’t get too confusing.
RWBY: Arrowfell is an action platformer that reminded us a lot of the Shantae games, but the gimmick here is that you can switch between any of the four girls in the main cast whenever you want. Each of them has its own distinct weapon loadouts and special skills, the latter of which are also used to solve simplified environmental tasks. Ruby, for example, has a horizontal streak that makes her temporarily invincible in battle and can also be used to cross gaps the other girls can’t. Blake, on the other hand, can summon a shadow clone that attacks when she does, and can also be used to weight switches to open doors.
While we appreciated that each girl feels sufficiently differentiated from the next, we also felt that a mechanic is missing here to motivate using the whole team more often. Once you’ve decided on a team member with a weapon that suits your playstyle, there’s really no point in switching to the others for variety. This then has the effect of reducing the other three team members to “keys” that you occasionally pull out to unlock an obstacle in the environment and then throw back into the drawer for later use. Having something like a combo system that favored mid-fight switching or certain enemies taking more damage from specific members of the team would have been more helpful in this regard.
To give a sense of character growth, each girl can be improved via a variety of skill points found or purchased throughout the world that can be invested in stats such as melee attack damage and defense. We admired the attempt at depth in the skill system, but found that it also motivates sticking with just one member of the team. It doesn’t take that long to max out one team member’s stats, and doing so will give you a significant advantage over most enemies you face. Having a good reason to spread your points around and use the whole team would have been welcome here, as choosing to do it on your own is a self-imposed handicap.
The moment-to-moment gameplay follows a solid, if unremarkable, approach to action-platforming as you run through frozen caves and futuristic cities cutting up villains and carrying out multiple NPC fetch missions. The combat is quick but a bit easy, and it feels oddly balanced. For example, using a ranged attack costs a portion of your energy bar, and this bar also depletes when you take damage. If it empties, you lose a heart, and if you lose all your hearts, you die. Taking yourself to death’s door just to fire off a few shots is almost never worth it, so we found ourselves barely using ranged attacks.
Additionally, each girl shares the same energy bar and heart pool, meaning switching is discouraged given that the girl you’ve invested the most skill points in will be able to recover energy much faster. No matter who you play as, it’s still satisfying to slash and jump your way through stages, but there’s again a piece missing here that feels sorely needed.
Level design in RWBY: Arrowfell follows a broad linear format reminiscent of Metroidvanias, but slightly more limited in scope. Instead of one large, interconnected map, self-contained levels are unlocked and can be selected from a world map in any order you wish. Each level has a few paths radiating off in both directions, and you can explore these to find chests containing skill points or key items needed to progress the story. The level design is fine, but there is a critical lack of interesting stage hazards and obstacles to differentiate each level from the next. The lack of a map feature can make navigating some levels more difficult than it needs to be; none of the levels are big enough for you to get hero lost, but there were a few times we found ourselves meandering around a bit because we couldn’t find the one time needed to progress.
In case you haven’t gathered by now, RWBY: Arrowfell is the kind of game that has all the right pieces, but still fails to put them together as well as possible – it’s like a runner in the lead in a track event stumbling a few meters before the finish line and lost all momentum. You get four characters with distinct playstyles and abilities, but not a good reason to actually use them all. You have melee and ranged options in combat, but are penalized for using either one too much. Stages are well-stocked with goodies and are meant to be explored, but you don’t get a map to navigate with.
RWBY: Arrowfell has many good qualities, the problem is that almost all of these qualities come with some sort of qualification or caveat. It’s certainly not a bad game by any means, but it’s quite frustrating to see how a few simple tweaks and tweaks to some game systems could have led to a significantly more enjoyable experience.
From a presentation standpoint, RWBY: Arrowfell does a good job of matching the visual style of the anime. Everything seems to run on some version of the 2.5D engine WayForward used in projects like Ducktales: Remastered and Shantae: Half-Genie Hero, which looks great in motion. Although it mostly uses 3D models, the kind of outlines that appear in this art style create many characters and enemies see 2D. The only downside here is that we didn’t register any instances of a frame rate rising above 30FPS, while some busier sequences got a bit choppy as it dipped below that. Also, environment design sometimes gets a bit samey – you can only run through so many snowy caves and tundras before they start to blend together.
RWBY: Arrowfell is a nice enough game, but it also feels like something you might have discovered on Newgrounds when Flash games were popular. Elements like shallow combat and the skill point system don’t feel properly fleshed out, and repetitive environments and bland level design tend to tire as the campaign progresses. We’d give this game an easy recommendation if you’re a big fan of Wayforward’s other work in 2D action games and are looking for something in that vein, but even then you might want to wait for a sale here. It’s probably a lot, a lot worse games than RWBY: Arrowfell to be found on the Switch eShop, but we think your time and money are better spent on, well, better games.