HoYoverse’s Action Game ‘Zenless Zone Zero’ Adapts Street Fighter Formula For Genre Newcomers & Fans – Interview

This interview has been edited for clarity.

HoYoverse is on a roll. From Genshin Impact, the open-world adventure that put its name on the map, to its latest entry Honkai: Star Rail, the Chinese studio has proved gacha naysayers wrong with a consistent, successful track record. The love isn’t just reserved for this pair of crowd favourites – Honkai Impact 3rd, released before both titles, recently enjoyed a Part 2 revitalisation, marking the start of the second major story arc with new characters, reworked user interface (UI), and more. 

These offerings work similar to a mini buffet spread. Much like how the latter brings variety to the table (quite literally), these four games, plus a fifth, Tears of Themis, are rooted in different genres. Honkai: Star Rail eschews the open world of Genshin Impact for turn-based mechanics, while Honkai Impact 3rd leans into the action RPG play style. In stark contrast, Tears of Themis features romance and sleuthing elements, delivered in a visual novel format.

Geek Interview: Zenless Zone Zero

The tradition of treading new waters continues with its upcoming undertaking. Zenless Zone Zero is set to enter hack-and-slash territory, inheriting the characteristic flashiness of combo chains, dodging, parrying, and other classic elements from genre contemporaries like Devil May Cry or Bayonetta. Decked out in a stylish coat of paint, it’s a familiar spectacle for action game enthusiasts, but carries a fresh and bold identity that immediately sets the urban fantasy apart from other HoYoverse titles. 

Set in a post-apocalyptic futuristic heaven called New Eridu, it sees players taking on the role of a Proxy, a character who helps others explore hostile alternate dimensions called Hollows, and recruits new party members in the fight against the Ethereal, entities responsible for wiping out most of humanity. By combining the abilities of different characters, they will be able to deal greater damage and combos onto enemies. 

Geek Interview: Zenless Zone Zero (2)
Zhenyu Li, producer of Zenless Zone Zero.

And as much as chain attacks are a core part of the action role-playing experience, they also play an equally important role – or even more – in fighting games. It’s no coincidence that producer Zhenyu Li tapped into his love for brawlers to flesh out the combat in Zenless Zone Zero, citing Street Fighter as a major influence.

“I’m an avid fighting game player, so I actually learned quite a bit on the characters and their fighting styles,” he shares in a roundtable interview with select Southeast Asia media in Singapore. “I think fighting games are excellent at conveying the duelling experience, so I created the process and method with great precision based on that; mainly, I refer my ideas to the Street Fighter series.”

Unlike fighting games, however, HoYoverse’s soon-to-be-latest needs to tone down on its gameplay complexity. Similar to the company’s other titles, it’s built more for mainstream audiences, which means the experience has to resonate with genre newcomers and first-timers. Accessibility is a priority, taking the form of various beginner-friendly combat elements, including on-screen prompts to switch out to another party member, and hitting a quick-time event (QTE) to trigger a chain attack. 

Geek Interview: Zenless Zone Zero (3)

To build up confidence in players, the team has established a progression plan that focuses on rewarding them during different stages of the learning curve. The first step involves mastering the basics of dodging and attacking, followed by chain and stun attacks. Defense is next, featuring the special Perfect Assist mechanic, which triggers when the Agents are switched right before a gold-flashing enemy attack. Doing so consumes an Assist Point, used to activate a Defensive or Evasive Attack. These mechanics can be tested against the first boss, presenting the opportunity to further grasp and perfect them. 

At the heart of the design philosophy lies simplicity. After all, beauty can be found in the uncomplicated, and it’s an ideology that Li subscribes to. The producer is quick to rebuff preconceived notions that depth equates to appeal, highlighting the game’s charm stems from its straightforward nature. 

“To me, complexity doesn’t determine what is interesting. For example, just because the Super Mario games use simple run or jump buttons, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t fun,” he says. “I remember a saying from Nintendo that I resonate with, something along the lines of using fewer [buttons] to bring out more joy in players, so the game is categorised as not overly complex to present a charming experience for all.”

Geek Interview: Zenless Zone Zero (4)

That doesn’t mean veterans are left out of the equation. Zenless Zone Zero promises combat challenges for those looking to test their mettle, offering high difficulty levels (or a Hard Mode) with faster, stronger, and tankier enemies. Reaction time will be the name of the game, as feint attacks become a constant. 

Be it casual or hardcore, players can bring along another companion to the battlefield on top of their three-man party. Enter the Bangboo, adorable intelligent devices unique to New Eridu that lend aid to daily operations, each boasting their own skill kit and distinct appearance. Designed to reflect the nature of their abilities, such as healing, elemental attacks, or offensive capabilities, their looks can be easily matched to their functions.

The attention to detail is a feature that fans can expect from Zenless Zone Zero in spades – and not just for character design. Citing Vanillaware’s Odin Sphere and Muramasa: The Demon Blade as sources of inspiration, Li shares how both of the legacies have bled into the upcoming urban fantasy RPG. 

“To me, these titles are a great influence, as they have rich details and the principle of showing respect to every aspect of the game, which is touching,” muses the producer. “We did something similar for every action feedback in the game, for the art details in the inner city or in New Eridu – you’ll find that we’ve put a lot of details in the game, and it’s something that I was inspired by Vanillaware.”

It’s as they say, game recognises game.

Zenless Zone Zero releases 4 July on PC, iOS, Android, and PlayStation 5.