Rise of the Ronin

Review: Rise of the Ronin — Live By The Sword

The Bushido Way

Within each gaming generation, a handful of games come out that feel like they are from a gaming era long since passed but still feel perfectly well at home in the current landscape.

Team Ninja’s Rise of the Ronin is one of these games in the PlayStation 5 era.

Regarding combat and gameplay loop, what’s on offer is a tight Team Souls RPG with tough-but-fair mechanics, difficulty levels and a more arcade-like style.

In terms of presentation, Rise of the Ronin feels dated and cheesy but also boasts some satisfying callbacks to games from generations gone by that were in that standout class.

Betraying the betrayer

Rise of the Ronin’s story isn’t going to blow any ships out of the water.

For the most part, its narrative about the death of tradition in the dying days of Japan’s most prolific Edo period is engaging enough to move the story along. Still, it leaves well enough open for players to move at their pace.

You play as one of two player-created Blade Twins, a highly trained ninja from a village known for training pairs of assassins to serve under the Shogunate government.

After the game’s opening, you’ll be tasked with tracking the open world to find your Blade Twin and betray them for betraying your clan.

Along the way, you’ll become close to the citizens of Yokohama and the surrounding prefecture from home and abroad. As you do so, some challenging, hilarious, and endearing side stories will build a world meant to highlight what we learn from each other as we open up and coexist.

The overall main campaign story does have some awkward pacing. It leans into the samurai Western trope just a bit too hard, with some cringe vocal performances and dialogue that feels AI-assisted. Still, it’s also packed with feel-good moments of finding family and community while wandering a lonely samurai’s path to avenge shattered family ties.

A Ronin’s Choice

While Rise of the Ronin‘s story might not be the most revolutionary in terms of its base writing, it’s pretty robust in offering you several chose-you-own-adventure narrative decisions that will make you feel like your own Ronin.

Along the way, you’ll have opportunities to spare people from death, and you may run into them later.

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Choosing to lie to an official instead of fighting him and his partner may result in a closer relationship with someone who values speechcraft over warfare.

You may not want to tell a geisha what brings you to Yokohama because whispers travel far outside the walls of the pleasure district.

Rise of the Ronin is your story of redemption, and it wants you to do it on your terms. 

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Tools of the trade

Rise of the Ronin shines the most in its vast arsenal of weapons, which you can choose from. Team Ninja has never been shy about adding a full complement of tools for you to use in games like Ninja Gaiden and Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty

In Rise of the Ronin, you can purchase Katanas, British, American, and Chinese swords, spears, long odachi, handguns, rifles, bows, a few hand tools and unique inventions. These items — minus the hand tools and inventions — contain different fighting styles that can be unlocked by using them in battle, building relationships with villagers, and fighting unique enemies.

Adapting your style to different enemy types has proved the key to my success in playing this game. Too often, games in this genre will heavily penalize or lock you out for not being able to grasp blocking and dodging cues. But Rise of the Ronin is built in a way that promises fair treatment to those who understand how to create diverse loadouts when it comes to brains-over-skill battling.

I’ve become accustomed to pairing the heavy odachi with lighter paired swords and the slow rifle with the faster bow. I have found that I’ll have a type advantage in most battles somewhere in my kit. And in the ones where I don’t, I can pull out buffing items and study my opponent a little more for openings and methods to make the most of them.

Another area where Rise of the Ronin excels during combat is with its loadout system. As written above, you can quickly swap between two melee and two ranged weapons, but you also have three four-item loadout slots tied to the D-pad. However, one of these loadouts will likely become filled up by your inventions, a horse whistle, and the game’s camera. Yet, having access to eight combat-ready buffs, medicines, or potion powders is more than fair in a game of this style.

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A Ronin is not alone

Rise of the Ronin is ironically far from the traditional story of a lone wolf seeking revenge or a purpose again. As written above, it’s a story of giving up traditions of old and finding connections. But it’s also not intended to be played alone. Like seemingly every second release these days, Rise of the Ronin is a four-player co-op game where groups of friends work together to cover their strengths and weaknesses.

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It’s also a pretty competent single-player party management game.

For those who don’t want to take on the game’s mission segments with friends, there are many characters you’ll meet on your path who control well as computers but can also be hot-switched to set up strategies.

Pretty early on in the game, I found myself in the company of a quick samurai who could use his pistol to raise enemy fear. I was also allied with a brute of a man who worked as a tremendous aggro target to set up blocks with.  

It looks like days are long gone in Rise of the Ronin

Much like the Edo period, Rise of the Ronin suffers from being a little bit dated.

Team Ninja started work on this game nearly ten years ago, and part of this game shows it. Like the samurai in the dying days of the Edo period, Rise of the Ronin feels a little out of place when graphically compared to other PS5 exclusives.

There’s integrated ray tracing here that does wonders for the water in Yokohama Bay and the rust-coloured leaves of the various villages around the city. But this game struggles with drawing distance in a way I haven’t felt in a while on this console. Up close, buildings, other set designs and people begin to look like something for the PS4 days.

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Team Ninja isn’t exactly a studio known for what they do in terms of graphical fidelity. Their style has always brought back the cozy early PlayStation at-home days, and Rise of the Ronin certainly feels like it’s from those days compared with PS5 exclusives like God of War Ragnarök and Horizon Forbidden West. Keeping with the Ronin theme, Ghost of Tsushima came out four years ago and features a similar depiction of Japan and its culture and looks slightly better.

Verdict

Rise of the Ronin isn’t likely to wow you too much regarding its appearance or writing, but what’s on offer here is, without a doubt, Team Ninja’s most fair and well-developed combat RPG. 

And that should say everything you need because this is a studio that excels at this craft.

The sheer volume of choices and challenges in combat will keep Rise of the Ronin in league with the other PS5 exclusives. Unlike the samurai, this game will be around for a while longer. 

Recommended

[The publisher provided a copy of the game for review purposes.]

Reviewed on: PlayStation 5

Rise of the Ronin
Review: Rise of the Ronin — Live By The Sword
Summary
While Rise of the Ronin looks a little out-of-date as a PS5 exclusive, its robust choose-your-own-adventure system and Team Ninja's best and fairest combat system to date make it a worthy addition to the PS5's exclusives catalogue.
Liked
Tough but fair
Fantastic fighting system boasting a wide variety of weapons that are so much fun to use.
Choose-your-own-adventure
Great UI
Didn't Like
The voice acting and writing can be cringe at times
Looks like a PS4 title visually