Ronin Review

2D turn based stealth combat action

Ronin is the least stealth stealth game I’ve played. Or maybe it’s the stealthiest non-stealth game. The actuality is somewhere in the middle.

Tasked as a ninja avenging her father by killing the five people responsible, Ronin sees you jetting to glamorous places such as an office, another office, a nightclub, and what could be more offices. That’s not to detract from the game as it looks stylish, and the music really sets the mood for the action. The act of taking retribution against each of your targets is split across five chapters, each with three levels. The first two levels see you hacking computers to gather information, which is a simple case of getting to them while not in combat, while the third level sees you eliminating the mark. Each of the objectives is heavily guarded so there is a lot of killing to be done.

Outside of combat the game runs in real time although you are able to pause the action, to plan, whenever you like. The ninja is agile – able to jump long distances, climb any wall or along a ceiling, and use a grappling hook to swing or quickly ascend to a spot. Ronin states that is is not a stealth game and to just kill everyone, but battles are made significantly easier by taking out as many enemies as you can before being spotted. You are completely invisible out of light however killing a foe will cause one of the nearby remaining guards to briefly scan the area, including the darkness. Even if you remain hidden if something is wrong the guard will commence a countdown to trigger an alarm, eventually forcing you to reveal yourself. You see, Ronin likes putting you into combat situations and quite often you have no choice but to make an entry to a room in broad view of everyone in there.

Being spotted causes the game to immediately switch to its turn based mode where combat takes place. Each turn you get to perform one action, be it jumping to change position (the ninja, for some (read: gameplay) reason suddenly loses the ability to walk and climb in open battle) or stabbing an enemy if you are close enough. It therefore usually takes a couple of turns to kill an opponent – one to get close and another to finish them off. An exception would be jumping into an enemy and knocking them out of a high window. Jumping into an enemy knocks them flying and they lose a couple of turns while recovering. Before making your move a series of red lines shows you where the guards are going to fire their weapons, and being in the way at the end of your turn will result in being shot and dying. Complications arise in a couple of extra enemy types: an armoured samurai that cuts you in two if move to them, and machine gunners which fire repeatedly for two turns, limiting your movement options. It sounds a lot more complex than it is and after a couple of encounters I found myself settling into a rhythm.

Jumping is aimed by holding the left mouse button, aiming the line, and then releasing although this is not always accurate as hitting an enemy will alter the ninja’s course. In battle if the entire line is white the jump will be completed in one turn however if it turns red the move is too long and the ninja will stop in mid-air at the point the line turns red. This can be useful in avoiding a shot that is low to the ground if you have nowhere else to go. On the next turn the grappling hook can be used to change trajectory or you can just let the previous momentum continue.

To aid the ninja’s task she is able to unlock a number of skills by completing all of the bonus objectives on each level. I do mean all as missing one will mean the skill point remains locked. These objectives are always the same and consist of killing every enemy, not letting the alarm be raised, and not harming any civilians. The latter can be annoying as if a civilian sees you they will raise the alarm unless you kill them, so being spotted was an instant restart condition for me. Civilians are always placed in such a way to be completely avoidable without relying on luck, so being spotted always meant I had messed up somehow. Extra abilities include being able to place a decoy, warping to enemies to stun them, and throwing your sword while in mid-air for long range kills. It is worth completing the bonus objectives as some of the abilities, especially the warp, are pretty much essential in the later levels.

It took me around four hours for my first run through, and although some new obstacles are introduced the core of the game does not really change. Completing the game unlocks new game plus where you keep all of your unlocked abilities and enemy placement and behaviour is slightly changed. New game plus is a lot harder and a difficulty spike around halfway through saw me take around an hour to complete one level, although it was a lot smoother after that. I found myself having to use abilities I ignored in the first playthrough in order to stand half a chance. Making liberal use of the ability to pause outside of combat to jump, fire a grappling hook, reel the ninja in, and hang an enemy in the equivalent of half a second also helped. I think that might have been cheating though!

Ronin is a good game, with an excellent idea for combat that is slightly devalued by an almost absolute need to stealthily take out enemies before entering battle. It frequently reminds you that this is not a stealth game but it is with stealth that you often make the best progress.

At least I went the whole review without mentioning Gunpoint.