Rise of the Ronin Review: Killing In The Name

It is nearing three years since we played a PlayStation-exclusive title that centred around a Shogunate era Japan and a protagonist that walks a fine line between good and evil. While we eagerly await the sequel to Ghost of Tsushima, Rise of the Ronin from Team NINJA is here to scratch our samurai-sized itch.

Coming from the same studio behind the Ninja Garden and Nioh series’ there is plenty of pedigree here. Also being able to play as a bad ass ronin who kills as they see fit while changing the course of history from the shadows seems too good to pass up.

So does Rise of the Ronin live up to the hype?

Here’s what we encountered while playing the game.

The Veiled Edge

The setting for this game is the late 19th century in Japan. It is a country on the precipice of a watershed moment in its history, as the Tokugawa Shogunate’s reign after three centuries is beginning to rile up local opposition, along with foreign influence from the West starting to make its presence increasingly known on this island nation.

Operating from the shadows as is the Veiled Edge. Often working in pairs, these assassins are the hands used to twist fate as other more powerful figures see fit.

And this is where the player is introduced, as you can take on the role of one of two unnamed assassins – one male and one female – who were orphaned as a pair when there village was attacked by Shogunate forces and saved by a member of the Veiled Edge.

We start things off in a player creation screen, where you can customise the looks of both the male and female assassins. As for as creator tools it is fairly extensive, and probably on par with what we have seen in the likes of Cyberpunk 2077 (don’t worry, no genital stuff).

Once you’re happy with the look of your characters, you head to the Blacksmith village where some tutorialisation happens and thereafter you begin your first mission sneaking aboard a ship from the West to kill a commander.

We’ll leave the rest of the story there in the effort of avoiding spoilers, but it is worth pointing out that Rise of the Ronin focuses on a handful of key events that actually took place in the late 19th century. It is here that players can experience a level of immersion, while also a degree of control as your choices and actions result in how the historical events will play out in-game.

From that perspective Team NINJA has done a great job, but the world building and story development very early on in the game leaves a lot to be desired, and only once you’ve ranked up a good six hours into the game do things start to become more engrossing.

The openness of this open-world was also a little frustrating too, as not all structures and buildings can be scaled, and although environments can look extremely well detailed, it’s clear that the developers want to keep you on a particular path.

This is in stark contrast to one of the greats things about Ghost of Tsushima, which may have had a linear storyline, but always encouraged players to explore and do things at their own pace. As such, more of that would have been welcome, but as you can see in the screenshots below, the game itself looks superb.

Mixed martial arts

Shifting to the gameplay and here we found things a little mixed. As mentioned this is from the same studio that made Ninja Garden, so you can expect a fair degree of difficulty. So much so that every time the chance to erect a Veiled Edge banner as a save point arrives, you’ll quickly learn to make use of it unless you want to go back further than expected should you die.

In terms of sheer difficulty then, this game will present a nice challenge for those who are gluttons for punishment, and that satisfaction once you beat a particularly tough boss or pesky group of enemies feels truly rewarding.

In terms of weapons, they run a wide gamut here and even include non-traditional Japanese ones like guns. Early on we were reticent to use them, but given how useful they can be as a ranged weapon, we quickly became fond of them.

This also helps to reinforce the fact that ronin are not considered with honour in the may that a samurai would, and the best weapon is one that it immediately at hand.

As for pros and cons of each weapon, much of this is dictated by how much stamina it requires. Dual-wielding a pair of katana looks cool and can certainly do a lot of damage, but the amount of stamina they require often makes this an en ineffective weapon choice when taking on a group of enemies for example. It is therefore a delicate balancing act in terms of what your weapon load out is, and the wrong choices often leads to death.

Looking closer at the fighting gameplay and we were left a little frustrated by one element in particular, as the button to counter attacks and do a finishing strike were the same. It meant that if you got your timing wrong, you’d attempt a strike against an enemy that was already poised to attack you. Those split seconds mattered and could mean you get caught up in a flurry of enemy attacks with your timing now all out of whack.

Another aspect that Rise of the Ronin is unforgiving in is knowing when an enemy is about to strike. They glow red when a heavy attack or finishing move is on the way, which is easy enough to spot, but light attacks seemingly have no indicator.

One could argue that this is a skill issue or simply a more realistic type of gameplay, but in the early stanzas of the game when your character is not that powerful or upgraded, it can be quite punishing.

Final verdict

Priced at R1 499 locally at time of writing for pre-order, Rise of the Ronin is a gaming experience that does not come cheap. The fact that it is a PlayStation-exclusive too, means that it has a recent legacy of great titles to match.

While the game does so in some aspects, it does not do so in all, and falls short in terms of character development and an engaging storyline in our view. The look, environments, traversal (namely hand gliding), and weapons system are all great, but it is missing that little bit extra to make this title a standout in our view.

If you are a fan of the genre or this type of subject matter in gaming, you may be able to overlook such things, but at R1 500, your game needs to be extra special to get people to part with that much money these days.

A highly serviceable game, Rise of the Ronin falls just shy of being a hearty recommendation.



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