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Zenless Zone Zero, Not That HoYoversal

by Genshin Fans 16 May 2024

Under the dim light, an old vintage CRT television is playing various TV commercials in a loop.

Actually, this is the login interface of the latest game of Hoyoverse, Zenless Zone Zero. If the interface were the Celestia of Genshin Impact, or the Astral Express of Honkai: Star Rail, most would click to enter the game without hesitation.

However, if you stay some time at the login interface of Zenless Zone Zero, you will surely be surprised.


There are as many as fourteen different advertisements within just five minutes! For example, Starlight Knight: Origins saluting the Kamen Rider Series, Port Peak in a thriller style, distinctive energy drink, designer toy store...

With so many Easter eggs within the login interface only, you can imagine the people in the development team of this game.


It is fair to say that the former games of HoYoverse, such as Genshin Impact, Honkai: Star Rail, and the much earlier Honkai Impact 3rd are all in fantasy adventure styles, while Zenless Zone Zero is more of a fusion of MAG (ACG) culture and pop culture, which gives the game the feeling of rebelliousness and unruliness.

The producer of Zenless Zone Zero, Zhenyu Li, claimed two months ago in an interview with IGN Japan: "What distinguishes it (Zenless Zone Zero) from other HoYoverse games is the urban elements, one of the greatest features of the game." Coming from a background as a designer, he prefers to make noticeable changes in terms of style.

This seems to be what determines the keynote that Zenless Zone Zero is not that "HoYoversal", or rather, the B-side of HoYoverse.

The Most Fashionable Game of HoYoverse is Coming

"Hip and cool" and "streetwise" are my first impressions of Zenless Zone Zero.


For one thing, the feeling comes from the perception of the scenes: the main town of the game, Sixth Street, incorporates a lot of street and trendy elements, and each storefront in the street is meticulously designed.


There are robots running a coffee shop, a ramen store owner equipped with mechanical prosthetics, and a puppy looking after a newsstand kiosk.


There is also an arcade with two built-in games that pay homage to Gluttonous Snake and Chisel, and you can actually play them.

Combined with the street graffiti, promotional posters, handwritten signs, and students and passersby walking everywhere in the street, Zenless Zone Zero creates a street style in the 1980s and 1990s, which also helps the player to be more aware of the game's tone.


The video store run by the protagonist of the game is filled with all sorts of retro nostalgia: Atari consoles, old radios, Polaroids, and shelves full of videotapes...

Did you notice that the television mentioned in the login interface before is located right in front of the couch in the room?


For another, the overall UI style of Zenless Zone Zero is consciously blending with the "hip and cool" theme.


For example, different levels are shown on a TV wall, the plot events are made into video tapes, and dynamic buttons with gradient color and flashing effects...

All of these designs are in line with the tone of "hip and cool", highlighting the fashion sense of the game.


The character display is also interesting, where every time the menu bar is switched, the camera is also moved to display the character from different angles. With highly rhythmic electronic background music, all of these designs make the game burst with a kind of inexplicable tension.

The self-referentiality of the culture and worldview within the game is shown through various interface details, scene contents, and other designs, which is also well illustrated in many games with unique styles such as Persona and Splatton.

The team of Zenless Zone Zero is also intentionally showing their understanding and knowledge of urban style, streetwise, and "hip and cool" culture. This also makes this game a unique presence among other HoYoverse games.

Hip, and Exciting

Zenless Zone Zero looks like a simple 3-D real-time action RPG at first glance, with the typical play mode including multi-character exploration and Roguelike free-choice elements to get through the game.

However, after nearly 20 hours of experience, I realized that this game's combat can be categorized as a "high-speed action game": it's faster, more exciting, and flashier than expected.

This kind of feeling comes from various aspects, and the first and most intuitive is that the "waiting time" of the combats is significantly reduced.


More specifically, the Cool-Downs when switching characters and using skills that we saw in Genshin Impact have been removed in Zenless Zone Zero - especially character switching, which is completed with zero delay. Sometimes even when the previous character is still using his or her skill, the next has already appeared, which makes the connection between extremely silky and smooth.

In addition, the battle mode of Zenless Zone Zero requires you to attack the enemies to break their defense; the battlefields are mostly plane and linear, and the gap between two enemy areas is usually short, which also speeds up the pace of the battle.


With all these factors, the battles in Zenless Zone Zero are actually encouraging you to attack. The players almost don't need to wait for various Cool-Down times, to meaninglessly chase the enemies, to dodge, or to seek defense. Instead, "attacking" seems to be the only option in the battles, and the desire to take the initiative to attack of the players has also become more intense.

Secondly, Zenless Zone Zero utilizes a large number of frozen frames and close-ups to enhance the expressive force of the battle performance, which further enhances the excitement of the game.


There is a mechanism that integrated "attack after defense" and "character switching", which if realized by a melee character, you would be able to see the effect of blocking in Sekiro: Shadow Die Twice and the sound of both is similar to forging.

What's more, when the player triggers a QTE, the camera will zoom in and give the current character a slow-motion close-up, then switch to the next character immediately.


When a battle is about to end, a set of multi-view slow-motion shots can be seen occasionally, where the "GlitchArt" effects are cleverly incorporated to enhance the visual impact, and actually fit in the game's setup that the levels are shown on a TV wall.

What also surprised me is that, I saw very little re-usage of movements in the characters that I played when testing the game - whether it was standby, sprint, or combat, each character basically used a set of movements of their own.


Looking at this point alone, the number of movements in Zenless Zone Zero is perhaps much more than that in Genshin Impact and Honkai: Star Rail. I believe every player who has experienced the re-usage of movements will be even more touched by this upgrade.

Seek Individuality from Commonality

HoYoverse has some commonalities in the kernels of its games.

To put it in a broader perspective, the maturity of production has enabled both Genshin Impact and Honkai: Star Rail to achieve a 42-day cycle of versioning, which is the commonality in its development process; and when it comes to the gameplay, although they are different in terms of their categories, they share similarities in terms of character developing and some system mechanisms, which is a commonality in the gameplay.

The question arises, as a game that focuses on a "hip and cool" theme, where is the "individuality" of Zenless Zone Zero? How does HoYoverse, which has always been good at impressing players with its content and characters, reflect its differentiation in this game?


For one thing, it is the narrative perspective: in Genshin Impact and Honkai: Star Rail, we are generally in the first person's perspective and participate in the adventure. Therefore, there will not be too much plot with the voice, which also enhances the player's own sense of immersion.

However, although Zenless Zone Zero retains the choice between male and female from the very beginning, the plot is viewed from the perspective of both of them.

This also reduces the subjectivity of the game, and more views lead to broader sights, especially the pair of siblings with different personalities, who will interact frequently in the plot.


The interpretation of plots has also been broadened. The creative manga scenes in Zenless Zone Zero use rich dynamic compartmentalization, as well as many common manga elements such as bubble frames and effect lines, which greatly enhance the experience of the story performance. More importantly, it doesn't clash with the game's tone.

For another, the characters released so far in Zenless Zone Zero are not only novel in their settings but also highly recognizable.


Orcs with feline ears, furry wolverines, arrogant maids, fashionable girls, robots looking like Camen Riders... you can find almost every subculture element that you can think of a corresponding representation in Zenless Zone Zero, and in addition to ordinary humans, there are also a large number of subhuman races, mechas, and many other settings.


What's more, each character has its own "factions", so they also have their own characteristics in terms of clothing. For example, the four in "Belobog Heavy Industries", their clothings reference the rugged and heavy workwear style, while the "Victoria Housekeeping" is more like a group of butler deacons in suits and maid's outfits, the stylization is obvious.

The weapons of the characters are also interesting. Not only do they have their own genres, but they are basically modified props that can be found everywhere in daily life: the construction equipments such as impact drills, nail guns, and poles are used by "Belobog Heavy Industries", while the "Cunning Hares" uses more streetwise weapons such as short knives, guns, and suitcases.


I think I didn't see things like magic guide books...

The reason I can think of is that the team wants to make what fits the tone. As stated at the beginning, the streetwise and "hip and cool" are the kernel of Zenless Zone Zero, maybe a street fight would be more suitable in it than battles with swords and magic.

However, who can guarantee that there won't be a cyber mage in the future?

New Challenges of HoYoverse

The quality of Zenless Zone Zero now is far beyond that of a game that is still in its free testing period and has not been officially launched.

Its maturity is amazingly high: not only does it continue HoYoverse's consistent art strengths, but its rich and diverse characters also accurately hit the preferences of subcultures of current players, as well as its cool action gameplay, which most definitely showcases a high-quality, hip and cool world.

Under such a premise, some points requiring further development seem to be less important in the testing period - such as the lack of enemy types, single scenes in levels, long exploration time, difficulties, and so on. There is room for further improvement and optimization.

For HoYoverse, Zenless Zone Zero is a very creative and bold move. What they have to consider now may be how high Zenless Zone Zero can reach after being launched next year - many companies may develop a good game by chance, but not many consecutively succeed twice. Genshin Impact and Honkai: Star Rail have proven the industrialization capability of HoYoverse, can Zenless Zone Zero win another commercial and popularity success with its different "hip and cool" theme?

Let's wait and see.

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