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Rise of the Ronin review: Grapple, glide and slash in this open world adventure

Rise of the Ronin screenshot review
Image: Koei Tecmo

The latest fruit borne from the close relationship between Koei Tecmo and Sony, it’s perhaps unsurprising that Rise of the Ronin feels like an evolution of the Nioh series. But there are many more influences here too, as well as a premise that’s much more grounded in reality. You won’t be finding any Yokai here, that’s for sure.

Set during 19th century Japan, Rise of the Ronin takes place during a time of unrest. With the Shogunate ending its isolationist foreign policy, there are those unhappy with more western influence seeping into the country. And then there are those simply unhappy with the Shogunate itself, which has become a shadow of its former self. Arriving in Yokohama as a Ronin, you find yourself in the middle of this whole mess, trying to locate your long lost Blade Twin who you previously assumed was dead. The question is, who do you ally yourself with in the pursuit of the information you desire?

An open world action RPG, Rise of the Ronin has all the usual open world elements. There are safe spaces you can return to when you want to rest, talk to those you’ve grown close to, and more. There are side-quests and activities aplenty, the completion of which will shower you with rewards such as materials you can use to upgrade your gear, valuable experience, and even new pieces of equipment you can either equip or disassemble for parts. And there are a wealth of collectibles for you to hunt down, should you find yourself at a loss for what to do. What makes Rise of the Ronin rather unique, however, is its combat system, which feels very similar to that of Nioh for the most part.

Rise of the Ronin screenshot

As you explore Yokohama and the area surrounding it, and other locations later in the game, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to get into a fight. And you’ll soon find your adversaries here don’t go easy on you. Key to survival is managing your stamina, or Ki; should it be depleted, you’ll find yourself a sitting duck for a short while. Ideally you want to deplete your opponent’s Ki, leaving them open for a devastating critical attack, and the best way to do that is to parry their attacks.

For those not keen on parrying, Rise of the Ronin may not sound quite as appealing as it once did knowing that fact. There is a lifeline though, in that unlike Nioh, Rise of the Ronin has difficulty levels. So, if you find yourself having a hard time, you can always make things easier for yourself by turning it down a notch and making the parry window a bit more lenient. It doesn’t make the game a cakewalk, but it does make it much more accessible to those who aren’t parrying masters.

Ultimately, the combat system proves to be the strongest aspect of Rise of the Ronin. There are many weapon types in the game, and you chose your initial two to specialise in at the outset. You might choose spears and katanas, for example, or odachis and dual blades. But then within each weapon type there are styles, which all offer different movesets. With two melee weapons equipped at any one time, each with three styles of your choosing that you can switch between on the fly, you can pull off some very fancy combos indeed.

Rise of the Ronin screenshot
Image: Koei Tecmo

There’s yet more to consider in combat, too. Martial Arts are special skills you can use, for example, with more opening up for each style as you build bonds with companions and meet other conditions. Along with your two melee weapons, you can equip two ranged weapons as well. Everything from throwing stars to rifles are available, and even a primitive flamethrower. Throw in a grappling hook that can be used to grab and throw items, and even enemies if you develop your character in a specific way, and you always feel like you have plenty of options when it comes to dispatching your foes. Stealth is always something to keep in mind, too.

Another game that Rise of the Ronin feels somewhat inspired by is Assassin’s Creed. While running through the streets is an option, sometimes it pays to take to the rooftops instead, using your grappling hook to easily gain height. From there, you can get the drop on enemies if you wish, killing most outright. Or, when at a great height, you can use your glider to cover large distances. It’s all thanks to a inventor that you befriend, who has yet more interesting tools and upgrades to hand over if you butter him up.

While the open world of Rise of the Ronin isn’t the most engaging out there, and its history-infused story isn’t always the easiest to follow or care for, its combat encounters and legacy-style missions that end with epic boss fights keep the experience very enjoyable on the whole. Developing bonds with companions is also a rewarding endeavour, and it’s neat that when they are fighting by your side you can switch over to control them, either to make use of their unique styles that may be more effective against your current foe, or simply to gain an advantageous position.

Rise of the Ronin screenshot
Image: Koei Tecmo

Being a game exclusively made for PS5, what players might find most disappointing about Rise of the Ronin is its presentation and performance. While its scenery sometimes catches your eye and is pleasant for the most part, some areas are a bit on the bland side. And despite having three graphics modes, none of them are flawless. Chances are you’ll want to opt for Performance mode, as the fast-paced combat here benefits greatly from it. You’ll still notice the odd bit of stutter though, especially in busier areas. The Graphics and Ray Tracing modes offer better visuals on the whole, but even with the framerate unlocked on a VRR-capable TV, they’re simply too choppy.

It’s safe to say that Rise of the Ronin is perhaps Koei Tecmo’s largest and most ambitious game yet. There’s tens of hours of fun to be had here, living out your fantasy life as a Ronin. Who you ally yourself with and how you develop your character is up to you, and with so many options, you could have a very different experience compared to a friend who is also playing. It’s just a shame that its open world areas aren’t a little more interesting; it ends up diluting the experience on the whole. Still, whether you love open world games, action RPGs or simply like the idea of being a samurai, Rise of the Ronin is worthy of your attention.

Rise of the Ronin review – GameSpew’s score

This review of Rise of the Ronin was facilitated by a code provided by the game’s publisher. It’s available exclusively on PS5.
Editor in Chief // An avid gamer since discovering the wonders of the Acorn Electron in the '80s, Rich has nearly played more games than he's had hot dinners. Not one to put all his eggs in one basket, Rich is happy to play games of all genres, but he particularly enjoys racing games and anything that's full of non-stop action, especially if it includes a good dose of humour, horror or crudeness!