Zenless Zone Zero has me wishing I could be like the cool kids 

Zenless Zone Zero is visually arresting, packed with expanded content and has an energy that feels, quite simply, cool.
Zenless Zone Zero

Six months is the rough time frame between my last foray into Zenless Zone Zero and my recent two-day immersion into the near-final build of the game. Back in December 2023, I joined the game’s 2nd closed beta test and concluded that while it had a lot of flair, there were more than a couple of clunky mechanics that left me a little bored.

Half a year isn’t a lot of development time, especially for a large game like this. Yet HoYoverse has somehow managed to add fun where there was frustration, and depth where the game felt skin-deep. The only word I can use to sum up the entire current Zenless Zone Zero experience is satisfying – this is the game they wanted to make, and this is the game we’ve been waiting for. 

Read: Zenless Zone Zero isn’t “Zzz”, but some mechanics need a wake-up call – Impressions

From snooze fest to seamless

As mentioned in my previous preview, the traversal on the Hollow Deep Dive System (the “Board”) was one of my main pain points, as it felt uninspired, especially for a studio that has been creating immersive worlds in Genshin Impact and Honkai: Star Rail. The Board still remains but this time additional game modes are able to showcase how this system can actually be a fun experience. 

The build I played had the entire game unlocked, including additional modes of play aside from the main story question. One of the modes, called the Hollow Zero Investigation, cleverly takes advantage of the board game-esque play and introduces rogue-like elements.

HoYoverse fans who’ve played Star Rail’s Simulated Universe will find this one most similar as it involves players moving from space to space, and chancing random encounters with enemies, puzzles and situations that can buff or debuff you. Some of the quizzes are tongue-in-cheek, parodying authentication methods we use to verify ourselves online – reaffirming that this really is a game for Generation Online.

As for the combat, this was always the most satisfying element of Zenless Zone Zero. And now in this build with all of the characters available, I was finally able to experience its full potential. In our interview with producer Zhenyu Li, he touched upon some of his favourite games that ended up serving as Zenless Zone Zero’s inspirations. Street Fighter VI was one such example, where he said he took cues from the way characters move and how to add a sense of dynamism.

Attacks in Zenless Zone Zero do feel like fighting game attacks. The way a character strikes, punches or wields a weapon feels as much a technique as it is a way for them to dominate. I fell in love with Zhu Yuan, the team leader of New Eridu Public Security.

She combines gun slinging ranged attacks with close range martial arts prowess, as you’d expect of a member of the in-game police force, and does it with such slick movement. It’s incredibly fun test driving all of the different characters but finding your match is akin to putting on a tailor-made suit. 

Zenless Zone Zero
Image: HoYoverse

Does Meta Matter?

I am no stranger to the importance of team building, a cornerstone of all Hoyoverse games. In Genshin, optimal rotations are key while in Star Rail, skill synergy takes precedence due to its turn based nature. Which is why it was quite humorous when my detailed notes around whether my team (Zhu Yuan, Alexandrina, Lycaon) was good, was met with a knowing smile and a short response:

“Efficiency is not the primary goal for battle. Fun and joy is most important”, says Li with a laugh, when I asked him for his opinion on my team composition. 

Play the character that you love. Play what is enjoyable to you. It’s a message that echoes within the community from time to time but it felt ever more validating when coming from the producer himself. Especially for a game with a live service model, the question always lingers – do we need to pay to win?

“I want to share that no matter what kind of player plays our game, our goal is to make it friendly. Especially with the story mode,” Li shares. “As you progress and advance, players can finish most of the action parts of the game with the character they like.”

This isn’t to say that you can’t find a good challenge in Zenless Zone Zero. Li also warns us that as the story progresses, tougher gameplay will be found, especially in enhanced enemy AI and stronger stats. There is also a switch that you can toggle on and off for the story mode which makes the combat more challenging.

Leaving it up to players as to how challenging they would like the content to be, seems like the best of both worlds.

Zenless Zone Zero is still the most stylish game on the block

Zenless Zone Zero
Image: HoYoverse

In our group interview with Li, he was wearing a jet black bucket hat and a wide cut street jacket that’s just as sleek, bearing the Zenless Zone Zero wordmark. After my two day immersion into the world of Zenless Zone Zero, it dawns on me that even his fashion stands out as its own artist statement – here is a developer who embodies the urban storytelling and stylishness that his own game effortlessly conveys.

If New Eridu was cool before, it’s even more vibrant and interesting now. Sixth Street was always reminiscent of cool neighbourhoods like Surry Hills in Sydney or Shimokitazawa in Tokyo, where cafes and ramen shops are juxtaposed against video rental stores and arcades. This time, I was also able to explore almost all areas that should be available from launch – including Lumina Square which has a much more high-rise commercial vibe.

There are also other ways you can interact with the overworld, such as side quests (not present in the previous closed beta), confirming that this environment isn’t just a pretty afterthought. More characters are out and about, creating a feeling of community and that this truly is a world that’s being lived in.

It’s refreshing to revisit a game after the developers have had some time to review player feedback, and feel genuine improvements have been made. It’s even better to see that the developers have stood by core mechanics they believe in, like the Board traversal, and turned naysayers into advocates.

Zenless Zone Zero has a unique blend of addicting gameplay, a visually arresting aesthetic and content in spades that will really keep even the most completionist-minded gamer busy for a time. So much so that one of my last questions for Li was – how will a HoYoverse player make time for all of their games?

“The team is working to see if we can adjust the content so that they can experience everything. Even for casual players to still squeeze [Zenless Zone Zero] into their day. For some games, players can put it on automatic mode,” says Li.

“However, from our point of view, we are trying our best to understand if this is a real request and if players really want automatic or casual gameplay. But whatever we find out at the end, it should be truly fun, rather than easier or hands-free.”

Samantha is a Tokyo-based games writer with a penchant for JRPGs and comfy games. Ask her about Final Fantasy VIII and the giant tattoo on her leg that represents her love for it. Catch her streams on Twitch or her Tweets at @rinoaskyes