PS5 Review Rise of the Ronin PS5 review Team Ninja

Rise Of The Ronin Review (PS5) – Team Ninja’s Most Ambitious Effort Yet Is A Must-Have For Action RPG Fans Everywhere

It’s fair to say that the marketing for Rise of the Ronin has been a little scattershot when it comes to being able to properly set player expectations. Of course, marketing any high profile title is a tightrope act – you want to give enough to tantalise your audience but not enough to overexpose – and yet to me at least, Rise of the Ronin feels somewhat underserved by the media that has preceded it.

This is important because while I had an essentially surface understanding of what Rise of the Ronin was going to be (an open world action RPG that vaguely wafted of Ghost of Tsushima and Nioh) that turned out to be largely correct, Team Ninja’s latest has so much more going on under the hood that it easily cements itself as the Japanese developer’s most ambitious effort to date, not to mention one that could teach its western counterparts a few things about how to construct a compelling open world.

Rise Of The Ronin PS5 Review

Team Ninja’s Most Ambitious Effort Yet Is A Must-Have For Action RPG Fans Everywhere

Rise of the Ronin takes place during the Bakumatsu era of the Tokugawa Shogunate and casts players as one of two Twin Blades – a pair of youngsters taken in by the secretive Veiled Edge assassin organisation that is hellbent on overthrowing the Shogunate. After a catastrophic event results in the twins being split apart and one of them being forced out into the world to find their wayward sibling, it’s here that Rise of the Ronin begins to unfurl its narrative tapestry. Arguably more so than any other title that Team Ninja has developed, Rise of the Ronin is the most grounded Team Ninja offering to come around in decades and much of this is down to how it hews to historical events (albeit with an expectedly sizable lump of creative licence) rather than the sort of adherence to the extravagant dragons and monstrous demons of Japanese myths and folklore that has defined much of the studio’s prior output. It’s refreshing, quite honestly.

Of course, a sprawling title like this that would solely be concerned with these historical events would perhaps come across as quite dry and so the decision to not only embed a story of tragedy and revenge at its heart, but also one which winds through the social and political events of the day, proves to be a smart one to say the least as it keeps players anchored to the wider scenario much more effortlessly. As is usually the case with anything that comes from Team Ninja, it’s unsurprising to discover that Rise of the Ronin packs in a pleasingly deep and robust character creator that provides a sizable potential for player customisation – and if you don’t fancy getting stuck into all that, you’ll be pleased to discover that the default male template character looks almost like legendary Japanese actor Hideyuki Sanada. So there’s that.

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Once you’ve nailed down the cosmetic side of your character, Rise of the Ronin then permits you to choose from a selection of Origins (classes) for your plucky protagonist to embrace going forward. While the usual archetypes are there such as brute force style fighter and stealthy assassin style classes, there is also an ‘unsharpened’ class, which is essentially Rise of the Ronin’s take on Dark Souls ‘deprived’ class for those glutton for punishment types who fancy an especially steep challenge. For me, the ‘Breaker’ origin class was my huckleberry, not least because it’s a stealth focused class that is all about concealment, sneaking and murder and also because, well, I miss the Tenchu games horribly too.

After your character has been created and you’re thrust into the world beyond the initially linear prologue act, Rise of the Ronin begins to reveal its true nature, but it sure does take its time to do so and initial impressions, at least for me, were a little mixed to start with. First off, the comparisons with Ghost of Tsushima are inescapable and for good reason; both games are third-person, open world action RPGs with a penchant for viscerally satisfying combat that tell a similar tale of Samurai and other Japanese warriors fighting off foreign aggression. Sure after sufficient play however, it doesn’t take long before a broad swathe of differences manifest between the two games.

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The most noticeable distinction between the two, at least early on anyway, is a visual one and I think you probably already know where I’ll be going with this. Rise of the Ronin is a Team Ninja game and with that moniker comes a certain expectation about the level of visual fidelity you’re going to get. To be clear, Rise of the Ronin is not as visually appealing a proposition as Ghost of Tsushima for a number of reasons. Not only is the general complexity of the character models and the geometry of the landscapes a good step below what Sucker Punch Productions accomplished back in 2020, but so too is there a noticeable level of jankiness with some of the animations looking not so clean, there’s noticeable pop-in, frame-rate issues in performance mode and some unfortunate judder which permeates the experience in busy scenes.

That said, Rise of the Ronin does have some advantages of its own here. While Ghost of Tsushima arguably boasts superior image quality overall, Rise of the Ronin instead offers up a much more dense world packed with many more different types of NPCs. While Ghost of Tsushima did an arresting job of portraying the sweeping rural expanses of the Tsushima (and later Iki) Islands, there wasn’t much in the way of dense urban areas such as towns or cities and it’s here that Rise of the Ronin strides ahead somewhat, offering up a delectable selection of bustling townships, villages and cities based on period Yokohama, Edo and other places that you’ll never see in Ghost of Tsushima.

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Make no mistake, Rise of the Ronin frequently has the capacity to stun. As you look out toward Yokohama and see the long grass lazily swaying in the afternoon while ships sit docked in the harbour over yonder and wayward leaves gently blow in front of you is just one of many emergent visual set pieces that Rise of the Ronin can stroke your eyeballs with. It’s a bit rough at times for sure, but Rise of the Ronin still has the capacity to visually shine all the same.

Arguably the biggest way that Rise of the Ronin puts some distance between it and Ghost of Tsushima however, is in the muscularity of its open world and the opportunities that it affords the player in both the activities that are available and the means by which they can traverse the map. Starting with the traversal, it’s clear that Rise of the Ronin has not only taken something of sizable leaf from the book of From Software’s superb Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, but has taken a step or two further. This is because our protagonist can use a grappling hook to not only gain access to otherwise inaccessible areas of the environment, but that same grappling hook can also be used to throw objects at enemies, scoop up enemies from a higher vantage point for a stealthy kill and even when it has been levelled up enough, can be leveraged to grasp enemies themselves an hurl them into whatever you see fit.

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Beyond the myriad applications of the grappling hook, Rise of the Ronin also provides access to a makeshift glider early on that can not only be employed for covering a lot of distance fairly quickly, but it can also be used to provide ingress opportunities over high walls that you normally wouldn’t have as well as permitting you to quite literally drop of out of the sky onto an unsuspecting foe and perform a highly satisfying assassination takedown. Throw in the availability of a trusty steed (and one that can be meaningfully upgraded and cosmetically tweaked by speaking to any of the game’s stablemasters), together with a general fleet of foot approach to on-foot traversal which allows you to leap, sprint and dash into a neat side and it’s clear that Rise of the Ronin actually surpasses its peers in how it allows players to traverse its sprawling game world.

In terms of the reasons that you have to explore this world, Rise of the Ronin certainly follows an established template that we’ve seen other purveyors of open world shenanigans adhere to. Unlike the likes of the more recent Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry games or even Ghost of Tsushima, Team Ninja’s latest effort succeeds here chiefly because it not only has so much variety to offer the player in regards to its extra-curricular activities, but it deftly plumbs them into a series of meaningful and overlapping progression systems that keeps players both invested and compelled to seek out everything the game has to offer.

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Rather than just liberating some generic tower and having everything spilled out on the map for you, Rise of the Ronin instead employs a ‘bond’ system whereupon the more you do in each region, the more additional missions and activities will appear on the map as a result. The upshot of this is that instead of flooding the map immediately with icons that overwhelm and pretty much suck the life out of you, Rise of the Ronin gradually drip-feeds its open world content to the player, allowing to them to tackle it (or not) entirely on their own terms without feeling like they have to. Importantly, this is just one example of how developer Team Ninja has made many smart and clever quality of life choices in developing Rise of the Ronin and it’s something that I’ll get into more detail on shortly.

When it comes to the type of side missions and additional activities that Rise of the Ronin offers up, I feel confident in saying that players who found the repetition of open world busywork in the Ubisoft games unbearable, or those who just wanted more to do off the beaten path in Ghost of Tsushima will certainly find a lot to love here. From catching cats, to nabbing treasures, firearms training, gliding training, taking pictures of dogs, sending pilgrim dogs off to other players, praying at shrines, dojo combat, gambling, hunting down fugitives, destroying bandit gangs, taking photos of key landmarks and finally a range of dynamic missions that can just appear in front of you at short notice, Rise of the Ronin is positively stuffed with a banquet of different things to do that few other open world titles seem able to match.

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Another factor that makes the open world activities of Rise of the Ronin more compelling than they otherwise would be is in how it is expertly plumbed into its range of progression systems. In Ghost of Tsushima there was little reason to do much of the side activities outside of cosmetic improvements and progression points, here though, you can not only reinvest your rewards into limited time items and gear as well as progression, but you can also gain special items that can be used to strengthen your bonds with particular characters too.

A big part of Rise of the Ronin isn’t just the numerous allies that you’ll encounter throughout the story, but how you nurture your bond with them. Naturally, each character has their own abilities, strengths and weaknesses all of which can be improved by increasing the bond that connects your character to each of these companions. Improving these bonds can be achieved by performing actions and choosing dialogue options that they agree with, and also by offering them gifts that – you guessed it – you can earn by completing the various side missions and objectives that generously litter the map. It’s also worth noting that each companion also has their own subset of story missions which not only serve to handily top up your bond with them but also provide a little more insight into their personality and backstory, too.

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While I’ve established early on in this review that Rise of the Ronin is a Team Ninja game, opening it up to all the usual assumptions in the process from a visual perspective, the flipside of that is that a Team Ninja game also reliably brings superbly palpable, satisfying and challenging combat to the table and that’s very much the case here. Anybody that has played Team Ninja’s superb Nioh games (if you’re reading this and haven’t yet, get on that stat), will recognise the returning Ki system from those games where after performing successive counters – or ‘countersparks’ as they’re known here – can drain the enemy’s Ki and eventually wear them out to the point that they’re unable to attack for a moment, leaving them open to a devastating critical strike. There are few feelings in gaming right now that are satisfying as pulling off a series of countersparks followed by a critical countersparks, yanking victory from the jaws of defeat and turning the battle definitively in your favour.

Of course, the thing about the Ki system is that it also applies to both you and your allies in combat. This means that if you’re overeager to murderise your enemies, you can exhaust yourself extremely quickly, leaving yourself vulnerable as a result. In addition to the Ki system, not only are there all manner of ranged weapons including rifles, bows, handguns, shuriken, fire pipes and more, but there is an almost mind-boggling amount of different weapons and varying fighting styles that can be employed and levelled up in tandem. It’s certainly worth also noting that if confrontational combat isn’t your thing, you can go full Tenchu and just do your killing with chained takedowns from above, behind and even sometimes through doors. You can also distract enemies by throwing earthenware balls, use smoke bombs to hide your escape and more. Put simply, if you have a dyed in the wool preference as to how you like to do your wet work, Rise of the Ronin likely has you covered and does so with verve and style.

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Combat is fiendishly violent too – with just about every lethal confrontation (there are non-lethal options for unarmed combat and the use of wooden weapons to subdue your enemies rather than kill them outright), ending up with multiple limb dismemberments, ample splatters of hot claret and more often than not a grisly blood-spurting decapitation, Rise of the Ronin proudly embraces the visceral nature of 1960s and 1970s samurai cinema with aplomb and doesn’t care who knows it. One final thing to talk about in regards to combat in Rise of the Ronin is that while you can quite easily solo the entire campaign with the allies that you pick up along the way, including switching between them mid-battle, you can also drag up to two friends along to aid you within story missions.

Elsewhere, Rise of the Ronin boasts similarities to other Nioh and other Soulslike titles in a couple of other ways that while hardly surprising, are well implemented nonetheless. Veiled Edge banners work just like the bonfires do in the Dark Souls games and don’t only facilitate fast travel, but allow you to transform your accumulated karma (think the Souls in the From Software games), into progression points that can be put into one of the four progression trees that are available to you.

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One of the biggest surprises that Rise of the Ronin gave me during my time with it, was just how pleasingly respectful it was of my time and has a number of clever Quality of Life implementations that really help to keep the whole thing speeding along. Fast travel for example, can be done to any of the veiled edge banners or key home base locations that you have unlocked on the map – and you don’t need to be at one of those locations – you can fast travel from anywhere, rather than having to make an arduous journey back yourself. Further afield, other nice touches such as auto-mounting your horse when you summon it, resources for crafting are just instantly picked up by clicking the R1 button and cutscenes where if you fail a subsequent fight, you can skip the cutscene the next time you watch it. These might seem like trivial things, but Rise of the Ronin can be a punishing game – especially in its latter half – so having these little thoughtful design elements in place really helps to keep the frustration at a minimum. Bravo Team Ninja, bravo indeed.

The final piece of the puzzle that Team Ninja has brought to bear with Rise of the Ronin is how it frames everything, absolutely everything, against the backdrop of the Bakumatsu era, a time when Japan was internally conflicted about opening itself up to the west all the while greedy actors that are in favour of the western expansion and those that aren’t, ply their explicit and proxy conflicts against one another. Using that dynamic as a basis for its overarching plot, Rise of the Ronin has players caught between pro and anti-shogunate factions, not to mention a smaller subset of groups that have their own more nuanced motivations to boot. Representing a much more historical-political narrative than anything Team Ninja has ever done, this conflict dovetails directly into a surprising degree of non-linear agency that is granted to the player.

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Depending on your decisions at key points, you can drive the narrative down a variety of different avenues all the while ingratiating yourself to some new allies and shunning others – again, providing another example of how deeply baked the bonding system is in Rise of the Ronin. Brilliantly, as you navigate the complex political climate of the time, you can switch loyalties often and the game reacts to it too, with characters questioning your motives based on actions you may have previously taken against their interests. It’s truly fantastic stuff that coupled with the open world, bonding system and everything else which goes to show just how far Team Ninja has evolved as a developer.

A jack of all trades and master of some, though Rise of the Ronin feels like a melting pot of influences from other games, it is also quite the surprise of the year for me thus far as it clearly shows that Team Ninja has a confident grasp of compelling open world design in a way that many of its genre stablemates do not. Though the visual presentation might be comparatively a little rough around the edges, Rise of the Ronin nonetheless is simultaneously the most accessible and ambitious game Team Ninja has done to date and one that both hardcore action RPG fiends and open world adventure aficionados will surely embrace.

Rise of the Ronin releases for PS5 on March 22, 2024.

Review code kindly provided by PR.



The Final Word

A jack of all trades and master of some, though Rise of the Ronin feels like a melting pot of influences from other games, it is also quite the surprise of the year for me thus far as it clearly shows that Team Ninja has a confident grasp of compelling open world design in a way that many of its genre stablemates do not. Though the visual presentation might be comparatively a little rough around the edges, Rise of the Ronin nonetheless is simultaneously the most accessible and ambitious game Team Ninja has done to date and one that both hardcore action RPG fiends and open world adventure aficionados will surely embrace.