Zenless Zone Zero Review


Playing with nostalgic imagery from the early 2000s, Zenless Zone Zero sees developer HoYoverse seamlessly transition from the fantastical settings of Genshin Impact and Honkai: Star Rail to an alluring urban dystopia. It’s a universe where you’ll fight in flashy real-time combat as a trio of streetwear-clad agents, solving basic puzzles as their handler between battles to support them navigate a maze of encounters—and that’s before you get to the merry-go-round of social side-activities layered on top. A handful of tasteful influences come together into something effortlessly stylish, if also a little disjointed, sometimes marred by a lack of depth. But Zenless Zone Zero still drew me in; its relentless charm kept me fighting, one combat puzzle or bowl of ramen at a time.

Zenless Zone Zero is set in a world where monster-filled pocket dimensions called Hollows have destroyed civilization. While most of humanity has been wiped out, the cyberpunk stronghold of New Eridu survives thanks to its tense relationship with the Hollows and the valuable resources found within. You play as Belle or Wise, a brother-sister hacker duo with a knack for navigating this perilous territory, taking on jobs from a cast of lovable rogues looking for their next massive score. It’s a unique and daring setup that, while convoluted at times, kept me engaged, testing my strategic intuition across a series of challenges I sought to overcome.

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Your brawls begin in the retro-tech backroom of your sibling’s movie rental store, where you choose from an impressive roster of unlockable agents to form a three-person team, then dive into the perilous Hollows, trading success for XP and upgrade resources. A pre-release review build from HoYoverse gave me access to all of the currently available agents, and I soon found myself drawn to those from a faction called Victoria Housekeeping, thanks to their charming British accents and combat maid outfits. My personal favorite of the bunch, shark-tailed Ellen Joe, swings and slashes with an icy blade, applying elemental debuffs to enemies and cracking jaded quips along the way. While the composition of your dream team will largely be in the hands of the Gacha gods, as characters are unlocked via the genre’s usual random-draw method, it’s helpful that the story missions let you try out the cast without having to draft them first.

Despite how intense it can seem on the move, combat in Zenless Zone Zero is forgiving and accessible. You have a basic attack and dodge to get away from marked attacks in time, as well as the ability to switch to other agents to avoid being scratched, parry, or power up their combos. Building up an enemy’s stagger meter leads to a consistently satisfying chain attack, a slow-motion event where your buddy swoops in to deliver a punch. Basic and ultimate abilities round out each character’s combat options, though like any good action game, there’s a ton of variety available through a combination of timely button presses and hidden passive abilities.

The neighborhoods are full of details that make them a pleasure to explore.

Boss challenges came along to test my reflexes, though I rarely felt overwhelmed, as long as I could connect the dots of my combat strategy and juggle incoming attack patterns to keep different enemy types at bay. Intricate tinkering systems, difficulty options, and end-game content support raise the skill level for players hungry for a challenge, but Zenless Zone Zero seems content to not bother you if you just want to pick up the game and pull off a few flashy moves. Sleek animations account for most of your attacks, right down to the way the house demon Van Lycaon gracefully lowers his metal heels after a kick. Ultimately, the emphasis is on indulging in the fantasy of fighting one of Zenless Zone Zero’s wonderfully designed and passionately voiced characters, rather than competing with games like Devil May Cry in terms of combat nuances—a compromise I’m comfortable with, even if it means less mechanical depth.

Unfortunately, the dazzling combat is undermined by a glut of hacking puzzles meant to signify the connection between your team of agents and the proxy guiding them through the Hollow from home. You’re thrown into a maze of hefty CRT monitors between pockets of combat, pushing your little avatar to trigger mechanisms that lead to the next checkpoint or encounter. The blurred aesthetic of the mode is delightful to look at, but the process feels arbitrary and kills the vigorous. After passing through the walls of screens, I found myself searching for the next encounter as quickly as possible to boost morale and get back to the frenetic action sequences that actually make Zenless Zone Zero engaging.

This hefty loop of taking on assignments and then venturing into the Hollow to complete them could easily be all there is, and that wouldn’t be stingy, but surprisingly, it’s only half of what’s here. The other half is a life simulator, where you’ll wander around a cozy suburb, managing your characters’ Blockbuster-style business, and maintaining relationships with locals via dialogue-driven side stories in an atmospheric day-night cycle. While it’s not strictly an open world, Zenless Zone Zero’s stunning neighborhoods are thoughtfully decorated with environmental details that make exploration a pleasure. From rusty riverside rides to messy bedrooms and run-down back alleys, there’s a note everywhere you look that helps you focus in this trendy sci-fi world.

As the initial excitement of exploring the Hollows began to wear off, I began to take an interest in all the extracurricular activities at my fingertips. Stocking my video store became the center of my daily routine, as I began each morning by matching the eclectic video tapes from my collection to the audience’s genre requirements. Then I had to venture outside in search of better goods, completing tasks for the locals, such as solving bizarre puzzles or taking editorial photos to earn a VHS tape as a reward. This symbiotic process worked well to channel my attention into various social activities, not to mention the money I earned from running my business, which certainly helped me fund my story missions.

This side of Zenless Zone Zero isn’t as focused as the Persona series it’s so clearly inspired by, so there are a few blunt moments, but it still offers an engaging workload for players to log in and tackle on a daily basis. All of your actions are nicely tied together by a helpful submenu called Inter-Knot, which allowed me to find my rhythm amidst all the options I was given. This in-game app, everything, quickly became my best friend, acting as a job search engine, social media platform, and, most importantly, a planning tool, ensuring I wasn’t completely paralyzed by the overwhelming prospect of what to do next.

I enjoyed shirking my immediate responsibilities by chasing high scores in Godfinger Arcade, whose seductive snake minigames and cave explorations took up an embarrassing amount of my time. But the fun and occasionally profound substories left their biggest mark, reminding me of the human stakes in this world. One sidequest involves a homeless robot whose ghostly silhouette terrifies a local citizen, leading to a surprisingly moving situation of crossed wires. Easily forgotten in a sea of ​​cute shopkeepers and in-game currencies, Zenless Zone Zero’s fundamental post-apocalyptic weakness is always in the frame. Overarching themes of displacement and corruption permeate the film’s story and the design of its urban neighborhoods, which range from run-down to gentrified.

Given the incredibly generous nature of HoYoverse’s review compilation, it’s been challenging to get a clear picture of how Zenless Zone Zero’s progression systems will hold up in the long run, but nothing I saw looked wildly out of place compared to the developer’s other gacha games. Still, it’ll be instructive to start fresh on a novel account at launch and get used to the grind in a more organic live-service setting (and we’ll be sure to update this review if anything unexpectedly goes off-kilter). Regardless, I developed a forceful attachment to this opulent world and its cosplayer-friendly characters by the end of a main story that easily takes dozens of hours to complete, and I came away feeling that this ambitious twist certainly lives up to the high standards set by Genshin Impact and Honkai: Star Rail.

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