Rise of the Ronin – Game Review

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Forging Fate Feels Freeing

The open world swordplay souls like genre is definitely not a fresh concept for a video game. There have been multiple games that have done this genre incredibly well from the likes of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, Ghost of Tsushima, and more. Enter Team Ninja with Rise of the Ronin releasing at a time when there really isn’t that much new competition for players precious gaming time. 2024 has started rather slow with not many big name PlayStation Studios First party titles releasing imminently. Is “forging your fate” a thing players want to slash their way through, or does Rise of the Ronin feel like a mere recycle and rehash of the swords wielded before it? 

Nuanced Narrative

Rise of the Ronin puts players in control of two characters off the top. Essentially, there’s a dark war during the Bakumatsu Era and you and your blade twin are called Veiled Edge, and must train and become a Ronin to fight through the wars. After training you set off to take back the power from foreign entities like Commodore Matthew Perry, and more historical figures. 

Without getting too deep into spoilers, there’s some engaging story points, but ultimately the cutscenes range from heavy plot points to quick voice acting exchanges that carry you to the next mission. If you’re looking for a narrative heavy, cinematic production value game; this isn’t it. While the story definitely helps centre the gameplay, Rise of the Ronin is video game first, accurate storytelling experience second (and quite possibly a pet the cat simulator third, but more on that later).

A Veiled Edge Over Other Gameplay Mechanics

The gameplay of Rise of the Ronin is where it outshines the rest of the genre. Truly, this combat system is deep, fun, and approachable, which I find is rare these days as a casual gamer. Everything is presented incrementally to players and it almost never feels overwhelming. Players are greeted with a difficulty level selection from Dawn, Dusk, and finally the most difficult setting (much like the difficulty level of sitting through the 2008 movie of the same name), Twilight. I chose the Dawn difficulty level because I love souls games until they get far too difficult for me to play anymore. I appreciated the accessibility option as some gamers don’t want to “get gud.” Some want to enjoy the release that is becoming a ronin and slashing bad guys after putting your real children to sleep. After selecting difficulties there’s a robust character creator and then it’s time to choose your blade origins. Blade origins are forged over the course of play. I chose Killer because it seemed to be the most powerful choice. If you are looking for a deeper difficulty though, the Unsharpened option seemed to be the extra difficult choice if players want a truly painful spike in Twilight difficulty mode. Rise of the Ronin and Team Ninja do an excellent job of understanding the diverse set of players that play their games. 

Combat is fluid and presents with a pretty simple yet flashy guide. Tapping square is a normal attack, holding it down is a charged attack, and advancing attacks come with combinations of moving while hitting the buttons. For those new to the genre, this is perfect and not overwhelming at all. Players are brought into the tutorial with a plethora of weapon options. I chose double swords (light primary weapon) and odachi (heavy secondary weapon) but there’s a lot to choose from to cover all play styles. Players are also equipped with a sub weapon like a gun, or shurikin (and more).

Martial attacks charge up with Ki (stamina). You can use these to break stances of enemies and get more heavy attacks in. That’s another thing, there’s also stances! Players switch between these depending on weapon choices. You can also grapple enemies towards you which was really fun and felt like I was playing Spider-Man. When fighting bosses, the games difficulty spikes dramatically. This is expected with souls like titles though, and Rise of the Ronin prepares players for this generously. Boss fights are exciting and take different tactics to conquer. I found myself wanting to learn to time everything right, and in the end, the fights always looked very impressive through dodges, and countersparking in a timely manner.

Countersparks are the bread and butter of combat and function the same as most counter attacks do in souls like games. Timing is everything and it seems to be easier to do with difficulty changes. That being said, there’s still quite a challenge to get these right even on the lowest “dawn” difficulty. Stealth assassinations are also fun, and frankly very forgiving. AI really doesn’t seem to notice too much in this game. This can break immersion, but also could be due to the low difficulty level I selected.

When two players are available, the game becomes co-op allowing other players online to join your game and aid you in accomplishing the objective. It’s here I quickly realized that Rise of the Ronin truly has everything. This is mostly a positive thing as just when you think you know what kind of game it is, it becomes a co-op game, or a find and pet every cat in the game simulator. Speaking of petting cats and discoveries, let’s talk about exploration next! 

Tokugowa Traversal 

Movement is slow at first until you realize that sprinting is a thing. Sprinting doesn’t deplete energy when outside of battle which is appreciated for players that want to get to their next objective fast without delays. The game does a great job keeping traversal interesting. After getting used to sprinting, players are given a horse and after the first big story mission, a glider. Veiled Edge Banners act as checkpoints throughout the game. These respawn defeated enemies if you use them too much, but also replenish health as well as medicinal pills and projectiles used in game after the first touch. This keeps the game fresh and provides players with a challenge to avoid replenishing everything all of the time.

Medicinal pills were something I used plentifully even at the low difficulty level, especially when fighting formidable foes like Leaders. Usually taking out normal enemies wasn’t a problem. But as the game advances the difficulty spikes tremendously. Thankfully, Rise of the Ronin really opens up after the prologue. Combat is a massive part of the game of course, but exploration is an integral part of the gameplay loop not to be ignored. 

Restoring Public Order helps unlock veiled edge banners on the open world map. Without doing this, fast travel is not possible. Opening the map up can take time but in the end, becomes worth it for easier progression in the game. It also unlocks special rewards for players who develop bonds with the areas they clear and characters they meet along the way.

Skill trees are in the form of strength dexterity intellect and charm. These skill trees open up combat abilities but also provide players with unique skills to use in traversal too. There is massive incentives to exploring the entire map the game offers and grappling, gliding, and horse riding is just as fun as the complex but approachable combat system. The only aspect leaving this game somewhat in the shadows of its first party predecessors is the overall graphical and world building presentation. 

Pandering Presentation 

Rise of the Ronin sounds great, Rise of the Ronin plays great, but it certainly doesn’t always look great. It’s very clear the lighting changes significantly from cutscene to gameplay. This is noticeable in the character selection screen right off the top of the title. I found myself saying “but this doesn’t matter because this is so fun!” a lot during my time with the title. While true, it’s impossible not to point out in this review. Here’s some key examples that made it feel less like a “next gen PlayStation Studios title” and more like a classic game from the previous generation:  

In the very beginning of the game I scared a chicken and he very much evaporated into a wooden box in the ground. 

Voice acting isn’t great. Everything feels like it’s lacking emotion other than dramatic intensity. For a game set in history, some of the dialogue also doesn’t feel all that historical at all with many uttering phrases from the 21st century.

Sometimes the game does a great job explaining things to players. Other times, it doesn’t explain itself at all. During the prologue, every feature is meticulously laid out and taught to players. After the first Public Order clearance, players are randomly given a horse flute.

It just pops into inventory, completely unexplained other than a title card “horse flute has been added to your inventory.” Using it does exactly what one should expect, it summons a horse! 

In these moments, Rise of the Ronin feels like a simple “gamey” game. This is completely fine if players aren’t looking for full immersion, however Triple A PlayStation Studios games of the past have definitely set a presentation standard that Rise of the Ronin doesn’t quite meet. 

There is a diverse set of armours and customization for players to use, but they don’t all feel historically accurate. One other frustration was finding a new set of armour, but not liking how it looked. It would have been nice to be able to simply transfer the attributes and maintain the same look for my Ronin. I found myself wearing light sandals in game, because the bonuses the armour came with outweighed the cool boots I had liked. Alas…

One great quality of life feature is the Encyclopedia in the main menu. This has everything the game teaches players throughout their Ronin runaway story. There’s a ton of gameplay elements to digest, and being able to easily navigate back to this helped tremendously.

Finally, overall the graphic fidelity feels clunky. Sometimes, Rise of the Ronin looks beautiful. Other times, it feels quite empty. It’s clear that if this game spent a bit more time in development, it would definitely present more pretty. This all being said, I found myself asking a question I feel more gamers should ask regularly. Are you looking for gameplay fun, or cinematic cutscenes? Video games looking “realistic” is a feature I never would have even thought about in the 90s. Rise of the Ronin compensates the lack of visuals well with the completely fun gameplay. None of the visual scars get in the way of the clean cut fun.

Odachi Overall 

While it is true that Rise of the Ronin doesn’t make a visually good first impression, it pretty much succeeds everywhere else. It’s a fun, hack and slash open world adventure complete with many options for traversal and exploration. Upgrading your Ronin is approachable, using simple to understand skill tress, and a robust amount of armour options and customization. While occasionally it can feel limiting, or confusing at what era the game is actually set in, Rise of the Ronin is a very fun game, and these days, that cannot always be said. While it may present a little less pretty than other titles, the bugs or graphic problems do not affect the entertaining time to be had in being a Ronin and slicing your way through every objective. The cat petting is fun, the small side quests are engaging, and I think I’ll be diving back into Rise of the Ronin quite often. This doesn’t feel like a game I’ll be uninstalling anytime soon, and overall, I highly recommend you take up a sword and don’t miss out on this gem on PlayStation 5.

Rise of the Ronin

Review by @ImproJoeGaming

Gameplay
Presentation
Performance
Fun Factor
Overall

Summary

Rise of the Ronin is a very fun game, and these days, that cannot always be said. While it may present a little less pretty than other titles, the bugs or graphic problems do not affect the entertaining time to be had in being a Ronin and slicing your way through every objective. The cat petting is fun, the small side quests are engaging, and I think I’ll be diving back into Rise of the Ronin quite often.

4.2

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Joe Rino

My Name is Joe Rino and I’m a Drama Teacher Gamer. I love a good video game that also helps me learn and grow with the characters. Storytelling, Gameplay, Action, and good times with friends are super important to me from a video game and life perspective! Let’s play!

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