Home ? Reviews ? Game Reviews ? Rise of the Ronin Review

Rise of the Ronin Review

In this Rise of the Ronin Review, we’re going to be taking a deep dive into the latest Team Ninja original title, which has been in development for a staggering 9 years. You’re probably familiar with Team Ninja as the creators of the incredibly successful Nioh and Ninja Gaiden franchises, which are both known for having some of the best combat in gaming. With Rise of the Ronin, the Studio stepped beyond their usual boundaries to create an Open World ARPG featuring detailed character interactions—a first for Team Ninja. Have they stuck the landing in this ambitious project and kept up to their high standard of gameplay? Let’s find out in our Rise of the Ronin Review!

Rise of the Ronin Review

Genre: Open World ARPG
Developed by: Team Ninja
Published by: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Release date: March 22nd, 2024
Platforms: PlayStation?5 Exclusive
Price at time of review: $69.99 – Standard Edition

Rise of the Ronin Review – Story and Setting

Setting & World

In Rise of Ronin, you play as a Ronin, a wandering samurai without allegiance to a lord or master during the late 19th century of Japan. This period is an interesting topic of history that’s pretty unexplored in video games. It captures a time when Japan, after more than 250 years of self-imposed isolation, was suddenly forced into diplomatic relations with foreign countries. The arrival of Commodore Matthew Perry with his Black Ships marked the beginning of this period, forcing Japan to open trade with America and? technologically develop from outdated weaponry like Katanas and Tanegashimas to more modern armaments such as Revolvers and Cannons.

As a result, Japan underwent an explosive series of developments, with a disease known as Cholera brought in by Foreigners, Economic Turmoil caused by unfair trade agreements, and the rising tensions over foreign interference that have culminated into a civil war between the Anti-Shogunate and Pro-Shogunate factions. It’s all in all an amazing setting that has been underutilised by the gaming industry, so Team Ninja have definitely hit the mark here.

Story

In this setting, you are a part of the Veiled Edge; a special twin warrior unit from the Kurosu Clan trained from birth to be extremely skilled warriors. Displeased by the growing relations between the Shogunate and the American Governments, the Kurosu Clan ordered you alongside your Veiled Edge twin to steal secret documents from the Black Ships anchored in Yokohama, and assassinate the forerunner for Japanese relations, Matthew Perry. 

Commodore Matthew Perry with his signature Tobacco

From there, you kickstart your journey as the most impactful person shaping Japan’s future. You meet over 80 characters in the game, and engage in meaningful interactions with about 50 of them, each their own opinions, ideals and faction allegiances that all coalesce with one another to create an extremely varied cast and an interesting plot. Unfortunately though, as a result of the large cast, a lot of the characters end up feeling “missing” in crucial parts of the story, since there are just too many to include all at once for the big showdown events.

That being said, the narrative and script of Rise of the Ronin are still very well thought out. There was always so much going on that it almost felt like you were inside a TV Show, watching characters bash heads and drink beer. Yet, instead of being an audience, you actively carve the story through significant choices that genuinely made me pause and think for quite a while. I never found myself skipping dialogue, and actually asked the optional questions during the main quest dialogue because I was actually engaged with the politics and drama that the game presented.

An early game decision to kill a bandit chief or not

However, the story isn’t without its flaws; there were times when it seemed like I was being pulled along with the story and a specific faction until later on in the game. It was also odd when characters from rival factions seemed indifferent when you sided with their opponents, still treating you as a friend and giving their full trust. Additionally, the option to pick a side was not exactly compelling, mainly because there wasn’t enough opportunity to become acquainted with characters outside of the Anti-Shogunate. Regardless, some characters of the Anti-Shogunate were quite charismatic, and this wasn’t that much of an issue for me.

Overall, the story of Rise of the Ronin is arguably the best that Team Ninja has put out to date, with a very unique setting and generally good writing. If you were worried about how Team Ninja would approach a story about Japan’s political turmoil in the world of late 19th Century Japan, you can be assured that it was executed quite well. The gameplay however, may disappoint some Team Ninja fans.

Gameplay in Rise of the Ronin

Whereas the narrative was most definitely a step up from Team Ninja’s standard, the gameplay of Rise of the Ronin can be described as both fulfilling yet disappointing. The game offers solid open-world exploration along with an intriguing bond system, providing content that feels fresh and varied. However, the disappointing aspect is surprisingly the combat; while it isn’t terrible or mediocre by any means, it can’t match the amazing flow of Nioh or Ninja Gaiden. To start, let’s go over the exploration and bonds.

Open World Exploration & Bonds

The playable world of Rise of Ronin is set in Yokohama and 2 other major cities of Japan, spanning 27 square kilometres not including the countryside, making it bigger than Ghost of Tsushima. You can explore it with your glider, or your horse, or the janky auto run. Some of the world is a bit empty, and the NPCs walking around had very limited dialogue conversations. But for the most part, there is a good amount of side content that I found myself getting lost in. For example, collecting cats to return to the Geisha Cat Lady, defeating fugitives to unlock new combat abilities, restoring public order to unruly areas, taking photographs of some real Japanese historical sites and getting a history lesson on them, as well as gambling, gliding, horseback archery, and some other completionist content.

There is also a bounty system within the game allowing you to pickpocket strangers and kill civilians, but it was pretty lackluster. My personal favorite amusement area was the Dojo, a place where you could challenge acquainted characters in 1v1 boss fights. For the most part, you will be exploring the world of Yokohama and Japan when doing quests, but in some quests you will go into a mission environment which puts you in a special location.

Finding a rare Calico Cat in the world

And that leads us to Bonds, a massive part of this game. Bonds are essentially confidants from Persona 5, only now in a Team Ninja game. You have levels of relationships with characters which range from Level 1: Acquainted to Level 4: Fated. You can increase your bond level through a few ways; choosing specific dialogue options during conversations, giving gifts like 3 Premium Whiskey Bottles or doing Bond Missions.

Bond missions are like character storylines, where you help other NPCs out with their struggles. Some of these missions were relatively flat, like finding luggage for a random foreigner, but others were some of the most entertaining content in the game, especially regarding those of the Anti-Shogunate faction and Ryoma Sakamoto. There is also a bond system for the 2 factions to represent how close you are with them, but these felt more like just additional rewards. The rewards for increasing your bonds with characters are about what you would expect; gear, stats and skill points. However, you also acquired special Stances from some characters, which play a part in the fundamentals of combat.

Combat & Enemies

There are 3 difficulty settings you can choose at the start of the game to make combat easier or harder. The combat of Rise of the Ronin is some kind of middle ground between Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty and the Nioh series. The basics include normal attacks, heavy attacks, guarding and a Ki meter representing your stamina. You also get a Blade Flash which replenishes Ki after you attack by using a built up Blood Gauge.

The main approach to combat is the counterspark; a parry system to deflect attacks and cause enemies to Panic, providing an opportunity to do some damage and reducing their Ki meter. Once that meter is depleted, you can do a critical hit dealing massive damage.

There are 9 different weapons in the game all with their own stances which are easily swappable in the middle of combat. Each stance has up to 4 Martial Skills which are special abilities which do significant Ki damage, as well as compatibility with enemy weapons. When your equipped stance is effective against the enemy, you will deal more Ki damage on countersparks, forcing you to switch up stances and your weapon often in order to deal the most damage.?

Stances in the game and their Martial Skills

The system itself is good on paper, but in the execution it stumbles. Martial Skills feel very out of place most of the time, as enemies often ignore your attacks and are not staggered easily, even when panicked. The counterspark system is also great on paper, and something that I myself am usually comfortable with as a Sekiro veteran who completed the gauntlet. However, I never really got the flow of combat because of the significant variety of movesets for every single enemy, and the extremely punishing nature of the counterspark. Missing a single counterspark during an enemy attack string will kill your rhythm, and it feels like the skill floor has been considerably raised from Nioh 2.

The 1v1 Dojo fights are where I could find the best rhythm by fighting against bosses and learning their attack patterns, making it the most fun example of combat in the game for me. Most of the time, I found myself opting for the stealth option in the game because of how much HP every enemy had, and the irresistible insta-kill from ranged weapons and assassinations. 

A new feature of combat is the character switching. Team Ninja have done exceptionally well with the character switching, making it feel fluid and natural. You can often confuse bosses into attacking the AI if you are fast enough with the character swaps, giving you a lot of openings to execute Martial Skills. If you are in a pinch stuck in a corner against mobs of enemies, you can just swap characters and let the AI deal with the annoying situation while you thin out the mob with another character. It’s a system that always makes it feel like you are winning if used correctly, and as a plus it also feels great fighting alongside characters that you genuinely like. For example, I loved playing with Yasusuke Sawamura as he was literally a living Ninja Gaiden reference. Even his main stance is a dead giveaway: the Hayabusa-Ryu, a shinobi style allowing you to Izuna Drop panicked enemies.

Using an Izuna Drop with the Hayabusa-Ryu Stance

In terms of enemy variety, as you probably expected it’s not that great in terms of design. Since Nioh incorporated Fantasy with Yokai, there were a multitude of different creepy demons that you could fight, but in this game it’s all humans and animals. That being said, as aforementioned, it feels like every enemy has a unique moveset, so it won’t feel like fighting the same thing over and over again.

Multiplayer

I wasn’t able to get into a multiplayer session with the early copy, but I did see many characters made by players wandering the map from time to time. Co-op is only available in missions, where you can create a lobby and wait for someone to join. You can also make a singular slot invite only while the other one is public, so you can fill in that extra slot if you only have 1 other person playing with you. If Team Ninja have not changed much since Nioh 2, you can expect stable connection and a good experience.

RPG Aspects

The RPG aspect of the game is overwhelming at first, but easy to understand. You get 2 weapon slots, 2 ranged weapon slots, 4 armour slots and up to 4 accessory slots. Every equippable item you pick up has secondary stats like increasing critical hit damage or reducing ki consumption, and some rare pieces have set bonuses which give special effects. Just like Nioh, there are weapon proficiency bonuses, and you can upgrade equipment, transfer secondary stats, and sell or disassemble it.

I did not find myself ever upgrading equipment or transferring stats, as it was expensive and didn’t seem to make a huge difference, only improving equipment level by 1. However, there is an endgame mode which ramps up the difficulty of the existing world and missions significantly in exchange for unique rewards, so it may be more relevant in that context. More often than not, I was blowing all my cash on Western Cigars and Imported Beer to give to my Bonds, rather than improving my gear.

My inventory full of booze, poems and confectionery

Besides gear, there is also a skill tree and stats system. When you defeat enemies and complete missions, you gain XP which increases your character level, giving you a skill point and extra HP, Attack and Defence. You also earn Karma from defeating enemies, which gives a skill point once its maxed out and you rest at a banner. It can also give rare skill points to learn special skills once you increase your Karma Level. Karma is the only soulslike thing about the game; being defeated will initiate a vendetta against the enemy that defeated you. If you kill them you get it back, and otherwise you lose it all. 

Skill points and Rare Skill Points can be acquired from these two systems, but also from the open world exploration, bonds and items. You can use them in the skill tree for a pretty wide range of skills under the categories Strength, Dexterity, Charm and Intellect. Some of these skills could include pickpocketing, speechcrafts, grappling rope upgrades, handgun finishers and many others. The variety was great, and if you didn’t like specific ranged weapons or playstyles, you could just save your skill points for something that would be better suited. I don’t think you can really make a build from the skill tree, since you get around 70% of the skills by the end of the game, but regardless it did feel like meaningful progression.

The Strength skill tree
Bugs

There are a few bugs within the game that can be annoying, but none that are game breaking. In my 56 hour playthrough, I experienced enemies glitching through the floor, and an invisible enemy during a mission.  

Overall, the gameplay is carried by the bond system and exploration, with combat being good, but not on the level of previous Team Ninja titles.

Rise of the Ronin – Design, Visual & Audio

As you probably can see from the gameplay, Rise of the Ronin is heavily weighed down by its graphical fidelity. One of the main reasons why open world games are enjoyable is because of the great scenery you can get from just walking around, case in point Ghost of Tsushima. Nioh 2 was fine with mediocre graphics because of its mission format, but in the case of an open world Japanese game, you want to see something grand and beautiful which Team Ninja did not deliver. The color palette is similarly lacking, with washed out colors and a generally greyish environment that doesn’t have much vibrance.

The graphics at it’s best

Unfortunately, it’s not just the landscapes that are noticeably sub-par when compared to other open worlds; face animations are also incredibly stiff, and you will hardly ever see a character’s eyes move during conversations. They rely on stiff mouth movements and body language to convey emotion, which you get used to, but is still a sore point for immersion. 

Performance-wise, I ran into quite a few frame drops throughout my playthrough. These were usually in busy areas in the city, where the frame rate would drop from a smooth 60FPS experience to probably around 30-40 even while on the Prioritise FPS setting. However, in combat and exploration outside of specific areas, it was an overall smooth experience. The loading screens were also fast, so that’s a plus as well.

Audio wise the game has fantastic SFX for combat and battle cutscenes, and a good soundtrack. The voice acting in Japanese is amazing, with well known industry professionals like Koyasu Takehito voicing Kogoro Katsura, Yuichi Nakamura voicing as Toshizo Hijikata, or Hochu Otsuka as Jules Brunet. The English voice acting is more of a mixed bag; some of the characters sound really good and other ones just sound absolutely absurd, so if you’re playing in English you may experience some hiccups here and there. 

Pricepoint, Game Length & Replayability

My playthrough of Rise of the Ronin took around 55 hours, and I barely scratched the surface of the additional content. I had a 60% completion rate in Yokohama, and then a 37% and 11% completion rate for the next two cities. There are still many enemy camps I haven’t cleared yet, 60 more cats to pet, Bond Missions I have not completed, tons of side quests, weapon stance upgrades from the Dojo, fugitives still running loose and a ton more. 

When considering a game’s pricepoint, we take into account the amount of content available, the experience impact, and the value of purchasing a game right away versus waiting for patches or a sale. Priced at $69.99, Rise of the Ronin is a content-complete game with some very well done systems and a good combat system, which I argue outweighs the poor graphical quality.

I would guess that a full playthrough collecting everything on the map, doing every side quest, maxing out your bonds and etc. excluding the endgame content would take at least 100 hours, so you are easily getting your money’s worth if you stick with the game. Additionally, you can go back to see how other decisions would impact the storyline, giving some replayability in the game.

And none this factors in online cooperative play with others, which can extend your game time well beyond that even…

Final Thoughts

Rise of the Ronin is a solid open world ARPG that is heavily weighed down by its graphics, but is nonetheless a very enjoyable experience thanks to the story, setting and the gameplay. Persona 5 and Team Ninja was never a combo I thought I wanted, but now that I’ve experienced it, I can confidently say that it is a great mix when paired with the historical backdrop.?

While the combat may be disappointing coming from a Team Ninja game, it still delivers good fundamentals that can create satisfying combat with a lot of experience. By adding the wealth of content available on top of that with good storytelling, Rise of the Ronin is comfortably worth a buy, still managing to stand as a great game in 2024.

8.4

Great

Story and Setting 9
Gameplay 8.5
Design, Visual & Audio 7
Multiplayer & Game Length 9
Pricepoint 8.5

Summary

While Rise of the Ronin suffers from outdated and unattractive graphics, the story and gameplay more than make up for it with a wealth of varied and interesting content available paired with good storytelling that keeps players engaged and wanting to know more. Fans of Team Ninja may be disappointed from the step down in combat quality, but nonetheless it is an enjoyable title that we can recommend at full price.

About the Author

Games

Comments

Log in to leave a Comment

Latest from Fextralife

news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news