A ronin is a samurai without a master. These wandering swordsmen are free to carve their own path, and that freedom forms the foundation of Rise of the Ronin. Adventure is Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty and Nioh developer Team Ninja’s first choice-driven, open-world action game. We recently got another sneak peek at the title during the Game Awards, and we spoke to the game’s lead designer to get some insight and context on what the adventure will entail.
In 1863 Japan, players control a nameless Ronin acting as a mercenary warrior called Weld Edge. The game unfolds in the middle of the “Bakumatsu” period. A decade ago, Commander Matthew C. Centuries of Japan’s isolation ended with the arrival of American “black ships” led by Perry, kicking off the nation’s years-long transition from its military Tokugawa shogunate government to a modernized empire. About the Meiji Restoration. Game director Fumihiko Yasuda tells us that this clash between East and West and the resulting political and social confusion in the history of Japan “handful of the most exciting and eventful years”.
“Nioh was called the Sengoku period, or it’s kind of like the Warring States period, where samurai fought in a traditional style,” says producer Yosuke Hayashi. “But we wanted this new Bakumatsu, which is the end of the Edo period, … it’s more modern, so we thought it would allow for a unique setting when we were thinking about creating a fictional story inspired by a certain moment in time. It allowed us a very unique setting.
Unlike the fantastic Nioh and Wo Long, Rise of the Ronin eschews those supernatural elements in favor of telling a more grounded historical drama. Yasuda believes this is necessary for players to fully immerse themselves in the story and setting. Expect to encounter several real-life figures from the era, such as Sakamoto Ryoma and Yoshida Shoin. Although the narrative weaves in real-life events, it’s a fictional story that players have the freedom to mold thanks to the addition of options.
In another first for a team ninja action game, Rise of the Ronin features decision-making that lets players navigate the adventure as they see fit. Dialogues contain multiple responses and key story moments present choices such as choosing whether to kill or spare an assassination target.
Don’t expect too many of these branches to present themselves during the main story, but completing a few side missions related to the main narrative or focusing on the main character will help steer the overall adventure towards one of several endings. These include bond missions, which help improve your relationship with specific characters.
Yasuda says the concept of bonds is a central theme of Rise of the Ronin. “So you have a lot of characters that you meet throughout the story, that you can develop bonds with,” explains Yasuda. “And there’s also a lot of cross-quests associated with these historical figures. And they’re a system of forming bonds with lands and different places. So, by helping people in certain countries, you can deepen your bond with them. A lot of the motivation to explore the world is centered around these systems of bonds with characters and places.
The ronin itself symbolizes this freedom. Team Ninja describes him as a fully realized character, but making decisions allows players to decide how he is portrayed in the story. The studio won’t reveal much about their personalities or ultimate goals, but players will have plenty of time to get to know them while roaming around Rise of the Ronin’s freely explorable Japan.
Hayashi says that Rise of the Ronin’s open world offered a welcome challenge to the studio’s traditionally linear levels, or at most creating large hubs. “Something we always wanted to do was create an open world title,” says Hayashi. “I think it’s kind of a natural next step for us.”
Humorously, Yasuda says Team Ninja is so used to designing games where players kill anything that moves, it was “effective” and “challenging” to create an experience with less expendable background characters like civilians.
The game features three major cities of the era: Yokohama, Kyoto, and Edo (today known as Tokyo). Yasuda states that the countryside and rural areas between these cities are ravaged by bandits and other threats, as well as abundant side missions, but does not reveal much more than that. In terms of transportation, the trailers show players riding a horse and deploying a bird-shaped glider to quickly soar across the city. Players also have a grappling hook used to quickly climb vertical spaces and fly through the air, which can be used in conjunction with a glider to perform aerial assassinations.
Yasuda describes Rise of the Ronin’s close-quarters swordplay as having elements familiar to games like Nioh. The game features different weapon styles, parrying seems to be an important skill and players can employ techniques such as setting their katana on fire to deal extra damage. However, the Ronin were known for using a variety of weapons, and that is represented by the Poles and the most destructive weapon ever given: guns. The influx of Western firearms such as pistols and rifles adds a major range element to the action. The grappling hook can also be used offensively; A recent trailer showed the Ronin hooking it into an explosive barrel to swing and lob a bunch of targets. The story may be more reality-based, but the action is top-notch, as you’d expect from a Team Ninja title.
Team Ninja says that Rise of the Ronin’s combat revolves around studying and learning enemy patterns collected after repeated failures, suggesting that it will be as challenging as previous games. When I asked if it still punishes death in the same Souls model, where players must retrieve fallen experience points and how a more realistic story would justify this, Yasuda confirmed that it would include a progression resource called Karma. It is an apt name; Developers say the word symbolizes the destiny that people carry from one life to the next. However, Yasuda clarifies that karma represents only one system. There is another traditional type of XP that players retain after death. “You can look forward to the details of this in the future,” says Yasuda.
Rise of the Ronin is an exciting challenge for Team Ninja. While the team is known first and foremost for action, it’s eager to spread its wings into the open-world genre and commit to telling a story that feels authentic to the era it depicts. “We hope players can really feel like they’ve traveled to this important era in Japanese history and enjoy the experience,” says producer Yosuke Hayashi. We’re expecting the same when the game comes out on March 22.