Rise of the Ronin review for PS5

Platform: PS5
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Team NINJA
Medium: Disc/Digital
Players: 1
Online: No

Oh boy, where do I even begin with this one? Rise of the Ronin is a third-person action RPG from Team Ninja, the folks who made Ninja Gaiden and Nioh. The pedigree of the studio, coupled with the early trailers had me beyond excited for this game. The very first mission, however, was enough to knock the wind out of my sails and set my expectations for what was to come.

Rise of the Ronin starts with a decently in-depth character creator, and a few short cutscenes setting the stage for the following story. I was immediately struck by just how bland and generic/blocky everything looked. Unfortunately, there is no escaping the comparisons that will inevitably be made to Ghost of Tsushima, whose opening immediately grabbed my attention and drew me into the world and the story that was to follow. In Rise of the Ronin, it feels like a 2 minute YouTube summary of the first season of a TV show you want to skip watching so you can start on Season 2. You get a breakneck, pre-rendered cutscene flashing from scene to scene to inform the time period and general ideas that they intend to explore, as well as introduce your two choices for a protagonist.

After the opening cutscene(s), you are given a brief tutorial on how to use weapons and traverse the world, then sent on your first mission, similar to how the story in Nioh progresses. There is a combination of mission selection and open world in Rise of the Ronin, which serves to make both options feel less complete. It is not entirely mission-based and focused like Nioh is, while also not being entirely open-world like Ghost of Tsushima. A strong choice in either direction could have helped Rise of the Ronin feel less at-odds with itself, but as it stands, neither method of game design feels entirely “right”.

Combat is the core of what makes Team Ninja games so great. The immense depth and variety of playstyles, with specific stat management within your gear and skills to really “Min/Max” your experience are what I believe most hardcore fans of Nioh will say they love the most about those games. Rise of the Ronin has all of the same surface elements, but they are about as deep as a puddle after a slight rain. The stats are all there but they mean very little, especially when compared to other, similar games. On top of the stats’ general meaninglessness, there are approximately 10.3 Billion pieces of random, crap gear that you will earn as you play through the game. Loot is ABUNDANT and mostly useless, so a large portion of your time will be spent culling your inventory as you play.

On top of the strange loot choices, the skill-tree/leveling system is mostly absurd. Focusing on one style of build and tailoring your gear and levels around that is another core of most of these types of games. Not with Rise of the Ronin, though. Even progressing up through the Strength of Dexterity skill trees will find you meeting an artificial wall to progress, forcing you to spend skill points in other areas and ending up with a utility build no matter what you might WANT to do with your points. This takes all of the joy out of creating different builds and playstyles because the game wants to you just have/do it all.

The longer I played Rise of the Ronin, the more the comparisons to Nioh and Ninja Gaiden fell away and the more it felt like the modern iterations of Assassins Creed (an extremely unflattering comparison). Rise of the Ronin is complete with a million markers on your map to go find, nonsense side quests for a pittance or two of loot that you don’t want, or a small story beat that connects in no way with the larger world around you. 80% of the modern AC games are empty padding, simply seeking to fulfill a “How Long to Beat” quota, and Rise of the Ronin suffers from the same.

The story is frustratingly hollow, despite seeking to base itself on real events of the time. The illusion of choice is there, but the story can’t even give you the proper freedom it seems to want. You can choose to side with the pro-shogunate or anti-shogunate groups, but the main story quest will have you completing missions on both sides of that battle. Now, playing both sides is certainly nothing new, and can be done exceptionally well in better games, but Rise of the Ronin sets it up to clearly be a “one side or the other” style of storytelling and seems to genuinely WANT the player to choose a course, only to force them into missions that are antithetical to the choices you have already made.

Combat in Rise of the Ronin is… fine. Relatively simple, and lacks the depth and flair that previous Team Ninja games have generally thrived on. The major mechanic you will lean on here is “countersparking”, a variation on the parry system a lot of these games have, but one that often needs to be executed multiple times in rapid succession, and timed correctly with enemy strikes. Successfully executing countersparks will open your opponents up for big damage, but failure to time them right will result in the same happening to you. This system feels like an incredibly sanded-down version of the combat you get in a game like Sekiro, but once again only in a bare-bones, surface-level read of that system. The biggest compliment I can give the combat in Rise of the Ronin is that it is very casual-player friendly. You can have the combat system mostly mastered after your first few encounters, so the barrier to entry here is exceedingly low. The ability to choose your difficulty, too, makes Rise of the Ronin a relatively safe bet for folks who have traditionally avoided Team Ninja games because of the high skill level required to really master them.

Graphically, Rise of the Ronin is nothing to write home about, but certainly not a “PS3 era” game, as I saw a few folks say during the preview window. It is, however, rather flat. I do not know any better way to describe it than that, to be honest. I constantly found myself missing the more dynamic environments and visuals that Ghost of Tsushima presented nearly four years ago, and that is just another nail in an increasingly air-tight coffin around Rise of the Ronin.

This has been a mostly negative review, which is something I genuinely try to avoid for a plethora of personal and professional reasons, but Rise of the Ronin genuinely disappointed me. It was, above all else, BORING, which is a cardinal sin of video game design. The disjointed mechanics and inability to step firmly into a genre or style hamstrings what could have been a solid game, and leaves it feeling incredibly disjointed and unpleasant to play. Every time I sat down to boot up Rise of the Ronin was a chore, and video games should never feel that way. I am sure this game will resonate with some folks! Anyone wanting a semi-RPG, semi-hack and slash, semi-historical epic, semi-action adventure game will probably find something to enjoy here. I was just never able to find that spark within Rise of the Ronin, and am glad that I am finished with it now.

Note: Sony Interactive Entertainment provided us with a Rise of the Ronin PS5 code for review purposes.

Score: 6

Rise of the Ronin - PlayStation 5

Price: $69.00

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