Rise of the Ronin key art

We got to play Rise of the Ronin early: First impressions from the new action RPG by Team Ninja

Rise of the Ronin is the highly anticipated game from the legendary Team Ninja that takes us to one of the most pivotal points in Japanese history, puts us in the shoes of a wandering samurai, and lets us carve our own story using a katana. Rise of the Ronin releases on March 22nd, exclusively on the PlayStation 5. Thanks to our friends at PlayStation Greece, we had the chance to play it before release and give you a sneak peek of what to expect from this exclusive collaboration between Koei Tecmo’s Team Ninja and PlayStation Studios!

With Rise of the Ronin, PlayStation further cements its position as the premier platform for Japanese developers. Following the excellent Final Fantasy VII Rebirth; also a PlayStation 5 exclusive, Team Ninja picks up where Square Enix left off with an open-world action RPG experience. Team Ninja’s last project was Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty in 2023 in partnership with EA, and in 2021 they remastered the legendary Ninja Gaiden series for previous-generation consoles. This studio has become particularly well known over the last decade for the Nioh series, also available exclusively on PlayStation consoles. Team Ninja games are known for their weighty combat and for giving players the freedom to approach situations in their own way. Rise of the Ronin doesn’t stray away from these principles.

The following impressions are based on the first two hours of gameplay in Rise of the Ronin.

All images in this article, aside from character creation screens, are provided by Sony PlayStation.

In a crossroads between two eras

Rise of the Ronin is set in mid-19th century Japan. The Land of the Rising Sun is in a transitional state, with the Edo era of the great feudal lords and samurais in its dying breaths, while Westerners are landing on the shores of the great island of Japan. The locals are divided: everyone recognizes that the time for a change has come, but are afraid to part with their traditions, while some do not hesitate to collaborate with the enemy, sensing an opportunity for personal gain.

We play as an unnamed samurai from the Veiled Edge village of Tosa District. At the time, the secret villages of each prefecture were responsible for training the warriors used by the feudal lords to carry out special missions and defend their interests. Our story begins in a village where samurai are trained to fight in pairs, as twin blades. But after a difficult mission, our companion ends up sacrificing themselves in battle to save the protagonist and our village burns to the ground. Now, as a ronin without a master or village to report to, we vow revenge against the enemy.

The trail leads us to neighbouring Yokohama, a port city that has become the meeting point between the Eastern and Western worlds. On the way to Yokohama, we meet a wandering samurai named Sakamoto Ryouma, a figure of utmost importance in Japanese history. Thanks to Ryouma’s very strong moral compass, and his natural aptitude for getting into trouble, we slowly begin to getting caught up in a story that will determine the course of the Japanese state (or empire) for the next century.

Riding on horseback in Rise of the Ronin
Source: PlayStation

Carve your own path

Rise of the Ronin gives you complete freedom to live your own story as a ronin, a wandering samurai. Before you start playing, you’ll need to create your character. I was really impressed by how detailed Rise of the Ronin’s character creation tool is. You can customize every aspect of your character, Team Ninja gives you the opportunity to modify everything from how pointy your ears are to how many colored strands of hair your character will have. It’s amazing how much time you can spend creating your character before you even start the game.

This is very important as your character is a blank slate: you decide everything from their appearance, the weapons they use, to the answers they gives in dialogue. Rise of the Ronin is an RPG that sets you up for an excellent role play in Edo era Japan.

  • Selecting a class in Rise of the Ronin
  • Character creation screen in Rise of the Ronin

Explore the majestic Japanese open-world

Rise of the Ronin is an open-world game, which, as you would expect, places a heavy emphasis on exploration. Team Ninja’s approach to the first two hours of the game has you ask your way into town, sends you from one quest (and place) to another until you reach your destination, pushing you to explore the beautiful world they’ve built as you gather information for your mission. I’m glad to see that this beautiful open-world isn’t just there to be another talking point in the marketing material, but is actually utilized in the gameplay as well as the story.

By exploring you discover new settlements, which you can help by completing a few small quests/world events. These quests, in addition to the standard rewards, will improve your relationship with the settlement (or region) in question, giving you access to better merchant prices or other perks I haven’t seen yet.

A big open-world needs to offer players multiple ways of traversing it. You can gallop along Japan’s country roads on your horse. If you’re at a high point, you can jump and glide to your destination using your glider, but keep an eye on your stamina as it can run out very quickly. Within the city, you can use your grappling rope to climb to high places and move quickly by going from rooftop to rooftop.

Your blade, your rules

Team Ninja is known for their excellent combat mechanics. If you liked Nioh and Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty, or better yet, Ninja Gaiden, you’ll find plenty to like here. Rise of the Ronin is textbook Team Ninja. Combat is more tactical than fast-paced, with a heavy focus on parrying attacks and getting the timing right. Battles are more reminiscent of delicate blade dacncing than violent swordfights. If you expect to just mash buttons, this game is probably not for you. Enemies hit hard, usually harder than you, and punish you for your mistakes.

Fortunately you don’t waltz into battle alone, at least most of the time. In missions, which are more akin to small dungeons, you’re accompanied by another character, either an NPC or another player in co-op. Since we’re playing a pre-release version of the game, we didn’t get a chance to try out the co-op features.

One of the key aspects of combat in Rise of the Ronin is that you can customize almost everything. From choosing between the weapons your character uses, their stance, and of course their armor. And trust me, there’s a lot of armor in this game and it’s handed out round every corner. There’s a fairly complex crafting system, an equally complex skill tree system that uses not only ability points, but also attribute points, an in-depth stable system for your horses, and a whole list of other intricate systems, which while they may have their uses, come with their own share of problems. For example, you’ll spend a lot of time reading tutorial prompts on how all these systems work, and by the time you actually need them, you’re sure to have forgotten how they work. However, the variety they offer is great and they certainly have their role, which the two hours of gameplay I’ve had available to me hasn’t revealed yet.

Fighting sequence in Rise of the Ronin
Source: PlayStation

A promising adventure

I think I’m not the only one who finds something really charming about samurai games. Is it the history behind the narrative? Is it the enchanting Japanese culture? Is it every little boy’s fantasy of becoming a samurai warrior? Who knows. What I do know is that Rise of the Ronin manages to tick all of the aforementioned boxes.

With a very interesting plot, an excellent battle system, a huge open-world full of reasons to explore, Rise of the Ronin showed us within two hours that it has the right foundations to be a great game. We can’t wait to see the what follows.

We would like to thank PlayStation Greece for the review copy we used.

George Makridis

Posts published: 140

Editor in Chief. Studying Communication & Media. Listening to Hip-Hop. Watching advanced humor sitcoms and dumb superhero flicks. Has way too many games in his library and not that much time to actually play them.