Rise of the Ronin review –  brutally stylish combat is let down by bloated exploration

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Most open-world games suffer from oversaturation and needless bloat in the form of maps bursting with endless clusters of objective markers, and Rise of the Ronin is entirely guilty of this. While the open-world objectives become cumbersome, the undeniably stylish combat and gameplay do a lot of legwork to smooth over the bloating issues.

Set during a period of history that is seldom explored in games, Rise of the Ronin wins big points for spinning an intriguing yarn, full of political intrigue set against a backdrop of volatile and historic change in 1800s Japan. Since the story can be hard to follow at times, the in-game lore function will help you stay on top of characters and major events at the press of a button, which is a clever addition.

The main thing that brings Rise of the Ronin down is the multitude of characters and the way the story is presented and flows. Outside of a few exceptions, the missions designed to deepen your bond with allies add more unnecessary bloat to a game that is crying out for some trimming down. The story being told is interesting, but the way it is told is not. It doesn’t help that half of the characters you meet and are forced to interact with are hard to like, and not in an enjoyable way.

Rise of the Ronin review - standing with a cat looking over Yokohama.
Image by VideoGamer

The same is true for the exploration, which is entirely riddled with the same copy-pasted activities in each area and region you visit. It starts strong and fun, but with three main massive regions to explore, you will find yourself fulfilling the same objectives over and over again. While this is expected in an open-world game, even reducing the amount by half would still give you too much to do in Rise of the Ronin.

Rise of the Ronin’s branching narrative also fails to impress. Outside of a couple of major choices, you end up seeing similarities between the ‘branches’ regardless of the choices you make. An example, without spoiling anything, is choosing to keep someone alive. You let them go only to see them killed off seconds later in a subsequent cutscene, making your character’s choice entirely meaningless. Later decisions have a bit more followthrough, but it’s disappointing to see the story correct itself this way at all.

The strongest part of Rise of the Ronin is, by far, the combat. Team Ninja hit gold when it first introduced Nioh. The combat was then refined to near perfection in Nioh 2 and has once again been improved in Rise of the Ronin. You have tons of weapon types to choose from, all of which have unique animations and move sets that keep you wanting to switch things up.

You have so many options in combat, there is never a dull moment when it comes to tackling fights. On the surface, it is the same old style as Nioh, with parrying, dodging, and managing your Ki gauge as you try to break the enemies’ Ki. But there is something beautiful in its simplicity that keeps it engaging. Each weapon has several styles (think stances in Nioh, but expanded on massively) and you can switch between three of them in fights. Some styles are effective against certain weapons, functioning as a rock-paper-scissors matchup. With so many tools at your disposal, along with being able to change characters during missions, combat is rarely dull thanks to how satisfying, fast, and fluid it is.

While I praise the variety of weapons, Team Ninja can never seem to tone down the overabundance of loot, which is another case of bloat in the game. There are several variations and rarities of the same weapons and armour with other perks piled on top, and it’s beyond annoying. You will pick up so much useless tat during your playthrough and it’s simply the same weapon with different stats, but mostly worse. Not just weapons, but armour as well as accessories. Why must my inventory be filled with hundreds of copies of the same gear repeatedly? I truly hope one day Team Ninja will finally learn that less is more.

Rise of the Ronin review - character stands readying a weapon
Image by VideoGamer

Nothing embodies this more than this hilarious interaction: “Thank you for saving me”, says a destitute-looking monk. “It isn’t much, but I want you to have it”. He proceeds to hand over a blue-rarity bayonet, an entire British military outfit, along with some poisonous whetstones and a pair of dual blades.

Outside of the actual gameplay, Rise of the Ronin suffers from some performance issues on the PS5. Visually, textures are flat, too sharp, and extremely washed out to the point where everything looks dreadful. Framerates stutter frequently, but the most egregious offence is that a game designed for PS5 like this one looks as bad as it does.

As the credits roll in Rise of the Ronin, I’m greeted with messages of more content to dive into. While this might be a welcome sight to others, it only adds to the bloat for me. All in all, I can forgive Rise of the Ronin a lot of its issues because the core gameplay, namely movement and the flow of combat, is so enjoyable. Not to mention, its fashion options are undeniably stylish.

Don’t go into this thinking it will be like Ghost of Tsushima because you will be sorely disappointed. There are some surface-level similarities, but saying these two are alike simultaneously doesn’t give Ghost of Tsushima enough credit and gives Rise of the Ronin too much. Rise of the Ronin does plenty to set itself apart from Tsushima – for better and worse – and more than anything, it’s the perfect iteration of Nioh’s systems translated into an open-world game.

Reviewed on PS5, review code provided by Sony.

About the Author

Jack Webb

Jack Webb is a guides writer for VideoGamer.

Rise of the Ronin

  • Release Date: March 22, 2024
  • Platform(s): PlayStation 5
  • Genre(s): Action, Action Adventure, Action RPG, Open World, RPG
6 VideoGamer
Riding through the world in Rise of the Ronin

verdict

Rise of the Ronin is a competent open-world game that suffers from too much bloat. While there are story pacing problems and too many meaningless interactions, Rise of the Ronin is the best iteration of Nioh’s systems translated into an open-world game.
6 Fast, fluid, and satisfying combat Interesting story Tons of variety with weapons and styles Bloated systems and map exploration Story presentation leaves a lot to be desired Player choice is often meaingless