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  • Writer's pictureJames Stephanie Sterling

Rise Of Ronin - Sekirecommended (Review)

Rise of Ronin

Released: March 22, 2024

Developer: Team Ninja

Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment

Systems: PS5

Rise of Ronin puts me in mind of the criminally overlooked first-person shooter Singularity. 

Essentially an FPS “best of” collection, Singularity took a ton of existing ideas from the genre’s top titles and pulled them off incredibly well. Rise of Ronin does the same thing with two different categories, drawing inspiration from a range of Soulslike and open world games to craft something that, while not exactly new, is incredibly well executed. 

Sekiro, Bloodborne, Ghost of Tsushima, Assassin’s Creed, and the developer’s own Nioh have all been thrown into a blender and the resulting mulch is surprisingly smooth. 

Essentially, Ronin takes the standard “AAA” open world formula and centers it around an accessible version of Sekiro’s stealthy parry-based action. For extra measure, an abundance of loot drops, combat approaches, and character relationships have been layered on top.

Set in the last days of feudal Japan, the story is a rather well told one about clashing cultures and traditionalism versus progress. However, as you may expect of these games, any attempt to follow its narrative melts away before the real point of the adventure - running around assassinating people, taking photographs, and collecting cats. 

Nebulous busywork is out in full swing to the point where Ronin’s map looks exactly like one you’d find in an Ubisoft product. Much as I love this game, the sheer amount of repeated tasks - be it clearing bandit camps or praying at an arbitrary collection of shrines - inevitably gets tiresome even as my various neurodivergences compel me to do everything.

That said, it took a long time for me to start feeling drained by the side content because everything is so quick and convenient to complete. Environmental puzzles are straightforward and the terrain is open and easy to navigate. The simple act of moving around is a treat.

Controls are responsive with a character that moves both swiftly and fluidly. Your horse can automatically arrive to scoop you up at a button press, and the horse itself handles really well which is always a nice surprise. There’s a grappling hook, a glider, and a beautiful ability to transition from gliding to horseback in one motion. That’s just something cool you can do by default. 

Oh, and stamina doesn’t drain out of combat. Why should it?

Combat feels just as slick as movement, and it is densely packed with systems and stances. There are quite a few different weapons, each boasting multiple fighting styles that can be unlocked and improved. With up to two different weapons equippable you have potential access to six unique sets of combos and special attacks at any time. 

It’s a lot to be mindful of during a hectic battle, and since fighting styles work in a rock-paper-scissors way, you’ll need to get used to them to efficiently tackle enemies. If your style is weaker than an enemy's, parrying barely staggers them, while a stronger style throws them wide open to your offense. Juggling a bunch of movesets is something that only gets more important as the game progresses.

Weapons are enjoyably distinctive, and each fighting style adds a dramatically different way of using them. By far my favorite weapon is the bayonet, the many styles of which make varied use of its blade and projectile aspects. As well as primary armaments, two sub-weapons can be equipped, including bows and rifles as well as distraction tools like clay pots. Used well, these items can be shockingly powerful, and that’s before you get given a flamethrower!

Combat is similar to Sekiro in that parrying lies at its backbone. Aside from specific special attacks, most enemy offense is telegraphed only via the aggressor's animations. Said animations are really clear and communicative, so telegraphing works quite well, albeit with a sly catch - enemies enjoy using deceptive rhythms and quick little feints to throw a player off. A few particular styles can be utterly frustrating to defend against thanks to their misdirection. 

Most attacks come at you in sequence, requiring multiple deflections in quick succession. To parry a combo, you only need to successfully defend against the last blow. It's a highly appreciated way to recover from bad timing, but it cuts both ways - missing that final deflection costs you your parry opportunity even if you nailed every other hit beforehand.

While missing that last shot is a pain, Ronin’s parry system forgives more often than it punishes, and it’s incredibly satisfying to succeed at. Breaking an enemy's defenses and opening them up for a super fancy finisher is presented with a lot of shattering bombast.

Importantly, thanks to the ability to create multiple builds from all sorts of diverse equipment, players less able to nail parry windows and counterattacks still have access to survival methods. While fundamentally challenging enough, Rise of Ronin is more yielding than the average Soulslike, offering powerful guns, friendly checkpointing, plentiful healing, and enough upgrades to create truly game-breaking builds should you wish.

Stealth continues the game’s commitment to ease of use, with swift crouch walking, buttery sneak kills, and a communicative HUD that clearly lets you know when you’re hidden and who can be stabbed up. As with the sub-weapons, stealth is surprisingly more effective than one might expect. Most regular enemies will go down in one hit, and managing to backstab a more formidable foe will deal huge damage. While frontal assaults are unavoidable, a subtle approach is plenty viable and will almost always make standard fights less of a gang situation. 

Not that gangs are much of a threat if you use co-op. 

Rise of Ronin’s story missions always team you up with two side characters, but they can be swapped out with online players and doing so will destroy any mission. Personally I find this hilarious, but those who want to fight bosses as intended rather than simply wail on them and laugh will want to solo all the missions. Whatever online balancing Team Ninja's done has not worked out in the A.I.’s favor! 

And y'know, fuck A.I.

Oddly, for a game that pushes cooperation so much in its thematic content, Rise of Ronin’s multiplayer could stand to be far better. You may only go online to play missions you’ve already beaten, which means the pool is incredibly shallow when you start and has to incrementally improve as you continue. Sadly, all the open exploration and a litany of sidequests are restricted to single-player since cooperation is for story missions only. 

While I understand how much more work it would be to implement consistent co-op rather than unceremoniously dump players back to their own games the second a boss dies, it’s hard to go back to an obtuse From-style online structure after Lords of the Fallen finally modernized things. The result of Team Ninja’s implementation is online play that very much feels like a separate feature bolted onto a single-player experience.

Said single-player experience is a wonderful one, it has to be said. 

There’s a ton to get into, with multiple skill trees and a loot system that borders on overwhelming with the amount of weapons and armor you’ll drown in. As well as that, a wide cast of NPCs can be interacted with to raise their friendliness, though this is as straightforward a transactional situation as any relationship system you’ll see a game attempt - just keep giving people items they like and they’ll intermittently reward you. Basic stuff. 

While not the most cutting edge game visually, Rise of Ronin is still a very pretty thing to look at. Art direction goes a long way here, with some lovely (and sometimes silly) armor to wear and the welcome freedom to make a piece of gear resemble any others you’ve found. Weapon aesthetic is especially fantastic, with some elegant and beautiful designs. While its soundtrack is somewhat forgettable, the voice acting is enjoyable and authentic.

Perhaps the largest complaint I could muster, other than the inevitable sandbox exhaustion factor, is Ronin's bizarre control scheme that maps buttons differently to almost every other third person action game. They made some strange decisions, such as immutably linking the sprint and dodge commands so you can't remap the former to the analog stick without really fucking things up. I got used to it after a while, but I'm surprised by how unintuitive the controls are if you come off the back of almost any other open world title.

That said, this is one of the few Souls-adjacent games to put melee attacks on the face buttons like videogames used to do. I wholeheartedly approve of this correct approach to close quarters commands. While I will tolerate pushing bumpers to swing my swords, nothing will beat a comfortably placed square button.

I just really like this game. Despite my general distaste for repetitive chores in open world playpens, I've been hooked on Ronin’s gameplay loop thanks to how thoroughly pleasant it is to just navigate through the world. Its approach to busywork is the same as its approach to everything else - even the most tiresome padding is still a breezy, communicative, user-first interaction. See a cat, pet a cat. It doesn't need to be more tedious than that.

Rise of Ronin really likes its players, and that’s what I love most about it. While its world features a lot of busywork, it’s also a joy to explore thanks to how easy and versatile movement is. An enthralling combat system openly traces the best of Sekiro and Nioh, serving the extract in a more accessible fashion with a huge variety of ways to fight. While co-op is restrictive, it’s still really funny to go online and turn bosses into confetti, plus you can run a cat rental service.

Excellent stuff.



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