HoYoverse’s ‘Zenless Zone Zero’ Breaks Gaming Barriers With Innovative Action RPG Combat Mechanics

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Can a mobile game, relying on gesture controls, offer the same thrill, intensity, and depth of a PC title? That’s what HoYoverse’s Zenless Zone Zero (ZZZ), the latest action RPG brainchild from the acclaimed developer attempts to answer later this year when it comes out on Windows, iOS, and Android. 

Advertisement ▼

ZZZ’s true innovation lies in its combat, though striking a delicate balance between accessibility and depth is no easy feat. Yet the team, led by producer Zhenyu Li, has crafted a system that welcomes newcomers with open arms, while rewarding experienced players with layers of strategic complexity. 

“Our goal is to develop a combat system that is both intuitive and captivating, allowing new players to easily grasp basic controls while providing experienced players with the opportunity to explore more advanced combat strategies,” Li reveals of the game’s attempt to redefine accessibility and depth in the action RPG genre. 

“Therefore, we designed the combat system to be complex yet accessible by combining unique mechanisms with various challenge modes.”

At the heart of Zenless Zone Zero lies an intuitive yet exhilarating combat system where players, in the role of Proxies, utilize their extraordinary talents to navigate through the dangerous Hollows – alternate dimensions filled with monstrous Ethereals. As Proxies using intelligent devices called Bangboos, players dive into these perilous realms, taking control of playable characters or Agents to engage in fluid swordplay and unleash devastating special attacks. The combat experience is enhanced by the satisfying rhythm of carving through enemies, the strategic depth provided by the Daze mechanic, QTE (quick time events), and the Perfect Assist system. This allows players to confront enemy attacks with impactful counterattacks, adding a dynamic layer to the skirmishes. Alongside battling Ethereals, players lead double lives as a Proxy and a normal civilian, delving deep into a world rife with mysteries and unfolding stories of rebellion and self-discovery.

This isn’t your typical post-apocalyptic wasteland, though. New Eridu, the sprawling metropolis at the heart of Zenless Zone Zero, shimmers with neon-drenched streets, towering skyscrapers adorned with retro arcade machines, and record stores offering lost treasures from a forgotten past. A city born from the ashes of the old world, it’s where humanity clings to fragments of its past even as it rebuilds for the future.

From the outset, Zenless Zone Zero’s art style electrifies players with its unique blend of futuristic chrome and nostalgic charm. The world of New Eridu, with its neon-soaked streets and arcade machines humming nostalgic melodies, whispers of Li and his team’s personal experiences. “I wanted to share these joyous, formative experiences with today’s players by incorporating retro elements like arcade machines and old radios into the game,” he explains. 

“By doing so, we hope to evoke emotional resonance in players while showcasing a thriving post-apocalyptic urban civilisation.” 

One glance at the opening sequence, punctuated by dynamic comic panels, also hints at an unconventional narrative approach. “We adopted dynamic comics as one of the key means of storytelling, as we felt that the format of dynamic comics is really cool,” Li admits, acknowledging the team’s desire to offer a multimedia tapestry of storytelling, where cinematic CG cutscenes seamlessly blend with interactive text and vibrant comic panels, immersing players in a world brimming with life and intrigue.

The team’s dedication to crafting distinct characters is a substantial endeavour, fueling this system’s brilliance. “We ask ourselves, ‘What types of characters have players not yet encountered?'” Li explains. Victoria Housekeepers, for instance, blend the mundane with the horror, wielding mops alongside spectral abilities. Each character boasts a distinct weapon and combat style, meticulously crafted to stand out from the crowd, ensuring every encounter feels fresh and exciting.

However, creating such a diverse cast and unique traits for each character presented creative obstacles, as the need to design new weapons and combat styles significantly increased the workload for the production team,  Li admits. 

“Many weapon concepts, once designed, are difficult to refer to in reality, as they are born from our imagination and might not exist in real life.” The team, however, has channeled their creativity, imbuing even fantastical weaponry with logical functionalities and exhilarating performance.

The journey to a perfect system isn’t over, though as with game development still ongoing, the team remains transparent about the gacha system, the in-game payment system that trades currency for luck in drawing items, which the team is still developing at this time. “We are still exploring,” Li clarifies, “but no matter what kind of business model we adopt, we hope to provide players with a friendly gaming experience.”

Similarly, the game’s soundtrack, heavily influenced by electronic music, promises to be a sonic feast as it boasts the signature style of Li’s close friend, Jinhan ‘Zoe’ Cai, the music director. “I felt that a prominent electronic music style was a perfect fit for the game,” Li reveals. 

And it’s this world, filled with retro charms and post-apocalyptic thrills, that truly binds everything together. The team’s dedication to player feedback shines through, with improvements like shorter loading times and engaging comic panels were implemented based on beta tester suggestions as the team “values our players’ opinions and will consider them as we continue to optimise the game”.