Game Reviews

Rise of the Ronin review

The long island iced tea of souls-like

₹ 4,999

Similar to how FromSoftware studio opened up its map to modern standards of open-world exploration with Elden Ring, Team Ninja is on a similar quest with Rise of the Ronin. Albeit, the destination is marked brightly on the map like a Ubisoft game.

However, if you’re expecting a full-fledged souls-like experience then be warned that the game is steered to welcome newer folks into the genre. You can select a difficulty setting in the game before you start, the health bar refills after you leave combat in the open world and you only lose Karma points if you die. Upset? Don’t be, we played the game on Medium difficulty and it was still very challenging. So you will still be sent back to the loading screen for trying to bite more than you can chew, or in this case, dice before you can slice.

Rise of the Ronin review: Story

You and your Blade Twin were part of the Veiled Edge resistance group. You have a choice to pick between the two at the start of the story. A few minutes in and your twin is pretty much the lost sibling you must chase throughout your journey. 

The game hits the nail on the head with the period it has picked for the setting. Mid-19th century Japan was the most crucial period because the country was facing the rapid introduction of Western ideologies and inventions. Meanwhile, the Shogunate era was at risk of dwindling in strength. This is one of the first Team Ninja games that has a digestible story. It’s not obscure like the Nioh games.

The political aspects of its story are also tied to the gameplay. Choices in the game will boil down to which side of the war you'll support. It's very interesting because the political strife in Japan was at an all-time high, and even though you simply want to beat the toughest boss out there, the story missions will pique your interest.

You will often find yourself selecting between dialogue options for pro-shogunate and anti-shogunate outcomes that give branching storylines. You can also choose to be neutral but that will rarely be the case. 

Sometimes, the sense of immersion can break when you cross swords with a companion from the opposite faction but right after the mission, you can go back to running errands for the opposite faction. 

Most campaign missions allow story characters to join in for team effort. You can do co-op or control an NPC, and swap between them and your character seamlessly during a fight. Since you can party upto two other characters, boss fights tend to feel much easier but having characters in your party before the mission is completely optional. 

Sometimes, enemies you spared can show up to cause more problems or as companions to help out in certain missions so choices seem to affect some parts of the game’s story.

Rise of the Ronin review: Bonds

Bonds, on the other hand, offer more direct results by rewarding you with a list of weapons, armour and other items. There’s a Bond system in the game that decides the strength of your relationship with the companions, the area and the factions. Since your Blade Twin is missing, these companions are essentially your Blade Twin in some of the missions that the main story allows.

You can even meet all in-game companions at the rest house and even decorate the house like Nioh 2. Giving gifts to these folks will strengthen your relationship with them which in turn will allow you to gain experience points, and new items and also learn advanced weapon stance.

Rise of the Ronin review: Gameplay

Almost every game mechanic in Rise of the Ronin is tied together. You clear an area to unlock the region for merchant and other interactions. In doing so, you strengthen ‘Bonds’ with the area which unlocks hidden information on the map for side activities. It’s sort of like Far Cry without the tower-climbing monotony.

Aesthetically, the open world looks a lot like Ghost of Tsushima but with 2015 graphics. Rise of the Ronin takes a lot of inspiration from Elden Ring, Ghost of Tsushima and the Assassin's Creed games. The fighting is still brutal like in previous Team Ninja games but you can also jump over rooftops and use a grappling hook to reach higher places, and use stealth to cull the herd. You can pause and go into the menu in this game and that makes a lot of difference to folks who are used to the souls-like genre’s psychological pressure.

It is clear that the developer wants to welcome new players into their action games but it also packs plenty of challenges for masochists who relish a fair bit of challenge. If an enemy has blocked your progress with brute strength, then you can do some side missions and explore the world to level up and then come back and try again. Like Elden Ring? Yes.

There are plenty of weapons and items to understand and use. Each weapon has two or more Combat Styles to use, and mastering the Combat Style system, where weapons have advantages and disadvantages against each other, adds a layer of strategic depth. If you have an advantage, blocking and Counter Spark (parrying) become easier and deplete the enemy’s Ki (stamina) faster. If you have a disadvantage, it will deplete your Ki faster but if you are on a much higher level then it won’t matter as much. It’ll be like an ant bite.

Only the katana has eight different Combat Styles, while the rest of the weapons have three or four at best. So it's better to carry a katana at all times. It's Rise of the Ronin after all. 

There's also an inventor Igashich Iizuka, whose mission will unlock a flamethrower and other interesting inventions for you to use. Oh, and he's also the one who made the glider. Everything reminds us of the Assassin's Creed: Ezio Trilogy and it's a very similar experience in terms of some world-building mechanics.

However, that’s just on the surface. Underneath, it’s still a Team Ninja game with plenty of bite in its combat system. Sword fights feel challenging and rewarding because enemies can use a combination of different weapons with Combat Style just like you. With Nioh 2 the enemy variety was visually different because of its Yokai bestiary. Here every enemy is a human so after a while it gets a bit boring but the weapon variety and Combat Styles add a flavourful kick to its Ghost of Tsushima-like swordplay. 

Combat Styles unlock as you progress through the game or defeat certain enemies or even when you strengthen bonds with your companions. You can check in the menu which companion, area or side mission gives you a Combat Style for the weapon of your choice.

All weapons also have something called a Blade Flash where pressing R1 immediately after landing an attack replenishes Ki. It's a very similar mechanic to Nioh 2 where the demon aura would be dispelled and you regain stamina. Here though, you shake the bloodstain off your blade like in Ghost of Tsushima.

Rise of the Ronin review: Skill tree

If you haven’t noticed already, this review reads more like a list of features because there are so many features and game mechanics in this game! And here comes another one.

The point system for unlocking skills is also a bit complicated at first. There are two types of experience points, Karma points and normal experience points. Touching new banners registers Karma that you have accumulated which rewards you with regular skill points and attributes specific skill points for Strength, Dexterity, Charm, and Intellect. You can be like us and make a complete glass canon with Strength and Intellect points for maximum damage, or you can be clever about it and use Dexterity and Charm for stealth and ranged attacks.

The banner checkpoint system is like a typical Souls-like game bonfire system but slightly reworked to make life easier. During key missions, if you kill the leader then they will not spawn back once you die during the mission and respawn at the Veiled Edge banner. During the open-world sections, you will not be able to activate some banners till you clear the area surrounding them. It's a system that encourages you to clear areas full of enemies to activate the banner points and unlock more NPCs.

Rise of the Ronin review: Inventory management

Rise of the Ronin throws loot at you like a drunken pirate. While some may appreciate the abundance of gear and itemisation, it quickly becomes a chore to manage your overflowing inventory. Dismantling or selling unwanted items becomes a tedious mini-game of its own. However, money and resources play a huge role in this open-world game and you will be running short on cash and resources. Fastest way to earn or get resources? Sell the items you don't need or break them down. Want to earn even faster? Gamble. There's a gambling mini-game which frankly will make you very rich or very poor.

Rise of the Ronin review: Verdict

There are a lot of layers, mechanics and things that affect your gameplay and the overall gaming experience. And if you’ve played Nioh 2, then Rise of the Ronin is a much better game in terms of storytelling and quality-of-life features. Who is the game for? Well, if you want something a bit more challenging than Ghost of Tsushima and Assassin’s Creed, Rise of the Ronin is frankly a lot of fun. Albeit, the amount of mental gymnastics you’ll have to do to fully understand the many mechanics might be the biggest hurdle than the hardest boss you’ll find in the game.

That said, the outdated graphics and not-so-creative boss fights might not challenge your gamer sense like Nioh 2. While the open world allows for a variety of approaches (stealth, ranged combat), the core loop of ‘clear area, unlock stuff’ feels derivative. 

The setting and main story are probably one of the best the studio has ever done, with choices that matter to the mission and your personal experience.

Stuff Says

A concoction of tough gameplay with an interesting main story and plenty of completionist things to do
Good stuff
Bad stuff
  1. Accessible for all players

  1. Tough but fair combat

  1. Lots of playstyle

  1. Interesting story

  1. Tons of mechanics to keep in mind

  1. Unnecessary loot drops