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RISE OF THE RONIN

Written By:

Chris Jackson
Yokohama

PLATFORM: PS5 | RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW

Set in the mid-19th century during a transitional period of Japan’s history that saw the country becoming more involved with (or less opposed to) British and American governments, Rise of the Ronin casts players as one half of the Blade Twins, a warrior unit trained by the Kurosu clan to fight back against the shogunate. When the twins’ village goes up in flames and a short series of events sees their efforts thwarted by the arrival of the Blue Demon, the twins are separated and your chosen sibling (depending whether you’d prefer to play as a male or female character) cuts ties with their clan, taking their first steps on the path to becoming a ronin – a masterless free-roaming warrior.

The first and possibly most important thing to note about Rise of the Ronin is that it’s quite a departure from the titles that developer Team Ninja has become known for in recent years. Stepping away from the obnoxiously difficult Soulslike gameplay of Nioh or Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty, RotR has more in common with open world adventures like Far Cry and Assassin’s Creed. You’ll get to explore the cities of Yokohama, Edo (olden-days Tokyo) and Kyoto while taking part in activities, maintaining public order by clearing out pockets of undesirables (the game’s version of taking over outposts) to bring the locals back to the area, hunting for collectibles and generally feeling and acting like one of gaming’s most badass samurai thanks to the satisfying weapons, tools, gadgets and upgrades that the game provides you with.

RotR‘s combat focuses on two buttons – one to attack, and another to parry, here known as a “counterspark” which lowers the enemy’s ki (stamina) and can put them in a staggered state, leaving them open to critical attacks. You’re given around a dozen types of weapons to play with, each with multiple fighting styles that are learned throughout the game, and swapping between them to get the upper hand over enemy weaknesses can easily make the difference between victory and defeat. Additional tools like elemental buffs, projectiles, bows, flamethrowers and guns come into play too, along with a grappling hook which not only helps with traversal but can also be used in combat to throw objects, pull items from enemies’ hands, and launch foes across the screen. Fast-paced and often quite brutal, it’s an incredibly addictive system that never feels old even when you’re reaching the 40+ hour mark. The opening hour does feel quite slow, but after completing a few missions and spending a bit of time getting a handful of upgrades under your belt, you’ll be floating around on your glider assassinating enemies from the air, launching arrows from atop your galloping steed, lopping enemies’ limbs off left right and centre, and effortlessly switching between weapons and fighting styles mid-battle to perform gruesome finishers and decapitations.

One of RotR‘s greatest strengths is that is gives you such a fun collection of tools and makes it as easy as possible to get on with enjoying yourself. Lots of nuances in the story and gameplay ensure that you’re never really given change to feel bored or underwhelmed, with everything you do having an effect on some mechanic or other, and the attention to detail on the “quality of life” side of things is quite staggering. Your stamina bar, for example, only matters during combat, so you’re never hindered in the open world by having to stop running to wait for a meter to recharge. When you summon your horse, it runs up alongside you and you’ll jump on automatically, allowing you to immediately head off to your chosen destination without messing around trying to find the exact spot where the game will allow you to mount the horse (ahem, Assassin’s Creed…). Just two examples that might not sound like game-changers, but when put together with all of the other conveniences that RotR has considered, it makes for a much more compelling and hassle-free adventure.

If there are any downsides, there’s so much loot that much of it quickly feels superfluous. Having said that, with those quality of life features, it’s possible to tell the game to automatically sell items or disassemble them for upgrade materials, which is a fantastic inclusion. There isn’t a huge amount of mission variety, mostly relying on “go here and kill someone”, and the game’s mission difficulty doesn’t scale up as your own level increases, so if you spend a lot of time completing all of the side-quests and activities on offer then it’s very easy to find yourself vastly overpowered, taking on enemies 10+ levels lower than your own. You can always bump the difficulty up if this happens, or of course you could just enjoy effortlessly slashing everyone to shreds with your sabres, katanas, greatswords and spears. However you choose to play, Rise of the Ronin feels like it’s always got your best interest at heart, rarely doing anything to get in the way of a good time. It’s excellent.

 

stars

 

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