RWBY: Grimm Eclipse Review

By Kevin Tavore,
It's a tale as old as time. A group of schoolgirls moonlight as a crack crime-fighting squad and make a name for themselves as heroines in between all the drama that comes with high school. It's a trope made famous by shows like Sailor Moon and it's been quite popular for a long while. A few years ago, Rooster Teeth — the team beyond the popular Halo web-series Red vs. Blue — premiered their new show RWBY. If you're unfamiliar, it's pronounced "ruby." Starring four girls at an academy with badass guns and bladed weapons, the show quickly gained a following and it's all come full circle with Rooster Teeth's first game: RWBY: Grimm Eclipse.


Our heroes are Ruby, Weiss, Blake and Yang. Each is a student at a Battle Academy where they train to become huntresses and go on missions as a team called RWBY. Of course, you wouldn't know that if you only played the game since the entire story is presented as if you already know everything — the game gives you no context. RWBY's mission in Grimm Eclipse is to investigate a corporation and ultimately save the day, all while fighting waves and waves of Grimm, which are the black and white enemies that seem to have no purpose other to exist and be aggressive. The story is told exclusively through radio broadcasts from allies and the villain; the girls themselves essentially have no meaningful lines as you're carried through the meandering three-hour story. Eventually you do save the day in a conclusion that feels straight out of a Saturday morning cartoon, but it's a hollow victory.

A story is about the journey and this one is absolutely barren. A game based on a successful show should have a competent story. Since it's based on a show with characters that are already well-established over four seasons, it's tolerable if not acceptable that RWBY's backstory is not filled with details. What's intolerable is that the characters have no personality at all. The only time they ever speak is to utter the occasional rote one-liner with utterly no humor or emotion. The show certainly colors these characters with emotion, desires and actions that mix together to form a functional team worth following on a journey. Grimm Eclipse has completely skipped all of that and what's left is simply four blank slates who mean nothing to anyone who doesn't already know them. If you're a fan of the show, you'll already know them so this issue may not ring quite as true, but you'll still have the lingering issue of the story not advancing these heroines even an inch.

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Grimm Eclipse is a character action game in the same vein as Ninja Gaiden II and Bayonetta (Xbox 360). The genre gets its depth from complex combos that are used to counter a variety of enemies in different ways. Skill is always paramount and mastery of your arsenal is essential. Grimm Eclipse took one step toward this goal and called it a day. Combat is incredibly simple. Each of the characters feels somewhat different when you play them due to the way they move and the weapons they use, but ultimately you'll be running up to enemies and spamming the same cn_Xcn_Xcn_Xcn_Y combo's or some similar variation. The only additions to the combat that spice things up are ultimate attacks — essentially area attacks that deal high damage — and team attacks that are random.

When you watch the combat, it can seem quite awesome, especially when playing Ruby or Blake, but the flashy look is an illusion to hide mechanics that don't offer any depth at all. It's a classic case of style over substance. That said, what little there is in regards to the combat is done well. It's possible to read your combos and timing does play a part. You can also parry and dodge during attack frames. That means you're always completely in control of your heroine and you won't be frustrated by game mechanics that cause you to continue actions you want to stop. If you're pulling off a combo and see an enemy begin an attack, you don't need to wait for the combo to end. It's refreshing and the simple combat feels good at the very least.

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A game can have simple combat but still be a challenging and rewarding experience if the enemy design is engaging. Grimm Eclipse has less than ten main enemy types, with a few of them even having what appears to be the same model scaled up in size. The strategy required to beat these involves simply running up to the enemy and spamming your combo of choice until they die. Thanks to the very high HP pool of some of the bigger enemies, this can take a few minutes but it always works; it seems to be the most effective strategy. You can parry enemy attacks with a properly timed cn_B but it never seems necessary. If you take too much damage, you can run away and jump/dodge around the arena until your health refills. If you jump and dodge constantly, the enemies cannot hit you and you literally can't die. This extinguishes any challenge that might have been offered by the enemies and leaves the game back at square one with poor combat and poorer enemy design.

Playing alone, the game is really quite bad. The levels are linear and offer very little opportunity to make any type of decision regarding where you'll go next. You simply follow the path toward the next arena where you'll fight bullet sponge enemies for a few minutes. With them dead, the wall crumbles / smoke clears / a door opens and you're able to proceed to the next area. When you finally get to the end of the 10-minute level, you'll be met with a horde-style waved encounter against the same enemies you've been fighting all along. Sometimes you'll defend a structure or sometimes it'll simply be waves with no story-related purpose for sticking around to fighting them. Either way the result is the same.

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The horde-style endings don't exclude the presence of bosses that could have made a huge splash in an otherwise vapid experience, but there simply aren't any until the final level. Perhaps this is for the best as the final solo boss is one of the worst-designed encounters in any action game on the Xbox One. It's against a giant scorpion that burrows under the ground constantly to give your melee hero an extremely frustrating experience. The game then adds a dash of one hit kills and a hitbox that doesn't match the model, so you'll often attack and clearly connect with the boss yet do no damage at all. The boss is particularly vulnerable to ranged attacks, but two of the heroine's ranged attacks are functionally worthless so that's not much of an option alone. The fight is neither fun nor interesting and it lasts far too long — upwards of 30 minutes depending on the character as whom you're playing.

As bad as the game is alone, it is fantastic in co-op if you play with friends. The combat is as simple as ever, but it seems quite a bit more fun when you have three other players adding to the chaotic spectacle of light. The visual impact makes a huge difference and it's complimented by the ability to pull off strategies like having one player tank enemies while another attacks at range. The strategies are simple, but at least it adds additional variables that the solo experience is sorely lacking. The game also rewards players with MVP medals in the horde modes and has a scoreboard at the end to give the levels a welcomed competitive edge. It was so fun, in fact, that I even played a few levels after completing the game purely for fun with a few friends despite the fact that alone it was a struggle not to quit before the completion.

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The full story mode is very short. The first run took just over three hours and a subsequent run was less than two hours in length. The root of the issue is likely the developer's attempt to make the game feel like an episode of the show. It's a neat idea, but it's not really suited to a game of this style. Luckily, the short story is varied and interesting. Almost every time, every one of the ten levels takes place in a new environment and these are visually appealing. Levels are themed around colors and it creates a striking visual that's enjoyable even on repeat visits. The beauty is almost enough to carry the game alone if it were just a bit longer and better designed.

The game does make an attempt at replayability by letting each girl level up separately in addition to locking talents behind challenges you'll need to unlock before you can spend your limited skill points. The skill points allow you to customize the heroine how you want, although there are some builds that are clearly much better than others and some unintuitive choices like certain upgrades that significantly decrease damage. Sadly, the different builds don't hide the fact that leveling up the girls is a massive grind, especially considering you'll need to get to prestige level 10 to earn an achievement. As I was leveling up the fourth and final girl, I found myself wishing the experience was simply over and that was only eight hours in.

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Outside of the main story mode, the game has a true Horde mode with light tower defense elements. Up to four players can defend points on three maps. Killing enemies rewards credits you can use to buy turrets to help you kill the incoming Grimm. The balance is questionable with the shotgun being by far and away better than anything else, and the solo mode being essentially impossible on all but one of the maps despite there being an achievement tied to it. With four players it's a great experience with room for strategy and decision-making that makes the entire experience enjoyable

Earning all the achievements will take as little as ten hours for some players. Most will finish within 15 hours with some dedicated play. A large portion of the achievements are bugged in positive ways with achievements for completing the campaign with each character unlocking after only finishing the final mission, and the achievement for taking no damage unlocking after multiple deaths. That said, some are described incorrectly, such as the miserable solo campaign completion that actually requires a single sitting without breaks. Overall, the list will send you through everything the game has to offer and it's quick enough to not overstay its welcome.

Summary

RWBY: Grimm Eclipse is a game that's made with fans in mind. It allows you to play any of the characters from the show as we're swept away on one of their missions. With competent, if simple, hack and slash action, a short but varied story mode and a decent amount of outside content to encourage replaying, it's a game that fans of the show or the genre may find enjoyable. However, if you're just looking for a quality game to spend some time with, RWBY shouldn't be your first or second choice thanks to a total lack of character development that leaves half the game's heart simply gone and enemy design that would be worthy of a low score. It might be worth it if you have a group of friends to play with, but otherwise you'd do better to wait on sale for the quick completion; the asking price is simply too high if you're not already invested in the game's universe.
3 / 5
RWBY: Grimm Eclipse
Positives
  • Story mode's locations are varied and striking
  • Chaotic co-op in the best way
Negatives
  • Same basic combos work for all characters despite different feel
  • Basic enemy design that falls back on high HP to increase difficulty
  • Sterile solo mode that can be completed in under two hours
Ethics
The reviewer spent approximately 10 hours slashing Grimm and experiencing the game from the perspective of all four girls, unlocking each of the game's 31 achievements for a full 1000G. A download code for this game was provided through the ID@Xbox program for this review.
Kevin Tavore
Written by Kevin Tavore
Kevin is a lover of all types of media, especially any type of long form story. The American equivalent of Aristotle, he'll write about anything and everything and you'll usually see him as the purveyor of news, reviews and the occasional op-ed. He's happy with any game that's not point and click or puzzling, but would always rather be outdoors in nature.
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