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Rise of The Ronin Review – Excellent Combat Stuck in a Dull World

While Team Ninja have mixed fantasy and history together in the past with previous games, Rise of the Ronin is an uber-serious action RPG that has thrown away magic and dragons in favour of sword-fighting and somewhat historically accurate events. The game takes place in Japan’s Bakumastu Period 300 years into the tyrannical rule of the Tokugawa shogunate.

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It leaps across a number of years during this period and often focuses on major historical events at the time. There are even direct characters from the period in the game who play major roles in the story, Matthew C. Perry, for example, was an American naval officer who sticks out like a sore thumb during the majority of the game thanks to his overly American appearance and accent.

While I do miss the fantasy elements in Rise of the Ronin, mainly because I was fascinated by how Team Ninja merged history and folklore together in past games, I do have to commend the studio for their work in Rise of the Ronin. The game’s brutal storyline captures the real darkness of the Bakumastu Period and the slow downfall of the Tokugawa shogunate.

Rise of The Ronin Review

Of course, Rise of the Ronin takes an entire game to tell this story which means you have to be dedicated to the cause. Various characters come and go and while some story arcs are compelling enough to pay attention to, others aren’t as lucky. As a result. Rise of the Ronin comes out as a mixed bag and its overly-serious tone often gets lost in between the shallow and dull world.

Up to now, we have experienced mission-based gameplay from Team Ninja. This is the studio’s first open-world game and while there are some gems to experience here and there, the world leaves a lot to be desired. Large open areas with little to do overstay their welcome. Rinse and repeat sandbox objectives get tiresome and visually speaking, the world lacks creativity.

Rise of The Ronin Review

Don’t get me wrong, there are some incredible standout locations in Rise of the Ronin. The Edo map truly captures ancient times with its dense architecture and sprawling streets. However, the majority of the game slowly blends together after a while providing almost no sense of discovery. Team Ninja kind of knew this too and even threw in an auto-run feature where you can stamp down a marker on the map and your character will automatically sprint his way to the spot.

I spent most of my time placing down a marker, automatically running there either on foot or by horse, getting off, clearing a camp, saving a cat, or lighting a bonfire and moving on to the next. While I had this instant love for the world at first, the more I played through the game, the more I realised it was quite generic.

Rise of The Ronin Review

The sandbox objectives also grow tiresome. Public Orders are invaded towns and camps which have to be cleared. “Cleared” here means killing all the bandits and enemies so that normal people can move in and make it functional. These takeovers involved defeating a bunch of weaker enemies and a handful of more powerful ones called “Formidable Foes”. Once done, people would settle in and a shop might open. This shop didn’t offer anything remotely different from others one district over.

Each district does have a checklist of things to complete which will make all those competionists happy. I spent less time discovering and more time going to the set objective thanks to this list. There’s only a handful of things to do in each area so it is not oversaturated with missions. Cats can be hugged and counted towards a total. Photograph opportunities let me snap up historical locations. I could also pray at shrines for skill points.

Rise of The Ronin Review

The issue here is that everything contributes to the game’s progression system in some way or another. So as boring as these side objectives get, I felt compelled to complete them. The cats, for example, rank up a Bond between my character and ???. Essentially, unlocking items to purchase such as skill books and gear. The same goes for the photographs and wanted assassinations called Fugitives.

You then take these objectives, add them to the long ongoing story, sprinkle on the not-so-majestic map and you have a game that becomes kind of a chore to play. Some nights I felt as if I wasn’t making any progress with anything. I spent hours busy doing stuff with no real reward for doing it. I was tired and pretty much over it. The hours became days and the days became weeks of tedious objectives in a shallow world.

Rise of The Ronin Review

That energy is then fed into the main story which you need to pay attention to. I began to drift away during the dialogue. Picking up my phone during cutscenes, even skipping some text. The whole experience became too much of the same thing after a while.

Sure, there are some standout moments in the game. The Bonds system let me focus on a specific character relationship with another person. I would do a specific number of quests for them and be forced to make dialogue decisions to help increase the friendship level. As a result, this Bond would increase and I would unlock more gear and rewards.

Rise of The Ronin Review

However, again there are so many characters in the game it all feels a bit watered down. It became impossible for me to care the same for them all. Especially given how the game doesn’t push this agenda as much as say, Dragon Age and Mass Effect. These people are only with you during certain parts of the story and the rest of the time, I just forgot about them.

Not to mention the time spent doing everything else in order to unlock the next step of the Bond mission, pads this even more with the same content. Again, this is all great for those who love completing a checklist of objectives but if you came here for the sense of Japan, the fun might vanish faster than a ninja.

Rise of the Ronin does have an excellent combat system which helps carry everything that needs help in the game. It follows in the footsteps of Nioh and Wu Long to meaning its refined, layered in various systems and incredibly fun to participate in.

Rise of The Ronin Review

There’s a lot of freedom to shape your character into any fighter you choose including using one of the various weapon types and doubling that up with secondary weapons and items. I am a Katana simp so I mainly stuck with that weapon type. I also feel like Team Ninja has always favoured the Katana compared to other weapons in all previous games too. The same can be said in Rise of the Ronin.

The weapon, for example, includes nine different combat styles compared to three or four across other weapons. So there’s a lot of fun to be had in this tree. However, other weapons provide some cool combat encounters too. The Odachi is a large sword that can be swung from overhead. There are dual blades, spears and other weapons types to enjoy too.

Rise of The Ronin Review

Swapping between combat styles switches up your attack pattern. Enemies are also equipped with their own weapons and select styles. Some counter certain styles which means you either take or deal more stun damage depending on what end you’re on. Given that all weapons have at least three combat styles, you’ll always have a style equipped to counter another by quickly holding down R1 and flicking the analogue stick in the direction which shows the advantage symbol.

Combat flows generally the same as Nioh. You carefully attack enemies and parry them with perfect timing to deplete their Ki bar. This bar essentially acts as stamina. Once depleted, they will stun and I could press the triangle button to deal heavy damage using a critical hit attack.

Most fodder enemies usually die before the Ki bar depletes. However, Formidable Foes often put up more of a fight. These encounters rely on carefully watching their attacks, and dodging and timing to stun them. Some enemies could also parry my attacks which resulted in my Ki bar depleting leaving me open for a heavy attack too. So the player doesn’t have an advantage here.

Rise of The Ronin Review

Boss fights then put this all to the test with beefier foes that deal much more damage. These fights can last well into the ten-minute range as I dodged and parried as much as possible. Similar to previous games, Rise of the Ronin relies on learning attack patterns and the boss fights put this to the test above everything else. The more I died, the better I got at learning their movements and timing my parries.

It is enjoyable I don’t deny that for a second. Combat never grew old at all. Even when I was mindlessly slaughtering bandits, it still felt rewarding and I felt badass. Assassinations are equally as fun. Especially when I timed a strike from my glider in the sky. It is the Tenchu experience I wanted and it delivered.

It is far from perfect, however. While Rise of the Roning tries to push its own agenda in certain mechanics, they simply don’t work. Sneaking and assassinating, for example, is cool for the first few enemies but takes too long if you’re only sticking to the silent route. I assassinated where I could but most of the time I would prefer to jump into the combat head first.

Rise of The Ronin Review

The game even provides this machine that sensors enemies nearby for you to sneak up on. I used it once. You can also throw bombs to cause a noise and distract them. I used them once. It also doesn’t help that the enemy AI is pathetic. You can creep up on them by simply walking and often they would walk right past me without noticing. So even if you went the silent route, the game doesn’t even try make it difficult for you because these enemies are dumb as rocks.

Then there’s the co-op. It is okay. I must add that playing a co-op missing on the much higher difficulties provided an enjoyable time due to how strategic we had to be when tackling enemies. We still didn’t assassinate them but boss fights threw us against a brute with a tank load of health. It would take us a good ten minutes to take him down and we would walk away with no health pills and items left.

Rise of The Ronin Review

These fights are truly the pinnacle of the co-op experience because of how excellent they feel. It is simply ten minutes of intense combat which already feels so great.

I do have to add that I was a little disappointed by the amount of co-op available in Rise of the Ronin. You can only do main missions which sadly are far and few between. It takes forever to reach these main missions because again, the game’s boring padding forces you to complete mindless activities for hours on end. So yes it does have co-op but don’t expect to spend much time in it.

I also need to chat about the game’s visuals because they are also quite a sore topic. Rise of the Ronin doesn’t look like a modern-day game. The world itself shows a sort of rushed development timeline with various graphical issues which are hard to ignore. Tiled textures on the most basic objects like a tree are an eye sore. Full buildings pop in while you’re running towards them. Trees all suffer from low-resolution renders even when they are just a few meters away.

Rise of the Ronin

Not to mention that almost every moving object has FSR noise on it because there’s some sort of upscaling taking place here. Even the Graphics Mode runs at a lower resolution.

What confuzzled me about all this is that from a technical standpoint, there’s absolutely no reason why Rise of the Ronin should look like this. There are no fancy technical engine features at work here which might warrant the shoddy visuals. I can understand if the world was highly detailed and had fancy physics engines blowing petals and leaves around. But apart from the odd rainstorm here and there and a basic day/night cycle, the world is static

Rise of the Ronin takes place in a generic world with a bunch of trees and hills yet it has Tears of the Kingdom trees. It doesn’t add up. Towns are made up of copy-and-paste buildings and NPCs too. So why all the compromises to the overall image quality? I hope this gets fixed because to be blunt, Rise of the Ronin looks worse than some last-gen games and it isn’t up to scratch.

Rise of the Ronin

I don’t know if Team Ninja perhaps don’t have expertise in open-world games and the engine can’t handle the ambitious render pipelines. I can’t explain why things look like this because I just expected a bit more.

Rise of the Ronin isn’t a bad game. I think that if you removed the boring open world and horrible checklist features from the experience, you have a rich and deep action game with a fantastic narrative. Sadly, all the good moments are hidden under layers and layers of mindless gameplay and they get lost along the way.

You have to be dedicated to the game’s Japanese historical story and the combat to get through this. For me, it had its moments but after 30 hours, I struggled to keep my interest.

This Rise of the Ronin review is based on a PS5 code sent to us by Sony Interactive Entertainment. The game is available on 22 March only on PS5 starting at R1399

Rise of The Ronin Review - Excellent Combat Stuck in a Dull World


Rise of the Ronin has an excellent combat system and a somewhat dark narrative but the game’s dull world and mediocre quest design take away from the best mechanics on offer here. It all starts to blend together into a mindless sandbox game that offers little excitement.

Marco is the owner and founder of GLITCHED. South Africa’s largest gaming and pop culture website. GLITCHED quickly established itself with tech and gaming enthusiasts with on-point opinions, quick coverage of breaking events and unbiased reviews across its website, social platforms, and YouTube channel.

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