TGS 2023: HoYoverse’s ‘Zenless Zone Zero’ Carves Out Stylish Action-RPG Flair That Stands On Its Own

With its successful gacha behemoths, Genshin Impact and Honkai: Star Rail looming in the background, HoYoverse’s Zenless Zone Zero faces the daunting task of surpassing sky-high expectations. The challenge is elevated by the studio’s bold, first-time foray into the action-RPG genre, marking a stark departure from the former’s open-world form and the turn-based structure of Honkai: Star Rail.

TGS 2023 Zenless Zone Zero Preview

And the risk seems to have paid off handsomely. Even in a short 15-minute preview at Tokyo Game Show 2023, the upcoming title was quick to charm with its eye-catching, stylish aesthetics, snazzy character designs, and fluid gameplay. The smooth operator is easily the most suave of the company’s arsenal, sporting sequences in manga panels, great voice acting (a staple across all its games), and over-the-top battle animation.

Of course, its futuristic urban setting further contributes to this keen edge. Zenless Zone Zero thrusts players into a post-apocalyptic New Eridu, where a video store owner living in a city overrun by Hollows, a random occurrence that generates space-time dimensions full of mutant creatures called Ethereals, acts as a Proxy for a team of heroes. Through a terminal in the shop, they can be dispatched on graded combat challenges, otherwise known as commissions. 

Much of its artistic influence is reminiscent of Persona 5 – striking, vibrant, and full of life. The neon-soaked metropolis oozes personality and present-day familiarity, conveyed through various places of interests like an arcade, vinyl store, and a ramen stall. This contemporary touch carries over to the streetwear donned by characters, designed to fit their personalities. 

TGS 2023 Zenless Zone Zero Preview (2)

If Atlus’ JRPG series is its main influence for art style, then its real-time action flair can be traced back to Devil May Cry, sans the nuanced complexity. Battles are a flashy, enthralling dance of blades and guns, with each playable character tied to a unique weapon loadout and distinct fighting style. Expect katanas, knives, fists, firearms, and more, which make up the main kit alongside dodge, a secondary skill, and an ultimate ability. 

A total of 12 characters were available during the demo, and while there wasn’t enough time to give them all a go, the few who entered the battlefield proved to be different enough from one another – not just in terms of battle style, but individual qualities as well. The snarky, confident, and carefree Billy Kid, for instance, makes dramatic entrances with his dual-pistol attacks, whereas electric blade wielder Anby Demara slices opponents in a cool, calm-headed fashion. The standout pick, though, is the jacket-wearing near Ben Bigger, dishing out damage with a giant particle beam weapon. 

As expected of an action game, the dodging mechanics feel great, and combat is a fluid, dynamic, and intuitive affair. However, the showstopper here is the character swap feature that encourages and rewards varied team compositions. Here’s how it works: upon staggering an enemy, players will be prompted to trigger a tag-team combo with another fighter in the party, which extends the chain attacks, and refreshes the cooldown for all available abilities. It’s a seamless handover that feels right out of a dramatic anime sequence, enriched by the pockets of witty interactions and character quips in between these moments. 

Perhaps what’s most welcome about the battle system is its accessibility. Lacking the depth of other counterparts like Devil May Cry, Bayonetta, or say, Final Fantasy XVI, Zenless Zone Zero is designed to be beginner-friendly – and understandably so, since it targets the casual audience. The generous dodge window and timely prompts makes it easy for newcomers to get into the groove, although it’d have been nice to take part in more challenging boss fights. Veterans will be able to emerge unscathed from the action with ease, but that shouldn’t take away from an enthralling and enjoyable experience.

The next question, then, would be how HoYoverse’s signature gacha elements will fit into the world of Zenless Zone Zero. With incredible combat direction, stylish artistic flair, accessible fun, and an interesting, eclectic mix of characters, the upcoming adventure oozes all-around swagger and magnetism. Even as it leans strongly into a Persona or Devil May Cry presentation, there are clear signs that it’s chasing and moulding its own vision instead of treading the Honkai Impact 3rd, Genshin Impact, or Honkai: Star Rail path – and that’s a very promising start. 

Zenless Zone Zero is in development for PC and mobile devices, with no word on a release date just yet.