Rise of the Ronin: when Japan is the real protagonist

For a long time now, any production that sees Japan as the protagonist has the ability to maintain that typical exotic charm that is impossible not to mention, and Rise of the Ronin does not seem to betray this winning philosophy at all, which is always spot on and well implemented. Over the last few years, many have explored video games that have dealt above all in a choral manner with the uses and customs of the Rising Sun, while searching for the classic final messages every time the end credits came. I have often imagined myself as a shinobi or a samurai, and wielding Kusabimaru in Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice I was totally immersed in it.

It didn't matter how I felt part of this world, because somehow it was fun. And then whoever I was facing, as I raised my sword to defend myself and counterattacked to break his guard, would never have given up fighting. I was dying repeatedly and in the worst ways, because we're talking about FromSoftware and one of the best video games set in the Sengoku period ever developed. I used to succumb, therefore I would return to the nearest Sculptor's Idol to recover and keep trying undaunted to defeat the boss to beat to advance.

Taking Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice as an example, it must be emphasized that the production developed by Hidetaka Miyazaki is the closest there is to the Shinto religion and, in general, to the sense of honor. It is a speech to be linked to Jin Sakai and Ghost of Tsushima, the work of Sucker Punch that divided critics and audiences like never before.

Exploring the Mongol-invaded island of Tsushima, exploring its narrow corners, it was an unforgettable experience, because it allowed me to interface more closely with Japanese culture. I prayed at a shrine, defended my land, and on the back of Sora - no, not the protagonist of Kingdom Hearts, but the caparisoned horse available immediately - I rode around the island without ever stopping. I fought the Mongols, won battles and repeated, following a path of redemption, peace and harmony, while realizing how much the sense of honor was actually very subtle. While defending my land from the Mongol empire, I remembered the fights on Nioh with the Yokai, and I wished I had some by my side.

“I belong to the warrior where the old way has merged with the new”

Watching the trailer of Rise of the Ronin, the exclusive PlayStation of Team Ninja - the creators of the Nioh series -, I remembered The Last Samurai. Because, unlike Ghost of Tsushima and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, Rise of the Ronin is set during the Meiji Restoration, a period of great changes for the Land of the Rising Sun, who introduced Japanese culture to the whole world, contributing to the discovery of strange customs, very different from ours.

While the wealthiest wanted to see Japan become a civilized country, there were those who didn't want this radical change. As often happens in history, dissatisfactions can only contribute to an inevitable wave of unbridled violence. The Japanese people, who for centuries were forced to serve the samurai and their lords, he was confused as to who was right, yet the growing discontent would have allowed Emperor Meiji and his ministers the much-needed restoration, necessary to keep up with the times. Team Ninja, in fact, choosing a different historical period, does not seem afraid to take risks, and Rise of the Ronin could be the first video game to explore such a historical moment. Japan is best known for internal wars, and it would be enough to mention Nobunaga Oda and the betrayal of the Shingen clan, and of the further struggles fought by the most influential lords of the Sengoku Period.

In Sekiro, in fact, we are the protagonists of the struggles between the Ashina Clan and General Tamura, with the landslide victory of Ishiin Ashina, at the time considered the deadliest swordsman ever known and the rising ribbon of his lineage. They were wars for the power of a province or to restore one's honour, and in one way or another the two things had something to do with it because offending a samurai meant guaranteeing a quick death, thus ensuring a grave under a cherry tree. But it was inevitable, because the samurai were trained hard in the use of various weapons, and not only wielded the katana to eliminate their enemies. They dabbled with spears and bows, never turning his back on the enemy and honoring him even if offended.

Jin Sakai was forced to use every weapon in his power to ensure victory over the Mongols, sometimes killing them even in the dark, with sudden and precise attacks not very honorable. A necessary shame which, as we well know, it allowed him to overcome his enemies and liberate the island of Tsushima. Japan's history, while undoubtedly fascinating, is nonetheless written in blood like so many tales players have had to deal with in recent years.

Rise and the Ronin: a video game with excellent premises

The different media, moreover, have been able to let us know many pages of its history, and with video games, specifically, this has helped to make players passionate about the stories from the most remote country in the Far East. Returning to the Meiji Restoration, Rise of the Ronin immediately appeared to me framed to want to restore the sense of bewilderment between the old and the new through a trailer that offered commendable proof in accurately representing the historical period, which extends from 1868 to 1889. What struck me were the roads, the traffic of people and the ships anchored in the port of Edo, today's Tokyo, from every corner of the world.

There are English ships, ready to offer tea and spices, there are others arriving from Holland, France and even from Germany, and obviously also from the United States, so as not to miss anything. Different philosophies and ways of trading and approaching an emperor who, interested in modernity, he is ready to unite the old and the new to allow his country to take a decisive step towards the future.

The protagonist, of whom we don't know much, is a ronin, which in Spanish means "man adrift", and that's a bit like how I felt as soon as I saw him walking among men in suits and ties, tight in their security. Because if the cities are modernizing, even changing their way of being, the villages and the countryside are quite another thing: there is a rural Japan faithful to ancient traditions at the foot of Mount Fuji, among ancient shrines, idols and ancient relics ready to give relief to anyone who requests it. While watching the trailer, it was impossible to remain indifferent, because these two divided worlds are in total conflict for the very soul of Japan. Lacking peace and wisdom, composure and honor, and lacking the feelings and emotions which, in the past, made a country great which, unlike the others, has always put traditions before everything.

A ronin, unlike a samurai, is masterless: he travels on horseback and on foot in rumpled clothing, hidden by a hood or straw hat, looking down to count each step taken. No one expects it and no one understands it, yet a ronin, compared to a samurai, can survive the wave ready to vanquish Japan. A wave that, as indomitable as the Tsushima storms that wrecked Mongolian ships, it heads towards those traditions untouchable for many, even for those who are not samurai. The old and the new collide, with the Emperor Meiji who intends to give up the protection of the samurai, and Saigo Takamori - the true last samurai - who does not intend to give up his honor. It is not yet clear if he will be present but, considering the historical period, we hope to see it in action.

Obviously, everything will pass from how Team Ninja will want to approach the historical period, and obviously how it will want to pursue its final goal, which will be examined and explored at the right time. The ronin, as is inevitable, is armed to the teeth with a sharp katana and, according to the reveal trailer, can even glide thanks to a contraption very similar to the one used by Ezio Auditore in Assassin's Creed II, with the only difference that there is no 'Leonardo da Vinci supports him. At the moment, of course, it must be said that Rise of the Ronin seems to be predisposed not to want to show itself in its entirety to get to 2024 in complete tranquility, and that to fully understand it, it will be necessary to wait for the right moment. Net of this, however, the new production of the Team Ninja wants to be a concrete tribute to Japan through a different approach, trying to unite the two worlds in a homogeneous way.

It is a goal that, without any doubt, could actually prove to be much more complex on record than anyone can imagine. Also because there is no shortage of similar productions, and upcoming publications such as Assassin's Creed Red, which intends to finally follow the forbidden dreams of fans. It's complex to express about it but, if nothing else, Assassin's Creed could arrive at a time particularly saturated with video games set in Japan, especially if we consider the advent of Rise of the Ronin, which could carve out a much more relevant space in the landscape. Looking at the trailer more carefully, the production of Team Ninja doesn't seem that different from Ghost of Tsushima, if not for the combat system, which appears to be built with greater care.

The fight, in this sense, seems fluid and better implemented, which suggests spectacular and technical fights, good news which, if confirmed in the future, would finally offer even more action to the most demanding fights than in the past. The difficult, in fact, will be trying to scrupulously follow the game design choices, of which we still know very littleo.

What to expect from the future?

In our article we talked, in general, about Japan treated in almost all its sauces. I could actually have mentioned Way of the Samurai, or maybe the Total War series strategy games set during the Sengoku period, in the classic struggle for absolute power.

  • Rise of the Ronin, proprio come Ghost of Tsushima, it is a work that intends to follow a totally new path compared to the past, approaching differently the stories coming from the Rising Sun and the videogames released in the last fifteen years. Team Ninja, and we would like to remind you, is a talented development studio that has works such as Nioh in its history. Recently, in fact, we also tried Wo Long Dynasty, an adventure that recalls the action of the Japanese team but set in China. What will Rise of the Ronin be like, though? How will it be approached? And again, what will be the narrative pretexts? What will the ronin pursue? They are questions that, obviously, will remain unanswered until 2024.

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