Rise Of The Ronin Review – A Solid Open World Game With A Diluted Soulslike Experience

If there’s anything that developers Team Ninja has proved throughout the recent five years, is that the essensence of a “masocore” action combat seen its brand of soulslike games is a versatile ingredient. It can be methodical and complex like in Nioh. It can be accessible yet deeply customisable with Stranger Of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origins. It can also be no holds-barred, batshit fast like it was in Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty.

With Rise Of The Ronin, Team Ninja is introducing a new take on what soulslike combat can be. What if it’s inserted in an open world action-RPG?

Publisher Koei Tecmo is letting its developer team up with PlayStation’s XDev team and cook up a big-budget open world epic where you play as a samurai in the twilight years of the samurai. The result is a game that feels familiar, yet different. It’s accessible, yet can also be punishing. It can be boring but also exciting.


Rise Of The Ronin can present itself to be very beautiful at times, but at times you can clearly see the technical struggles it’s facing.

Lush grass sways as the wind blows in this open world game with dynamic time and weather. You can hear the sky rumbling before it pours, you see a clock tower ticking as dusk sets and the light fades. The bustling towns filled with chatter and pedestrians as well as the quiet countrysides with its paddy fields, trees with colourful trees where you sounds of cicadas punctuates the silences are well-realised.

But the visual pop-ins are happening way too close that you will definitely notice them. The view afar doesn’t look as inviting due to how blobby and pixely distance objects can appear. And taking gameplay screenshots without using the photo mode will leave you with a blurry mess if it’s not during a cinematic.

The game has three visual presets, though I struggle to see the difference between either visual mode and ray-tracing mode. All I see is the crunchy 30 FPS lock that feels a bit off to my eyes, as well as my muscle memories. Performance mode does land a solid 60 FPS at most times, though I’ve seen it dip occasionally during intense fights.

Rise Of The Ronin’s art direction really carries the game’s visual. The game doesn’t look that bad, but it’s no graphical powerhouse.

When you see the game in broad strokes, it can be beautiful. Its masterful use of natural beauty and the power of good lighting really lifts up the level of ambience the open world provides. And it makes for stunning gameplay screenshots, either in the thick of the action where sparks fly and blood spilling all over, or during the quiet moments where you admire the landscapes, the majestic temples and dilapidated houses that scours the lands of late Edo period Japan.

Rise Of The Ronin offers voiceovers in English and Japanese. In English, the characters speak with slight accents based on their background, in particular the Westerners who comes from various parts of the world. But I love the extra attention to detail to have the accents match their nationality or heritage- in particular the characters that are mixed race or with dual nationalities. In Japanese, the Japanese folks you talk to sound more livelier, more flowy. Whichever you choose, there are good voice acting that can be experienced across the two options, both having different strengths. So try either of them out if you’re undecided.

The music can be unassuming, but it’s quietly great. The dynamic music flows well between combat to idle exploration. The fusion of Eastern and Western instruments to create the score is done with a nice subtlety that it blends well yet noticeable if you tune your ear into it. The music you hear during tender moments of the story as well as during character creation are two particular highlights. They has such strong, memorable melody. And it shouldn’t be a surprise if you know who the composer is.


In Rise Of The Ronin, you play as ronin, a samurai that has left their clan and now more or less a freelancer. Set during the Bakumatsu period, you’ll be experience the final years of feudal Japan, or the birth of a new, modern Japan, as you side with or against the various historical figures and factions that played their part during this turbulent time.

Unlike past Team Ninja games, you’re not just a silent protagonist that’s basically there to self-insert yourself in history. Rather, the ronin you play as has their own motivation- they’re in search of their partner.

During the intro and tutorial sequence, you get to create two characters: they’re part of the Veiled Edges, a partners-for-life unit as part of the Kurosu Clan. When your partner was left for dead and your clan disbanded, you go out into the open world in search of your lost partner. And from there, you bump into historical figures that will determine the outcome of the nation.

For years Assassin’s Creed fans have been clamouring for an Assassin’s Creed set in Japan. That looks to be happening soon, but until then the closest thing we got was Sucker Punch’s Ghost Of Tsushima.

Rise Of The Ronin is actually more closer to being Assassin’s Creed set in Japan than Ghost was. Not only is this game is a proper open world game, it also uses a lot more of real history to weave its story. So many characters you meet here have a dedicated Wikipedia page if you look up their name. Unlike last year’s Like A Dragon: Ishin! which uses the historical setting to weave its own story, Rise Of The Ronin uses the Bakumatsu period to tell the story of the Bakumatsu period. Historical events will unfold as expected, though the outcome may not necessarily lore-accurate.

And the game is structurally an open world game. You can roam around to clear outposts, collect collectibles and engage in the occasional random event, with completion bonuses should you decide to do them all.

At first, the open world map of Yokohama looks manageable. It doesn’t feel like too much busy work, and just enough side distractions to last the whole game. But it’s not. There’s more. There’s multiple open world maps, each just as big as Yokohama’s. You’re going to be either really busy having fun with the many open world activities on offer, or get fatigued in consuming all this bloat. I personally find that it’s the latter. It’s too much!

The combat isn’t a typical action-adventure game combat, as you’d expect. This is a Team Ninja game and what Team Ninja does best is their own brand of “masocore” soulslike combat.

What that means is that it’s a combat system that punishes mistakes really hard and thus must be approached in a methodical, more deliberate manner. But Team Ninja’s flavour of this is much flashier and faster when compared to the standard FromSoftware games have set.

Though Rise Of The Ronin’s combat is more tuned to be at Nioh’s pace than it is Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty’s (which is way, way faster). The combat philosophy is also more in line with Nioh as Ki (stamina) management is back on the menu. You need to methodically take down your enemies, not unga-bunga smashing square, square square, square, square triangle like it was in Wo Long.

The game has parries, but parries operate differently here. Called Counterspark, each weapon has a different Counterspark animation- different start-ups and wind-downs- so the parry timing can be slightly different based on what weapon you wield. A katana should Counterspark more quickly and is for the parry to connect, when compared to a spear that requires you to hit the button a teeny bit earlier. And you can’t spam it all the time either- the long wind-down animations and Ki cost will leave you vulnerable if a Counterspark isn’t connecting a parry.

Like in Nioh, there are stances in Rise Of The Ronin in the form of combat styles. Some weapons have more than three so you can pick the three combat styles that you can switch on-the-fly per weapon type. And each of them have a different Counterspark animation that you need to take account of. Thankfully you’re not customising the full moveset- you just have one slot of four Martial Art skills that you can customise per combat style. Most of the game is spent with the basic two skills, so you’ll not be overwhelmed with choice in this aspect- the choice of way too many combat styles is already enough.

And that’s not all. Some of the enemy attacks have peculiar patterns. You can see them glowing red to signal an unblockable (but parry-able) attack but sometimes it strikes almost instantaneously, sometimes it has a long wind-up to throw you off. If Wo Long’s intense combo strings lulls you into a flowing parry rhythm that you can keep up with after enough practice, Rise Of The Ronin drops a lot of syncopated off-beat attacks to really test your mettle right off the bat.

With enough time (which will be plenty should you wish to see this game through) you’ll memorise and get the gist of the usual enemy attack patterns. But it will be a rough couple of hours until you figure out how to parry effectively. It’s still a parry-or-die situation, where you really can’t get your turn to do combos unless you combo-break the enemy with that Counterspark. But it won’t throw you off the rail immediately with over-the-top long combo streaks that you have to block and strategically parry like Wo Long does on the regular. Pro tip: remember what the last hit of an enemy combo string looks like and try to get that parried consistently, as that’s the one that’ll make them flinch and opens a counter-attack window.

You can expect loot to drop rather generously, with all kinds of passive bonuses, a Team Ninja action-RPG staple. There are also new weapons to mess about with in Rise Of The Ronin.

Thanks to the period setting, we get to play with guns of various types. The handgun is great at clutch moments when a boss’s Ki meter is left a smidgen and you need a good hit or two to get it all gone for that critical hit. The rifle works best when you have someone else draw aggro and you can fire headshots dealing big damage from a safe distance. The bayonet is a main weapon and it functions effectively like a spear, that happens to have a gun attached to it. It’s like a practical Gunblade.

New to Rise Of The Ronin is the ability to directly control your NPC companions, allowing you access to their moveset. Some characters have unique weapon types and moves, so it’s fun to give them a try. But it’s also really useful to draw aggro and deal more damage, especially during boss fights. Because guess what, bosses also appear in pairs more regularly. So you’ll need all the extra help you can get if you’re playing solo, though online co-op is still an option.

If you ever thought of how convenient it could have been to change control to another character when your character gets blown up in a long super attack you failed to parry, then say no more. You can absolutely cheese the boss fights by swapping between the three playable characters.

The game has difficulty options, with more options to make it even easier than other Team Ninja games before. But if you’re in for a challenge, you’re getting one. Higher difficulty settings increase the punishment level to that one hit from an unblockable attack can spell instant death.

The most remarkable thing Rise Of The Ronin has to offer is the open world. Yet I argue it’s also its biggest weak point.

From a technical achievement perspective, hats off to the devs for going open world after years of only making games with linear levels. You’re free to explore the city of Yokohama, Edo and Kyoto as well as its surrounding outskirts with a good amount of traversal options. You have a horse and you have a glider, the Avicula, to soar through the skies with. And you can climb just about anything that you can jump or latch a grappling hook to. Navigating and traversing the open world is straightforward and fun, with the world map being very useful to orient your way to the next collectible or activity.

But my main gripe with Rise Of The Ronin is that the open world is just by-the-numbers. It’s samey in structure. You’ve played an open world game that have made you clear outposts and collect hidden collectibles where you circle around a building to find a path to entry. And there’s just so, so many of the same activities spread throughout the game that it feels like filler. Bloat.

I have to cap each of my play session after about 2-3 hours of open world exploring before I feel tired and needed a nap. Granted, it’s all optional. But it’s still a bummer that an open world this lush, beautiful and enticing yet the things you do are just more of the same.

Though it’s not for the lack of trying. There’s a wanted system where the authorities will give chase to you should you be committing crimes like pickpocketing or wanton murdering civilians. But I barely interact with the system or have not good reason to. There’s a system where enemies in outposts get major buffs for being in adjacent zones where they are in control which would encourage players to strategically pick an outpost to clear out first to make things easier, but that feels overly complicated for barely anything.

In my first impressions of the game, I worry that the linear levels that the game feels too small and not soulslike enough. And my worries are unfortunately true. The game’s main missions, the Ronin Missions, feature set-piece levels where you can bring two other characters to join your fray, either by bringing NPC companions or another player via online co-op.

With the open world and the focus on companions Rise Of The Ronin brings, its main gameplay loop suffers. The linear levels feel cramped and lacks that soulslike soul to it. It doesn’t have enough of those labyrinthian level design where you basically spiralling around an area but you keep circling back into previous paths. Most of the levels lack that cheeky, trolling design choices to trick and trip players into traps and blunders. Too many of them is just you going around a building that have to be strategically partitioned off to make a longer level out of a small area like a haunted house attraction or a Mickey Mouse track.

There are more wonderful set-piece levels with unexpected surprises later in the main story, but by then it’s too little too late.

The boss encounters feel similarly too. In that many of the early fights are nothing to write home about in terms of flashiness or memorableness. One can argue that it’s possibly due to the game’s historical setting so no fantastical abilities and whatnot. But much later in the game, Wo Long levels of batshit crazy moves do appear. One guy has what is basically an Instant Transmission, out of nowhere!

The punishment for death is not as punishing as it would be in the usual soulslikes. Checkpoints are often close by. And if you don’t touch a nearby banner (the bonfire equivalent) you would like still spawn nearby your place of death as you can respawn at some nearby lanterns. The only thing you drop from dying is Karma, which is used to claim skill points. Skill points are easily found through other means that even should you lost them permanently for dying against the same enemy twice, it doesn’t feel like it’s the end of the world. The game’s more forgiving, but also lost character in the process.

While the open world design is by-the-numbers and as result can feel a bit boring, Rise Of The Ronin has another thing going for them in that embraces other RPG elements, in particular the dialogue choices. The game lets you choose and decide where the conversation goes with a dialogue wheel. Picking the right choices will win you more approval with a companion, or you can make choices that ultimately affect how the story plays out.

This aspect really is the real hook to Rise Of The Ronin, I’d argue. You’ll be deciding early on whether you’re buddying up with the Chousu bros to take down the Shogunate or you want to court the courtesan that works for a very important man. And the game lets you mingle and get to know these historical figures with dedicated Wikipedia articles. Be chummy with Ryoma Sakamoto. Share a drink with Kogoro Katsura. Do errands for Kaishu Katsu as he promises the next dinner is on him. Give them gifts. Say the things you’d think they want to hear. And help them out in Bond Missions where you get to interact with them more, or see different companions interacting with each other. You can even romance them.

The game will demand that you take a stand during these turbulent times, whether you are with the Anti-Shogunate movement or the Pro-Shogunate movement. But it gives ample time for you to see the situation from both sides, meet the various folks that are on either side and then commit to a choice.

Well, the first few choices in Chapter 1 doesn’t quite feel like that- if you’re not smitten by Taka Murayama you’d probably think the Pro-Shogunate faction are evil. But the game broadens your horizon afterwards showing how both sides are worth supporting or fighting against. By the time you have to properly commit to a faction, you probably have bonded with a few of the characters and if you’re still undecided by who should you support, you can just choose to stand on the side of your beloved homies.

The story of Rise Of The Ronin spans through the entire Bakumatsu period, from the time Japan had to engage with the US via gunboat diplomacy to the end of the Boshin War. It is a long, riveting tale that would have feel disjointed and spotty if it were told in the usual Team Ninja game formula. Though there’s very little effect on the passage of time, you can’t tell 15 years have gone by by looking at the world or characters. That said, the main plot follows quite closely to many of the main events in history. Though there are opportunities where you can diverge from real history and make a change that affects the fate of various characters.

On another note, the use of online elements has seen some evolution with Rise Of the Ronin. You won’t see blood pool indicating player deaths this time. Rather, you’ll see other player’s Ronin popping up in the open world. Some can be rescued. Some are just roaming about which you can engage in a duel with. Some have to be taken down. The game also collects data on what choice you make in pivotal parts of the story, so that’s another option to allow you to make important decisions.

The big takeaway of Rise Of The Ronin that you should know that it’s an open world action RPG, but the emphasis is on the open world. If this game is renamed Assassin’s Creed Japan or something along the lines I would believe it, as it has more semblance to that rather than past Team Ninja soulslikes.

The open world had diluted the soulslike aspects, and I argue it’s for the worse. But the game compensates that by letting you be invested in the world and characters more than any past Team Ninja games have been able to do. And thankfully, the combat remains the star of the show. The fast-paced bouts that demands you to parry is a blast once mastered.


Rise Of The Ronin has so much content, too much content. You can collect cats as a collectible, but good luck getting all 100 of those furballs. You like taking pictures of historical landmarks? There’s 100 of them too. Prefer to just hunker down in doing combat challenges, well those fugitives are probably that much as well. The horseback archery, shooting gallery, gliding and gambling mini-games break the pace a bit, but not by much. You’ll be doing a lot of killing in Rise Of The Ronin and not much else.

Even the Bond Missions are mostly has you engage in combat. I appreciate the one mission where you’re just helping out a buddy with their love life, because it’s one of the few missions that plays out so differently compared to others. And even that has a combat bit snuck into it.

The game is girthy in content, but it’s also just the same thing over and over again. There’s also post-game content for those wanting more challenges to face. For the masocore fans, the real game starts here, the punishment for mistakes can be insta-death. But it’s also provides an opportunity to grind your way to higher levels, perfecting your gear loadout and truly master the game.

The game also lets you go back in time so you can redo certain missions, pick a different choice, and do other things that would later become unavailable. So nothing is missable.

My playthrough of Rise Of The Ronin, completing more than 70% of the open world activities and doing all the available Bond Missions for my story route took me just about 70 hours. Obviously, you can finish it quicker than that, but this is to demonstrate the time consuming amount of content on offer.

Personal Enjoyment

The first soulslike game I ever beaten was Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty. That game was the one that made finally got me to grasp the fun that lies in this subgenre. Which explains why I keep bringing that game up.

It’s easy to see the parallels of soulslike games that Team Ninja has made when compared to FromSoftware. If Wo Long is their Sekiro with its unrelentless combat, Rise Of The Ronin is like Elden Ring in that this is their open world soulslikes.

However, Rise Of The Ronin doesn’t feel like a full-blown soulslike to me. It’s a soulslike in the way Star Wars Jedi: Survivor is in my head in that I forgot that these are soulslikes.

Rise Of The Ronin, to me, feels more of a typical open world game. And it’s such an unfortunate timing as I just did a 90-hour spell in another open world game so that scratch was firmly itched just recently. And having to experience another one, of a similar size right after? And all compressed under a two-week timeframe? Yeah, it’s been rough.

The circumstances of how I am playing Rise Of The Ronin is not ideal, which does affect how much I got out of it. If this was my first open world game of the year I probably would have love it more.

Still, the fact that I get to buddy up with Ryoma Sakamoto, meet Okita Shoji (who’s actually a proper bishounen in this game), shower gifts to the ladies at Kanda Medical School and discover these historical figures as relatable characters have been a fun time. Cats as a collectible is cool. Being able to bring a gun to a swordfight is neat. Exploring the open world maps that are designed pretty close to actual, historical maps has been wonderful. Seeing Mount Fuji towering at the right cardinal direction you’d expect it to be, while admiring the clouds rolling as a storm is coming, has been a delightful experience.

Despite it all, I enjoy my time with Rise Of The Ronin. Though in a better circumstance, I would’ve enjoyed it more. I was really happy to be done with this long game.


With Rise Of The Ronin, Team Ninja trades its familiar strengths of linear level design for an open world, which unfortunately dilutes the core soulslike gameplay.

However, its depiction of the Bakumatsu period and the way it engages players with its RPG mechanics makes for a memorable epic. The true Rise Of The Ronin experience is the friends you make along the way.

If you have an appetite for an open world game, dive right in. If you’re not sure if the soulslike combat is too much for you, don’t be. It’s a good, approachable open world game. And it shows how a demanding, punishing and methodical combat system can be applied outside of its usual souslike mould to great effect.

Played on PS5. Review code provided by PlayStation. Review based on version 1.001.001 (before day-1 patch).


Rise Of The Ronin

With Rise Of The Ronin, Team Ninja trades its familiar strengths of linear level design for an open world, which unfortunately dilutes the core soulslike gameplay.

However, its depiction of the Bakumatsu period and the way it engages players with its RPG mechanics makes for a memorable epic. The true Rise Of The Ronin experience is the friends you make along the way.

  • Presentation 8
  • Gameplay 8.5
  • Content 7.5
  • Personal Enjoyment 8

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