Rise of the Ronin Review: Studying the Wind

The game fights with honor, but it still fouls the blade a few times along the way.

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Rise of the Ronin
Photo: Sony Interactive Entertainment

Team Ninja may not have made the best samurai game with Rise of the Ronin, but to the developer’s credit, it’s certainly made the most samurai game. That’s to say, Team Ninja has crafted something that feels like a massive, unwieldy turducken of all the best ideas from these types of games, with some FromSoftware and Ubisoft sauce sprinkled on top to bring the whole thing together. There’s an intricacy of interlocking systems here that’s certainly ambitious, but not all of the game’s elements are as polished as they could have been.

The good news is that players will at least be well-motivated to press on regardless. At first blush, the story may come across like an anime based on F/X’s Shōgun, spinning a fantastical tale of violence and political turmoil against the backdrop of the Edo period of Japan and focused on twin assassins—the Blade Twins—who get caught in the middle after an attempt to kill the infamous Commodore Matthew Perry fails. But it’s the fine details that are everything.

There’s a vast array of political schemers, hardline xenophobes, and colonizers tearing Japan’s soul apart, each with their own skin in the game, and the story is propelled by subtle, thoughtful writing. The choices you can make during missions don’t have as much meaningful effect on the endgame as you might hope, aside from gating off a few sidequests from you, but in the moment, it’s not hard to invest entirely in what each character’s motivations are.

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Actually engaging in the minute-to-minute gameplay that Rise of the Ronin dishes out, though, is a different story. While the glider ability is exhilarating, and the landscape you travel around is stunning, there’s not nearly enough going on to differentiate the game structurally from any number of open-world action titles. You’re still following a series of icons around the map until a story mission unlocks, with not much to fill the empty space between.

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There’s at least a little more going on with the combat. Theoretically, Team Ninja has crafted a combat system that encourages you to play around with all of the game’s weapons, and evolve that style when you get to the one you’re comfortable with. There’s equal parts Nioh, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, and Elden Ring in Rise of Ronin’s DNA, as it hinges on being able to punish enemies through a parry system called Counterspark, but the game is also less stringent about what weapons you get to toy with. Once I found the weapon/stance set that turned my Blade Twin into Ryu Hayabusa from Team Ninja’s Ninja Gaiden titles, I ran roughshod over so many of the encounters that it almost felt unfair. That’s still quite a ways into the game, which means there’s still merit in at least trying a little of everything along the way.

The main issue here is that actually trying everything involves rewiring your brain from the conventional mechanical logic that governs the vast majority of action titles in a way that feels a bit too much in the early going—like learning a bespoke language, and one that you’ll only speak in this one game. Despite only a single attack button, and another face button for counters, remembering the rest of your control scheme for your current weapon is often clumsy.

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Rise of the Ronin’s story is still good enough to keep players hooked, effectively luring them into the gameplay loop, which does have plenty of its own merits. But it’s dubious whether the various iniquities of the game are good enough to justify where it goes, especially knowing that all that effort can’t change which way the wind is blowing for Japan by the end.

This game was reviewed with code purchased by the reviewer.

Score: 
 Developer: Sony Interactive Entertainment  Publisher: Team Ninja  Platform: PlayStation 5  Release Date: March 22, 2024  ESRB: M  ESRB Descriptions: Blood and Gore, Language, Violence  Buy: Game

Justin Clark

Justin Clark is a gaming critic based out of Massachusetts. His writing has also appeared in Gamespot.

1 Comment

  1. As a fairly new gamer, I hated the fact my character didn’t speak. That seemed to be a cost cutting deal for Team Ninja. Even though I had the game set to easy, some of the “bosses” were very difficult to beat and I’d have my kid finish them off. I still like Ghost of T. better and a couple of the AC games.

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