It's hard for a licensed game to attract new players, but RWBY: Arrowfell might have converted me into a fan of the show.
- Title: RWBY: Arrowfell
- Release Date: November 15, 2022
- Price: $29.99
- Suggested Audience Age: This would be the ESRB rating, MPAA rating, or the age range on the box of a board game
- Availability: Switch, PlayStation, Xbox, Steam
- Recommended for fans of: The Original Show, 2D Action Platformers, and Magical Girls
Geek to Geek Media was provided with a review copy of this title.
I didn't have any investment in the RWBY franchise when I tried out RWBY: Arrowfell at PAX West. I had heard of the show but hadn't ever watched it. Still, the game was being showcased at the Wayforward booth, and most everything I've played from those folks has been worthwhile, so I gave it a shot.
The early build I played showed a pretty solid 2D action game with hot-swapping between characters as a problem-solving hook. It didn't give me a sense that the game would be super welcoming to newcomers.
Now that I've spent a few hours with the full version of the game on the Switch, I've mostly found more of the same… but also I think I'm becoming a fan!
Story and Setup
For fans of the show, RWBY: Arrowfell is an interesting side-story that slots into season 7, just after the team got their Huntress licenses. For folks who don't watch the show, there's not much setup or explanation to help you understand what is happening in the world.
From what I've gathered from playing a few hours of the game and checking out some wikia articles about the show, you control a team of four state-sponsored mercenaries. Each member of team RWBY (so named for the initials of the four of them) uses unique magical abilities to battle monsters called Grimms that terrorize folks. In this game, your team is taking on extra responsibilities to prove their capabilities to the Ace Ops, who seem to be the elite militarized police force protecting city floating in the sky.
Pretty early on you run into another team of four magical-wielding combatants, except they aren't registered in the official books. It seems like tracking down the mysterious Team BRIR is the driving plot of the whole game.
Adventures Across Atlas
The world of RWBY: Arrowfell is a big, beautiful map that you explore by dropping into specific nodes. Every node takes you to a 2D, side-scrolling action view. Most of these nodes are miniature, combat-focused dungeons, sort of in line with Wayforward's Shantae games. There are also a few socially oriented nodes, where you'll find a whole town represented by six or seven NPCs standing in a line, waiting to give you quests, sell you healing items, and mark new nodes on your map.
Honestly, it's a bit tough to get pulled into the world when it's broken up this way. The dungeon-based areas work fine, but there's nothing about the “cities” that feels natural at all. Everyone is just sort of standing around, and it makes the world feel sparse and stagnant. That setup does work okay at Ace Ops HQ, where the whole Ace Ops team is standing around post-meeting to send you on quests, but not for the village you visit early on.
Speaking of quests, most of the motivation in this game comes from an NPC telling you about a specific item they need from a specific node. As an example, one of the Ace Ops folks wanted a Grape Soda, which they told me I should be able to get on the streets of the high-tech city. When I loaded into that node, I immediately started getting attacked by goons who, I guess, are just wandering the streets assaulting folks. Anyway, I eventually found another Ace Ops NPC who sent me to a wholly different combat node to find a pair of goggles they left behind. When I returned with the goggles, they gave me a Grape Soda they ordered by mistake, and then I went back to Ace Ops HQ to close that quest loop.
Once you're into the combat areas, RWBY: Arrowfell becomes a pretty solid 2D action game. I think it's just because I beat it so recently, but it reminds me a lot of Dragonball: Advanced Adventures, and other GBA-licensed games. You explore mini labyrinths full of Grimms and other enemies, as you look for whatever item you've been sent out to retrieve. You fight against enemies using both melees and ranged attacks, along with the magical skill of whichever member of team RWBY you're playing as.
Ruby's horizontal dash lets her cross large gaps and avoid enemy attacks. Weiss can summon floating platforms that she uses to reach higher, out-of-reach areas. With Blake (my favorite), you can drop a shadow image of yourself to hold down buttons or attack enemies while you retreat to safer areas. Finally, Yang's special ability is to punch things really hard, which lets her break down barriers.
In principle, I really like the idea of swapping characters. One of my favorite games of last year was built on that idea. However, in RWBY: Arrowfell it feels a little bit off. The basic melee and ranged attacks of each character look unique, but for the most part, they don't feel unique. Add to that the fact that you level up each character with skill points individually, and I found myself always sticking with one singular character until a specific puzzle forced me to swap.
After playing a few hours of RWBY: Arrowfell, I went back and started watching the show from episode 1. It was super interesting getting to see and hear these characters in motion since most of the dialogue in the game is delivered through static text boxes. The biggest thing I found in comparing the game to the show was that the intensity of the combat in the show was far beyond anything in the game. There's an impactful, kinetic energy to every swing, shot, or punch in the show, which just isn't there when you're wailing on Grimms in the game. In fact, enemies don't get stun locked by attacks in the game at all. Your character, on the other hand, freezes for almost a full second when they get hit.
I didn't mind any of that when I was just playing the game, but watching the show made me wish that the combat in RWBY: Arrowfell felt more like a 2D Bayonetta, rather than “just another” 2D brawler.
Still, I'm having fun with the straightforward nature of the game. Go to a place, smash a bunch of monsters, pick up a McGuffin, then go to another place. It's a structure that works, and the bits of personality and story that filter through the cutscenes are charming and fun, even when I have no idea what's going on. I think fans of the show will really dig what RWBY: Arrowfell adds to the narrative. Where it really shines is that it manages to be a fun, light-hearted action game even for folks like me. And hey, I think it might just keep me watching the show going forward!
Geek to Geek Rating: 4 out of 5 Transforming Weapons
Did y'all know they had transforming weapons? I swear, the game doesn't tell you that part at all, and it's such a cool detail! How can you have a scythe that turns into a sniper rifle and not tell players about it!?