Ever since the “Red” trailer that Rooster Teeth released around a decade ago, RWBY captivated audiences with its impressive action sequences and charming characters. With a setting rife for writers to play in, a video game adaptation seems like it would be a straightforward process. Yet, despite it being a collaboration between major studios Wayforward and Arc System Works, RWBY: Arrowfell is an ultimately lackluster experience for both fans of and newcomers to the series.
All Pomp and No Circumstance
As a warning, the game does take place during Volume 7 of RWBY, so there are some spoilers. However, it does a fairly good job at explaining who the main characters are, and so even a passing knowledge of the story should be fine when getting by. I stopped watching in Volume 3 and had little trouble keeping up with the story.
RWBY: Arrowfell follows the story of Team RWBY – Ruby, Weiss, Blake, and Yang – after they become fully-fledged Huntresses. Upon finding a mysterious orb on one of their missions, they notice an increase in Grimm – creatures of destruction attracted to negative emotions – activity around Mantle. They investigate the circumstances, while also butting heads with Team BRIR, which is a game-original set of characters. It is a fairly simple narrative that the game splits up into chapters.
You beat a boss at the end of each chapter in order to advance the story. However, before that, you spend pretty much the majority of the game completing fetch quest after fetch quest. Most of these quests have very little bearing on the plot. One person asks you for a pickaxe, and someone else asks you for grape soda. Because one fetch quest will unlock something necessary for the next one, the game has a very linear feel, which is fine. It does mean you will often have to return to the same map over and over again because you can access different areas you couldn’t before.
Revisiting the maps can be rather daunting, as they all vaguely look the same. They are not complicated, but it was easy to forget the path I needed to take because every turn brought me to a similar-looking screen. Maps have a large amount of ambushes as well, with the game pushing them on you over and over closer to the end. In ambushes, you must destroy several waves of enemies. But once you land on a winning combination of tactics that work for you, they aren’t very challenging.
Less is Not Always More
Minimalism is a constant strike against RWBY: Arrowfell in all aspects of the game. It feels like a flash game you would play on the old Cartoon Network website. The genre is a Metroidvania-like 2D side scroller. Each character can only do two things: strike twice and shoot a projectile. Since RWBY’s appeal has always been about the flashy anime-like action sequences, the lack of variations and simple animations immediately stuck out to me. It being a side scroller may have made it difficult to implement more complicated attacks. But it does make for a rather dull visual experience, which the uninspired maps do not help with.
There is also no tutorial. The first level gives a quick explanation on how each girl’s Semblance (special power) can help them in exploration. For example, Yang’s Burn can destroy rocks in your path, whereas you can use Blake’s Shadow to press down platforms. It was only when reading Ruby’s description and seeing how the game specifically mentions her rifle that I realized they implemented long-range attacks in the game and figured it out from there.
There is not a lot of things you can do in RWBY: Arrowfell. So it’s egregious that the game does not even bother to explain them. It feels simultaneously friendly for beginners with how simple it is, and yet difficult if you have never had Metroidvania experience before. The game plops you into the action immediately. It took me way too long to beat the first ambush.
An Odd Experience Throughout
There are also a lot of strange decisions in the gameplay that are detrimental to the overall enjoyment. For one thing, the energy bar that is your HP is also the same energy bar for long-range weapons. When you lose a heart, your HP does not fill up. Instead, you remain a hit away from death unless you get enough distance to refill your energy (and it never fills up that much until you upgrade your character). This means that you could potentially game over very quickly, even if you still have a lot of hearts left over. It feels like they wanted the best of both worlds (an HP bar and a stock system) without fine-tuning it to work.
Another dash against the game is that you only really need to use one character. While I changed between all four girls to solve puzzles, Ruby was constantly the only character who fought. This is because her Petal Burst has a few i-frames that you can use to get through enemy attacks, making her the most useful character. More variation in play styles or niches could have forced the player to toggle between RWBY in combat.
As mentioned earlier, the menu is really minimalist and the majority of the game is just a fetch quest. However, because there are so many simultaneous quests, it can be easy to forget why you’re in an area. I often only went somewhere because there was an exclamation mark on the region and I figured out what I needed based on the narrative or what ability I unlocked. It made the experience feel unfocused and empty, which added onto the general lackluster feel.
It Can’t Compare to the Show
RWBY: Arrowfell is a game that suffers from odd mechanics and strange decisions. It also can’t seem to decide if it wants to be for the core fans or for the newcomers. The story is easy to follow and generic enough that anyone can dive in, but it also remains woefully unfriendly for those unfamiliar with the source material or genre. There are some cool cutscenes that look like they came straight from the show, as well as the occasional fun banter between the girls. However, the overall experience felt devoid of charm. This is a game that would appeal only to the most hardcore of RWBY fans. Those who have never experienced RWBY before may want to check out the show instead. You can watch it via the RT website.
RWBY: Arrowfell is available on the PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, Nintendo Switch, and Windows PC.