Rise of The Ronin – Review

A Sampler Platter of Many Design Ideas

Rise of the Ronin Review Featured Image
Release Date
March 22, 2024
Sony Interactive Entertainment
Team Ninja
Reviewed on
Review copy provided by
Sony Interactive Entertainment

It’s been a few years since the release of Nioh 2, and since then Team Ninja has put together an ambitious open-world title incorporating their unique take on Souls-like combat with the turbulent time period of the Samurai uprisings as the backdrop. Does this game hold up as a tale for the ages or will it be lost to the sands of time? Let’s go find out.

Rise of the Ronin is an open-world ARPG set in the turbulent time of pre-Meiji Era Japan. Players take on the persona of a Ronin, a masterless Samurai who has dedicated the rest of their life to seeing a new Japan rise from the ashes while putting to rest the shadows of their past life. It all started with the arrival of black ships in the horizon and will end in a country engulfed in the flames war.

From this point on, I will be talking about story events in the broadest way possible. But I will still be issuing a spoiler alert just in case. You have been warned.

The game starts by asking you to create two characters: your avatar throughout the game and your blade twin who is in the shadows of many major events shaking Japan to its core. Character customization is one the most comprehensive ones Team Ninja has ever created. Some players will no doubt spend a considerable amount of time sculpting their dynamic duo with the aid of sliders and a host of cosmetic options. Of course, you can also just press the randomize button until you get facsimiles of the characters you envision. It’s all fair game here.

Once you’ve chosen which of the two you will be playing, you will spend the rest of your time choosing your attributes and weapons. This part is similar to Nioh, except there’s more than the swordplay to get into. You will be dealing with people and learning how to persuade them to your cause takes skill. It’s a far cry from the good old days when there were only demons to deal with.

The game tells the story of a group of displaced Ronin trying to make sense of a changing Japan that’s become more welcoming to the outside world.

Many of these former Samurai see their time coming to an end. They vow to make one last valiant stand in a vain attempt to preserve their way of life. On the other side are Samurai who conceded to the fact that the old ways won’t be enough to keep outside wrold out. They choose to embrace change with the hope of securing Japan’s place in the world. This clash of ideals is front and center of the conflict, and I only wish there was more focus on it instead of all the side activities that come with an open-world game.

Despite its wonderful backdrop, Rise of the Ronin is an open-world game at heart that takes many cues from the Red Dead Redemption games. There are collectibles in the form of lost cats to find and strangers who are all too willing to trust if it means solving their immediate concerns. There are also activities such firearm training, horseback archery, glider training, and dojo practice sessions. At least they offer some good rewards for mastery and precision.

All of the side content can get overwhelming at times should you decide to get all your ducks in a row before tackling main story segments. It also didn’t help that the game rewards you for clearing regions of the map with precious resources. It’s a lot of busy work for someone who is supposed to be chasing after shadows. But I suppose I can’t fault the game for all my poor choices. Though I do blame it for using map activities as a means of extending play time.

The combat system in Rise of the Ronin is directly lifted from the Nioh games. You carry a set of primary and secondary weapons and you alternate between all four as the situation requires. You can have up to three active combat styles on your primary that you can quickly swap in between to counter the enemy’s combat style. Think of it as a convulted form of rock-paper-scissors. The fluid combat is by far my favorite part of the game aside from the story. And the fact that you get more combat styles from defeating certain enemies on the map makes rooting out gangs almost worthwhile.

When out of combat, the Ronin has access to more than few gadgets that don’t quite fit with the time period. I love the glider and all but its inclusion is borderline fantasy at best. Though one could argue that a flamer and camera puts it well into the sci-fi category. At least the grappling hook is an essential piece of equipment given how limited you are in terms of vertical movement. An art Assassin’s Creed has mastered over the years.

Another major mechanic of the game is one’s “Bonds”. There seems to be bonds for everything in this game. There are bonds with people and places, and it all affects gameplay in some shape or form. The higher your bond is with the game’s long cast of characters, you’ll gain access to advanced fighting styles and unique pieces of gear. The same goes with your bonds with a district but it’s more on using locals’ information for map completion.

In terms of graphics, it’s nothing to write home about. The game’s three different regions lack that certain distinct feel to them. Something that wasn’t much of an issue in the Nioh games. It seems like a lot of assets have been reused in between regions but that’s what happens when you are making an open world game. There are more locations to go to and more people to interact with.

Unfortunately, the game is victim to a few minor graphical issues that become more apparent to players who like to explore their worlds. Sometimes the frame rates isn’t consistent and draw distance is shorter than what I would have expected from a modern game. The worst are the rocks I can pass through for no reason. These oversights can really break the immersion in a serious game like this.

My biggest complaint is with the A.I. And I’m not just limiting it to enemy A.I., I have beef with friendly A.I. as well. During combat, they do usual moves and they more or less move as expected. That all changes when you a step outside their comfort zone. All of a sudden, the A.I. refuses to fight and peaces out. It would have ok if the game was sutble about it but it’s so dang obvious. You can even play tag with them if you want.

What’s worse than enemy A.I. that takes its job too seriously, why friendly A.I. that just stands there and does nothing. Believe me, you don’t want anything to do with the friendly A.I. They are a decent distraction at best. The number of times I was in the heat of battle with a boss and the friendlies just staring at me are too numerous to count. This is where co-op could have been much preferred but unless you have a habit of switching to A.I. allies then you are better off fighting alone.

Rise of the Ronin, in its entirety, is a Jack of all trades and master of none. It is a sampler platter of many design ideas stitched together, held in place with a captivating story and likable characters. If you are a fan of Team Ninja’s unique blend of combat and/or the time period this game takes place, then you are in for a treat. Just know that combat won’t be forgiving and you probably won’t like all the busy work. But barring all that, it is worth a couple of playthroughs just to see where the story possibilities go even if you can’t change history in the way you would’ve liked.

Rise of the Ronin Review Featured Image
Rise of The Ronin – Review
Score Definition
When the issues of a game are rolled and stomped by its greatness, then it’s something to invest on if you have some spare.
Multilateral combat system
An imaginitive take on pre-Meiji Era Japan
Long list of likable characters
Deep character customization
Persistant graphical issues
AI leaves a lot to be desired
A lot of busy work
Jack of all trades, master of none