Review: Zenless Zone Zero


I have been riding the Hoyoverse train for several years now and its popularity is constantly growing Genshin Influence and futuristic Honkai: Star Railway. So when I first heard about the developer’s next title, Ground Zero without ZenI was curious to see how this novel venture would stand out among the ever-growing library of titles based on the gacha genre.

Since its initial reveal in 2022, the developer’s next action RPG has been through several open beta tests. HoYoverse has spent round after round of Early Access testing polishing the otherworldly, apocalyptic adventure and turning it into something brilliant and different from its predecessors. I recently joined my own test in the latest Early Access build, diving into the world ZZZ knowing that this game will be completely different from previous installments from Hoyoverse studio, especially in terms of the lack of open-world elements.

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At first I thought this element would really ruin the experience for me, but I quickly realized how much I enjoyed the endless hours to get to one point on the map. Also, the cutscenes weren’t too drawn out, saving more time. You might want to think about Ground Zero without Zen as a gacha game for those uninterested in longer moments of exposition, perfect for someone like me who has a compact attention span and enjoys throwing opponents around.

Photo via miHoYo

IN Ground Zero without Zenyou will learn about the lives of the main characters, Belle and Wise. The siblings are known for their technological knowledge in the last contemporary civilization, New Eridu. As is usually the case in apocalyptic scenarios, you soon learn that the rest of their universe has been destroyed by a supernatural Hollow catastrophe, releasing the monstrous enemies of Ethereal. Belle and Wise are tasked with getting humanity out of this mess, taking on the role of Proxies, a profession that helps guide others in alternate dimensions Hollows.

What’s unique about this feature is that the main characters don’t participate in the combat at all. They’ll mostly just stand on the sidelines and cheer on the other characters who venture into the Hollow. It’s a bit unconventional to have a main character sidelined as someone who doesn’t participate in the combat, but it gives you a chance to get to know the rest of the cast. And it’s not like Belle or Wise are completely sidelined, considering they’re wandering around New Eridu and making decisions during missions.

Whenever you start a mission outside of New Eridu, you immediately gain control of the Agents. The characters, Billy the Kid, Nicole, and Anby, are among the first you meet, and they are part of a motley crew of Cunning Hares. This is where the fighting comes in, to eliminate those pesky Ethereals. This is probably one of the parts I enjoyed the most, because Zenless Zero Zone Combat mechanics rely heavily on team-based tactics that remain fluid even in the most intense sequences.

Fighting as Anby in ZZZ
Screenshot by Destructoid

It’s basic to maneuver characters around the battlefield, given the intuitive targeting system. The RPG does a good job of guiding you to the next opponent after your current target goes down, avoiding awkward lulls in the action and keeping the flow of battle fluid. Teamwork is woven into almost everything as a standout feature, as Agents often aid each other out throughout the story. The assist attacks are definitely my favorite of them all, as they swap out the current fighter to unleash another blow from the sub.

It’s a great alternative to the standard dodge, and can be even more beneficial if you time it right. And while mostly satisfying, I did spend a fair amount of time ZZZ’early game went through it too easily. Maybe it’s an Early Access thing, or maybe it’s just Hoyovers with training wheels at the beginning of the game. I’ll say it got a little monotonous in places, but the layers ZZZThe remaining elements of the interior were enough to maintain the attractiveness of the place.

Despite this setback, I still found the combat to be extremely fun, mostly due to the Agent’s distinct Attributes and Fighting Styles. The system works like any other RPG, utilizing a variety of elemental attacks and certain roles like Support. I had a lot of fun wielding Billy the Kid, specifically one of his attacks where he wildly shoots projectiles in a circular motion. I’ve used this move more than a few times and can’t stop just to see how frosty it looks. It’s also satisfying to watch the slow-motion Wipeout scene that triggers after the last enemy is killed. It’s a petite and uncomplicated detail that feels great after a arduous task.

While all the fighting is going on, you’ll also encounter the unique Hollow Exploration. Instead of going to A and B points in missions, you’ll have to move your character around in a board game-like arrangement, choosing which squares to go to. There will be a variety of points of interest on display, from collectibles to boss fights. In most cases, players will need to think strategically when moving their characters, or they could end up disrupting the path.

Exploring ZZZ Hollow
Screenshot by Destructoid

Even though I’m more of an open world fan, it’s refreshing to see exploration done this way. I remember all the times I’ve been frustrated in adventure games that presented the typical scenario of fighting multiple enemies to reach a specific area. That stress is completely gone in Ground Zero without Zenbecause many paths can be completed quickly and easily. Of course, not all journeys are short-lived when it comes to more arduous landscapes that test strategic thinking.

Reaching the finish line in Hollow Exploration sends you back to New Eridu. It’s a relatively compact map, especially compared to Genshin Impact huge landscape. Yet somehow it feels much larger than it actually is, thanks to a variety of stimulating features. The movie rental store, Random Play, will be your main base of operations. I fulfilled my Blockbuster fantasies here, selecting movies for the store’s true customers.

Once you’re outside, you can grab a scorching cup of coffee at the Coff Cafe or grab a bite to eat at Waterfall Soup. It’s a nice change from the constant breaks from combat. Oh, and these shops provide power-ups for your character to get you ready for the next fight. My favorite point of interest in New Eridu is the Godfinger Arcade. I always like it when there’s some form of Inception that lets you experience the game within the game. So far, I’ve only had the chance to try out two arcade adventures: Soul Hounds III and Snake Duel. The latter game takes me back to Snake’s retro days, moving around the creature to augment its size.

New Eridu in ZZZ
Screenshot by Destructoid

A shopping mall and grocery stores are just part of what New Eridu has to offer. ZZZ It also has upgrade shops and VR training to maximize your character build. The VR training makes up for these undemanding battles, considering it provides more advanced trials that throw you on a wild ride. In addition, New Eridu offers a ton of side quests to introduce you to its inhabitants. I really enjoyed these little adventures, even when they were as uncomplicated as kicking a ball around with the adorable Bangboo creatures. The sheer cuteness of Bangboo made me a real sucker for ZZZmainly because they are an extremely valuable resource in battles.

On the other hand, exploring everything in New Eridu can be a bit overwhelming, despite the rest of the RPG taking care to maintain a balance of tedium. I found myself lost a few times trying to remember how to do specific tasks mentioned earlier in the story. Thankfully, there’s a tutorial section to aid you get back on track.

The journey through New Eridu and the rest of the map is also rewarding in its own way. I can tell that miHoYo put a lot of time into designing the characters and the environments around them, with a range of fashionable outfits and little details. The characters come alive with their energetic personalities, striking outfits, and cheeky dialogue. The banter between the cast made ZZZ stands out among the studio’s other beloved RPGs, and there are certainly some contenders for a place alongside the developer’s most beloved games.

ZZZ dialogue scene
Screenshot by Destructoid

Even a little more, Ground Zero without Zen changes the rhythm, replacing some of the cutscenes with comic-book-style strips. Not only are they visually pleasing, they also shorten the pace of long stories. It’s a far cry from my Genshin days, but the shorter, momentary encounters are more to my taste, as I’m not always in the mood for some of those longer sequences.

This is a great alternative to Genshin Influence fans looking for something novel. Even if you don’t care for some of the other Hoyoverse titles but still like its service model, ZZZ presents a nice change from gacha games in general. There’s a ton of content to keep you entertained for hours despite the lack of an open-world game, and with so much to do it’s basic to appreciate the lack of tension that comes with long treks. Not to mention that Ground Zero without Zen will continue to evolve with expected updates.

Ultimately, ZZZ it delights in its guiding design principles—remembering what so many love about other Hoyoverse characters while breaking those moments down into compact, more concise chunks. It’s fairly basic to pick up and put down, and for something on the go, it’s certainly Hoyo’s preferred title. For now, I’m all for New Eridu , and I’m eager to see the cast and world expand in many of the directions Honkai and Genshin have gone as well.

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