Rise of Ronin review – Team Ninja without the bite, or the height of Nioh

Rise of Ronin is a frustrating game. If you’re familiar with the work of Japanese studio Team Ninja, this sentence may not be surprising to read. The team has long prided itself on creating challenging and sometimes relentless action games that focus on delivering a specific experience. You either agree or you disagree.

But the game isn’t frustrating because of its rigorous difficulty, myriad chain systems, or infuriating boss fights. No, the reason is – to appeal to a wider audience, Rise of the Ronin appropriating the worst parts of his contemporaries.

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Rise of the Ronin is simultaneously Team Ninja’s most modern and most outdated game. The jump in graphical fidelity compared to the Nioh games is huge, and it’s even more impressive when you consider how large and open the game world is. This is a necessary upgrade for many Western studios between the PS3 and PS4 generations. This happens in the PS5 era, dampening the impact, but the benefits are still clear.

However, as technology changes came along, other studios had to shed outdated ideas and mechanics over the years. Anyone reading this probably already has an idea of ​​what kind of game Ronin is. It’s an open-world action RPG with multiple large areas and a dozen map icons to represent everything from different types of missions to all the collectibles.

There are fugitives to hunt, cats to catch, towns to restore public order, and a veil to raise. As you move around, you’ll find chests and other pickups just out of reach, prompting you to dismount and do some easy platform jumping to unlock rewards; areas achieve a completion rate after clearing every item on your checklist. I’m surprised at how quickly Ronin adapted to this outdated rhythm, especially considering Team Ninja’s history.

Like Far Cry, Assassin’s Creed, Horizon, and every other “icon keeper” game, every moment quickly becomes predictable and tiresome. Whether you do it for 5 hours or 15 hours, each activity will play out more or less the same way. There’s not enough mechanical depth here to make the repetition worthwhile.

At least the combat is great. | Image Source: Team Ninja, Sony Interactive Entertainment.

It’s particularly interesting to see Ronin come up with similar tools to complement these capabilities. The agility skill tree features Far Cry style multi-target assassination action. You can mute the sound of footsteps; make yourself harder to detect, and even spot enemies through walls (although they won’t be permanently marked). And, like its predecessor, Ronin doesn’t punish you for breaking stealth, which takes away any tension or stakes from its more interesting missions.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with borrowing from popular games, but Ronin doesn’t find a way to flesh out what it’s doing within its framework. At this point, bringing up Elden Ring seems like a crutch, but it’s relevant here because it’s also its maker’s first open-world game, but no one could have predicted how hard it would go with the The most popular reverse direction type of game.

Nioh’s level design is limited by any modern standards, but it allows for deliberately placed enemies, clever shortcuts, and traversal puzzles with obvious dangers. By designing the entire game around an open world, much of the complexity is buried in a sea of ​​similar-looking towns terrorized by similar-looking enemies that you’ll repeatedly eliminate in familiar ways.

The AI ​​isn’t smart enough to create any interesting challenges beyond what I’ve seen in past Team Ninja games, or indeed any of the open-world icon vomit games the rest of the industry puts out every year. The only saving grace is Ronin’s combat prowess, which is superior to most of his opponents.

The inventor, one of the “go here, do this task” guardians that Luo Ning likes very much. | Image Source: Team Ninja, Sony Interactive Entertainment

The real-time action in Rise of Ronin can be brutal, both in terms of difficulty and in the chaotic gore, blood stains on the walls and torn limbs left in the wake of brawls. Once again, the AI ​​hasn’t seen the necessary upgrades in the Nioh games, and enemies often rely on the same four or five tactics – sometimes similar moves that will be familiar to anyone who’s played those games.

The combat is based on Nioh, but its fundamentals are watered down in order to – I guess – make it less intimidating to new players. Nioh’s stance system is one of its most complex and valuable mechanics. It exists in Ronin in the form of a fighting style that you may or may not unlock over the course of your time, depending on which side missions you perform and how much dojo training you undergo. Ultimately, however, the fighting style corresponds to Nioh’s stance. But they take a more binary form.

The game explains that one style will deal more damage to certain enemies, while another will do less. You’re asked to keep an eye on their health bar to see if switching to a different style will cause more damage. In Nioh, the decision to change sides is entirely up to you, which adds an element of skill and decision-making that’s missing here. For example, throughout my first playthrough of Nioh, I pretty much stayed in the middle position. It wasn’t until my second try that I understood why the poses existed and how to use each pose effectively. There is no such institution in Ronin.

gliding? Little do you know. | Image Source: Team Ninja, Sony Interactive Entertainment

Likewise, the core flow of Nioh combat revolves around hitting enough consecutive attacks to limit your opponent’s stamina (ki), which can bog them down, opening the door to lethal attacks that deal serious damage. The same flow is present in Ronin, albeit with some modifications to make things more interesting. Parrying – known here as Counter Spark – can frighten enemies, causing them to lose stamina faster. There’s also a unit hierarchy such that killing a high-ranking officer demoralizes those around them, which rewards hunting down the biggest fish.

There’s also some common lineage with Wolong: Fallen Reign, but this game is actually more creative and daring in its approach. The system that jumps out immediately is the ability to hire AI characters to accompany you on missions. So-called combat missions are the more scripted, linear missions in Nioh.

Not only can you switch to any ally during combat – effectively giving you three lives (if you take two of them with you) – it also acts as a counterweight to the number of enemies you encounter. In boss fights, they can be a great way to distract the boss while you heal or perform more complex actions that would otherwise be quickly interrupted.

There’s an entire system for maintaining and developing bonds with these characters; give them gifts and take them on missions you think they’ll excel at, which in turn teaches you their own fighting style. It’s all very interesting; systems feeding information to other systems as a way to have more to do. This doesn’t seem necessary, as the game already has a very rich range of difficulty options, the lowest of which can even provide further assistance in combat.

The real ronin are the friends we make along the way. | Image Source: Team Ninja, Sony Interactive Entertainment.

Team Ninja attempts to stretch its comfort zone elsewhere in Ronin. It’s a more serious game that eliminates a lot of the silliness, camp, and lameness from Nioh. You’re given some agency over the people you decide to spare or kill, which does make for some nice permutations in the ally system. Choosing to spare an NPC turns them into friends you can summon later, but you may not receive your own rewards and benefits if you decide to end them.

There’s a slight dialogue system with a very basic Lying/Intimidation skill check, and the final choice is more binary than it initially appeals to. Obviously, we’re more focused on giving players a say in the traditional retelling of historical events and people’s stories.

It’s an ambitious narrative about the final days of Japan’s shogunate era, and it ties into your choices throughout the game to either side with the anti-shogunate actors, allow Japan to open up to the rest of the world (and Western influence), or continue its The Age of Isolationism (and Missing Modernity).

It always ends in a duel. | Image Source: Koei Tecmo Ninja Team

However, one can’t help but wonder how many of these changes were simply made to make the game more appealing to a wider audience. For a game based on Nioh and Wolong, Rise of Ronin often feels like a less than confident game that’s roughly polished around its roughest edges. It’s like telling someone you just met that you’re a video editor because you’re worried that saying “I have a YouTube channel” will scare them off.

This reluctance to trust players extends to various other parts of the game’s makeup, such as weightless armor, levels lacking major shortcuts, and the removal of Nioh 2’s more demanding mechanics like burst counters and affinities. It’s especially frustrating that Ronin is still a game whose combat relies on heavy button modifiers, with enemies that can kill you in two clicks. It goes against the simplicity that the audience it seems to be trying to please is generally inclined towards.

Much of what you experience in Rise of Ronin is done better elsewhere. Team Ninja chose the wrong edge to smooth. Rather than going down the path of Elden Rim, where the freedom of exploration and discovery balanced the challenge of combat, Rise of Ronin falls back on the era of rigid open-world games, putting players on a treadmill and training They expect a reward when the bell rings.

This change of attitude for Team Ninja is disappointing and could lead to an unfortunate fatal blow for them.

Rise of Ronin will be released on March 22nd Exclusively for PlayStation 5. This review was written based on code provided by the publisher.

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