Rise of the Ronin Preview – Rise up and defy the Shogun

Rise of the Ronin combat header

The mid-19th century was a period of enforced change and upheaval in Japan, as the United States and the West took rather forceful measures to open the country up to trading and end a traditionally isolationist policy. The move would impact everyone in the country from the Shogun, through the clans, and the regular people. Not everyone was happy with the possibility of such change, with Rise of the Ronin featuring the Veiled Edge, a group of skilled blade wielders and assassins who will defy the Shogun.

The opening couple of hours of Rise of the Ronin give a taste of what is to come, but before you get into the story, the first step is to create your character. Every facial feature can be meticulously tweaked and tailored to your preference, and you could easily lose an hour just perfecting your look.  On the other hand, you can use the randomiser to create a character for you, with results that would definitely make you stand out of the crowd. You actually create two characters as this falls into the Veiled Edge’s philosophy of Blade Twins. The Blade Twins are paired up from a young age to train together, and eventually go on missions together, working in perfect harmony.

It might be borderline blasphemous to say, but the more important choice is between the four combat styles you can adopt. Each one gives different advantages, has better proficiency with different weapons, and unlocks a special skill early. For example, the Killer style has better proficiency with katana and odachi. Choosing a style does not lock you out from using other weapons, nor does it close off any skill paths, so you can mix and match the skills you want to build a ronin that fits your playstyle.

Rise of the Ronin training

The core of Rise of the Ronin is combat and in typical Team Ninja fashion, it’s a trial from the get go. You do get a tutorial of sorts using your chosen weapons, and the opening mission does go over the basics of both combat and the game’s structure. For example, enemy strength is donated by the icon above them, from basic enemies to leaders. Killing leaders means enemies will not respawn in an area when you interact with a checkpoint. Leaders are formidable enemies, but the lower ranked enemies are nothing to be sniffed at either, as they can do quite a bit of damage close up and from range.

In combat, everything is reliant on Ki, which is essentially stamina. This bar depletes as you attack, defend, dodge, or run in combat and the same applies for enemies. If you deplete an enemy’s Ki, you break them temporarily allowing you to get in a powerful attack. However, this works in reverse too, and if you are not careful you will find yourself on the end of a powerful attack yourself. It really is the saying ‘only fools rush in’ made manifest, especially against bosses.

Rise of the Ronin broken Ki

You need to take notice of how an enemy attacks, and how you can counter – time a counter swing correctly and you will immediately break an enemy’s Ki to give you a major advantage. However, you can’t just rely on a single tactic for every enemy, or even in a single battle. Sometimes, you need to get distance and use ranged weapons, dive in for a quick flourish of melee and then back off again. Endlessly pressing the attack button will only get you killed. Shuriken are good for small damage from range, but when you get a gun and pair that with a sword for example, the possibilities really open up.

You will have allies fighting alongside you in some battles, and it’s a little unexpected to be able to quickly switch between characters in a fight. If the character you are controlling is in a bit of trouble, you can switch to an ally who may have been dealing with a weaker enemy so they can instead attack another enemy from behind. If an ally falls you can only revive them if you have the right item, so even if you start with the numbers advantage, you could very quickly lose it if you are not stocked up. You can apply temporary buffs to weapons too, like adding poison or fire damage.

Rise of the Ronin open world

The opening of Rise of the Ronin also introduces the open world, and it is far from a safe place. Bandits roam the land, and cause whole villages to go into hiding. You can liberate these places by killing the bandits, which brings people back and opens new opportunities for missions and trading. Additionally, there is a Bond feature which applies to both allies and the different regions. The more you help people in a region, the more rewards you get and the more likely the locals are to be favourable to you. You will find set side quests as well as encounters on the road, which will improve your bond with the land as well as rewarding you with gear.

So far, it all sounds great, right? Yet, from the opening hours, it feels like Rise of the Ronin is missing that little something that would make its atmosphere more engaging. There are major events that take place at the start, but they lack impact. The world looks great, it is filled with activities and encounters, and yet there is this lack of immersive pull. That’s something that might hopefully come as you dive deeper into this time period, story and setting.

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From the heady days of the Mega Drive up until the modern day gaming has been my main hobby. I'll give almost any game a go.