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Rise of the Ronin is a grab bag of gaming’s greatest hits

Rise of the Ronin's character on a horse.
Team Ninja

When I grappled to the roof of a building using my hook, I felt like I’d played Rise of the Ronin before. That’s not a bad thing; I’ve played many of Team Ninja’s previous games, but it felt oddly familiar, in a bloody comforting way.

Team Ninja has released titles at a regular cadence over the past several years, and it’s impressive that the studio has been able to maintain at least a certain level of quality. The developer has experimented with different genres in that time too. It took on the Soulslike genre with Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty and Nioh, the fighting game realm with Dead or Alive, and action RPGs with Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin. This year, Team Ninja is releasing Rise of the Ronin for PlayStation 5 and taking a swing at the open-world RPG. Its gameplay incorporates many systems from Team Ninja’s previous games, and draws inspiration from other developers like FromSoftware.

Ahead of its March 22 launch on PS5, I played two hours of Rise of the Ronin. So far, it feels like a grab bag of greatest hits, stapling together Team Ninja’s influences. I’m still waiting to see if all of those ideas fully work, but a strong opening sequence and fluid combat are already carrying the opening hours of the bloodsoaked samurai adventure.

Two heads are better than one

Rise of the Ronin starts off with a bit of a twist. Two siblings escape a burning village with murderous samurais on their tail, and an old lady comes to their rescue. She then takes the pair under her wing and trains them to become the Twin Blades, a pair of skilled samurais. When I got to the game’s character creator, I was able to customize both heroes instead of just one.

As I got a little further into the game, it taught me that I could switch between both Twin Blade characters during gameplay. I utilized this to my full advantage when fighting the game’s tutorial boss, an American diplomat named Commodore Perry, who seeks to open up trade with Japan. My AI-controlled twin was incredibly useful as a distraction while I kept shanking the boss from behind, but I also switched to them so I could parry his incoming attacks.

Rise of the Ronin's tutorial boss, Commodore Perry.
Team Ninja

Thankfully, the parrying system is much more forgiving here than in Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty. The window isn’t nearly as strict and I didn’t have a difficult time deflecting his attacks, draining his stamina meter, and then getting a cinematic critical hit in. Each hit and kill feels morbidly satisfying, with blood staining every inch of enemies’ clothes and pouring out of every cut or orifice like in a Ninja Gaiden game.

After completing the tutorial, I was thrust into the open world. Rise of the Ronin will inevitably draw comparisons to Ghost of Tsushima despite both games taking place in completely different time periods in Japan. However, it feels more akin to an Assassin’s Creed game, and I imagine this is what Ubisoft’s upcoming Assassin’s Creed Red could potentially be like.

Taking inspiration

Like almost every open-world game, Rise of the Ronin has its own versions of bandit camps called Public Orders. They play out exactly as you’d expect: kill all of the enemies in the area and you’ll unlock its banner flag. It’s this game’s version of the bonfire save point.

As you kill more enemies, you’ll earn Valor, and when you’ve accumulated enough, you’ll earn skill points to invest in more skills. Interestingly, this is where the most iconic Soulsborne feature is implemented. If you die, you lose your Valor and a bounty is put on the enemy who killed you. Only by defeating the enemy will you be able to restore your previous valor. It was a surprising challenge given how much easier the game is compared to something like Dark Souls. There are three different difficulty settings to choose from, though, for those looking for a harder challenge.

Rise of the Ronin protagonist using a pistol.
Team Ninja

Rise of the Ronin also takes cues from a few other games as well. There are different stances you can assume to take advantage of enemy weaknesses and make them stagger more easily. The stances seem like a clear reference to Team Ninja’s Nioh. A grappling hook can be used to throw barrels at enemies, as well as perform stealth kills from a distance. It can also be used to travel to the top of buildings, giving you a cool sense of elevation, like in Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. You have access to a glider and horse just like in The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, which gives you plenty of options and freedoms on how to explore.

I’m only a few hours in, but I’m enjoying the variety of different combat and exploration options that I’ve seen so far. Rise of the Ronin feels like Team Ninja is drawing upon everything it has learned so far in its nearly four decades of existence. There’s a risk in implementing so many ideas from different genres, sometimes making the end result indistinguishable from its peers, but hopefully the sum of its parts gives rise to the Ronin’s identity.

Rise of the Ronin launches on March 22 for PlayStation 5.

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George Yang
George Yang is a freelance games writer for Digital Trends. He has written for places such as IGN, GameSpot, The Washington…
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