RoosterTeeth has been good to us over the years. They’ve given us so many good shows, like Red VS Blue, X-Ray and Vav, RT Animated Adventures, the new series Camp Camp, and, of course, RWBY. For those of you who don’t know, RWBY (that’s pronounced “Ruby”, by the way) is an online animated series created by the late Monty Oum, known for its fun characters and kickass action scenes. You’d think with all of its high-flying action and swords-that-are-also-guns, RWBY would make a fantastic action game. Honestly, yeah, it probably would. Shame we got RWBY: Grimm Eclipse instead.
The general setting of RWBY follows four girls, Ruby Rose, Weiss Schnee, Blake Belladonna, and Yang Xiao Long, as they train at Beacon Academy to become huntresses, warriors who protect the world of Remnant from demonic beasts known as the Creatures of Grimm. In between all that, there’s a lot of treachery, political intrigue, comic relief, and the occasional heartbreaking moment, but you don’t need to know that stuff for this game. RWBY: Grimm Eclipse doesn’t really have a story. It’s got a set-up, sure, but I hesitate to call it more than that. Professor Port, one of the girls’ teachers at Beacon, has sent Team RWBY out to investigate a problem with the city’s Grimm security dohicky in a nearby forest. They find the dohicky sabotaged by a device with an “M” marking, which Professor Port ties to the defunct Merlot Industries. Concerned, he sends the team out to investigate Merlot and uncover the truth behind the sabotage, additionally aided by Doctor Oobleck and Professor Ozpin, other teachers from the academy. Now, all that exposition I just gave you comes from the first two levels of the game, and all of it from Professor Port’s commentary. Team RWBY, while fully voiced by their reprising voice actresses, have next to nothing to say, plot-wise. They’ll quip every now and then when defeating a large group of enemies, but they all sound remarkably disinterested (even Yang, who still cracks puns constantly, phones it in). The professors, on the other hand, have carte blanche on exposition, sometimes rattling off entire paragraphs of backstory while you stand there and wait.
Gameplay-wise, think Senren Kagura on a budget (which is a feat in itself, because Senren Kagura isn’t exactly a triple-A game). Each level is a more or less linear path through a series of arenas, in which a set number of Grimm will spawn for you to kill. Sometimes you’ll need to guard an objective against several waves of Grimm, sometimes you’ll need to escort some kind of objective, but you can bet that no matter what you do, it won’t be very interesting.
You can choose from Ruby, Weiss, Blake, and Yang, but all four play more or less the same. You’ve got normal attacks, heavy attacks, and gun attacks. By pressing the heavy button in the middle of a normal combo, you’ll do a special move. This sounds cool on paper, but there’s very little combo potential. The normal combo for all four characters only lasts four hits, the last one being a finisher, so you only have three special moves you can combo into, and they don’t combo into each other. Gun attacks are basically worthless since they do negligible damage and later enemies can guard against them. You can also counter enemies who are about to attack and stun them, but unlike in, say, Batman: Arkham Asylum, you can’t combo into a counter and then resume your combo, so you basically just have to sit and wait until you can counter. After pummeling enough enemies, you can use an ultimate technique, but all of the ultimates are rather uninteresting AOE attacks.
The game can be played online with three other players, and this is actually the way the game is intended to be played. You can play by yourself, but I wouldn’t recommend it, since a single character’s low damage potential makes taking care of crowds take forever, and if you die, you’re sent back to a checkpoint, whereas in multiplayer one of your teammates can revive you. Of course, you can’t level select in multiplayer, so if you join a game, it’s from the beginning of the campaign or nothing.
There is a leveling system in place that allows you to upgrade your abilities on the fly, MOBA-style. If you gained noticeable stat boosts and new moves from leveling, that would mitigate the low combo potential I mentioned earlier, but, well, you don’t. Most of the upgrades just change the properties of one of your special moves, not that you’ll know which one until you find out by accident, since there’s no command list. Your health (known as Aura) never actually increases; you can upgrade how many hits you can take after it empties or how quickly it recharges, but the actual amount stays the same as it was at level one, meaning most of the stronger enemies can deplete it in one or two attacks. By the way, here’s a free tip: play as Blake, and the first time you level up, get the stun upgrade for her Blade Beam. Congratulations, you just won the game.
Here’s the thing: I could actually forgive a lot of this bland game design if the game at least looked and sounded good, because then my fanboying for RWBY could fill in the proverbial gaps.
Yeah… no. Aside from the phoned in dialogue I mentioned earlier, the character models look rather… off. Their clothes lack textures, their hair looks like doll hair, and their faces are almost completely expressionless. Honestly, the trees look better rendered. The animations are okay, though after seeing the same attacks over and over, you’re gonna get tired of them.
RWBY: Grimm Eclipse just feels… unfinished. I can see potential for at least a mildly amusing love letter to RWBY, but bland combat, lifeless models, and a nonexistent story hold it back too hard to recommend, even if you and three friends really like RWBY. I got it on sale at $9.99, and I still feel buyer’s remorse, to say nothing of the $24.99 it goes for normally. I’d say you’d be better off just watching RWBY, and maybe holding a controller in your hands while you do. It’d be a more engaging experience, that’s for sure.