Rise of the Ronin

Preview: Rise of the Ronin

We are in an incredible time for the samurai as Ghost of Tsushima finally comes to PC, FX’s Shogun commands streaming, and Team Ninja is ready to force players to make the most of their skills in Rise of the Ronin.

Rise of the Ronin is, in a way, Team Ninja taking everything that has made them a staple studio, in the shape of Ninja GaidenNi-oh, and Wo Long, and bringing it to a generation that has had its fill of Soulslike samurai content in the past few years.

An arcade RPG with Soulslike crafting, an equipment system, and deep boss battles are available here.

Learning the ropes in Rise of the Ronin

Rise of the Ronin’s opening hours are a contained story built around a couple of boss rushes that instantly showcase its Sekiro and Wo Long inspirations. Things are left as linear experiences to teach you about the game’s weapons and Ki [stamina].

I elected to play on the “Twilight” difficulty., which is the hardest of the game, and I was mad to regret it at first by the tutorial. On multiple occasions, it asked me if I wanted to lower the difficulty when handed a death. Still, I persevered, and I’m glad I did because I feel all the stronger for overcoming the early rushes and bosses with an extra challenge.

From the get-go, you can choose two melee weapons from the pool of katana, spear, dual blades, odachi [longer buster sword], and sabre. You’ll also quickly unlock an American rifle, throwing stars, and a distraction device as ranged items.

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It’s pretty self-explanatory how weapons work. The odachi and sabre are larger weapons focused on doing heavy damage simultaneously; spears and ranged weapons put distance first, and katanas and dual blades take over speed.

In addition, some martial skills and combo types, including a few unique weapon types, allow players to break defences and gain the upper hand. 

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Keeping up the energies 

Where Rise of the Ronin shines most strategically is through the Ki system.

Attacks and martial skills cost Ki. Deplete your Ki entirely, and you’ll trigger an exhaustion animation that temporarily opens you up to the beating of a lifetime. 

Ki can be regained by moving around the battlefield, using some consumables, gaining equipment buffs, and pressing R1 to perform a Bladeflash after an attack when you’ve filled the weapon bar.

Performing stealth kills, instant kills or draining an enemy’s Ki will cause them to panic, temporarily slowing them down and even opening them up for some pretty amazing critical hit attacks with animations. 

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Being “Counter” productive

Where combat shines in Rise of the Ronin is — ironically — in its partnership.

This game is intended to be played by a group of friends working together on its missions.

For those who don’t wish to do so, you can bring computer-controlled allies that can be switched to on-the-fly.

What this creates is the ability to go deep in terms of tag team tactics.

Counterspark is crucial to success in Rise of the Ronin. As with most Soulslike titles, the parry and counterattack are the most vital means for gaining the upper hand.

It stands to reason that teams who have a player well-versed in the timing of landing Countersparks and opening up time for their friends to do damage is essential.

I fully accept that I don’t have the best timing for launching these maneuvers. So, what’s been helping me is drawing aggro with one character and switching to another to clean up while the one character blocks an oncoming attack.

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Being able to take on challenges in a friend group or with multiple characters also allows you to have complimentary loadouts, which allows you to prioritize speed and strength simultaneously, offering unique methods of approaching challenges.

Laser-focused open world

Once you have completed the tutorial, Rise of the Ronin will take you to the bustling port city of Yokohama and its surrounding area, which is an open world. Having recently been opened to the Western world, Yokohama is full of Japanese life and charm, mixing with British and American exploration. Exploration is the best part of this open-world setting. 

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I’ve enjoyed being here. Team Ninja has done a great job creating a vast and focused open-world experience. Side content, collectables, and boss battles are hidden behind the fog that clears as you reach your next objective, meaning pushing towards the next thing on the agenda takes precedence.

I’ve been fining myself enjoying this form of linear, arcade-style discover a refreshing change from Ghost of Tsushima’s more realistic environmental marker system because, to me, it’s a lot less overstimulating. Ghost of Tsushima also hid a lot of the map behind the fog, but one of my few struggles with that game was feeling like there was always a golden bird, fox, or a fire to follow that kept me away from the task at hand.

Rise of the Ronin also gives you access to a grappling hook, quick horses and a handy glider pretty early into the experience. So map traversal becomes accessible from the get-go.

The labelling of Ronin

Another credit to Rise of the Ronin is how it chooses its overworld labelling. 

Two bars in the overworld and on the map tell you about your Ronin’s level and Karma development. Both award skill points for unlocking more combos and martial skills, with the latter serving as a way of measuring the good you do in the community, offering shop discounts, and having discussions with NPCs.

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The map has clear labels and even offers graphical examples of how challenging activities on the map will be for you. 

Voiced over 

My one complaint with Rise of the Ronin so far is how much it seems to lean toward the cheesy voiced-over Japanese samurai film trope.

There is a lot of cringe for outright terrible line deliveries here. Both tutorial bosses appear to be outright voiced by AI with no infliction.

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In the character creator, you have the option to pick a Japanese or Western voice and to change the tempo of that voice. However, the player character sounds flat, so it’s a relief that you adopt the silent protagonist role pretty early on and only hear your voice in combat and traversal. 

I know I will have much more to say when the review embargo ends later this month. Still, for now, Rise of the Ronin is an intriguing RPG that takes the best parts of Team Ninja’s arcade roots and mixes them with their more recent focus on compelling boss battles. I’ve enjoyed the heavily Soulslike tutorial and open-world adventure I’ve played.

The Ki system and more arcade-driven combat fighting style feel fun and strategic.

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In the open world, progress is linear but with a clearly defined and rewarding exploration style that is fast and focused. 

This is one more PlayStation exclusive that has benefited from the time and resources put into it. 

Rise of the Ronin is now available for pre-order and grapples onto PS5 on March 22nd.