rise of the ronin impressions

We Spoke To Team Ninja About Shifting To An Open World Setting In Rise Of The Ronin

Fumihiko Yasuda and Yosuke Hayashi shed some light on Team Ninja's next souls-like.

While Team Ninja have been pumping out some great games over the last few years, none of them have been quite as ambitious as Rise of the Ronin. There’s no doubt that they’ve got Souls-like design down-pat, but shifting to an open world framework opens an entirely new can of worms. Coupled with a renewed focus on narrative, the incorporation of new RPG elements, and abandoning supernatural elements in favour of a more grounded interpretation of Japanese history, it’s clear that Team Ninja have their work cut out for them.

In many ways, it’s quite the departure from what has made Team Ninja’s Souls-likes so special when inevitably compared to FromSoftware’s own seminal catalogue. The anticipation feels more fervent than ever, with more eyes on this game than Team Ninja’s other projects thanks to its setting and the success of games like Elden Ring. Ahead of launch, we got to sit down with game director Fumihiko Yasuda and producer Yosuke Hayashi to talk about some of the challenges faced during development as the studio embraces non-linear design elements.

rise of the ronin interview

PAVING THE WAY TO RISE OF THE RONIN AND CREATING A MORE GROUNDED WORLD

In some ways, Rise of the Ronin does feel like an amalgamation of Team Ninja’s previous Souls-likes. While there’s a collection of new elements that the studio has yet to explore in this framework, it also borrows a lot from Nioh and Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty. When asked about when the team realised they wanted to tackle a title like Rise of the Ronin, Hayashi-san revealed that it’s been on the cards for a while.

“After we completed the development of Nioh, we were looking to new challenges we could take on when it comes to the games we create,” the producer told me. “That’s what led us to the idea of Rise of the Ronin. If you feel that it shares a lot of the elements from our previous games, I think that’s a testament to what we’ve been able to achieve.”

rise of the ronin interview

One consistent element not brought across from previous titles, is a supernatural spin creating a unique interpretation of historical events. This wasn’t such a straightforward change, though, as Yasuda-san details some of the challenges this posed in development after getting used to Yokai and demons in Nioh and Wo Long respectively.

“Rise of the Ronin is more rooted in history. We wanted to place a special emphasis on the bonds between characters while limiting supernatural elements as much as possible. Because of that, we weren’t able to create huge enemies and had to find enemy variety in other ways. I think we accomplished that with different weapon types and weapon styles, but that was definitely a big challenge we had when making Rise of the Ronin.”

rise of the ronin review

FACING THE CHALLENGES OF NON-LINEAR DESIGN AND EMBRACING THE OPEN WORLD

It’s difficult enough to develop a Souls-like, let alone in an open world setting. We’ve seen non-linear environments in some of Team Ninja’s previous works, but not to the extent of a fully explorable world. It’s a total shift in structure, progression, storytelling, difficulty, and much more. When I asked about how Team Ninja approached certain aspects of design influenced by this shift, Yasuda-san elaborated on how Rise of the Ronin is designed to let players engage with its world on their own terms.

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“A major difference in how we approached Rise of the Ronin in comparison to our previous titles is in its level design. In our other games, we had missions with enemy placements that forces the player to overcome certain challenges. This time, we have an open world that can be explored freely. There’s also the grappling hook and glider that allows players to engage with the world in a three dimensional way.”

 

Yasuda-san continued to describe how wanting more player freedom altered their approach, “We also have stealth elements in Rise of the Ronin, so there’s various ways that players can approach certain scenarios. The main theme of Rise of the Ronin is allowing that kind of freedom, so we had to think about that more consciously in comparison to our previous titles.”

THE INTRODUCTION OF RPG ELEMENTS AND CATERING TO A WIDER AUDIENCE

This main theme of freedom and building your own Ronin is also seen through the incorporation of new RPG elements in Rise of the Ronin. Team Ninja games have always had quite the focus on buildcrafting and loot, especially in their endgames, but Rise of the Ronin takes it further with dialogue choices and skills that allow for more control over your character within the setting of feudal Japan.

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Yasuda-san commented on what made the team want to lean into these aspects of the game; “We really want players to feel like they can immerse themselves in the world, and more specifically what it feels like to be a Ronin in the Bakumatsu period. Up until now, the focus in Team Ninja games has always been on the battles.”

rise of the ronin impressions

“This time we wanted to make sure players could interact with the people living in this world, adding a lot of natural elements that allow you to immerse yourself in the experience. We want to provide a rich experience outside of battle – that’s something we had in mind since beginning development.”

Hayashi-san echoed similar sentiments, talking about how the Bakumatsu period is ripe with potential when it comes to these aspects of the game. “There were a lot of different values and ideals clashing during the Bakumatsu period. You had the samurai who’d lived their ways for hundreds of years, influences from overseas cultures, and locals who expressed that those foreign ideals had their own value. It was a whirlpool of ideals, which allows for a lot of variety when it comes to choice and conflict.”

rise of the ronin impressions

Difficulty is always a point of contention for Souls-like games, but the decision to include difficulty options akin to Strangers of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin was an easy one according to Yasuda-san, who said, “When thinking about difficulty in Rise of the Ronin, we wanted to keep in mind the players who are more interested in the story or RPG elements of the game. We also wanted to make sure we had a level of challenge for those who enjoy the action combat difficulty we’re known for, so that’s why we included easy and hard modes.”

BUILDING YOUR OWN RONIN AND INCORPORATING NEW APPROACHES TO COMBAT IN STANCES

While there’s a load of weapon types, progression systems, and skill trees within Rise of the Ronin, it’s pretty clear that Team Ninja wanted to make it easy for players to experiment with different weapon types and combat styles as they see fit. You never feel like your put yourself at a disadvantage if you want to try something new. Hayashi-san spoke about how this was a conscious decision to sell the fantasy of being a samurai with no master.

“We want the gameplay reflect that you’re a Ronin. In order to do that, we built from what we did in Nioh but didn’t want the player to feel limited to one kind of playstyle. We want players to feel free in how they approach various scenarios.”

Yasuda-san also chimed in, talking about how combat styles help to bolster this player freedom, “You could progress through the game with a single combat style, but we want to provide an experience accurate to the time period.”

rise of the ronin impressions

“Different characters have their own combat styles and you can learn those styles by enhancing your bonds with them. It allows the player to develop their character and incorporate new combat styles as they play. Enemies also have their own stances and if you watch a lot of samurai media, you can see how they duel and assess their opponent’s stance as well. We really wanted to express that kind of attention to detail.”

DEVELOPING FOR THE PS5 AND LEVERAGING THE POWER OF THE DUALSENSE

If there’s one thing I wish we saw more of in PS5 games, it’s titles that leverage the power of the DualSense to heighten their immersion and worldbuilding. My time with Rise of the Ronin has left me impressed in how broad the applications of the DualSense are and how its features are used to play to the strengths of Rise of the Ronin. As Team Ninja’s first console exclusive since 2020’s Nioh 2, I asked about how the team made the most of the DualSense to bolster the experience.

Hayashi-san spoke about how their close collaboration with Sony on Rise of the Ronin helped them to fully realise the potential of these features. “We worked quite closely with Sony in the development of Rise of the Ronin – even more so than with our previous titles. We specifically worked with the ex-development team at Sony Interactive Entertainment. This led to our implementation of haptic feedback and adaptive triggers. We got continuous feedback in regards to these elements which allowed us to polish them to be the best they can be.”

rise of the ronin review

Rise of the Ronin launches on March 22nd exclusively for PlayStation 5. Our full review is also live, which you can check out right here.