Rise of the Ronin review: Scintillating samurai action rises to the occasion

James Busby
Rise of the Ronin Fuji

Rise of the Ronin promises to be Team Ninja’s most ambitious game yet, but does this samurai epic bring with it the winds of change or does the PS5 exclusive fall like the shogunate itself? 

Ever since Rise of the Ronin was announced in 2022 at PlayStion’s State of Play, parallels have been drawn between Sucker Punch Productions beloved Ghost of Tsushima. After all, both games feature a sprawling open world set in a turbulent time when samurai wandered the lands of Japan. 

Rise of the Ronin also features strokes from Fromsoftrware’s playbook, with combat involving careful positioning and rhythmic parries not too dissimilar to Sekiro. It’s with trepidation then that many fans will be wondering whether Rise of the Ronin is merely a cheap imitation of what’s come before. 

On top of that, this is Team Ninja’s first foray into the open-world genre, with the game featuring sprawling environments and a branching narrative. Previous titles like Nioh and Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty opted for integrated areas, putting its hard-as-nails combat first, and exploration and pretty visuals second. 

Is this a Team Ninja game with that intense combat focus, or a studio chasing the success of similar titles or can it be both? Rise of the Ronin is entering a crowded genre, but that’s why it’s impressive, it manages to forge its own identity despite its obvious influences. 

Rise of the Ronin: Key Details

  • Price: $69.99/£69.99
  • Developer: Team Ninja
  • Release Date: 22 March 2024
  • Platforms: PS5

A clash of cultures 

Rise of the Ronin takes place in the Bakumatsu period, a time of great political turmoil. The tyrannical rule of the reigning Tokugawa shogunate is now crumbling as opposition from Western and internal anti-shogunate powers all fight for control. 

It’s amongst this political and cultural tinderbox where the main character, a nameless ronin, must forge a path. As a member of the Veiled Edge, highly skilled Swordmasters, you must try to find your Blade Twin – the only surviving member of your family line who has gone missing following a clash with historical figure Matthew C. Perry. 

How you choose to do this is up to you, as Rise of the Ronin features branching story missions, where players can choose to align themselves with either the pro-shogunate, anti-shogunate, or Western forces. Completing missions with members from these factions will form a bond with them, and ultimately impact the outcome of events in the main story. Certain characters will die, others will defect, and long-standing friends can become sworn enemies depending on which path you choose. 

Initially, I chose to align myself with the anti-shogunate faction, teaming up with the loveable Ryoma Sakamoto and headstrong Genzui Kusaka. One particular mission tasked me with storming a burning British Legation, running through a barrage of Gatling gunfire, and cutting down British Red Coats with my Paired Swords. It’s a scenario that felt ripped straight from  The Last Samurai – in the best way possible. 

Rise of the Ronin fireworks
Rise of the Ronin’s missions are a great place to learn more about your companions.

Another had me using my grappling hook to stealthily leap between wooden pleasure boats that were docked along the Sumida river, taking down enemies from the skies, like a samurai-themed Spider-Man while colorful fireworks lit up the night sky. It was only after encountering the boss of this mission that loyalties wavered, and another character and I figured we were better off serving the Shogun. 

It’s these twists that Rise of the Ronin’s narrative proves to be much deeper than previous Team Ninja games. It adds a layer of replayability that had me coming back well past the first credits roll to see the different endings. 

With the entirety of Japan’s future lying firmly in your hands, you’re bound to make some mistakes and rub people the wrong way. Fortunately, you can replay key missions and choose alternate paths via the Testament of the Soul mechanic. Not only did this save a lot of backtracking and having to make constant save states before important decisions, it also allowed me to venture to past locations which is important for claiming every collectible. 

Scintillating samurai combat at its best

As much as I enjoyed Rise of Ronin’s history-infused story, it took a backseat to its addictive combat loop. While players may be disappointed to find that the complexity of Nioh and Wo: Long Fallen Dynasty is reined in, Rise of the Ronin more than makes up for this with the volume of weapons, Combat Styles, Martial Skills, and unlockable talents. 

There are the precise sword slashes of the Katana, long-reaching thrusts of the Spear, and colossal hits from the Greatsword, alongside other variations for you to master. Western weaponry like Pistols, Bayonets, and Flamethrowers also mix up the way players approach combat. 

While fights can often devolve into mashing the square button against regular enemies, you’ll need to switch between the Ten, Chi, Jin Combat Styles if you wish to maximize your damage. Each has its strengths and weaknesses – for example, Ten is effective against katanas, but ineffective against sabers and other more nimble weaponry. Switching between Combat Styles can be the difference between life and death, especially when you’re surrounded by groups of bandits or a weapon-switching boss.  

Ronin fighting his master
Rise of the Ronin’s combat is as fun as it is addictive.

The Martial Skills and Counterspark mechanics also help to break things up. Martial Skills are special weapon arts that can be activated to unleash flashy attacks that deal high Ki damage. Once an enemy’s Ki bar (effectively a stamina bar) has been lowered, either by normal attacks, Martial Skills, or well-timed Counterspark parries, you’ll be able to rush in to deliver a brutal blow to their healthbar.

These finishers often result in your enemy’s limbs being lopped off and blood spraying across the battlefield – a flourish that is sure to get any Akira Kurosawa fan’s heart racing. However, if an enemy parries your attacks or you’re too gun-ho with your slashes and blocks, your own Ki will be drained, and you’ll quickly find the pointed end of your foe’s sword plunged straight into your chest.

Rise of the Ronin’s Ki-Blaze ability also directly ties into this loop, with consecutive attacks building up a special meter that sees your weapon engulfed in flames. During this brief window, you and your allies will deal more damage – making it especially useful when fighting the game’s toughest opponents. 

As a massive Sekiro fan, Rise of the Ronin’s combat felt similar, with the game’s fights becoming deadly dances where quick reflexes and aggression are rewarded. While the timing of the game’s parry system can be tricky to master, particularly when facing bosses on the hardest difficulty, when it all clicks and the above systems come together, you can fall into a meditative state where parries, positioning, and knowing when to execute weapon special skills all become second nature. 

Beautiful environments begging to be explored 

Sensoji Temple in Rise of the Ronin
Rise of the Ronin is home to many striking locations and buildings

As much as I loved Ghost of Tsushima, one of my biggest gripes was that it often felt devoid of life. While Rise of the Ronin doesn’t overcome this issue entirely, its environments beckon you to explore them more enticingly. What’s more, there’s plenty to do in them too. There are cute collectible cats scattered around street corners and rooftops, deadly fugitives lurking on the outskirts of towns that come with handsome rewards, beautiful photo spots, and enemy-controlled villages that are in desperate need of liberating. 

Certain locations even have shooting ranges, gliding challenges, and archery-themed minigames that have their own online scoreboards. You can even encounter wolves that lead to hidden treasures, akin to the fox shrines in Ghost of Tsushima, while major cities are littered with hidden chests that reward a variety of weapons and equipment. 

There were even instances where local law enforcement flagged me down to help assist them with a wanted criminal. Cut to the screams of one NPC in Yokohama which had me rushing through the streets to apprehend a thief on horseback. The locations, while not as graphically impressive as Ghost of Tsushima, are still oozing with charm. 

I often found myself snapping pictures of the striking red wooden pillars of Sensoji Temple, which although in disrepair, still stands proud like Japan’s crumbling shogunate. This so-called “old Japan” is directly contrasted by the bustling port city of Yokohama, which represents the winds of change as Western red brick consulates and houses dominate the skyline. 

Rise of the Ronin Yokohama
Yokohama is filled with contrasting cultures and views.

It’s through these environments that Team Ninja has effectively reflected the inner turmoil Japan faced during the Bakumatsu period. A lot of attention has been put into faithfully recreating these iconic locations from across both Edo and Yokohama. 

While fast travel does exist, the game is best enjoyed when you’re gliding through the skies, grappling onto paper kites, and galloping through the countryside on your trusty steed. The only thing I wish Team Ninja implemented, is the ability to climb rocks – a gimmick many open world games have since borrowed from Nintendo’sBreath of the Wild series. 

There were times when I’d see a craggy cliff face on the horizon and get the sudden urge to clamber up it, only to be forced to either find the specific grappling hook point or tediously trek around it with my horse. While not exactly a deal breaker, it’s something that seems like an oversight, particularly given the protagonist’s ninja-like abilities. 

With such big environments, you may be wondering how Ronin handles itself in the performance department. The game’s frame rate would occasionally drop when traveling through particularly busy locations, and while it never hindered my experience in combat – a more stable frame rate would have been appreciated, especially when playing on the game’s performance mode, which is what I’d recommend if you want to avoid any significant drops.  

The verdict – 4/5

Rise of the Ronin doesn’t offer the photo-realistic visuals of those seen in Ghost of Tsushima, nor does it provide the nail-biting difficulty of Sekiro. Instead, Team Ninja’s samurai epic successfully forges a new path – blending adrenaline-fueled combat, fun traversal mechanics, and a loveable cast of characters, wrapping them all together in a world ripe for exploration. 

Just like the ronin themselves, Team Ninja’s open-world game is not bound by the old masters of the past – instead, it rises to the challenge set by Sucker Punch and FromSoftware, forging its own path to stand firmly amongst them. 

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