Rise of the Ronin Review | PlayStation 5

Rise in an interesting cut of Japanese history while bringing down a greater threat than anticipated.

By R3GR3T, Posted 23 Mar 2024

Hit after hit, studios from the old days alongside newer ones have been making waves in the gaming communities with their creations but there’s always a chance of one falling through the cracks into obscurity. That is until they rise with something new and exciting enough to put them back on the map. Meet Team Ninja, the name is more than a name and this studio was formed in 1995 to be part of Tecmo (now Koei Tecmo since a merger in 2010), their parent studio in Japan.


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Team Ninja’s journey began with the Dead or Alive series in 1996, this famous fighter series rode the wave with several more releases shortly after that until Team Ninja started branching into other games like Ninja Gaiden in 2004. Now, as can be expected, they carried on with both these series for quite a while but change is inevitable. This brings us to their next big hit, Nioh, which was released in 2017 and was their attempt at the souls-like genre. Fast-forward a bit more into the future and this brings us to Wo Long: Dynasty in 2023, yet another souls-like with some fairly decent punch that was somewhat well received.

Now, what if Team Ninja wanted to flip the script and combine several things into one monster? Well, they went there with their latest release, Rise of the Ronin on 22 March as a souls-like with some platforming and RPG elements. Rise of the Ronin is set close to the end of the Edo period in the middle of the Boshin War between the anti-shogunate factions and the Tokugawa shogunate and the West after Japan was forced to be reopened to the world at hand. You’ll follow in the footsteps of two surviving children after their village was laid to waste by Shogunate forces, these two are known as the Blade Twins, and the reason behind their name will become quite obvious.

Before you can jump into the real action of Rise of the Ronin, you’ll need to create and customize your Blade Twins. Character creation is the cornerstone of any great adventure, and Rise of the Ronin makes sure to give you more options than a French wine menu, which is a paralyzing amount of customization for the indecisive. You’ll have everything from major modifications like hair, face, body, coloring, and such to finer details at your disposal for both Blade Twins. However, for a little RPG twist, you’ll need to choose a Veiled Edge Sharpening Origin too which will be the biggest factor as to what abilities they’ll have along with which weapons they’ll have proficiencies in.


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Carrying on with the last piece of character creation and as a little preface for what’s to come, you’ll have a few stats to worry about, namely Strength (STR), Dexterity (DEX), Intelligence (INT) and Charm (CHR). Each state has its role to play in the bigger picture and also plays a determining role in abilities and weapons, but there is a twist. Instead of increasing stats the old-fashioned way, you’ll raise those stats by leveling up skills and abilities in each stat’s respective tree, this will also give your weapons that scale with that stat tree a helpful boost. This is already a nice change of pace that’s rare to see but we do see this same system in use in Elden Ring, but this gives you the freedom to build how you want with minimal restriction while keeping things versatile as you progress.

So, with that done and dusted, you’ll finally be ready to save Japan. Unfortunately, you’ll have to go through the tutorial because Rise of the Ronin becomes very complicated, very quickly and it’s painfully easy to get lost in just how much is available. It starts simple and that’s what makes Rise of the Ronin interesting, the intense combat system. Your weapons are not just fancy tools to be used for cutting down your enemies, you’ll need to consider several things when building your loadout such as: how they scale with your current stats, DPS, extra effects, and most importantly.... Make sure it suits your playstyle. However, picking your main and sub weapons is one thing but you’ll also need to pick a style and each weapon comes with its own set of fighting styles.

Rise of the Ronin already has a great combat system in place and we’re all living for it but there’s always some give and take. So, attacking and blocking work great in a fight but you can’t keep it forever. Welcome to the fun limitation of Ki, it works similar to stamina but with a different name and will force you to not just go in feeling like a shogun god. However, Ki isn’t just your stamina, it’s also what keeps your opponent standing. Aiming for fighting styles that wear theirs down is key to victory but it also depends on you and works for you, though the fact of the matter still stands; breaking your opponent’s Ki leads to them being staggered and gives you a nice opening to deal some serious damage, including critical hits for added pain. The alternative is leveraging Counterspark, while quite risky due to how much accuracy is needed, it’ll essentially allow you to deflect instead of black an attack which will damage and stagger the attacker.


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Next up is one of the bigger parts that you’ll need to survive, consumables for health and various other buffs, or even ammunition. In a beast like Rise of the Ronin, every little bit helps when you’re dealing with just how unforgiving the enemies are. This isn’t even an understatement; they are unforgiving and will crush you if you don’t pay attention or keep an eye on your health. So, using the advantage you can muster will keep you alive for longer, or at least long enough to make a difference. Unfortunately, keeping a decent stock of survival consumables is a hit-or-miss matter because enemy drops tend to lean towards being a weapons jackpot and shops aren’t always an option.

Now, while Rise of the Ronin is technically at its peak during any form of action, it does have a lot more on offer in terms of lore and exploration. One of the biggest driving forces behind Rise of the Ronin is the story and some of the historical figures you’ll get to meet, it’ll give you a different insight into what happened during the Edo period and this will pull you in if you’re big on story aspects. However, what might not be so great for some is just how many main and side missions there and this might come off as a bit of a slog when put into perspective. Granted, this doesn’t mean the missions are boring or anything like that. There’s a great variety that’ll keep you hooked for an obscene amount of time, and it only gets better when you can co-op some of the missions.

As you may have already guessed, Rise of the Ronin is massive and it has an open world that’s big enough to match and nobody likes traveling on foot. This is where your grappling hook and glider will see the most action because the scenic route is always the best, and Rise of the Ronin is scenic as all hell. It’s honestly great that you have both a grappling hook and glider at your disposal for traversal, it’s better than trying to ‘Skyrim’ your way up a mountain to swan dive off it into your glider for a less tedious form of getting around. However, those same tools can be used in combat as well, for instance: A glider is a natural option for death from above on an unsuspecting enemy or you can use the grappling hook to shorten the distance between you and your target.


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Unfortunately, Rise of the Ronin suffers from one soul-crushing flaw. The developers felt that a massive world that’s just begging to be explored also needs to be cluttered, well, the maps need to be cluttered with an endless stream of new icons that indicate that there’s something to do. To make matters worse, you’d think that this endless stream of optional tasks might pack a decent reward but this is so far from the case, instead, you’ll simply even have more junk loot on your hand than you’d know what to do with. This is an unfortunate flaw that Team Ninja hasn’t quite done away with but we can still overlook it for the sake of just how much punch Rise of the Ronin packs. There’s a lot of pruning to do when it comes to the loot and the map but there’s a great souls-like underneath all the trash and bloat.

On the visual side of the battle, Rise of the Ronin has so much detail and beauty that it’s almost astonishing. You’ll never have a dull moment when you’re out exploring and seeing what’s on offer, everything ranging from the valleys to the architecture has a story to tell and it all keeps adding to what looks to be a visual masterpiece. However, while there’s an overabundance of detail with the world itself and even with a lot of the characters, there’s a severe lack of facial animation when talking to the various people you’ll meet. This is a sad point to look at when you consider how great everything else looks but this was somehow overlooked, it honestly looks like an old marionette puppet with a bit more facial control instead of an actual person talking.

So, where Rise of the Ronin shines is a tie between the voice acting and the ambient sound. Aside from the lack of facial animation, the voice acting does the world justice and while it is in English, there’s still the Japanese accenting to add a little more authenticity to the atmosphere. On the other hand, we’ve gotten quite used to some form of background music you won’t find that here when you’re out exploring, you’ll instead have a brilliant ambiance as you explore and see the sights. The only time you’ll have some background music is during a fight or cutscenes, but even then, there’s still that authenticity in using traditional music to match the time and this builds such a great atmosphere.


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Overall, Rise of the Ronin is turning out to be a great souls-like with endless potential and a brilliant story to match. There’s a beautifully detailed world to explore and the unforgiving combat that all hardcore gamers crave, but there’s also so much room for improvement, and a lot of pruning is needed. The cluttered map and the neverending junk loot are two of the biggest factors that dull the experience, but if you can overlook those issues, there’s a massive world to see and a lot of new challenges that await you in Japan.
 

Jay Claassen (@R3GR3T_3NVY)
Senior Editor, NoobFeed

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General Information

Platform(s): PS5
Publisher(s): Sony Interactive Entertainment
Developer(s): Team NINJA
Genres: Role-Playing
Themes: Action, Adventure, Open World, Soulslike
Release Date: 2024-03-22

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