Ronin

words manifested by: AJ Johnson

A game by Tomasz Wacławek for PC, Mac, Linux, PS4, and Vita, originally released in 2015.
Ronin stars a young woman on a mission of vengeance. Wearing a motorcycle helmet and wielding a katana, she infiltrates various office buildings to take down the five leaders of a corrupt corporation. At the start of each mission, a black and white photo is displayed, and the protagonist draws circles around the faces of each target, crossing them out once they have been killed.

Ronin mixes direct action with turn-based strategy in an interesting way. Throughout the adventure, the player takes direct control of the ninja-like heroine as she sneaks through the shadows, scales buildings, and swings from a grappling hook. If the player manages to reach an enemy undetected, he is able to perform a silent execution, which is typical of other entries in the stealth genre.

However, if the player is detected – by moving into the light or making a loud noise – the action shifts into turn-based gameplay, with the player able to plan out individual moves while attempting to take down enemies and avoid gunfire. A single hit spells instant death for our young assassin, and danger waits around every corner.

Looking at screenshots, and even playing through the opening areas, the game is very reminiscent of Gunpoint, which featured a ninja-like spy climbing walls, smashing through windows, surviving falls from great heights, working his way through office complexes, hacking computers, and attempting to avoid 1-hit kills from armed assailants, all of which feature prominently in Ronin.

The developer of Ronin, Tomasz Wacławek, has compared Ronin to Gunpoint, and the game even has a popup tip stating “Hint: This is not Gunpoint”. However, the developer of Gunpoint, Tom Francis, has responded that the similarities between the two games are largely superficial, although the jump mechanics are very similar, allowing players to use a cursor to measure out impossibly long arcing leaps.


Gunpoint

In Gunpoint, the player generally wants to avoid conflict at all costs, or at least be very measured in his application of violence, using his hacking skills to overcome obstacles in favor of killing everyone in the building. In Ronin, on the other hand, the player’s goal is the outright assassination of several people, and murder is very much encouraged.

At the start of each mission, the player is placed in front of a building or a set of buildings, tasked with infiltrating the facility and hacking a number of computers. Sometimes there is only a single route into the building, but often the player has a couple of ways of getting in, allowing him to work his way in behind enemy defenses.


The heroine is only equipped with a sword, but she has a wide range of moves that allow her to move quickly around the environment: she is able to climb any vertical surface, move hand-over-hand across ceilings, jump extremely long distances, and launch a grapple wire to swing across gaps or zip directly to the grapple point. Using these tools, players may stick to the shadows and silently assassinate number of enemies.

There are several consequences to being spotted – which is often unavoidable – such has having new enemies enter the area or having an alarm triggered that puts the building into lockdown, blocking off certain areas until the player finds a computer terminal to reverse the effect. While most buildings are occupied by armed soldiers, there are occasionally innocent office workers as well. The goal here is to avoid being spotted so that they do not call in an alarm. The player is free to kill these innocents, but doing so will prevent him from earning any upgrade points.


Each level has three secondary objectives: kill all enemies in the level, avoid triggering an alarm, and don’t kill any civilians. The player must complete all of these objectives in a single run in order to earn an upgrade point. Accomplishing these goals on the earlier levels is challenging but not overly complicated (many of these levels don’t even have civilian occupants), but players hoping to earn upgrade points later in the game will need to be very smart about taking down enemies stealthily before engaging in direct combat.


Upgrades allow the player to supplement his core abilities with some useful techniques. Upgrades appear along a tree with a few short branches, allowing players to spend their points along a single line, or spread them out. The player begins the game with a single skill called Limit Break. This is represented by a meter in the lower left of the screen that fills as the player knocks down or kills enemies. Filling the five units of the meter gives the player a free turn during turn-based combat (more on this in a bit).

Other upgrades include the ability to throw your sword to kill an enemy at a distance… although you’ll need to walk over and retrieve it unless you have earned the unarmed attack or sword recall skills. A couple of other upgrades allow you to hit enemies at a distance, including the ability to toss shuriken to stun multiple foes, or the ability to teleport directly to an enemy’s location and knock him down.


Another upgrade allows you to hang enemies from the ceiling Arkham Batman-style (but with slightly more death from strangulation). And, players can earn the ability to drop holographic decoys to confuse and distract enemies. Many of these secondary skills are tied to the Limit Break and can only be activated once the player earns enough points on that meter, restricting the player's use of these abilities and adding another layer of strategy to the combat system.

When the player is spotted, he has a single turn to take action before the guards have a chance to respond. When there are only one or two guards, they are easily dispatched, as the player can jump to one guard and knock him down, stunning him. Then, while the second guard takes aim – indicated by a red laser sight – the player can jump to that guard’s position and take him out before the first guard wakes up (which takes two turns, as indicated by a countdown timer over his head).


However, if multiple guards are alerted, things quickly become more complex. First off, there is usually someone radioing in to sound an alarm, and the player has a total of 10 moves to take that person down before the call is completed. Aside from the guy on the radio, everyone else is armed and ready to shoot you down. Multiple enemies can target you simultaneously, and it can be difficult to avoid all of their shots when you are in tight quarters. Again, this is why it is to the player’s advantage to silently kill as many enemies as possible before engaging them in direct combat.

When surrounded, one of the main issues the player must deal with is that dodging away from enemy fire only lets the player escape death for a single turn. The trouble is, executing a downed foe is a separate action that takes another turn, giving enemies time to line up their shots once more. This can put players into a lengthy loop where they are constantly avoiding gunfire and waiting for narrow opportunities to kill guards while they are just out of the aim of enemy weapons. Enemies are able to shoot you from any distance as long as they have a line of sight.


Making things more difficult are machine gunners that can fire continuously for two turns, and samurai-type enemies that cannot be stunned and which take two hits to kill. Also, in turn-based combat, the player no longer has the ability to walk, climb, or use stairs or elevators… all of his movement is restricted to jumping, grappling, and performing sword strikes. This can make small simple movements impossible and put players into situations where they are not left with a viable move that keeps them out of harm's way.

Fortunately, there are a few tricks for disposing of enemies, such as knocking baddies into one another, skipping a turn to draw fire to your last location, luring a samurai to dash out a window and fall to his death, or otherwise knocking enemies down from high ledges to kill them with fall damage.


Unlike other stealth titles like Mark of the Ninja, the player does not have many tools at his disposal to distract guards or draw their attention elsewhere, which makes it more difficult to weed out enemies prior to full-blown combat.

The player can send an elevator to another floor to make a guard face it, and he can climb into the ceiling of the elevator to avoid detection when the doors open. Otherwise, stealth kills are only possible by being completely silent and moving in the shadows, and even then it’s possible for an enemy to cast his gaze your way when you’ve just finished hanging a guy from the ceiling, leading to you being spotted if you don’t move away quickly enough.


There is no penalty for taking a long time to complete a level, and checkpoints can be manually reloaded if you make a mistake (like letting a civilian spot you) so that you don’t have to play the entire level again from scratch. Checkpoints are frequent, usually engaging whenever the player clears out a room full of enemies. This means that there isn’t much repeated gameplay on death. On the other hand, there also isn’t a tremendous amount of variety in the gameplay to begin with… there are only a handful of enemy types, and more difficult levels simply add more enemies or insta-kill obstacles like electricity, lasers, and mines. As such, players will find themselves using virtually identical strategies throughout the entirety of the 15 level experience.


There is a bit of variety when it comes to boss encounters, which occur at the end of every third level. The first guy, an old man, goes down without a fight, but all of the others make you earn it. One level features a lengthy chase sequence where the player must catch up to a fleeing boss while also dealing with regular enemies as the boss runs into other rooms.

The final boss changes things up by requiring the player to make a run through the entire complex, removing the usual 1-hit kills in favor of a timer that counts down if the player takes damage and requiring that he keep killing enemies in order to survive. There are two different outcomes at the end of the final level, but surprisingly no narrative conclusion (nor much in the way of narrative context in general) to explain why the protagonist has killed these five people or what it has accomplished. Completing the game unlocks a New Game Plus mode where the player starts a somewhat tougher new game with all upgrades unlocked, even if the player didn’t earn them in the main game.



2D CRED
Ronin was developed by Tomasz Wacławek, a developer based in Poland. Tomasz worked as a designer at Polish studio Flying Wild Hog, which is known for the Shadow Warrior series (also published by Devolver Digital). The game was originally showcased in 2014 with a pixel art graphical style, but Tomasz hired a artist Łukasz Piskorz to recreate the graphics in an HD style.

The game was published by Devolver Digital, which has published a number of 2D indie games including Serious Sam: Double D XXL, Luftrausers, Broforce, Foul Play, Fork Parker's Holiday Profit Hike, Hotline Miami, Hotline Miami 2, Titan Souls, Not a Hero, Downwell, Enter the Gungeon, and Mother Russia Bleeds.



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