Product provided for review. Thanks, WayForward!
RWBY: Arrowfell is an action-adventure platformer developed by WayForward and published by Arc System Works. Based on Rooster Teeth’s animated web series, RWBY, the game is set during the show’s seventh volume. The game follows the eponymous Team RWBY on their first big mission as licensed huntresses.
The game features a relatively open-ended structure in which players must explore the various locales of the continent of Solitas to discover and complete various missions to advance the story. These locations consist of towns and action stages. In towns, players can shop, chat up N.P.C.s, and learn of or complete missions. Action stages—on the other hand—can be as simple as a linear path full of enemies. More often, however, they’re areas that branch out into multiple paths to be explored. What’s more, many of these paths can’t be traversed with Team RWBY’s starting abilities, requiring players to return once they’ve obtained the necessary upgrade.
So in short, this plays a lot like an off-brand Shantae game. Yeah, yeah, I know, it’s the same studio.
While it would easy for the open-ended structure and large number of levels to quickly become confusing, the game negates it by clearly marking which locations contain the player’s next objective. While it sounds like the game is spoon feeding the player—and it is—I think it’s for the best; the number levels in this games grows large very quickly. By contrast, Arrowfell doesn’t provide an in-game map for any of the stages themselves. Because of this, my repeat visits to levels often started off with me retreading every part of the stage, as I rarely remembered which of the stage’s paths were previously inaccessible.
RWBY: Arrowfell stars Team RWBY, whose membership consists of Ruby Rose, Yang Xiao Long, Blake Belladona, and Why Bother. During gameplay, players control one member of the team at a time but can swap between characters on the fly. Players will have to use each character in tandem to explore stages and fight enemies.
In the show, every character has a special power unique to them known as a “semblance”. In RWBY: Arrowfell, each playable character likewise possesses an ability based on her semblance from the show. Ruby has a dash that grants her temporary invulnerability, Yang can smash certain obstacles, Blake can make copies of herself, and Why can create platforms to stand on.
One of the major uses for semblances is for puzzles. The puzzles are the right level of complexity for a game like this: they’re basic, but often require combining each character’s powers, making them more than just a glorified button prompt. Unfortunately, the limited number of abilities in this game ultimately restricts the variety in Arrowfell’s puzzles, with most of them being some variant of switch puzzles.
Throughout their adventure, Team RWBY will each upgrade their semblances. Once upgraded, the player will be able to use the enhanced ability to reach new areas, Metroidvania style. Unfortunately, this fails to scratch the Metroidvania itch for a couple of reasons. First, none of the characters receive new abilities, just upgrades to abilities they started the game with, which is a lot less interesting. Secondly, there are only four semblances. That’s a scant four power-ups spaced out across an eight to nine hour game, meaning there aren’t many times this aspect of gameplay even becomes relevant.
Speaking of upgrades, scattered throughout the game are “skill points”. Skill points allow the player to upgrade one member of Team RWBY’s attributes: melee attack, defense, energy regeneration, and ranged attack. The player is free to upgrade each member of the team any way he wants. Players can spread skill points across each member of the team evenly or just crank one character up to max as soon as possible. It’s a simple system, but I had fun planning my character builds and using it to min-max my party.
However, skill points are the only collectible in stages. There are health upgrades, but those are purchased from shops. This dampens some of the excitement of exploring and finding treasure, as I always knew exactly what I was going to find.
Combat is a major component of RWBY: Arrowfell’s gameplay. There are—of course—enemies wandering the game’s various levels and bosses at the end of the game’s chapters, as one would expect. In addition to that, there are numerous “ambush” rooms, in which the player must defeat a set number of enemies before being allowed to leave. The game is very reliant on these, going so far as to put two to three ambush rooms back-to-back on numerous occasions in its latter half. Sadly, it isn’t long before they become tedious to clear.
Unfortunately, the combat isn’t deep enough to warrant the emphasis it receives. Each character has two methods of attack: melee and ranged. Ranged attacks simply fire a projectile straight ahead and costs a small amount of energy. Melee attacks aren’t any more complicated. There are no combos in RWBY: Arrowfell, the player merely mashes the attack button and the character repeatedly swings with her weapon in response. Adding unlockable secondary weapons or the like to Arrowfell would have gone a long way toward making fights more varied and tactical. Also, when attacking, there’s a weird delay after hitting an enemy that’s not present when an attack whifs. It’s not hard to get used to, but it does feel weird at first.
The enemy behavior may be even more basic than the combat mechanics, however. Enemies in this game are dumb. Now, as a 2D platformer, that’s to be expected to some degree. That said, many of the game’s foes don’t even know how to walk up an incline. Is this some sort of engine limitation? Well, despite my issues with their behavior, there is at least a decent variety of foes on display, and new types are introduced all the way up to the end of the game. I’m sick of the exploding spiders, though. Why are there so many of those things?!
In the show, characters use their spiritual energy to shield themselves from damage, as well as discharge their weapons. This is tied into in the game with an energy gauge that serves as both the player’s ammo and a shield that depletes when taking damage. Players only take damage to their actual health after the shield is depleted, but if they can avoid damage, the shield will gradually regenerate. A consequence of having a regenerating shield, however, is that it’s really easy to avoid taking damage, especially when a character has her energy healing stat maxed out. On top of that, health and energy pick-ups are not especially rare. With the right build and some purchasable healing items, the game becomes really easy as damage almost becomes a nonissue.
Lastly, each character has slightly different abilities in combat. Each character differs from one another by the range of their melee attacks, the speed of their attacks, the damage they inflict per attack, and—as previously mentioned—their semblances. Ruby has the longest reach with her scythe, does the most damage (especially once upgraded), but attacks the slowest; Yang strikes rapidly with her fists but has next to no range and does less damage with each individual hit; Blake has less range than Ruby and is only marginally quicker; and Why has moderate range, strikes with two quick stabs, but each stab individually only does half damage.
Sadly, these differences don’t do enough to make each member of Team RWBY stand out. None of the girls attacks have special properties that make them more or less useful in different scenarios. As for semblances, Yang and Why’s are hard to use effectively in a fight, and the combat potential of Blake’s semblance is situational at best. By the end of the game, I was using Ruby almost exclusively due to her reach, attack power, and evasiveness, and swapping to Yang for her superior D.P.S. for enemies who were polite enough to stand still.
While better known for hypnotically smooth 2D animation, RWBY: Arrowfell demonstrates that WayForward is also quite adept with 3D graphics. Characters are appealing to look at, with exaggerated body proportions. It’s a nice trick that translates some of the appeal of sprite art into 3D. Additionally, it makes characters easy to recognize and their animations simple to read. The animations themselves are detailed and visually appealing. More over, there are many little flourishes that exhibit the level of care the animators put into their craft. For instance, many enemies have turning animations in which they pass their weapon from one hand to the other so their animations can appear the same when facing left or right.
Unfortunately, while the characters look great in Arrowfell, I can’t say the same about the game’s environments. The levels aren’t ugly so much as they’re just visually uninteresting. Part of that is simply due to the game’s setting, that being a frozen tundra, but it also has much to due with many areas within stages looking very similar. The foreground of most stages feature very little in terms of set dressing, and what little is there is quite repetitive. Probably the worst offenders are the city stages, which feature blocky, modular looking assets amid otherwise flat terrain.
RWBY: Arrowfell also features pre-rendered cinematics for some of the story’s bigger moments. As to be expected, they’re done in the style of the show and are roughly on par with the animation quality of the series. That said, I think the lighting looks a little flat in comparison to that of the show. These are used sparingly, however: it took me somewhere between thirty to forty-five minutes to encounter the first one. Overall, they’re a nice inclusion, especially for fans of the series, but otherwise not terribly noteworthy.
I have some mixed feelings about Arrowfell’s soundtrack, but I would say it’s good overall. I’m not terribly fond of many of the town themes and other such “non-action” songs. They tend to range from boring but functional to downright irritating in the case of a few village themes.
The level music is on the whole much better. Most songs are moody, heavy-sounding orchestral pieces with ample rock influences and occasionally hints of jazz, especially during the game’s first half. Taken on their own, they’re pretty good. The problem is that when listened to all together, these tracks start to sound very homogeneous. When looking up RWBY: Arrowfell’s soundtrack, I was surprised by how many songs are in this game. While passively listening during gameplay, my ears didn’t differentiate between each area’s music at first. Now, as I hinted earlier, there’s much more diversity in Arrowfell’s soundtrack during the game’s latter half, so this is only really an issue with the first half of the game.
Story and Writing
RWBY: Arrowfell takes place during the events of volume seven of the show, but it’s not deeply intertwined in volume seven’s narrative. Specifically, the game is set shortly after Team RWBY receive their huntsmen licenses. It doesn’t clarify or expand upon any plot points of the show, however. It’s just a standalone, side story set during a particular moment in the show’s continuity.
That said, just because it’s a side story doesn’t mean its setting isn’t important to the story. The plot of RWBY: Arrowfell is written with the expectation that the player has watched the show through at least the first half of volume seven. Players who haven’t watched the show will buried in a flurry of proper nouns. The game avoids making too many references and is light enough on story that players who aren’t familiar with the source material can probably power through it, though.
As for the story itself, it’s serviceable. The plot is straight forward and is at times fairly predictable. It’s not going to keep players on the edge of their seats, but it doesn’t over complicate things by juggling seven separate plot threads simultaneously like the show often does. Overall, it captures the feeling of the show’s writing in terms of tone and style.
I did find it interesting how the lack of voice acting for dialog sequences actually made many of Arrowfell’s jokes land better. Best as I can tell, the game’s comedic moments aren’t written any different than they would be for the show, but being able to read them with my own sense of timing instead of the awkward, plodding pace at which they’re often delivered in the animated series made these moments far more endearing.
RWBY: Arrowfell is an interesting case study. While I don’t know much about this game’s development, this game seems to me to be the product of a skilled team who respected the source material but weren’t given much time or resources to implement their ideas. Arrowfell is an odd game to review; it’s polished with good visuals, controls, and performance, but the gameplay feels bare bones, under-developed even.
Also, as a licensed game, Arrowfell is hard to recommend to players who aren’t already fans of RWBY. Knowledge of the show isn’t necessary to reach the end of the game or complete any missions, but the game is written in a way that it’s clear players are expected to familiar with the franchise. For players who aren’t RWBY fans, all that’s left is an off-brand Shantae game.
My final rating for RWBY: Arrowfell is a shrug.
The game sells digitally for $30. Given the amount of content and polish, I would say that is a fair price for what you get.