Key art from Rise of the Ronin

Rise of the Ronin is off to an excellent start

No one makes historical epics quite like Koei Tecmo...

7 mins read

I’ve had the opportunity to get some hands-on time with Koei Tecmo’s upcoming historical epic, Rise of the Ronin. Supposedly this has been in development from as far back as the original Nioh, and I was a little shocked when I went in expecting something like Nioh, Wo Long, or FromSoftware’s big action blockbusters (especially Sekiro).

Instead, it comes across as much more like Ghost of Tsushima, although far less overwrought and made like it was in wide-eyed wonder at how exotic Japan is. This is the Japanese’s take on their own history and country, and it’s off to a great start.

Rise of the Ronin takes place at around the time of the Boshin War, and you’ll be meeting famous faces from that era almost immediately. I’ve already run into Matthew Perry (no, not the actor, the American navy guy). He is, appropriately, a villain. Then you’ll bump into Sakamoto Ryoma (the same character at the centre of Like a Dragon: Ishin), and he’s a charmer. Given that I’ve explored about 1/10th of the map so far, the sense of a blend of historical authenticity to go with the over-the-top action is already being driven home hard, and I’m already invested in the plot, knowing how many incredible stories came out of the Boshin War.

A screenshot from Rise of the Ronin

So far I’ve been able to capture some bases as side missions, run through one extended area that effectively worked as a dungeon, and explore some countryside and, briefly, the city of Yokohama as well. Guardedly, I’m enjoying this. It uses a lot of open world convention, but the bases aren’t so time-consuming, and the combat system is enjoyable. There’s also plenty of creative flexibility in how you go about your work, with some well-designed areas that encourage experimentation.

When you do end up in battle, you’ll be focusing on parries and counter-attacks. On the higher difficulty levels, the timing of these is every bit as challenging as any Soulslike you’ll play. However, Koei Tecmo has included difficulty options in this one, and easy mode is perhaps the most accessible take on this kind of game that I’ve come across. If you found Elden Ring or Wo Long frustrating to time the parries and counters, then Rise of the Ronin is the perfect starting point and a stepping stone into those kinds of twitch reaction combat systems. And, again, for those who want a challenge, there is a higher difficulty setting.

Importantly, there aren’t too many icons on the map representing busywork to grind the flow of the adventure to a halt. There is the implication that this might be on the way, as the number of side distractions has continued to grow in the early stages, but I also doubt that this is going to become as overwhelming as a Ubisoft open-world game. So far, the only real nonsense task is tracking down the various cats hiding about the place, but that’s to give them a cuddle and pet rather than an objective that you’ll feel obligated to chase around. At this stage, at least, it looks like Koei Tecmo wants players focused on following the narrative flow.

Rise of the Ronin preview 2

More than anything else, however, my main impression of Rise of the Ronin is that it’s a gorgeous game. The time of the Boshin War was one of aesthetic complexity in Japan. It was a time when the country was just emerging from years of isolation from the Tokugawa years, and that means that much of the country remains traditionally Japanese. However, wandering around Yokohama, which was one of the first cities for Japan to open and therefore the first effort at multiculturalism and modernity within the country, offers a true blend of traditional and western aesthetics. There is the gorgeous, traditionally-designed pleasure quarter, and then a stunning western-style clock tower.

This even plays out in the costuming and equipment. You’ll wield pistols and guns simultaneously as your samurai weaponry. One minute you’ll be wearing traditional Japanese clothing, but then you’ll find some western-style clothes in a loot pile, and that’ll give you a very different look when you throw it on. This blending of aesthetics is one of the hallmarks of the era, and a visual representation of the political and social turmoil that bubbled under the surface as the Japan of that time searched for its identity. It’s intriguing to see how much effort Koei Tecmo has gone to authentically present that quality about the era.

As long as the narrative can continue to build, playing on real-world events with the typically Team Ninja approach to action to maintain the game’s quality as historical fiction, then Rise of the Ronin’s in a good spot. I might have only just started to play, and barely scratched the surface of the size and scope of this adventure, but I am keen to continue playing on, and for an open world game to capture me like that is a good sign.

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Matt S. is the Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of DDNet. He's been writing about games for over 20 years, including a book, but is perhaps best-known for being the high priest of the Church of Hatsune Miku.

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