Developer/Publisher: WayForward Technologies
Genre: Action Platformer
Reviewed On: PlayStation 5
Also Available For: PlayStation 4, Xbox, Nintendo Switch, PC
Let me say, before anything else in this review, that I am a huge fan of RWBY. Though I only got into it relatively recently, it has very quickly carved out a sizable space in my thoughts, and as such I was very excited to learn of an upcoming title by WayForward, of all people, which gave me hope despite the less than stellar quality of previous attempts at adapting the series into video games. I say this to make it clear that I am not the sort of person with a distaste for RWBY founded on nothing but second-hand knowledge and preconceived notions, and that I am not approaching RWBY: Arrowfell from a place of bad faith when I say:
S’alright, I s’pose.
Arrowfell is designed as a 2D action platformer with the absolute lightest possible degree of metroidvania elements. The player assumes control of the titular team RWBY – Ruby, Weiss, Blake, and Yang – with the ability to switch between the four of them at any moment as they adventure through the kingdom of Atlas and its surrounding lands fighting monsters and organized crime and trying to unravel a mysterious plot. Each character plays just a little different thanks to ranged and melee attacks which differ between them on damage per hit, attack rate, range, etc, and each has access to a unique ability in their semblance – a sort of personal superpower most characters in the show have, for those unfamiliar.
Each semblance has applications in both combat and traversal, from Ruby’s dash-dodge to Weiss’ summonable exploding platforms to Blake’s entire second Blake and Yang’s ground-pound. Switching things up and using the characters’ powers fluidly is the main thing that keeps the gameplay from getting stale over the course of its six to seven hour runtime. While you can get through just fine by sticking to one huntress and button mashing your way through fights, each character is genuinely fun to use in slightly different ways, and hot-swapping on the fly feels pretty badass.
Unfortunately, there’s lots of little things that act as detractors to the experience. For starters, the whole team’s health bar is shared – not necessarily a bad thing by itself, but giving everyone separate health could have incentivized switching between characters frequently as a means of managing the team and added a bit more complexity. Additionally, characters’ ranged attacks are directly linked to health; in order to shoot, you need to spend some health, which of course makes you more vulnerable to follow ups from nearby enemies. Again, this is not a bad design choice on its own – it’s a good one, even, as it adds a layer of risk-vs-reward thinking to the player’s actions, but it also serves to further highlight the missed opportunity. Compound these things with the actual annoyance of upgrades to characters’ defense and the amount of health they automatically regenerate being specific to each of them – rather than shared – and it becomes difficult to ignore the ways in which annihilating Grimm and gangsters might have been tightened up and made more interesting.
Still, it’s hard to deny the satisfaction that comes with putting skill points into the team’s attributes, even if skill points are the only collectible the player ever receives to reward exploration. The developers behind Arrowfell, WayForward, are best known for their Shantae series, which are also metroidvania-type platformers. The DNA of Shantae, and in particularly of Half-Genie Hero, is very evident in this title, albeit somewhat simplified. Rather than one contiguous game world, as many metroidvania games have, RWBY: Arrowfell is comprised of separate bite-sized levels that are far more linear than much of the genre. The upgrades which expand mobility and the capacity for exploration are scarce, with only one upgrade per semblance that are all received by roughly the halfway point of the game. While exploring the levels, finding skill points, and deciding what attributes in which character to pour them into is still fun – thanks in part to the inclusion of damage numbers that Go Up over the course of the campaign – it once again feels like something that could have been better.
As far as the presentation goes, I’m of two minds. On the one hand, the visuals are good at capturing The Vibes of the series despite being a departure from the art style of the show itself, and the relationships and banter amongst the members of Team RWBY are as charming as ever – in this way, Arrowfell should serve as a decent holdover for fans who are suffering in these last few months of the series’ current lengthy hiatus. The gameplay animations are smooth and stylish, the little victory poses the team do when you find items are adorable, and seeing Penny again was equal parts heartbreaking and heartwarming.
On the other hand, the story of the game doesn’t feel up to par with the writing quality the show usually displays. Nothing that occurs feels meaningful to the broader plot, returning fan-favorite characters such as Winter, Marrow, and Qrow have minimal presence, while the newcomers make only brief appearances that do not inspire confidence they will ever even be mentioned again. Even Team BRIR, the rival huntresses introduced in Arrowfell, feel like non-characters, barely in the game at all, really, which was especially disappointing given how they were positioned as a major draw for it. While the animated cutscenes are fully voiced by the cast fans know and love, they are few and far between, and it makes the fact that other dialogue isn’t voiced even more disappointing – dare I say it even feels somewhat suspicious given recent allegations regarding Rooster Teeth’s payment and general treatment of talent, voice or otherwise. Finally, the music is underwhelming and for the most part unmemorable, which is particularly bizarre for a licensed game where both the series it belongs to and the developers who made it are known for their scoring.
In the end though, none of RWBY: Arrowfell’s flaws make it a disappointment. Though I was hoping for better than what we got, the history the series (and licensed properties in general) has with video games tempered my expectations, and even something mediocre feels like a win. While it may not be on par with some of Wayforward’s other work, their experience with the genre let them put forth a solid title that should make a good afternoon or two’s worth of entertainment for RWBY superfans. And, let’s be honest: isn’t that the main thing to hope for with a game like this?
Arrowfell is a serviceable game with enough little flaws that even a deep and abiding love for the series can’t elevate it beyond being just okay.