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Rise of the Ronin

Rise of the Ronin

Team Ninja's first foray into open-world action RPGs is going to draw a lot of comparisons, but can it stand out on its own?

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Rise of the Ronin officially began development all the way back in 2015 as a passion project for Japanese developer Team Ninja, bringing the history of its country to life with some fast-paced combat, an intricate story, and more. However, the vision for the game supposedly began even before that. Other projects like Nioh got in the way, but now the day is finally here.

Rise of the Ronin is upon us, and we are the ronin who is indeed rising. Taking on the role of the Blade of the Veiled Edge, we pick ourselves up from a tragic event early on in the story and forge our own future, all the while meandering through one of the most tumultuous times in Japanese history.

Rise of the Ronin

Unlike Nioh and Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty, which both take inspiration from history but are at their core fantasy games, Team Ninja has gone all-out here in enriching players in the history of 19th century Japan. We're not just playing the video game version of a textbook, as we still impact the course of history if we wish, but there is an impressive level of detail and care in placing you in this revolutionary era for Japan and giving key figures from history new life as properly fleshed out characters. It probably helps that there was naturally a lot of conflict in this period, so there are a lot of great moments for us to flash our sword and let some heads roll, but Team Ninja's emphasis on its setting and story shouldn't go unnoticed here.

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Rise of the Ronin does feel like a culmination of Team Ninja's previous work when it comes to its narrative. The side characters in particular really help the story flow, and what first may seem like a pretty clear-cut case of goodies vs baddies develops to a point where you're not sure any side you could have picked can really be called the right one.

Rise of the Ronin

A lot of the strengths in the NPCs comes from Rise of the Ronin's bond system. When you meet an important person in Rise of the Ronin, you won't just be approaching them for the occasional mission and seeing them pop up in cutscenes. You can develop your relationship further with them through gifts and talking. Story scenes can also help build your bond depending on the decisions you choose, similar to the approval system in Baldur's Gate III. The stronger your bond with your allies, the more likely they are to do favours for you, and the stronger they are in battle.

During certain missions, you can bring up to two NPC allies (or regular other players) with you in order to share the burden of taking down enemies. This is a massive help when it comes to trickier combat encounters, as tough enemies and bosses in Rise of the Ronin will be on you like flies on honey if you're not careful. Getting a moment to heal can be rare in these breathless brawls, and so having an ally or two to get the heat off you is a literal lifesaver.

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Rise of the Ronin

The true sadists out there won't be happy to hear this, but luckily they can just ramp up the difficulty and even remove allies from these missions if they so wish. Otherwise, Rise of the Ronin's combat is a joy to play. It pays to really throw yourself into the combat, as the more you progress, you'll get access to different fighting styles and just generally feel more like a swordsman or woman of legend. The Counterspark mechanic is particularly effective at making you feel like an absolute combat god, as when you get the parry timings down on any enemy you become next to unstoppable.

Rise of the Ronin's combat isn't the most challenging I've played, but instead of focusing on rewarding you by letting you beat a boss by the skin of your teeth, you keep coming back to Ronin's combat because it's simply fun to play with. Picking a new fighting style, weapon, and sub-weapon can completely change up how you approach your duels. There's a lot of variety, but Team Ninja hasn't gone for quantity over quality, as there's a satisfying depth to each of the weapons you can equip yourself with.

Rise of the Ronin

Even if the fights are fun to play in Rise of the Ronin, you might find yourself wanting to avoid them in some instances. Get ambushed by even two enemies and you can find yourself easily battered. Stealth comes in handy a lot of the time in Rise of the Ronin, and while the game doesn't have as much emphasis placed on sneaking around, it still feels incredibly rewarding to plan out a route, grapple one enemy from a rooftop before snapping their neck, float down from your glider to deal with the next, and get a good chunk of damage in on a boss by shanking them in the back.

Apart from the bloodier sides of the game, there's a whole beautiful world to explore as well. The game isn't the most breathtakingly detailed you'll ever see, but Rise of the Ronin is usually quite gorgeous, especially when you find yourself atop a hill, looking out at a field of cherry blossoms or Mt. Fuji off in the distance. However, unlike the game's deep combat, the open world largely feels shallow and quite vapid. It's very reminiscent of a recent Assassin's Creed game, where there is a lot to do - cats to pet, bandit camps to clear out, photos to take, more cats to pet - but you're often left wondering what the point of doing any of it is besides getting XP and filling out your big list of things to collect. Some will enjoy this style of open world, but it is something that feels of the past now, especially when we've had open world experiences like Elden Ring and The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom. The world is just the world in Rise of the Ronin, a backdrop rather than a character in itself that you constantly want to find more about. When the story, side characters and their missions are so inviting, this feels like a shame.

Rise of the Ronin

While Rise of the Ronin is a natural evolution of Team Ninja's past work, it hasn't managed to shed all of the fat from its previous games. Namely, the loot system is a bit of a mess. After almost every fight you're given a piece of equipment which most of the time is just going to sit in your inventory until it is sold or disassembled. When each piece of loot that doesn't glow gold feels pretty unnecessary, it's easy to grow frustrated with the clutter as the game goes on. Really, all you need to do is pick the item with the biggest number and the highest rarity, as the rest of the buffs you get are often pretty negligible. If loot was sparser and mattered more, perhaps I wouldn't mind some inventory mess, but the way Rise of the Ronin implements its loot makes me avoid picking up items from enemies unless I need some healing.

Rise of the Ronin is going to draw a lot of comparisons as more people get their hands on it, and even though it does take inspiration from a lot of successful games, Team Ninja's work in creating a great action RPG packed with addictive combat, excellent traversal, and a story that keeps you hooked throughout should not be diminished. There are some missteps that prevent Rise of the Ronin from reaching outstanding heights, but even so it's still a title that is easy to recommend.

08 Gamereactor UK
8 / 10
+
Fluid and challenging combat, effective story, likeable characters, immense depth, great performance
-
Loot system is very messy, the open world feels somewhat dated
overall score
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Rise of the Ronin

REVIEW. Written by Alex Hopley

Team Ninja's first foray into open-world action RPGs is going to draw a lot of comparisons, but can it stand out on its own?



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