Being a ninja can be a rather difficult thing to accomplish, which is evident by Tomasz Wacławek’s newest project, Ronin. Wacławek’s stealth-focused adventure is the most recent project to be picked up by Devolver Digital. Ronin puts you in the shoes of a ninja that wants her revenge, which she exacts on a variety of foes found in a photograph. These enemies are targeted one by one, with the player character performing two missions and then carrying out the hit. While the reasoning behind the character’s revenge is mostly unclear, one thing is for sure: she is pissed.
How you go about accomplishing assassinations is the most interesting aspect of Ronin. The game moves on a 2D plane, but becomes turn-based when combat is initiated. Once the turn-based combat begins, you must jump in order to avoid the incoming shots heading your way. You are shown the bullets pathways via a red line extending out of enemy guns’ barrels. During this time, you cannot move left to right or open doors. The strategy comes about as you try to decipher a way to get close enough to your enemies in hopes of initiating a kill. While that can be easy if there are only one or two guns pointed at you, it quickly becomes very difficult when you find ten enemies populating a room.
Unfortunately, figuring out the exact strategy to get past a group of enemies requires quite a bit of trial and error. There are multiple times where you will be throwing yourself into situations just to see how enemies react, knowing you will die. On the same token, enemy patterns do not repeat 100% one hundred percent of the time, so a gun aimed in one position may not be aimed in the same area the next playthrough. It makes figuring out a pattern very difficult, and mostly just results in completed combat encounters feeling like dumb luck. Once you get the perfect pattern down, it does feel quite rewarding to eliminate every enemy within your sights. Not to mention the fact that getting a kill can be very satisfying if you manage to dodge a shot heading your way all in the same move. There is a ton of potential with the combat Ronin touts so highly, but it feels a bit too difficult for its own good.
Of course, in a perfect world, you would want to remain stealthy and never be seen. But doing that becomes even harder to accomplish than eliminating every enemy. The enemies’ invisible visual cones seem undecipherable and can vary depending on what situation you are in. So, at the end of the day, you can try to be stealthy, but it tends to fail.
In order to help you through these difficult situations, you can acquire upgrades through the games skill tree, which provides some advantages in combat such as being able to string enemies up while above them and the ability to throw your sword at enemies while in mid-air. These abilities are a brilliant addition and make the game much more fun. The only drawback is what is needed to unlock a skill. In order to get the ability to choose a skill, you must finish all objectives in a level, which tends to involve killing no civilians, killing every enemy, and not going under lockdown.
The first two come pretty easily, but the third can feel next to impossible. Your enemies put the base into lockdown if they call in to their headquarters. That means you, typically, have seven jumps to get to the enemy with the radio or you fail the objective. While this may sound simple, once you get to the enemy, you still have to kill him so he does not call in the future. But doing that on your own accord is tough due to other enemies aiming their guns directly at you. It can result in you aimlessly jumping around for ten minutes in hopes of getting lucky and finding an opening.
Ronin invites players in with a strong, gray-focused art style. While there is an over-abundance of drab colors, if makes the red beaming out of your enemies’ guns all the more noticeable. Not only does it make them noticeable, it makes them terrifying, as they often can be the only thing your eyes focus on. There is a bit of beautiful simplicity to the animations. Just watching your main character move from left to right can be enjoyable, as can the feeling of breaking through a window and immediately rolling into a backstab on an enemy.
Saying the difficulty in Ronin will make players run away is a bit too harsh as it does have some very interesting gameplay elements that can provide satisfaction. That being said, the difficulty seems like it may impede the path of a perfectly acceptable game that could be stellar.