Licensed games are often hit or miss. They might spend so much time trying to bring newcomers into the fold that they alienate fans of the franchise, or they might move too quickly for the uninitiated to follow what’s going on. For the most part, RWBY: Grimm Eclipse – Definitive Edition for the Nintendo Switch seems content solely to whet the appetites of RWBY fans looking for the opportunity to play with friends as their favorite heroes from the hit Rooster Teeth animated series. However, there are some definite caveats to be had.
An upgraded port of a 2016 title, RWBY: Grimm Eclipse – Definitive Edition is a hack-and-slash game at its core. However, even when I played the original version on PS4, I was struck by some surprising action RPG elements nestled in amongst the game’s mechanics. Perhaps this is not all that surprising, given RWBY’s anime and JRPG inspirations! In fact, I’ll be focusing most of my review on these elements of Grimm Eclipse, as I assume they’re what RPG lovers in particular would be the most interested in.
In a lot of respects, the story and gameplay presentation of RWBY: Grimm Eclipse is rather reminiscent of another co-op action RPG I played on the Switch, Ultimate Marvel Alliance 3. Truth be told, that game also leans heavily into hack-and-slash gameplay. I’d even go so far as to say that the story mode for Grimm Eclipse is handled in much the same vein as UMA3’s Rise of the Phoenix DLC.
The ten-chapter campaign of Grimm Eclipse starts off promptly after players decide which mode they want to try: single player, local multiplayer, or online multiplayer. Each mode has its own strengths and weaknesses, though the two-person local multiplayer is the exclusive newcomer to the Definitive Edition. Players can pick a member of Team RWBY (Ruby Rose, Weiss Schnee, Blake Belladona, and Yang Xiao Long) or their allies, Team JNPR (Jaune Arc, Nora Valkyrie, Pyrrha Nikos, and Lie Ren). Every character is a student of Beacon Academy, which trains aspiring Huntresses and Huntsmen to battle the nightmarish Creatures of Grimm that threaten the fantasy world of Remnant. The two teams are sent to investigate an issue involving communication centers that soon spirals into a dangerous mission against a mad scientist who is trying to mutate Grimm for his own nefarious agenda. The game is a canon side story to the series, set sometime between the events of Volumes 1 and 3. It’s not exactly a groundbreaking narrative by any stretch of the imagination, and prior knowledge of RWBY lore is necessary for anything in the plot to really make sense. The game doesn’t bother to explain terminology and world-building to newcomers; rather, it expects players to already be familiar with the way things are on Remnant.
In a way, that sort of fits how the rest of the title presents itself too. The campaign throws players into the thick of things without even so much as a tutorial, resulting in a lot of trial and error in order to piece together how you’re supposed to advance at any given time. “Learn by doing” is the game’s motto, and players have to figure out how to string together their attack combos while on the go. Grimm Eclipse isn’t exactly complicated to figure out, but a bit more of a learning curve at the beginning would have helped avoid some initial growing pains as players piece together what to do.
Either alone, with a local friend, or in a group of up to four online, players fight their way through hordes of Grimm in order to advance. There are different objectives at times, such as guarding a specific point from oncoming enemy waves, or in one rather noteworthy chapter, dealing with a horde of angry monsters while also trying to move a bomb through the area in a timed event. There are also little diversionary breaks in the action where players have to find keys, activate switches, or go on optional artifact hunts. Still, Grimm Eclipse is at its best when you and your friends are duking it out against the Grimm.
Characters start the game at Level 1 and gain experience points through defeating foes and performing actions out on the field, such as reviving fallen teammates or finding said artifacts. Once they’ve acquired enough experience, they level up and earn skill points that can be used to acquire new character-specific abilities and traits on a skill tree, or the points can be spent to evolve the moves they already have. Want your character’s health to recover faster during fights, for them to be speedier when reviving allies, or to increase the frequency with which they can use their ultimate move? You can do all this in the general skills category, but you can also chose to steadily increase the damage output of your character’s combos instead. Some skills are locked until you reach certain milestones out on the field, such as countering foes a specific number of times. Once the conditions for the locked skills are met, you gain the ability to spend points on them.
There are actually more skills and traits than you can acquire, as your characters’ levels are capped at 10. However, if certain acquired abilities just aren’t cutting it, you can always refund skill points for a given character and start the process over. This provides a nice level of character build customization that I hadn’t initially expected, and I took full advantage of it on more than one occasion in the later chapters of the campaign for my chosen main, Pyrrha.
Combat in RWBY: Grimm Eclipse is frantic; linking together combos and assisting teammates in chaining attacks for added damage and experience is the name of the game. Unfortunately, the chaotic and often messy nature of fights is not helped by the camera, which has to be constantly adjusted. This is even more of an issue in local multiplayer since Player 1 is given sole control of the camera. Player 1 just has to hope and pray that Player 2 remains onscreen because otherwise the latter is going to be completely blind. I tried being Player 2 for a little while during one fight and found I was running into a wall more often than not if I wasn’t visible on the field! As Player 1, I went to a great deal of frustrated effort trying to keep the camera swiveled so my teammate could see their moves along with my own. Trust me, the camera in local multiplayer can test friendships during extremely hectic fights!
The game has a nifty autosave feature when traversing through the campaign’s chapters, allowing players to restart relatively close to where they died when they get a game over. However, once you exit a game session, you have to start a chapter over from the beginning if you didn’t finish it beforehand. Fortunately, playing the campaign in any mode unlocks completed chapters in every other mode, and character levels and skill trees also carry over from one mode to the next. This is great, as players will no doubt have favorite characters, such as the slower but heavy-hitting Nora, the agile Blake, or the more wintry-focused Weiss. You don’t have to worry about starting over from scratch with your preferred character and playstyle if you opt to jump to a different mode. There are four difficulty levels to test your mettle in; I found the default option to be more than enough of a challenge, but all the power to you if you opt for the hardest difficulty, Eclipse! Aside from the story campaign, you can also try out the Grimm Gauntlet, where you battle endless waves of Grimm.
Graphically, the Definitive Edition of Grimm Eclipse is definitely not going to tax your Switch. However, there are some texture and aliasing issues at times, particularly where shadows are involved. The graphics in general have a somewhat dated appearance, and there is a lack of expression amongst the character models. The sparse backgrounds and even the action animations are rather reminiscent of the early visuals of the animated series itself. Speaking of which, the Definitive Edition provides some new costume options for characters, such as Team RWBY’s Atlas Arc outfits or Power Armor. Unfortunately, this isn’t going to be a title you write home about in terms of aesthetics, and the shifting camera angles that constantly have to be maneuvered do not help in that department.
All the voice actors from the show reprise their roles here, save for Professor Port, who is now excellently voiced by Anthony Sardinha. This is a great boon to RWBY fans, and I was particularly ecstatic to hear Jen Brown as Pyrrha again. Of special note on the voice acting front is Dave Fennoy, who voices Doctor Merlot, as he later goes on to voice Pietro Polendina in more recent volumes of the series itself. The story is presented through ambient conversations, though you also hear plenty of one-liners from characters throughout fights. While they aren’t initially turned on, subtitles are available, and I found them quite handy given how certain background noises during cutscenes can drown the dialogue out.
Perhaps the greatest strength of Grimm Eclipse is the soundtrack, created by Jeff Williams and Steve Goldshein. One of the things RWBY fans most consistently praise the series for is its music, and Grimm Eclipse wisely uses select tracks from the show in order to get your blood pumping during fights. An instrumental version of “Red Like Roses, Pt. II” fittingly plays during the chaos of the final boss fight, and the vocal theme song created for the game, “Lusus Naturae,” is a standout when you reach the end credits.
At the end of the day, I wouldn’t recommend RWBY: Grimm Eclipse to anyone who isn’t a diehard RWBY fan, and even if they were a fan, they would need to be okay with flawed hack-and-slash games with some RPG progression elements. In a lot of ways, the presentation of Grimm Eclipse feels like an unfinished or unpolished project. This is a shame because when all the pieces fit together perfectly, there is fun and enjoyment to be had, particularly when playing with friends and fellow RWBY fans. It’s just that these moments can be stretched out quite thin because of the title’s weaknesses. The Definitive Edition is certainly the strongest version of the game out there and offers one more gameplay mode to explore with local co-op, but it isn’t without its problems either. Given the anime and notable JRPG influences of the series, I hope that RWBY fans will one day get a stronger RPG-adjacent outing to play through. As it stands, RWBY: Grimm Eclipse is simply a game for fans to play in short, diversionary bursts. Playing for much longer can diminish the little bit of fun there is to be found.