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‘Rise of the Ronin’ review: Living out your Kenshin Himura fantasies

Gelo Gonzales
‘Rise of the Ronin’ review: Living out your Kenshin Himura fantasies
Samurai action title Rise of the Ronin lets you live out some of your Kenshin Himura fantasies as the game is set in Japan's Bakumatsu era, the same time period where the infamous Battousai operated in

Disclosure: Sony provided a copy of the game for this review.

Love Ghost of Tsushima’s historical samurai action or the Souls-like games but wished they were just a little more forgiving? Rise of the Ronin, a PS5-exclusive from Team Ninja and Sony XDev, coming out on March 22, might be for you. Here’s our review. 

Satisfying parrying system

The parrying system is really fun. It’s called Countersparks. You press triangle to deflect a hit at the right time. There are 3 difficulty settings, with the easiest giving you a bigger window for getting a parry, while the hardest requires more precise timing. It’s all part of the game’s plan to make a game with some Souls-like elements more accessible. 

Like any good Souls-like or Souls-lite in the case of Ronin, the boss battles are also incredibly fun. The best part is figuring out their combo pattern so you could parry each hit. You could get hit but as long as you parry the last attack in their combo, you can momentarily stagger a boss, and get a few hits in.

With each parry, you also build up their panic meter, which when full, allows you to unleash a killer attack that deletes a good chunk of their health. It’s similar to Sekiro.

Rise of the Rurouni?

There are a ton of fighting styles and weapon types. And there’s a mix of both Japanese weapons and Western weapons as the game is set in Japan’s historical Bakumatsu period when Japan is opening up to Western influence – which really is the core in the conflict in the game.

The pro-Shogunate faction wants to open up Japan to the world, while the anti-Shogunate faction doesn’t want this foreign influence, and wants to restore imperial rule. 

Fun fact: Battousai from the manga/anime Rurouni Kenshin was an assassin during the Bakumatsu period for the anti-Shogunate faction, the Ishin Shishi.

Here’s an even more fun fact: Rise of the Ronin has one fighting stance reminiscent of Battousai’s quick-draw style, Saito’s piercing style, and like Shishio, you can set your sword on fire.

Those who are fans of the show might find it fun to roleplay in the era where Rurouni Kenshin was set in. 

There are also some unique killer blows depending on the fighting style or weapon you’re using to keep the action looking dynamic. 

Characters you’d care about
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The characters are engaging as they carry different motivations, whether they’re pro- or anti-shogunate or just neutral, and these are depicted well in the game. Players are given some choices which faction to support, and the game features branching storylines

There’s a strong emphasis on the characters. The characters are well-designed, and you can build a bond with them by giving them appropriate gifts, by choosing them as an ally in the game’s missions, or by chatting with them in your house. You’ll get equipment as a reward for raising your bond level with a character, or in some cases, learn a new fighting technique.

You can also have pets in your house such as the cats you catch, and dogs that you befriend. You can also set various decorations, which will also have bonuses for you in battle. 

The environments in the game are also varied, including those in the missions you take part in.

Graphical shortcomings, cool glider assassinations, auto-destination setting

The game has some technical graphical flaws, but since I started reviewing the game, I’ve had at least two patches that appear to have improved the performance, and the texture work.

There are some spots when the graphics look rough, but overall, I’ve enjoyed the scenery, and the world looks organic and lovingly crafted, from geisha houses to rundown villages to scenic temples.

With glider assassinations, opening the glider at first wasn’t a responsive experience. There was a specific timing to pressing the X button to deploy it, but if you miss it, you just fall like a rock. Again, a patch has improved it, and it’s become more responsive now.  And once you do an assassination falling from the glider, it’s just a cool feeling. 

Things like this, as well as the aforementioned graphical flaws, tiny details like typos (I’ve noticed two), give me the impression of a rushed Cyberpunk 2077 situation, although in comparison, Ronin is very much in a much more playable state as it is. 

I love the quality of life improvements for an open world game like automatic item pick-ups (including plants and minerals); and especially automatic destination running for your horse,. and automatic riding when you call up your horse, just to name a few.

A challenging but forgiving boss experience

It’s a much, much more forgiving game than other games influenced by the Souls series. It’s easier to recover experience points you potentially lose from dying. There’s a checkpoint right before a boss, unlike the classic Souls games where you really have to go through an entire stage before you get another shot.

You can choose to do missions or fight bosses with two other CPU-controlled allies, who can revive you as long as you have a healing item left, and who you can switch playing as anytime, essentially giving you two extra lives. It’s like a 3V1.

Boss really giving you a hard time? Switch up the difficulty level. The easiest level gives you more healing items, and more health points recovered when healing. The point is, this is designed for players that want to experience a measure of strategic, pattern-memorizing Souls-like combat, with less stress, and with options at hand if they decided they’ve had enough, and just want to go forward with the game. 

Props to Team Ninja for attempting to define the middle-ground between a traditional action-adventure open world game, and a more challenging (masochistic?) Souls game. 

Loot feels like a lite version of Diablo, restoring public order

The loot has a Diablo-like feel. For an open-world title, it feels very generous with sword and armor drops, and these are put under categories such as excellent, and exquisite, aside from more common ones.

Exquisite items can have an exquisite trait that gives multiple bonuses, as seen in the screenshot below. But in order to get a bonus, you need to equip an item that has the same exquisite trait. To get all bonuses, you often have to equip 3 items with the same exquisite trait, similar to completing a set item from the Diablo games.

Like Diablo IV, you can disassemble items into raw materials, which you can then use to upgrade your favored equipment.

Like Ghost of Tsushima, you can liberate regions by clearing them of enemies. It’s not only fun to do these clearing missions or as the game calls it, “restoring public order” but it’s rewarding since you often open up fast travel spots by doing so, or in some cases, unlock that area’s merchant that offers unique loot. Once you free an area, civilians return that may also offer other sidequests. 

Enemy AI flaws, traversal feels limited

The overall stealth mechanic is marred because the enemy programming for this part could use work. Enemies don’t hear when you break stuff, and their cone of vision feels unrealistically limited at times. You feel like they should’ve seen you or heard you already, but they don’t. It’s not realistic in this sense, although this makes things certainly easier for gamers.

But other times as well, they’d be super quick in detecting you. So it’s uneven. It’s not that the stealth experience isn’t fun (it’s still satisfying to get those stealth kills, and reminds me of the old PlayStation days of Tenchu).

Traversal feels restrictive for a game that has some ninja elements. The ledges you can grab on are limited. And you can only use your grapple in a few spots.

Personally, I feel like, this game could’ve benefited from Assassin’s Creed-style, or Shadow of Mordor-style climb-anywhere mechanic, especially given that there are some gorgeous views in the game. Heck, even the old Tenchu games let you grapple anywhere. 

There are lots of moments when the enemy would alternate between chasing after me, then rushing back to their designated area, and then chasing after me. It’s funny, and exploitable but it’s an illusion-shattering moment. I know enemies are supposed to be restricted to an area, but I think the game should’ve extended this range farther out. 

Graphics feel a step behind the top AAA titles like FFVII Rebirth but there’s some pretty scenery

The graphics can be uneven. But be that as it may, there are some amazing looking scenes and scenery. I’ve especially liked the lightning, fog, dust particle, and rain effects, although yes, performance could still be improved.  

In my experience, my favorite mode has been graphics mode for the best clarity, fidelity, best texture quality, minimized pop-ins, and better draw distance. But mind you, the framerate could feel choppy in scenes, especially in wide open areas with a lot of NPC and buildings. In more enclosed areas, it’s smoother. Missions are usually in more contained areas, so performance is better there. 

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The auto-run feature lets you enjoy the scenery without having to control your horse. It’s a really nice feature.

Performance mode has more noticeable pop-ins and what feels like a shorter draw distance. And the draw distance is important for an open-world game. 

I wouldn’t use ray-tracing mode for now, barring a really good patch from the devs. Even after the patches, the image quality seems to take a dip here, and so far, I don’t see significant visual benefits from the ray tracing. 

But make no mistake, for the fun combat and the many fighting styles, the engaging characters, the historical setting, and the fun things to do like the photography, cat-catching, dog-petting, character bonding, strong art style, and whatnot, I’m really okay with the fact that the graphics technically don’t set new standards.

So that’s Ronin. It has rough spots, and some illusion-breaking moments with the enemy, but it’s engaging enough that once you get into it, you’d want to keep playing to master the combat, and see the characters and the story through. 

If you’re a sucker for this kind of setting, getting access to a lot of sword fighting styles, love the idea of a lot more forgiving Souls-like, this is a game you’ll really find enjoyment in. –

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Gelo Gonzales

Gelo Gonzales is Rappler’s technology editor. He covers consumer electronics, social media, emerging tech, and video games.