Following their fantastic work on both Nioh titles, it’s no surprise that Sony Interactive Entertainment would partner up with developer Team Ninja once again to bring another console exclusive release to the PlayStation platform. This time it comes in the form of Rise of the Ronin, which might just be the most ambitious release from the developer yet thanks to its vast open world setting and branching storytelling, all whilst maintaining the excellent combat mechanics that the team is known for.

Check out some screenshots down below:

Rise of the Ronin embraces the history of Japan in its storytelling, with the game taking place in the mid-19th century during the final years of the Edo period and featuring the appearance of real-life historical figures. Of course, it is guilty of deviating from historical accuracy in order to add more pizazz to the storytelling, so you shouldn’t expect a perfect account of how some of these events unfolded. It does make them more exciting though, so players won’t mind too much.

There is conflict brewing between factions that disagree on the direction that the Shogunate is taking the country, especially since Western culture is further influencing the politics of the land. Playing as one half of the Blade Twins (who are both entirely customisable characters that you create at the start of the game), you’re tasked with taking down Commodore Matthew C. Perry to slow down his influence, but after failing your mission due to the intervention of another assassin, you only manage to escape thanks to the sacrifice of your sibling. However, when you find out that your fellow Blade Twin might still be alive, you abandon your clan in the hope of seeking them out.

Whilst I’ve never found myself particularly interested in the history of Japan before, Rise of the Ronin’s tale offered enough intrigue to keep me fully invested throughout. A lot of this is due to the fact that the choices the player makes can shape how the story unfolds, with players able to choose which of the warring factions to team up with on their journey to find their twin. You’ll also have to make choices during specific story events, and whilst some of these may seem menial at first, you’ll often see the repercussions play out further down the line – for better or worse. It’s something that I really enjoyed in the game, with these decisions constantly making me question my own actions as events played out.

“Combat is strategic and offers plenty of depth when balancing out your offensive and defensive actions, but also allows you to go wild and decapitate enemies when the time calls for it.”

The choices you make feel most consequential when dealing with the various characters of the world, with Rise of the Ronin packed with different allies that you could potentially work with. Naturally, the selection of allies by your side will ultimately be influenced by the decisions you make in the game (and you shouldn’t be surprised to find yourself facing off against someone you might have once called a friend due to some of your actions), so you’ll only be able to forge certain friendships based upon which side of the conflict you support. It all adds to the replayability of the game, especially since certain characters bring with them specific side quests, but if I’m being honest, the sheer number of characters to encounter could be overwhelming and difficult to track at times. Whilst it’s nice that Team Ninja have fleshed out the world so much, I lost count of the number of occasions where I completely forgot who a character was or even what side of the conflict they supported.

It’s clear that Rise of the Ronin delivers with its storytelling, but how does the gameplay hold up? Well, as expected, the combat is phenomenal, with players given a lot of freedom when dealing with the many enemy threats they encounter thanks to their diverse skillset. This is driven by the combat styles, with players able to equip different weapon types to utilise varied move sets that each have their own advantages and disadvantages based upon the enemy you are facing. By utilising the right combat style, you’ll be better equipped to deplete your opponent’s Ki (think of this as stamina) that’ll then make them vulnerable to attack. But if they’re using a combat style that’s advantageous over your own? They’ll hold the upper hand in draining your own Ki in order to inflict heavy damage.

It might sound a little overwhelming, but setting up your combat style is easy in-game and clearly explained to ensure you’re not out of the loop. It’s possible to switch between equipped styles mid-combat too, so you’ll always be able to adapt to any combat situation you face. With so many weapons to choose between in the game, you’ll always feel prepared for any enemy encounter – plus, it’s ALWAYS fun to simply tinker with the options available to you, with Rise of the Ronin’s core combat mechanics proving enjoyable without worrying about styles. There’s plenty of room to pull off stylish combos to feel like a badass in a duel, whilst the responsive parry function makes you equally deadly when on the defensive. Combat is strategic and offers plenty of depth when balancing out your offensive and defensive actions (and especially when managing your own Ki), but also allows you to go wild and decapitate enemies when the time calls for it. And believe me, there are a LOT of decapitations…

Check out some screenshots down below:

There’s a constant sense of progress felt in combat too, with players growing in proficiency with the different combat styles to ensure their skillset continually improves. You’ve got other tricks up your sleeve to deal with enemies too, whether that’s when picking them off from afar with ranged weapons, utilising your grappling hook to pull a foe into your path, stealthily killing an enemy with one-hit if you can sneak by them unnoticed, or even something as simple as flicking blood off your blade to give your Ki a boost mid-battle. You’ll level up to upgrade your stats and unlock new abilities, whilst you can also equip different gear to give your character a boost. Rise of the Ronin really has a lot of different ideas in play across its combat, but they all work in perfect cohesion to ensure that it stands out as the best aspect of the experience. And if you’re intimidated by Team Ninja’s prolific high difficulty? It’s a lot more forgiving here, both with its mechanics and the fact that you can play on an easier difficulty if you prefer.

Outside of combat, there’s a vast open world to explore, which is packed full of secrets to discover, tasks to complete, and, of course, enemies to kill. I really enjoyed exploring the world, with its large landscapes offering a myriad of enthralling locales to scour and sights to admire on your journey, so you certainly won’t get bored when exploring. I loved using the grappling hook to get around too (which reminded me a lot of playing Tenchu back in the PSOne days), whilst using the Avicula to glide always felt mesmerising. And sure, some of the tasks you’ll complete in the world CAN be a bit by the numbers as far as open world design is concerned, but the fact that they’re tied to the bonds you make with allies does add an interesting twist to exploration.

The only downside is that the visuals aren’t the best you’ll see on the PlayStation 5. Whilst Rise of the Ronin certainly has its share of spectacular moments that really shine, it’s clear throughout that it doesn’t have the visual chops of other exclusive releases that you’d have played on the platform. The performance could be a little iffy at times too, which was more noticeable on the game’s Quality Mode which saw some hitches despite being played at 30fps. I’d definitely recommend playing in the game’s Performance Mode if you want the most consistent experience, even if it means making a few additional sacrifices with the visuals.

Rise of the Ronin Review

Rise of the Ronin’s blend of thrilling strategic combat and intriguing player-driven storytelling ensures it stands out as another hit for the PlayStation 5. It can be a bit guilty of being by the numbers with its open world design, but at the same time offers a satisfying sense of discovery as well as plenty of excitement to ensure it doesn’t grow tiring for the player. And come on, who doesn’t want to use a grappling hook or glider to get around?

It’s definitely not as pretty to look at as some of the other big PlayStation 5 console exclusives, but it always delivers where it matters most: the gameplay. The combat is some of the best we’ve seen from Team Ninja, the world is enthralling to uncover, whilst the decisions you make will genuinely shape how your journey unfolds in satisfying ways.

Developer: Team Ninja
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Platform(s): PlayStation 5 (Reviewed)