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Rise of the Ronin (PS5) review: A fun samurai game despite some notable flaws

By Zelda Lee - 7 Apr 2024

Rise of the Ronin (PS5) review: A fun samurai game despite some notable flaws

Note: This review was first published on 24 March 2024.

Team Ninja’s Rise of the Ronin finds itself at a crossroads of identity, attempting to marry elements from various gaming genres into a single cohesive experience. With inspirations drawn from the Souls series' unforgiving combat to the clandestine manoeuvrings reminiscent of stealth games, this PlayStation 5 exclusive ambitiously blends influences ranging from another of Sony’s samurai-inspired title – Ghost of Tsushima’s historical elements, to Sega’s Persona 5's stylistic flair. However, this coming together of ideas presents a double-edged sword; while certain aspects shine on their own, the overall cohesion sometimes falls short, leaving us with a patchwork of gameplay experiences that doesn't always work well together.

Rise of Ronin is set in the tumultuous era of late 19th century Japan, immersing you in the role of a ronin navigating through a country on the brink of transformation. If you know your history, this is a  period that marks Japan's hesitant embrace of Western technology and culture, a move that brought with it not only innovation but also the spectres of invasion and disease. As the nation finds itself torn between the Shogunate's desire to adopt Western advancements while retaining power, and the Expulsionists' push to reject foreign influence and reclaim isolation, you embark on a quest to reunite with your 'blade twin'.

As your journey progresses, you’ll find that the game isn’t just a personal odyssey for the protagonist but also reflection of a nation grappling with change and the cost of progress. This makes the open world of Rise of the Ronin quite remarkable, with a sprawling canvas of meticulously designed maps that invite exploration – each territory brimming with side missions and dynamic world events that beckon at every turn. Visually, the game does not hit the highs of Ghost of Tsushima but it’s still a feast for the eyes and I’ve spent hours just immersed in exploration.

During one of my forays, I stumbled upon a hidden bandit camp just a stone's throw from the main path. This completely random event led me down a rabbit hole into a thrilling stealth mission, demanding that I dispatch the enemies quietly. Quest completed and moments later, I run into an NPC who requires assistance to take down a formidable adversary. The variety and spontaneity of these encounters serve to enrich the journey, unfolding in a manner that feels surprisingly unscripted.

Later in the game, the glider and grappling hook are introduced. This is when Rise of the Ronin truly opens up. These tools transcend their utility, and whether it's soaring from a hilltop to ambush enemies from above or using the grappling hook to take out archers from their perches, these gadgets seamlessly integrate into and enhance the gameplay.

The narrative missions, too, are dotted with memorable highlights. From stealthily infiltrating a ship under the cover of a fireworks display to orchestrating a daring prison break to rescue a mentor, these quests offer multiple approaches to suit your gameplay style. Whether you prefer the silent precision of a stealth operation or a bloody frontal assault, the Rise of the Ronin encourages and sometimes even rewards your strategy. However, it's in these moments of brilliance that the game's occasional missteps become all the more palpable, a reminder of what could have been in a title teeming with so much potential.

While Rise of the Ronin ambitiously seeks to chart its own course beyond the confines of traditional Soulslike games, its combat system is a mixed bag of innovation and missed opportunities. The game introduces engaging mechanics, such as exploiting elemental vulnerabilities and a blood mechanic that refreshes stamina with a cinematic flick of the blade. Yet, the strategy of aligning your weapon's attributes against an enemy's weaknesses often boils down to a simplistic rock-paper-scissors format, diminishing the depth of tactical combat.

However, it's the game's erratic difficulty curve that proves to be my biggest gripe. Boss battles often act as abrupt skill checks that can transform missions into tedious ordeals. The frustration of being trapped in a cycle of defeat due to a missed parry, environmental snag, or an inescapable combo require players to adopt a relentless trial-and-error approach, which in my opinion detracts from the overall experience.

Then there’s the shoddy equipment system. Rise of the Ronin inundates players with a deluge of gear, each piece offering slight statistical variations, necessitating constant upgrades to maintain an edge. It’s a far cry from some of the best in-game equipment system we have seen in other similar titles such as Nioh.

The game's narrative ambitions, too, seem to outpace its grasp, resulting in storytelling that occasionally loses its footing. Central themes, such as the quest for the protagonist's Blade Twin, become obscured by lengthy diversions into political drama, diluting the potency of personal narratives. Moreover, the game's relationship dynamics, though rich in potential, suffer from a lack of consistency. Allies, whose loyalties should be strained by the player's actions, remain inexplicably congenial, undermining the believability of the world's social fabric.

Such narrative and mechanical disconnects speak to a larger issue of cohesion within Rise of the Ronin. Despite its ambitious scope, the game sometimes feels like a collection of disjointed parts rather than a seamless whole. Challenges in balancing complex systems with storytelling ambition result in moments where the game seems to stumble over its own complexity. Issues with stat management, an occasionally erratic narrative, and frustrating boss encounters expose a game struggling to fully realise its potential.

Yet, despite these hurdles, the Rise of the Ronin's core strengths – a dynamic open world, compelling side missions, and a cast of characters offering rich avenues for relationship building – still makes it a fun game overall.

Rise of the Ronin for the PlayStation 5 is out now and is available to buy at Lazada, Shopee and Amazon.

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7.5
  • Playability 8
  • Graphics 8
  • Sound 7.5
  • Value 7.5
The Good
Nice open-world design with dynamic quests
Nice visuals of 19th-century Japan
Great character casts
The Bad
Combat system is clunky
Game's narrative could be tighter
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