RWBY fans, we’re approaching the finish line to Volume 9! What will happen to our heroes? Will Volume 10 finally be green-lit? So many questions to be answered. In the meantime, I’m sure there will be some withdrawals as we wait for more RWBY content. May I interest you in some RWBY: Arrowfell?
Sorry, hold on for one minute…
Everstrong is the opening track to RWBY: Arrowfell, a Metroidvania style game put together by the people of Rooster Teeth, Arc System Works, and WayForward. It’s the second full video game release for PC and console in the RWBY franchise, and the fifth video game overall including three discontinued mobile games. You first hear Everstrong in the first level you play, and if you’re a fan of the RWBY series and its music like I am, it hits you like a jolt of energy. It was a welcome experience for me, as I hadn’t heard that song when I first played the demo at PAX West last year. Jeff Williams and his daughter, Casey Lee Williams, absolutely delivered on the composition and vocals. However…
(Before I continue, a quote from RWBY Volume 5)
Raven: You don’t want to do this, Yang.
Yang: Nope. But I’m gonna do it anyway.
…that same opening track also perfectly encapsulated the Arrowfell game experience for me: enjoyable from the start but too short, too simple, and left me wanting a lot more than it offered.
I must warn you that there are spoilers in this review that reference both this game and the animated series. If you’re like me and prefer to get caught up in the show before playing the game, you can head on over to Crunchyroll and start binging. With that out of the way, let’s start with the story. Spoilers ahead:
The story of RWBY: Arrowfell is canon, taking place during the events of Volume 7 (more specifically, after Chapter 4). The thing is that despite it being canon, all the new characters introduced in this game are never mentioned at any point in the show itself. Given all that has transpired in the show up to this point, it’s unlikely there’s any reason that they will. I made it a point to watch all of RWBY before I dove into the game because I wanted to understand who everyone was and what was happening with the story. The truth is I could have played this game without any knowledge of the show and it wouldn’t have changed the experience that much.
The plot begins with Team RWBY at Atlas Academy on assignment with General James Ironwood. Grimm are detected in the area and the huntresses are sent out to fight them and discover the cause of their sudden appearance. It turns out there are mysterious orbs that are somehow drawing the Grimm in. As you venture across the frigid continent of Solitas, you’ll uncover some secrets such as the existence of the old Atlas military base Fort Arrowfell and how its technology was responsible for the orbs. You’ll encounter the huntresses Team BRIR (Bianca Prisma, Roane Ashwood, Ivy Thickety, and Ruda Tilleroot), and a guardian named Bram Thornmane who warns RWBY that BRIR only offer protection for a price.
Once back at Atlas Academy, you’ll be assigned to work with the Ace Ops on their assignments. Each completed mission offers incentives, for example boosting Ruby’s Semblance, Petal Burst, to double the distance she can travel with it. You’ll encounter bosses that bring you closer to the truth behind what’s really happening with all the Grimm attacks across Solitas. There are a few twists and turns here and I don’t want to get too much into the plot, but they all involve characters that are self-contained to this game. You eventually find out who the mastermind is (which I’ll talk about in the gameplay portion of this review) and face off in a final, anti-climactic battle.
There are familiar faces throughout the game, which rewarded my binging of the RWBY series, but they’re all non-playable characters. I could appreciate the charm of Penny Polendina’s dialogue because of my prior understanding of her character, but it didn’t feel absolutely essential to. Though it was fun getting to rib one of the developers I know for a line in the game that I just knew he wrote. Anyone can pick up this game without any knowledge of the show and be fine.
The overall feel of the Arrowfell story is a bit less brooding than the actual show itself, which I welcome. It brings me back to the more innocent times of RWBY, before the fall of Beacon and all the chaos that ensued. Perhaps the darkest scene in the whole game happens when Hanlon Fifestone, one of the game’s bosses, is seen picking up a faunus girl he presumably struck to the ground, and extracts a red-colored energy through her eyes and mouth as she lets out a blood-curdling scream and then goes limp. Apparently that was him extracting her fear emotion so that it could be used in an orb. I remember at first being horrified thinking he had killed her, or at least making her actually blind (since that’s something he alluded to).
But after Blake and Yang knock Fifestone away, and Ruby and Weiss check up on the girl, she’s alive and her eyes appear to be okay. It would have been nice if they gave her one more line. She just sort of sits there looking down the whole time. That’s my one cutscene-related nitpick. Apart from that dark moment it was a relatively tame story. There is no mention of Salem or Cinder or anything going on with the main story, and you won’t see Jaune, Nora, Ren, or Oscar (the official word is that they’re off doing another mission). The events of Arrowfell are in its own little bubble.
When I played the demo of Arrowfell at PAX West, I saw some upside to the style of play. A Metroidvania with character-switching dynamics, made to account for the unique traits of each character. I’m all for that. As I said to anyone who would listen, whether it was WayForward founder Voldi Way at that PAX West booth, or game designer James Montagna, who worked on the game, during one of his streams, what I loved most about that demo was the gameplay reminded me of the Friends to the End mode of Shantae: Half-Genie Hero. Even though I didn’t know anything about RWBY at the time, I really enjoyed the demo and couldn’t wait to finally play the game in full.
Now that I have, I can say that the character switching dynamic was still cool, but apart from a few very obvious instances where only one character’s Semblance will help, it generally wasn’t something too necessary to do. It became a matter of personal preference, which I suppose may be the point. If you have a favorite among the four huntresses, you can probably beat the game playing as just her for 85% of it. The other 15% of the time you’ll need to switch to someone else because of their Semblance. Ruby’s Petal Burst is needed for leaping across to a distant platform. Weiss’s Glyphs are needed for getting up to those hard-to-reach places. Blake’s Shadow is needed for stepping on platforms that open pathways in caves or similar areas. Yang’s Burn is needed for destroying stone barriers.
Throughout the game you will collect skill points, which can be either found in chests in each level or sold by the merchant at each home location. If you want to 100% the game, you’ll need to find all of them. These are used to boost the traits of the huntresses, increasing their melee attack (close range), defense (stamina), energy heal (I think this is another term for aura, this is your special meter), and ranged attack (projectile). Melee attack determines how much damage your close range attack does to an enemy. Defense determines how much damage you take from an enemy. Energy heal determines how quickly your character refills aura in the special meter. Ranged attack determines how much damage your projectile will inflict.
That’s an interesting thing about this game, in that your special meter is also your energy meter. So you have to be selective in using your ranged attacks as they’ll deplete your meter, and once your meter is at zero, the next hit you take will take a life from you. Lives are measured in hearts, which like skill points can be found or purchased. Run out of hearts and it’s game over (unless you have a revive ring in your inventory). The good thing about the special meter is that it gradually fills up on its own, and melee attacks will help it fill faster. I would have preferred if this game gave it the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles NES game treatment and had each character have their own energy bar instead of sharing it in tandem. It would’ve added an extra element of strategy to the game, which forces you to be more selective of when you switch to a particular character.
There are other traits unique to each character, which I like and help with the balance of the gameplay. There are advantages and disadvantages to each character. Ruby felt like the most balanced of the characters and probably the easiest to play with overall. For melee attacks, her Crescent Rose scythe offers her the best range of attack (think Donatello and his bo staff in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade game) and the most overall damage as well, and her projectile attack, or ranged attack (the sniper rifle of her Crescent Rose) deals fair damage, though it’s middle of the pack in terms of reload. Her Petal Burst Semblance is super handy, as you can breeze through levels faster with it. It even goes through enemies so you can avoid them if you don’t feel like fighting.
The biggest advantage to playing Weiss is that her ranged attack deals the most damage when maxed out with skill points. If you’ve ever played the aforementioned Friends to the End mode in Shantae: Half-Genie Hero, think of Sky’s projectile attack but without the boomerang effect. The downside to her ranged attack is it takes the longest to reload to the next one. Comes in handy if you see a big enemy from a distance and don’t want to deal with it up close. Just be careful because Weiss takes longer to react to a counterattack. Her Glyphs also do more than just help reach high locations, they also double as an attack that shoots arrows in multiple directions once the Glyphs disperse. Nice if you find yourself in an area with multiple aerial Grimm. Weiss’ melee is probably the worst, given it deals the least damage and she also swings it at different angles each time. If you’re fighting a small Grimm close up it can be a pain to deal with.
Blake is something of a cheat code and probably the second easiest to play with after Ruby. Her Shadow Semblance will perform a melee attack at the same time you do, so you can have you and a clone attacking from two different spots at the same time. This came in handy when I wanted to destroy an orb faster. Only other character better at this task is Yang, who I’ll get to next. My favorite thing about Blake is her ranged attack. While it deals the least amount of damage, it has by far the fastest reload. With all the huntresses you can shoot and stay in midair as you keep pressing. That’s the power of the Gambol Shroud and its semi-automatic pistol. It came in super handy on many occasions. Her melee attack was also effective, with a mid-range recoil but good damage and consistent motion.
As for Ruby’s big sister, Yang, she’s my favorite character in the series but arguably the least useful in the game, to me at least. I had to challenge myself at times to use her more often. Her melee attack is both her biggest strength and biggest weakness. It has the shortest range of all, being a flurry of close range punches. But the benefit is she has the quickest recoil, so she could swing two or three punches in the time it takes for one sword/scythe strike from the other huntresses.
While her melee deals the least damage on a single hit, you can get multiple hits in fast for a very effective attack. Not ideal if you’re low on energy against an active enemy, but if you’ve got plenty of energy, or are hitting something like an orb, or just feel like being a bit reckless because you have plenty of power-ups stored in your inventory, Yang can be quite fun to play as. Her Burn Semblance is also powerful and deals the most damage of any attack, handy when fighting large enemies. Her ranged attack is similar in speed and effectiveness to Ruby’s. I find myself wanting to use Yang most during ambushes (parts of a level where you must clear out all enemies before you can advance, similar to the River City Girls games) or boss fights, but not as much in general.
The mechanics of the game are simple but enjoyable. Unfortunately the game’s difficulty is also simple, perhaps too simple. There are no difficulty levels that can be adjusted in the settings. Aura refills scattered across the game were too generous in supply, many times eliminating the need for potions in the inventory. I also found the enemies to provide very little challenge, and I am far from a pro gamer. If Spidersaurs represents the most ridiculously hard WayForward game I’ve played, RWBY: Arrowfell sits firmly in the opposite end of that spectrum. Enemy attack patterns were too easily predictable and avoidable. Boss fights never offered the incentive of using a special strategy to defeat it, the way a game like Mega Man or even Shantae would. It would have been nice, in the spirit of other Metroidvania games, if there were certain power ups or special attacks you needed to acquire to effectively beat bosses. For example if there was a boss fight that required you to use Weiss’s Glyphs+ to use two glyphs to go above an impending attack, or a level that had disappearing platforms where Ruby’s Petal Burst+ would be needed for long distance jumps between platforms.
The other problem is one I’ve seen plaguing other WayForward games lately: it’s too easy to stock up on power ups and be practically unstoppable toward the end of the game. Or in many cases, there being a lot of different items that I never need to use in the first place. Before heading into Fort Arrowfell, the game’s final stage, I stocked up on wonder potions and revive rings. The rings came in handy when I battled through consecutive ambushes, as I was able to just attack without much regard for my health. I used a few of those by the time I got all the way to the final boss, which, spoiler alert, turned out to be Bram Thornmane. Not a big surprise. The best thing about this boss fight was the song in the second act, but otherwise I was underwhelmed. It was much too easy to take him down. I noticed this as well with Shantae and the Seven Sirens and River City Girls 2. Once I’m all leveled up and got a bunch of power ups at my disposal, beating the final boss was elementary. At least with River City Girls 2, I had a hard time against the earlier bosses due to the lack of those safety nets.
Earlier I mentioned about completing the game 100%. There are achievements if you play the game on PC, PS5, and Xbox Series, but apart from that there’s almost no incentive to achieve 100% on Switch. No bonus modes, no wallpapers or galleries, no unlockables of any kind. Only the mild satisfaction of finding everything there is to find in the game, which isn’t that much.
A game should be harder the further along you go, not easier. This one practically holds your hand for you the whole time. About the only thing you could do to make it harder for yourself is to turn off Game Hints under Settings, which eliminates the exclamation marks on the map. That will force you to pay attention to what the NPC’s are telling you so you figure out where you’re supposed to go, rather than have it handed to you on a silver platter. Another thing that was disappointing was that no characters beyond RWBY really felt important, not even the Team BRIR that was featured in promotional merchandise for the release of the game. You can’t play as them, and you fight them all in one sequence. I’m not looking for frustratingly hard games: I grew up with those in the 8-bit era, many of which I never finished. But a game should encourage you to develop your skills along the way and apply those skills to their full potential in order to overcome the final hurdles. I didn’t get that feeling with Arrowfell. It felt rushed and incomplete. It felt like the development team left a lot on the table.
Visual and Sound
Usually I make a section for each category but I’m compressing it to a single one because I don’t have much to say on either. The game was okay visually. I did like the map of Solidas and the zoom-in and sound effect when you select a stage, those were cool. Also seeing the floating city of Atlas in the background of the Summit level was breath taking. I wish there were more visuals like that throughout the game. Some of the larger Grimm enemies were detailed very well, to the point where they made me uncomfortable, particularly the Lancer Grimms. But I would’ve liked to have seen better scenery. A lot of the levels looked generic, and there were sometimes platforms randomly placed in spots for unknown reasons. Some cave areas are sparkly and colorful, but not very memorable or distinctive. There were parts of how the levels were laid out, along with how some of those Grimm attacked, that reminded me of a stripped down version of The Mummy Demastered. So much so that I checked to see how much overlap there was from the team that worked on that game to the one who worked on Arrowfell, and was surprised to see there wasn’t much overlap. Also would have been nice if there was a map per level (for hunting down skill points and various other objects) and a visual cue for when an enemy is near defeat, whether it’s a health bar or flashing red body.
Aside from a select few tracks, the music didn’t move me. Everstrong was my favorite, as short as it was, and I also enjoyed the final boss theme by Peter Jones. The key here is both were done by composers of the RWBY franchise. I vibed most with those tracks not only because they sounded great but because they most resembled the RWBY I know and love. Dale North composed the majority of Arrowfell’s soundtrack. He’s a talented composer in his own right, and has worked on a handful of other games that I love, but I’m sorry to say this soundtrack sounded bland and uninspired to me for the most part. There was no soul to it. It wasn’t memorable the way many of WayForward’s soundtracks are. I’ve more often than not been able to depend on their games to have great music to carry me through the experience, but not in this case. It was what made hearing Everstrong such a tease, that it felt like an opening promise of a high energy soundtrack that fell flat right after. The lyrics to the other songs were hard to hear and not sung particularly well either. Some tracks were better than others. Full credit where it’s due on the World Map theme, I loved it as it gave me some “Hyrule in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild” vibes. As far the soundtrack was concerned, all in all it just wasn’t my cup of tea*.
It was nice to hear the voices of the original cast in this game, although most of it came from the cutscenes. During gameplay it was relegated to “uh”, “hmm”, or giggling sounds during dialogue, and grunts when attacked or
ascended* defeated. It was especially satisfying to hear Penny’s “Salutations!” in the game.
The sound effects themselves were fine. Blake’s semi-automatic sounds cool on top of being great for taking care of enemies on platforms or floating in the air, another reason I enjoyed playing as her.
*These are all RWBY Volume 9 jokes. See? I told you there would be spoilers! But seriously, go watch RWBY!
I’ve made it no secret that WayForward is my favorite indie company, and I’ve reviewed quite a few of their games on this site. That’s what made this review so unfortunate for me to write, because I’ve come to expect a lot more from WayForward’s games. It’s not even that it’s a licensed game from outside property, given that they also made The Mummy Demastered and that was a brilliant Metroidvania. This is a game that was first announced at the end of 2020 for a 2021 release but was delayed until late 2022. There are a number of possibilities to why the game turned out the way it did, and I could only speculate since I have no insight to the business end. But something just felt… missing.
Despite all my criticisms, this game will always hold a place in my heart because it was my gateway to the RWBY series. I might not be a RWBY fan today if not for this game. I played a demo of RWBY: Grimm Eclipse back at PAX East 2016 and it didn’t grab hold of me because I wasn’t into hack and slash games. I knew of the series’ existence since the beginning but largely ignored it. I simply didn’t take it seriously. At PAX West 2022 I didn’t necessarily have my eye on Arrowfell either, but once I got playing, it hooked me in right away. I wanted to know more about the series and prepare myself to play the game in full, so I binged the series. Now I’m an obsessed RWBY fan, all thanks to Arrowfell. I just wish the full game was able to retain that magic for me.
Don’t get me wrong, I actually did have fun playing the game, and I would still recommend it to any RWBY fan out there. There are seven minutes worth of cutscenes using the same animation as in the series. The game mechanics are satisfying, and the writers generally did a good job of maintaining the charm of the characters in their dialogues. It’s canon RWBY content, for whatever it’s worth. It will appeal to casual gamers who maybe want a soft introduction to the Metroidvania genre. It’s a nice base to work with. But it needed a lot more polish. It was too easy to complete, a bit too linear for a Metroidvania, and doesn’t have much replay value. I wanted to like it much more than I did.
I hope WayForward gets another shot at making a RWBY game in the future. This one had a lot of potential and simply fell short of the quality I’d come to know and expect. I trust this company with Metroidvanias, and given another opportunity I believe they can build on what they have with Arrowfell for something even greater. I hope this game can serve as a gateway for others to discover the RWBY franchise as well as a chance for RWBY fans to check out other WayForward games.
If you’re looking for a game that’s going to challenge and engage you, this one may not be for you. But if you’re a casual gamer who wants an entry-level Metroidvania game that won’t punish you, or are just a passionate RWBY fan, give RWBY: Arrowfell a try. It’s available now for Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series.
I’ll close with a quote from RWBY Volume 4:
Ren: We never get the easy path, do we?
Nora: Easy’s no fun anyway.
Easy can still be fun. RWBY: Arrowfell is proof of that. I just think it can be a lot more fun when it’s not. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to head back to the Summit. For reasons.
Even as our paths grow more divergent…
This review was written based on a digital review copy of RWBY: Arrowfell for the Nintendo Switch provided by WayForward.