Published on March 21st, 2024 | by Nathan Misa

Rise of the Ronin PS5 Review – Ronin Redemption

Rise of the Ronin PS5 Review – Ronin Redemption Nathan Misa

Summary: An ambitious open-world action-RPG with fast-paced combat, choice-based storytelling and a variety of gameplay systems that keep the experience fresh.


Katanas & Chill

Drifter cowboys, plundering pirates, vampire cabals – there are some hero archetypes in media that prove irresistible in a video game setting, and samurai, ninjas and gun-toting ronin top my list.

Rise of the Ronin, the latest title and PlayStation 5 exclusive from Team Ninja, feels like a game made for such tastes. It carves a distinct path with its 19th century Japan setting, a time of fascinating change for the country, putting the spotlight on a wandering Ronin amidst a cultural upheaval, while offering a blend of challenging action-based combat, fun role-playing game (RPG) systems and a meticulously crafted open-world filled with entertaining stories and secrets.


In Rise of the Ronin, you play as a master-less Ronin and former Veiled Edge, a deadly assassin trained from childhood. The Veiled Edge comes in bonded pairs, called Blade Twins, and this concept is the first of Rise of the Ronin’s many neat gameplay ideas – you get to create two original characters in an amazingly detailed character creator with a staggering amount of appearance options, and ultimately choose who you will play as the protagonist. An opening prologue deftly introduces the turbulent Bakumatsu period of 19th century Japan, where the Tokugawa shogunate and its isolationist policies were fast ending, and westerners began to enter the country.

Without getting into spoiler territory, your Ronin is quickly let loose into the world to explore the historic city of Yokohama, and later Edo and Kyoto, to navigate the bloody politics of the anti-West and pro-Japan factions, or simply wander the countryside as a masterless Ronin does. Split into chapters (which you can re-visit at any time should you prioritize the story), the main quests will take you through the historic Boshin War, while side quests help you get to know the many interesting NPCs who join you, their lives, motivations and hopes for the future of Japan.

The main quests form the best content in the game, with indulgent cinematic cutscenes that dive into the violent national divide and more personal stories of Japan’s many citizens. The choice system also changes the story depending on what you do or say during key moments, and who you align with (anti-shogun, pro-shogun or neutral Ronin). Your Ronin can be customized to be intimidating, charming or persuasive, and optional conversations and a ‘bond’ system flesh out the world and your relationship with NPCs with further narrative exposition. There’s even a helpful in-game encyclopedia to keep you track of all the names and historic events. The choice system is not as frequent or in-depth as most RPGs (or as much as I’d like), but it adds some interesting variety and replayability opportunities for the main story.

I found the premise, historical setting and overall story of Rise of the Ronin to be gripping and lovingly-depicted, particularly in the opening hours as your custom character fights and decimates foes in flashy combat, and interacts with imposing figures based on real historical players, such as Ryoma Sakamoto, Taka Murayama and Matthew C. Perry. The Edo period of samurai and ninja clashing with Western soldiers and cultural influences (warships, firearms, fashion) is sorely underrepresented in gaming, and Team Ninja leans heavily into this unique backdrop with a mostly grounded story that retains a bombastic flair; there are no demons or magic, but battles, weapons and characters are larger-than-life.

The open-world of Edo-era Japan will no doubt be the main draw for most players, however. 19th century Yokohama, Edo and Kyoto are reverently represented in great detail, from the rice paddy fields to the bamboo forests to the tea houses and the grander palaces of the nobility to the sprawling cities themselves, bustling with life as NPCs go about their days. Divided into distinct zones, each area contains typical open-world game activities, such as gangs of violent bandits or Western ruffians to clear, criminals to hunt down (who act as mini-bosses), hidden shrines to raise your skill points, cats to pet (yes, that’s a thing), landscape photos to take for an inventor, and an endless amount of crafting materials and loot drops (weapons, sub-weapons, armor, accessories, gifts) to customize your character and loadout with. Completing these zones rewards you with rare items and points to unlock gameplay abilities under the four main stat trees that determine your combat style (Strength, Dexterity, Charm or Intellect). There is a variety of upgrades to choose from, like flashier assassinations, intimidating execution moves and the ability to or craft better items, encouraging specialization; I chose a Dex build to become the apex ninja, sprinting across Edo roofs to sneakily pick-off foes, but a no-frills odachi-wielding samurai or crafty gunslinger are equally fun to play.

It’s easy to forget that Rise of the Ronin is Team Ninja’s first foray into the open-world with how well they handle the transition. Certain main story quests take on the structure of linear, level-based missions similar to Nioh (where you choose a loadout and allies, can directly play as allies temporarily, and fight a scripted boss at the end), but most take place in the open world where dynamic events can occur while you are on your quest. There are new gameplay systems steadily introduced throughout the game that keep things fresh, such as customizing your own longhouse, practicing your aim at the gun range, and giving gifts to NPCs you like to romance them.

A few activities feel derivative of games that have come before, and sometimes, admittedly, the sheer amount of icons on the map to tick off did wear me down at times. However, the overall variety, environmental storytelling and hand-crafted areas shows a lot of care was put into the map to make it consistently fun, and it’s far from too bloated. Multiple traversal methods also make exploring fast-paced; you can ride by horse, use a grappling hook to reach high areas to run on rooftops like any good ninja, and even use a glider to fly across the map, Breath of the Wild style.

Of course, none of this would be half as fun without Team Ninja’s signature combat-focused gameplay, and Ronin is appropriately action-packed, fast-paced and very bloody. Like Nioh, this is an action role-playing game (RPG) played in the third-person perspective, where you take on a variety of enemies in both melee and ranged combat, selecting from several Japanese and Western weapon types (katana, odachi, bayonets, greatswords, etc) and sub-weapons (shurikens, bow and arrow, bombs, pistols and rifles), each with their own unique movesets, animations, and executions.

The Ki meter governs stamina, which you must break in order to open foes up to devastating kill moves, and there’s a huge emphasis on parrying (called counterspark) versus brute force to beat tougher foes. Later, you get a charge-up meter that allows you to unleash attacks on tougher enemies for short bursts without spending KI, which is absolutely necessary for mid-to-late game bosses. Time your parries and combo attacks right, and you can also demoralize foes and automatically open them up to critical finishers with flashy, often bloody executions, with my personal favourite being using the grapple hook to throw cowering bandits off cliffs. The game’s default setting is aptly challenging, but the three difficulty modes allow you to toggle how intense fights are with a quick menu option, which is good because I can see several boss fights presenting a genuine stonewall for anyone who isn’t used to the genre (though NPC allies, who you can also control, help reduce the level of cheese needed).

Combat is all a bit overwhelming at first, especially given the sheer amount of loot you gather just by defeating enemies, but with so many foes on the map and in main quests to cut down, experimenting with all the options on offer comes naturally and proves very fun, especially because weapon types are further mixed up with specialized combat styles that change your weapon movesets and animations. And if you’re like me and and are all about the ‘fashion souls’, Rise of the Ronin thankfully lets you modify the appearance of your worn armor and weapons at any time based on your preferences, even when you find better gear in a different category. That also includes your character appearance, which you can modify at any time at the longhouse.

In terms of visuals and presentation, Rise of the Ronin is a step up from Team Ninja’s previous Nioh titles. Their 19th century Japan is wonderfully realised with period-accurate architecture, fashion, weapons and cities, and an impressive amount of detail is put into each corner of urban Yokohama, Kyoto and Edo (Tokyo) and the countryside as you explore its modest open-world. The character creator boasts many appearance options with high-quality character, armor and weapon models, while main story cutscenes are rendered in-engine, allowing for your custom character and the armor and weapons you equip to be fully on display, with impressive animation work and lighting. And while Rise of the Ronin’s Japan is more grounded than Nioh’s mythological depiction, there’s still plenty of heavily stylized artistic choices Team Ninja are known for, like the over-the-top levels of blood that spills every time you cut down a foe, or the impossibly huge and imposing mini-bosses that look straight out of an anime.

Outside of main story sequences, however, things are far less graphically impressive. Engaging in side-quests or character conversations reveals far more stilted face animations, re-used character models and lower quality textures, and sometimes general player movement across the map leads to awkward animations or environmental clipping. None of these instances are deal-breakers by any means, but anyone expecting Ghost of Tsushima levels of graphical quality should temper their expectations.

Rise of the Ronin is undoubtedly Team Ninja’s most ambitious game to-date, but it’s also their first open-world title, and it is accompanied by a few disappointing compromises on a technical level. The performance graphics mode aims for 60fps, but sadly doesn’t quite stay locked when lots of NPCs or battles are on-screen, and main cutscenes are capped to 30fps regardless. The graphics and ray-tracing modes, meanwhile, trade responsiveness for greater detail in textures and lighting, but I found Ronin’s fast-paced combat to feel sluggish in these modes, and image quality still looks good with high-frame rate prioritised. Overall, Ronin delivers a decently playable experience, just with a few technical caveats that you may (or may not) be able to overlook.

Sound is another area Rise of the Ronin excels in, with a decent English voice-cast and stirring soundtrack by Inon Zur that elevates every dramatic betrayal, battle and revelation like a good black-and-white Ronin movie. Both your created Veiled Edge characters are voiced when they are in scenes together (they are otherwise silent in most other cutscenes), which is a pleasant surprise, while main story NPCs (both Japanese and Western) deliver entertaining performances that sometimes comes across as a little cheesy or awkward due to the script provided. Purists will no doubt opt for the Japanese voice track, which is equally compelling.

The Final Verdict

Rise of the Ronin is an ambitious action-RPG that offers a meticulously crafted and explorable open-world, in-depth combat systems and a well-told, entertaining narrative that makes great use of the historic 1860s Edo period setting.

Combined with a fantastic weapon and appearance customization, intriguing characters, and a fair amount of replayability based on your choices, Team Ninja fans and anyone itching to role-play as a wandering Ronin (or if you just like cats a lot) will be well taken care of with the sheer amount of content and systems to indulge in (I’m 60+ hours and counting). Highly recommended.

Game Details

Primary Format – Games – PlayStation 5
Game Genre – Action-adventure RPG
Rating – MA15+
Game Developer – Team Ninja
Game Publisher – Sony Interactive Entertainment

About the Author'

A senior writer for and former writer for MMGN and Ninemsn, Nathan has been reviewing video games and interviewing talented developers since 2012. As a nostalgia tragic eternally tied to the glorious 1990s, he's always playing retro gaming classics whenever he's not entrenched in the latest RPG, or talking your ear off about why The First Law book series is better than Game of Thrones - to anyone who dares listen.

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