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Could Rise of the Ronin kill the Soulslike genre? Maybe!

rise of the ronin sword fight

The developers of the popular Soulslike series Nioh are taking a big step up with Rise of the Ronin, but the studio might also wind up killing off the genre it helped build with this new “Elden Ringlike” game.

The Dark Souls series, its Fromsoftware siblings, and their many imitators have inspired much hand-wringing over the years. While the discussion regarding whether the series is overly difficult or inaccessible to newcomers has been dead for years now, it’s a conversation that gamers may not ever hear again. Much like film and television, the gaming industry has moved in a direction where a blockbuster game just won’t get made if it’s not bland enough to be swallowed by everyone.

While there isn’t really a definite admission of this process in Hollywood, there actually is when it comes to the video game industry. The massive Insomniac Games leak revealed a lot about the inner workings of Sony. Even though the news largely focused on Marvel’s Wolverine and the game’s story and sales figures for every first-party PlayStation 4 and PS5 game, the biggest reveal was arguably a PowerPoint presentation regarding what metrics PlayStation uses to judge a game’s success.

While Team Ninja is proven and Rise of the Ronin looks strong, the studio moving from creating AAA Soulslike games to sneaking in what will be one of no fewer than 10 major open-world action RPGs in 2024 ought to raise an eyebrow with fans. It should also leave fans of the Soulslike genre a bit concerned regarding what the future holds when the team behind its greatest commercial success potentially walking away.

What PlayStation wants in its exclusive games

Leaked documents show that Sony believes that live-service games and open-world action games are the keys to success in gaming. A presentation regarding its “strategic pillars” detailed Sony’s belief that these styles of games are of the utmost importance to the PlayStation brand. This stemmed from comparatively high levels of playing time spent by gamers in these titles. 

The effects of these findings can be seen across most of Sony’s major releases and business initiatives in recent years. It can also be seen in which third-party games PlayStation heavily promotes or secures exclusivity of, with Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League and Foamstars, respectively, being strong examples. The next big example is the open-world action RPG Rise of the Ronin, created by the developers behind AAA Soulslike series Nioh.

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In a vacuum, the logic is sound as keeping gamers engaged keeps them spending money. In context, it’s likely that the data was just coincidentally collected in the aftermath of Skyrim, Assassin’s Creed, and Minecraft launching, followed by confirmation bias when cutting blank checks for talent-rich studios yields successful games like Marvel’s Spider-Man.

The demonstrable proof of Sony’s certainty in this approach is the decision to have Uncharted and The Last of Us creators Naughty Dog work on a now-canceled online shooter. Despite being known for cinematic action games that spawn blockbuster TV and film franchises, someone decided to have the studio instead work on a live-service PvE multiplayer game. It’s a decision that was universally regarded as foolish by everyone outside of the PlayStation boardroom, including Naughty Dog itself.

Elden Ring was a triumph by any measure for a variety of reasons, but precedent suggests that Sony saw its tens of millions of units sold and chalked it up as another win for the “everyone loves open-world games, all the time” mindset. That has PlayStation looking to suck some of the soul out of the Soulslike genre.

Rise of the Ronin set to nix the rise of AAA Soulslike games

Nioh has been at the forefront of the Soulslike genre, with Team Ninja creating a game that is thought of as niche, but is too much of a commercial success to qualify as such. Sales still haven’t come easily to the Soulsborne genre though, with Lies of P being the only real unit seller outside Nioh.

That makes Nioh, a series that has moved over 7 million copies as of 2022, getting put on the shelf a tough blow for the genre. Rise of the Ronin will still be categorized by many as a Soulslike game. In reality, it’s part of PlayStation’s ceaseless churn of soulless open-world action games following Spider-Man, Horizon, Ghost of Tsushima

This isn’t to say that Rise of the Ronin will be bad. Team Ninja has done consistently strong work with these games and even less-popular outings like Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin offered something to enjoy. But while CRPGs were just fine when EA Games had Bioware make Anthem instead of a new Dragon Age, pickings are slim when it comes to who can fill Team Ninja’s boots for Soulslikes.

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Written by Steven Rondina

Steven Rondina has been playing video games since he was a toddler and appreciates every genre out there. He has earned the platinum trophy in every Soulsborne game, is regularly Master Ball-ranked on the competitive Pokemon ladder, and has spent thousands of hours missing shots on Dust 2. His work has previously been featured by Bleacher Report and The Washington Post, and he was an Assistant Editor at WIN.gg. You can follow him on Twitter / X at @srondina.

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