Zenless Zone Zero Falls Short Of Being Another HoYoverse Hit

Above all else, Zenless Zone Zero is beautiful to look at. HoYoverse’s latest action RPG gacha title, following 2020’s Genshin Impact and last year’s Honkai: Star Rail, has a lot much going for it, with a beautifully detailed world, characters, and animations. Underneath that style there is even some substance, but the game may not be able to best HoYoverse’s other successful titles in the long run.

Smart features that lessen the gacha grind make ZZZ perhaps the most player-friendly title in HoYoverse’s growing library, but it lacks a good hook that will keep the player coming back for more. In the dozen or so hours I’ve spent with ZZZ it takes shape as a promising melting pot of useful features and gorgeous design that I’m worried won’t garner the same avid fan base as its siblings.

Damn, Zenless Zone Zero has style!

In Zenless Zone Zero you take on the role of a Proxy, a person who guides agents (the characters you control in combat) through dangerous pocket dimensions called Hollows. These Hollows have valuable resources, so the residents of New Eridu (where the game is set), are always in want of a good Proxy to guide them in hopes of turning a profit. At the start of ZZZ, you help a trio of agents escape the Hollows and fall into a rabbit hole of intrigue and mystery that only gets deeper the more you play.

A girl with blue hair sits down while a guy with white gray hair stands next to her

Image: HoYoverse

Immediately upon starting, New Eridu and its inhabitants stand out visually, thanks to the game’s incredible urban punk aesthetic that blends the futuristic and nostalgic. The protagonist duo Belle and Wise (per HoYoverse’ tradition since Genshin Impact, you get to pick to play as a female or male main character) are another great example of ZZZ’s wonderful design. Belle has a simple gray and orange color palette only contrasted by the dark blue of her stylish short hair. She’s wearing a fashionable ensemble with geometric patterning that alternates between her main colors while also sporting a walkman-like device on her hip. It’s a fit that would be right at home in the most fashionable neighborhoods of New York City.

That high-quality design extends to the rest of the game’s cast, each of whom is stylish and could very well be your new favorite character, which is the ideal for a game that asks you to pay real-world money to get the characters you want. I especially love the variety ZZZ offers, which includes non-human characters, like a bear named Ben Bigger, a first for aHoYoverse game. Similarly, New Eridu is a shining city filled with a love of the real world’s past. The central neighborhood you explore while not actively on missions (we’ll get to those) is littered with stores dedicated to physical media (what a concept). Belle and Wise run a video rental store that you get to manage while they aren’t doing their less-than-legal activities guiding people through the Hollows.

ZZZ’s core gameplay loop is centered around the Hollows. You can accept missions that send your party of three into the dangerous dungeons to fight and gain loot. Some missions progress the story, some are side activities, and some are combat-focused challenges to test your skill. In contrast to the open-world of Genshin Impact or the more expansive space traveling escapades of Honkai: Star Rail the world of ZZZ feels small. That extends to missions, which you begin not by traveling a long distance to a location, but by launching into them from a simple menu. It reminds me most of HoYoverse’s Honkai Impact 3rd, but that’s not where the similarities end. ZZZ’s entire combat system feels most like HI3.

A maid with a shark tail swings a scythe at a large green creature

Image: HoYoverse

Even when it works, I kind of wish I was playing something else

In ZZZ, you control one member of your party at a time in real time combat against hordes of enemies. Each character has a basic, special, and ultimate attack, with the latter two charging up as you perform basic attacks. This alone is fairly simple and probably will feel familiar to anyone who has played HI3 or Genshin Impact. However, ZZZ’s special sauce is it sassist attacks. Before an enemy attacks, a short sparkle signals to switch characters. If timed perfectly, you dodge the incoming attack and can in turn do some big damage. With this system, combat encounters take on a certain flow that can feel exceptionally good when you string together assist attack after assist attack, unleashing ultimates and decimating the enemy in no time.

HoYoverse constantly iterates from one title to the next, and ZZZ’s combat is clearly the result of some great iteration on Genshin Impact, which to this day has a pretty boring combat loop. Combat shines even brighter thanks to some of the best animations I’ve seen HoYoverse put to screen. When compared to Genshin Impact, it’s a wonderful improvement, however it can’t reach the same heights as this year’s HoYoverse competitor, Wuthering Waves. WuWa still feels much more engaged than ZZZ, as even in the latters’ most challenging fights the combat loop can lean towards button-mashing without the need for much thought.

Naturally, ZZZ’s combat loop is in service of gaining in-game resources by which you can unlock and upgrade new characters and weapons. Thankfully, that gacha grind isn’t nearly as bad as something like Genshin Impact or Honkai: Star Rail. Everything feels more easily accessible to the player through the limited collection of activities. You can probably get your favorite character with a lot less work than it would take in other HoYoverse games due to ZZZ’s approach, which shows the developer is clearly attempting to make quality of life improvements to its games (and something I desperately hopes makes its way back to Genshin Impact and HSR). Combined with the smaller world and simple mission design, ZZZ is HoYoverse’s most approachable and player-friendly title. Yet it still hasn’t gotten its hooks into me.


Ironically I think the reason for that is because ZZZ sands maybe one too many edges off the HoYoverse formula. While combat is the most impressive it’s ever been in a HoYoverse title, it feels too easy, which makes moment-to-moment gameplay unengaging. The characters and world are gorgeously designed, but the story itself isn’t very enticing as of yet. The stories of Genshin Impact and Honkai: Star Rail are what keep me coming back, but even with ZZZ’s a lower barrier to entry I find its narrative to be easy to bounce off of. To be fair, the game is in its first week and has barely gotten started on the narrative front, so things could get better, but right now, it’s not gripping me. More than anything, while playing ZZZ I find myself wishing its improved features could just be put in the HoYoverse games I’d rather be playing.

As much as I love many things in Zenless Zone Zero, I can’t quite place it in the HoYoverse portfolio. Alongside Genshin Impact, Honkai: Star Rail, and Honkai Impact 3rd, Zenless Zone Zero feels like it has the biggest hurdles in the way of its success. Genshin is already an established hit with an avid fan base thanks to a sprawling open-world matched by an equally sprawling story. Honkai: Star Rail has become popular in its own right after only being released a year ago on the strength of its tight turn-based combat and enthralling space opera adventure. Then there’s Honkai Impact 3rd, which despite releasing back in 2016, still has loyal fans. This all stretches the potential player base for ZZZ even thinner. I hope it does find its audience, however, as there is a lot to love.

Zenless Zone Zero is now available on Android, iOS, PC, and PlayStation 5.


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