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  • Writer's pictureCourt Lalonde

Is Rise of the Ronin the Ultimate Samurai Adventure?

Rise of the Ronin

Has my opinion changed since my sneak peek of Rise of the Ronin? No, but there is a but. In my first couple hours of playing it, I wondered if it could be my game of the year. I will answer that question at the end of my review if it holds that mantle for me. It's early in the year, but we have already had some fantastic games. Rise of the Ronin is one of those games, but it's not without flaws. It's my first Team Ninja game, and I would be lying if I said I thought I would like it. I went into playing Rise of The Ronin, knowing it was unique in the world of Soulslike games. Most Soulslikes or Soulslites have one, if any, difficulty setting, and the games punish you if you don't learn the combat and parry system. They sometimes have fantastic stories but lean heavily into the challenging combat. You can spend hours trying to defeat a boss. If you want that experience with Rise of the Ronin, you can have it. If you wish to have a story driven game with less challenging combat, you can also have that. Team Ninja made Rise of the Ronin about choices in every aspect of the game and that your choices have consequences. In my preview, I was looking for a way to describe the type of Souls game Rise of the Ronin. I saw a video from on YouTube that hit the nail on the head. They coined the phrase Soulsless, which describes Rise of the Ronin perfectly. Team Ninja lets you, the players, choose what your journey with Rise of the Ronin is going to be. Team Ninja stumbles a bit with the vision of letting you choose, as not every time you do, those consequences matter. You can shine many similarities between Rise of the Ronin and Ghost of Tsushima because of the combat style, setting, and open-world RPG, but I feel they're different games. Ghost of Tsushima is more polished, while Rise of the Ronin tries to change how people view Soulslike games.

Starting Your Journey

I'm more of a default character type player, but Rise of the Ronin does have an in-depth character creator. I still do find it weird, though, that your character does not have a name. As you progress in the story, you can even change how your protagonist looks if you change your mind. Rise of the Ronin is about choices, so make your protagonist look the way you like.

rise of the ronin

Choosing how your protagonist looks is the tip of the sword, as you will now choose your playing style. Rise of the Ronin refers to your play style as origin. Each origin has its perks, preferred weapons, and special skills. You must choose your origin and what you like to play like. You are not stuck with this origin if you want to switch when playing the game, as you can change that later on in the game when you unlock your Longhouse in Yokohama. The origins are Unsharpened, Beginner, Sapper, Seducer, Breaker, and Killer. I chose Breaker as my play style, and it is more stealthy, with your special skill being rapid assassinations. When playing action RPGs, I tend to lead towards a stealth approach when available, but I'm thinking about trying out Killer, which would allow you to take enemies more head-on, and your special skill is repelled arrows. Team Ninja, I feel, is having a little fun with the description of these origins, as Unshapended is described as "A weakling whose ineptness has resulted in their lack of a blade sharpening origin. These Veiled Edges know only the most basic skills and have poor attributes to boot." Team Ninja's most controversial choice is that they allow you to change the difficulty settings. It has divided gamers online who think they shouldn't have done this or are forced to do so. Team Ninja has come out to say they only wanted to provide gamers the choice of how they wanted to play the game. I will never understand the gatekeeping in the gaming community around the weirdest things. I would have passed on Rise of the Ronin if the game had had no difficulty options. The difficulty settings are Dawn, Dusk, and Twilight. Dawn is the least difficult, and Twilight offers the more Soulslike gameplay.

They offer some user accessibility settings that I sure took advantage of. All of these settings can be adjusted at any time during your playthrough. Everything from controller mapping to having it so the R1 and L1 buttons are presumed to be held down for your guard, ready sub-weapon, combat styles and weapons HUD. Some settings I took advantage of were automatic additional attacks, aim assist, auto collect items, auto crouch, and auto grab. Automatic additional attacks have the protagonist automatically perform basic combos with one press of the button. The auto-collect function often came in handy to pick up resources that I needed for crafting and upgrading my weapons. This may seem small to some, but they allow you to only hold down buttons once, like for a run, which will continually do it until you press the button again. This makes the gameplay experience more enjoyable and puts less strain on your controller from holding the stick button down or a button. There are settings to adjust for input methods, game controls, control assist, vibration, camera controls, language, subtitle settings, audio, effects, and cinematics. Yes, you can turn motion blur off, and someone can explain why we need motion blur.

Does it look as good as it feels?

As you enter this open-world Edo period Japan, you will see the art style Team Ninja was going for. They have three graphical settings: prioritize FPS, graphics, and ray tracing. Ray Tracing can only be turned on in the start menu, but switching between FPS mode or graphics can be done in the game. I prioritized FPS as I want my combat to be as smooth as possible, and it is my choice in almost all the games I play. Even with Ray Tracing turned on, the graphics weren't the best I feel they could be for a PS5 game. I wouldn't say the game looks terrible, but it doesn't look graphically as beautiful as, say, a Ghost of Tsushima Directors Cut or Horizon Forbidden West. The pop-in and draw distance was noticeable but never distracted me from my playthrough. I barely used the photo mode because I didn't feel I was looking at something so beautiful that I needed to take a photo of it. I once had an MPC disappear while talking to them, but I only had a glitch like that happen once. The background, sometimes in the distance, looked almost in place instead of being a part of the world I was in. I never felt like I could go towards large landscapes and climb them, as when I tried, I hit a wall map and couldn't move any further. If I could have Rise of the Ronin with Ghost of Tsushima graphics, I would have waited for that game and genuinely think I would have liked it more.

We have such a beautiful setting as the late 1800s in Japan, but seeing bushes and trees appear and disappear at times reminds you that it's a video game, not this epic adventure you're embarking on. The gameplay and action make up for this shortcoming, but those graphics hold Rise of the Ronin back. I never had any game-breaking bugs, and there weren't times when the graphics became jarring. Not even when playing co-op I noticed no lag issues.

The initial setting of Yokohama is the most beautiful of the cities you travel to and looks the best graphically. Areas look like they have life and are different from other areas on the map. It doesn't look like you're going from the same village to the same town. Edo has some nice areas, but it feels less vibrant than Yokohama. We do get one of my favourite boss battles in Edo near the Azuma bridge, where fireworks go off in the distance as you go from boat to boat looking for the boss. It's genuinely one of the best-looking missions I have played in a long time. There are many items on the map to collect, and they become visible as you unlock Veiled Edge Banners, which are all over the map but can be used for fast travel once unlocked. Unlocking Public Orders also unlocks villages that enemies have overrun. You will see them on your map with a red indicator or in the open world if you look for clouds of smoke. Once you kill all the enemies in the village, you will open up more icons on the map, gain skill points and increase your bond with that region. Shrines will be on the map as well, which you pray to unlock skill points to upgrade your character. They do an excellent job of not cluttering the map with too many items to collect or interact with. All items that show up on the map to interact with will give you skill points or rewards for your character.

Each chapter has a map you will uncover, but they're not large. You can traverse them rather quickly or use the fast travel system after you have raised a banner in that area. Rise of the Ronin respects your time. The maps will have the same items to collect or shrines to pray at. I say this often when talking about video games because, in my day-to-day life, I don't have the absorbent amount of time to dump 80 hours into a video game. Far too many games lately have these sizeable open-world maps but have nothing in between places of interest except a couple of MPCs and filler. If you want to return to any area you have previously finished or left, you can go to your long house and use the Testament of Soul. It will allow us to return to previously visited areas and complete unfished business. Rise of the Ronin feels condensed and focuses more on the actions, as there is always something to do or enemies to fight around almost every corner. It did find the second chapter to drag on a bit as it made him have a lot of conversations to move the story along rather than jump right into action, like in the previous chapter. It takes no time to get across the map, whether using a glider or a horse. Using the grappling hook to get up to high spaces or even combining it with the glider makes for some fun combos. You can even use the glider and call for your horse to transfer directly into riding from gliding. Your grappling hook can even be used in combat to throw items at enemies or throw the enemy when they're low stamina.


The combat is challenging yet rewarding. Like most Soulslike games, it uses the parry system. I died a lot initially, but as I levelled up my protagonist, the enemies became easier to beat. The enemies don't level up with you, so you can be overpowered if you do side missions or other things on the map to level up your character. When used properly, the parry system, called counterspark, can neutralize enemies' attacks. Each region doesn't level up to your character, stopping you from going rogue across the map to unlock other secrets, as the enemies there will kill you quickly. You can switch stances in mid-fight, and enemies will have red or blue indicators, letting you know if your stance will be used against that enemy. Your stance will also do the job if the colour indicator is grey. Each stance has move sets that you can do in combat, which you do get a tutorial on how to use, but if you need a refresh, you can see them in the pause menu under combat style. When an enemy flashes red before an attack, it will be their strong attack but don't worry. You can parry these as well, but it will need perfect timing. The brutality of the combat adds to the game. In many games, when using a sword, they stay away from gruesome deaths, but not Rise of the Ronin, as chopping off heads and limbs with blood squirting out will be the norm. You and your enemies have stamina, which is called Ki, and it helps you inflict more damage on an enemy and slow you down when it is low. The amount of blood on your sword affects your Ki but can be replenished with a simple flick of the R1 immediately after an attack, which will flick the blood off your sword and replenish portions of your KI. You can instill fear into your enemies, making them more vulnerable to strong attacks from you, which you can see with a red circle on your enemy. The red circle will appear when the enemy is close to death or when you have made them fear you from an attack you placed on another enemy. If you assassinate one enemy and the other sees it, they will become afraid, and you can quickly kill them with one stroke.


While in combat, you can use the D-pad to use items in your inventory that will help you in combat, like lighting your sword on fire or putting poison on your blade. You can also use the parry system to deflect enemies that are using these, add them to your blade, and use them against them.

The enemy types vary, and it doesn't feel like you're constantly fighting the same MPCs. Each enemy has a pattern that they will need to learn for their attacks on the bosses. Many training facilities across the map help you either with your combat skills or your traversal skills. The training facilities will help you learn how to use each stance you unlock from the game and use different weapons. I would suggest using the training facilities to decide which weapons you prefer to use and to practice parrying. Your sparing partners are characters you develop bonds with who all have unique skill sets to defend against. When playing a mission, you can also select any character who is on the mission with you instead of using your protagonist. If you use any character and you die, you will automatically switch to the other character, and you can then revive the protagonist.

rise of the ronin

As with many RPGs, there is a skill tree for your protagonist. The skills are located in the pasuse menu under Stats and are broken down into strength, dexterity, charm, and intellect. The skill tree isn't huge at all, but I suggest looking it over to see what skills you would like to upgrade based on how you want to play the game. Acquiring skill points is fairly straightforward, and you will find that you can upgrade your character rather quickly if you choose to clear the map before proceeding to the next story beat. Along with skills to upgrade, you will see in the pause menu the equipment you can change throughout your play as you upgrade your character. There are blacksmiths and black market shops to buy weapons and sub-weapons, but you can find enough chests or earn items from enemies or missions in the open world.

You can use assassination on unsuspecting enemies and almost clear areas without alerting nearby enemies. They have bell towers that they can use to alarm other enemies in the area, so watch out. They don't alert everyone to your presence. You can hide in tall grass or traverse rooftops to avoid enemy detection. In addition to your swords, staffs, and katanas, you have more modern weapons, like rifles, pistols, and throwables, to take down enemies. You can also craft items to use in combat and even use them to set your katana on fire to use in your attacks. Enemies are not only in the form of people, but the animals in the world will also attack you. As you progress, there are skills to unlock that will help you tame those animals, which will have them on your side when taking over villages.

In the accessibility menu, you can turn on the auto combo, which is handy for comfort and doesn't make it feel like your button is mashing while playing Rise of the Ronin. The accessibility menu also has one-touch running, which doesn't take away any of your stamina bars while you're not in combat.


The traversal is a bright spot in Rise of the Ronin and is so much fun to use. You have a glider, a grappling hook, and a horse. You can even chain together all of your traversal moves for combos. The grappling hook you use for getting to the top of buildings can also be used in combat to bring enemies closer and for silently grabbing enemies from above to kill them instantly. The glider can be used to get across the map rather quickly and can be used to get over top enemies to drop onto them with a finishing move.

The Bonds You Make

They have implemented a bond system in Rise of the Ronin that will grow if you choose to friend one of these characters, complete tasks with them, or give them gifts. At first, the system for this feels like it will make a difference, but in the end, it doesn't. Some characters that you meet at the beginning of the game disappear and are never seen again. Some characters you try to form bonds with are forced to try and kill in later missions. The Bond system doesn't feel fleshed out as useful as it could have been. The idea was great, but I feel the impact of it left me disappointed. One of the items you need to collect worldwide is petting cats. More games need to have you pet an animal in the game. The characters you bond with will be in your longhouse from time to time and will interact with you and the cats. You can give those characters gifts to increase your bond with them. The gift you can collect throughout the open world. Increasing your bond with characters will help you level up your character, unlock skills, and gain items.

The co-op aspect of the game falls into the bonds system. You can only use co-op on missions instead of the characters you have bonded with. You will have to time it with friends you want to play with to align with your story mission. Your friend cannot accompany you in the open world and can only play during the mission. I have no lag or glitches while playing co-op and did find it fun, but having to time it when stroying missions start makes me think not many will use this feature.

A Stroy to Tell

The story starts with the protagonist and his Blade Twin on a mission to assassinate Matthew Perry, a Navy Commodore. It takes place in Japan's Edo period in the 1800s, after the Industrial Revolution. The assassination attempt doesn't go well, and you're met by the Blue Demon, who, at the time of my preview, I thought would be the main enemy, but there is a much bigger conspiracy to uncover. As with many boss fights in Rise of the Ronin, you rarely vanquish your foe.

boss fight

The story can get confusing at times as these characters you're trying to form a bond with and end up being boss fights in other missions only to be your companion again in another. Rise of the Ronin has you making choices, but they don't always stick to the narrative you're trying to create. At first, I thought we had more of what Infamous does by choosing good or bad playthrough, but in Rise of the Ronin, they call it the shogunate and the anito-shogunate. They force you, after, though, to play with either side regardless of how you choose to play. At the end of each chapter, your protagonist makes a choice, and they give a cut scene showing the result, but I'm not sure it does anything.


The story is good but can sometimes become disjointed as it leads you on paths you don't feel like your character should be based on your choices. There are dialogue trees that give you options of what to say to each character to what I thought was changing the conversation, but it's giving you a closer bond to the character. Your protagonist has a bit of FOMO as he doesn't want to ruffle any feathers and tries to do everything with everyone. I can tell that Team Ninja wanted to tell a grand story, so I'm trying to avoid any particulars so as not to spoil it for anyone reading this.


Rise of the Ronin is a very good game and almost a great game. With a story that makes you think you can make choices only for those choices not to matter, it was frustrating. I can see Team Ninja's vision for Rise of the Ronin, but maybe they didn't have enough time to complete it. The bond system was a great idea but didn't impact the game or story. If they had gone all in with your choices, allowing for different endings or different paths you could take, I think it would have been better. The combat is some of the best I have played in any combat-heavy game. the maps are easy to navagate and not too big with enough to but not feel cluttered. Giving the players choice on how to play the game with reagards to the comabt put a smile to my face and I hope more games do this. I truly enjoyed playing Rise of the Ronin, but I wish I wasn't left thinking about what it could have been. If they announced DLC for Rise of the Ronin, I would be right back in. I liked the world Team Ninja built and truly can't wait to play their next game, as Team Ninja has made me a fan.


code provided by PlayStation Canada


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