Zenless Zone Zero – Review

First impressions carry weight, and it especially rings true for new launches or releases riding on high levels of expectations. After all, looks are what first catches the eye in a fast-growing, ever-changing landscape, where a strong visual identity offers the advantage of standing out and getting ahead of the pack. 

Geek Interview: Zenless Zone Zero (3)

It’s a sentiment that extends to the gaming scene, and which Zenless Zone Zero, or ZZZ, embraces in its entirety. The upbeat romp has established a reputation for being a visual knockout even before launch, soaked in a snazzy flair that wouldn’t be out of place in a Persona game. Flashy combat finds a home amid the bold, lively strokes of an urban-dipped brush, lending futuristic polish to a post-apocalyptic world. 

Yet, it also clings strongly to nostalgia. The old-school arcade machines, payphones, and VCR tapes of yesteryear are a welcome trip down the memory lane, but the retro-modern blend is perhaps a parallel to its place in the real world. Hailing from HoYoverse, of Genshin Impact and Honkai: Star Rail fame, Zenless Zone Zero has big shoes to fill, tied down to the studio’s consistent track record. 

Together with its strikingly forward presentation, this action role-playing game represents a collision between the past and future – though one wouldn’t be able to tell from the neoteric-tinted onset. The distinct identity breaks away from the company’s mould, bringing a fresh and enthralling experience that won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. Give it some time to steep, however, and pockets of charm will surface.

Zenless Zone Zero (ZZZ) Review

Set in a post-apocalyptic futuristic haven called New Eridu, the urban fantasy puts players in the role of a Proxy, a character who aids other characters in exploring Hollows, alternate dimensions used by foreign entities known as the Ethereal to travel out into the human world. Having wiped most of humanity out, these hostile invaders are the common enemy of the remaining population, who survived the onslaught by extracting their technology and resources.

Joining in the continued fight against the Ethereal and other enemies is a roster of companions that can be recruited into the Proxy’s team. Similar to Honkai Impact 3rd, which came before Genshin Impact and Honkai: Star Rail, Zenless Zone Zero features a three-member party system and a more action-heavy combat approach. Combo chains, dodging, and tag-team attacks are all par for the course, forming the basics of gameplay.

The first thing to note is that enemies are only encountered within the Hollows, accessible via the Hollow Deep Dive System (HDD). Upon deployment, agents will have to defeat free-roaming foes in a fixed area and complete objectives along the way. These event sequences unfold differently based on their categorisation, of which three are included under the combat banner: Rally, Challenge, and well, Combat.

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For starters, Rally Commissions (as they are called in-game) involve navigating continuous mini-open-zone stages, fending off enemies in waves, and entering Special Fissures that unlock hidden paths or a boss showdown. The former offers a chance to earn bonus rewards by detouring players to various challenges that range from Coin Races, Joint Assault, or One Punch, where commission features and perks, picked up en route to the final destination, can prove advantageous. 

The boss encounter, available at the Intermediate, Advanced, and Expert difficulty levels, ends the current activity immediately once all enemies have been defeated. Unlike the usual horde, these hostile forces are armed with unique combat styles and attacking patterns, so it’s recommended to exercise some caution. Meanwhile, the Challenge and Combat listings are standard, more straightforward battling fare – pop in, cleave through enemies, and emerge victorious in the shortest time possible. 

As an action RPG, Zenless Zone Zero inherits various mainstay elements from the genre, such as Perfect Dodge, hack-and-slash mechanics, and stun effects. But it also brings its own spin to the system with Perfect Assist, Assist Attack, elemental weaknesses, and more, which elevates gameplay beyond just button mashing and an added layer of strategy. 

Here’s how everything comes together. A Basic Attack comprises a string of strikes (usually three to five), where executing full combos maximises energy recharge and damage. With each successful hit, enemies accumulate Daze and become stunned when the bar is full, rendering them immobile and more susceptible to damage.

Geek Interview: Zenless Zone Zero

Players are free to switch between agents at will, but should especially do so after landing a heavy attack on foes to trigger a chain attack. It will automatically run its course when there are two or more agents in the party, dishing out fairly devastating damage and contributing to Decibel Rating buildup. The latter can be filled up by carrying out all combat actions, including dodge counters and Assist Follow-Ups, and is used to unleash an Ultimate at full charge. There’s a catch, though – the gauge is shared between allies, so it’d be best to save it for the one member whose attacks are most impactful. 

Then, there are the special attacks. These are unique to each character, and can be activated at any time without cooldown, though there’s little value in using them as they are. The situation changes when it enters an enhanced state (EX Skill Variant) after building up enough energy, bringing a heavy attack effect that launches into a chain attack once used on a fully dazed enemy. 

Perfect Dodge, meanwhile, will prove familiar to genre veterans, triggering when agents avoid a strike at the right time. Following up with an immediate Basic Attack prompts a Dodge Counter with a heavy attack effect, but it isn’t the only counterattack available in Zenless Zone Zero. Switching characters right before some enemy attacks – indicated by a flash of gold – hit segues into a Perfect Assist, in which the substitute agent consumes an Assist Point to execute a Defensive or Evasive Assist. 

Think parrying in action contemporaries such as Devil May Cry or even Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, but with the flourish of the Assist feature in Marvel vs Capcom and the difficulty dialled down for accessibility. A total of three consecutive Perfect Assists can be pulled off within a certain period, and a Perfect Dodge will be automatically performed in the case of insufficient Assist Points. 

In play, the combat system works great. Chaining up combos feels fluid on the battlefield, accompanied by a crisp, satisfying sensation that follows each successful maneuver. There’s a steady rhythm to the display of clean, crunchy blows, reminiscent of fighting games (the influence of Street Fighter pulses strongly, indeed), nimble dodging, and the slick, near- instantaneous transition between team members. 

Keeping in line with the title’s striking aesthetics, character animations unfold in a flashy and stylish manner, making tag-team and Ultimate attacks a gloriously fun sight to behold. It’s easy to be drawn in by the thrill of the battle, with higher difficulty levels promising an enjoyable, high-octane experience. More notably, each brawler feels distinctly different to control, boasting a skill set and attack style that matches their design.

Ben the Bigger, for instance, moves and swings slower than most, but can take more hits, just as his tanky statue would suggest. Similarly, Nekomiya’s high-speed claw attacks reflect her cat-like tendencies, while Billy Kid’s far-ranged expertise aligns with his signature dual guns. Every agent is assigned to an element, known as Attribute, and a fighting style, the former of which comprise Electric, Fire, Physical, Ice, and Ether. Meanwhile, the latter pairs Support, Attack, Anomaly, or Stun with Strike, Slash, or Pierce.

The Attribute system is a concept that Genshin Impact and Honkai: Star Rail fans will find comfort in, serving as counters to the Ethereal, Mechanical, and Humanoid enemy types. Unlike its cousins, Zenless Zone Zero favours mono-Attribute teams, though players are encouraged to play around with the team synergies and see which best suits their play style. 

It’s worth noting that there’s an evident strength difference between S and A-rank characters, especially since Zenless Zone Zero, in classic HoYoverse fashion, features gacha elements. However, the power creep will likely be less of an issue here, as the action-heavy lean puts more emphasis on reaction time. Clearing higher difficulty stages is entirely possible with a full A-ranked team; it just takes more time and effort.  

As noted during the latest closed beta test, the combat experience is highly manageable in the early to middle stages, to the point where some may find it too easy. But that’s the point – the upcoming adventure is designed to be beginner-friendly and easy to pick up, delivering accessibility in spades. In fact, a fourth companion can be brought into battle for additional aid: the Bangboo, an adorable rabbit-thing robot capable of dealing damage, healing allies, boosting stats, and the like, depending on type.

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Two particular characters stood out in the review build, Zhu Yuan (Ether, Attack-Pierce) and Ellen Joe (Ice, Attack-Slash). Combining sleek, hard-hitting gun-fu moves with ranged attacks, Zhu Yuan is the only S-Rank with an Ether Attribute, cementing her value as a whirlwind of athleticism on the field. Ellen Joe, meanwhile, proves to be similarly fleet-footed and combo-stacked, bringing impressive damage output and gameplay flexibility. 

Zenless Zone Zero will launch with 15 playable agents at launch, with the pair featured on the first and second half of the limited-time banner, respectively. Like all of HoYoverse titles, the game introduces standard and event-exclusive banners, guaranteeing an S-Rank after 50 pulls for first-timers. W-Engines, equippable cores that grant additional stats and passive abilities, and Bangboos are included in the pool as well. 

For all that combat is well-executed, there are some minor points to highlight. Firstly, the default key for member-switching is bound to Shift, typically used for sprinting, instead of a more intuitive button like the Space Bar, which would be assigned to ‘jump’, a feature missing in the game. The mapping system is also very basic, so non-keyboard assignments, including M3 and M4, or the side buttons on a mouse, won’t be available for PC users.

Additionally, there’s no stopping combo attacks but they can be interrupted by enemies; this may cause slight frustration during busier stages, especially on mobile. Having tried both platforms, the difference in gameplay is prominently felt, with the smaller display on smartphones and reduced field of vision presenting difficulty in tracking the fast-paced action on higher difficulty levels. It’s possible to play the game on the go, of course, so long as performance expectations are adjusted. 

As insignificant as it may appear to be, Zenless Zone Zero could afford to do better in the quality-of-life department. The lack of a ‘next’ or ‘previous’ button means an inability to cycle through menu offerings and navigate the UI easily, so individuals will need to manually click into and out of them. It’s a tedious way to upgrade weapons, characters, stats, and more at one go, and a quick access feature would certainly be welcome. An option to save team compositions could be handy too, instead of having to reassemble one from scratch every time.

Zenless Zone Zero (ZZZ) Review (5)

While combat is likely to ensue in most cases, what makes Explore and Story Commissions different from Combat tasks is the use of a 2D platformer board held together by TV sets. Players will have to traverse the grid and accomplish objectives, triggering various special events, mechanics, and unavoidable battles along the way. For example, a commission in Chapter 2 incorporates tower defense-esque gameplay, where players have to fend off waves of enemies without losing too many lives. In another, their memorisation skills are put to the test, and answering correctly progresses the stage. 

The experience draws comparison to the Simulated Universe mode in Honkai: Star Rail, with these roguelike elements serving as a fresh breath of air. This extends into the main story quests and character backstories, handsomely packaged into a video archive format, that also reveal quest-specific features. Where Grace’s Agent Story sees players gathering battery charges to power up a heavy machine, Soldier 11’s mission tasks them with pdeploying three transmitters at different areas in the Hollow. 

The novelty doesn’t always work, however. Depending on the stage, exploration can turn into a time-consuming affair if individuals get stuck in the process of problem solving – and a linear path to the finish line certainly exacerbates matters, since there won’t be a workaround. The constant pop-in-and-out, too, can break immersion, especially when it takes place in short bursts (looking at you, fetch quests).

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In contrast, the presentation of its content proves effective in holding attention. Zenless Zone Zero may go a little hard on the exposition at times, but compensates for it with stylish manga panels and animated sequences that unravel, bit by bit, the overarching plot. A special mention is reserved for the voice acting here, coming from a hands-on preview held in Singapore devoid of voice work – then, the characters came across as colourful with a strong sense of individuality, but lacked a personal connection. The review build stoked the flames of affection, offering a second chance to experience their stories through a more emotional and humanised lens. 

Despite the futuristic, technologically-forward sheen, Zenless Zone Zero is partially rooted in a sense of normalcy. New Eridu oozes a comforting mix of cyberpunk-ish modernity and nostalgia, allowing players to explore an area within a fixed range. Sixth Street is where Random Play, a videotape rental store and the Proxies’ store can be found, serving as the main base of operations.

The game limits exploration to a two-dimensional plane and their chosen Proxy, Belle (female) or Wise (male), with a day divided into four periods: Morning, Afternoon, Evening, and Midnight. From eating ramen and drinking coffee, both of which can restore energy or grant buffs, to playing games at the arcade, the lived-in hub buzzes with various activities, side quests, and places of interest to visit.

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Take remodelling shop Turbo for instance, catering to all Bangboo needs by offering and unlocking upgrades. Apart from interacting with NPCs and familiar agents, individuals should keep an eye out for Missing Mini Cargo Trucks, the game’s version of treasure, hidden details, broken Bangboos that can be repaired by solving a simple puzzle, and cats, of course.

Completing side quests leaves players with a reward from Officer Mewmew, while texting agents – upon completing their Agent Story and meeting a list of prerequisites – prompts a meet-up, which increases the friendship metre.

The environment design of Sixth Street is intricate, and the detail bleeds into other areas as well. Where the former is vibrant and bustling with life, Scott Outpost, a military camp with Hollow Zero access, oozes a more serious air and adopts a dreary, dystopian look. Brant Street, filled with construction items, gives off the feeling of constant activity, and it’s these distinct traits that allows each location to stand out in their own cohesive way. 

Quick travel in Zenless Zone Zero is convenient, if a double-edged sword. While players are able to hop from one place to another with the Travel function, the lack of an open setting and the limited movement may dull one’s interest and incentive for exploration. Still, credit must be given where it’s due – the fantasy romp continues to deliver the HoYoverse musical guarantee, dishing out upbeat, head-bopping soundtracks that weave distorted instrumentals into an electronic sound fabric of EDM, rap, and synthwave.

Perhaps the biggest gripe are the lull periods. Mirroring the early-stage experience in Genshin Impact and Honkai: Star Rail, story progression is locked behind level requirements, opening up a window to complete more commissions, challenges, and other game modes. Some of them come with hidden or unlisted prerequisites, though, and won’t be accessible immediately, limiting options to daily or mundane tasks. Unsurprisingly, this sense of repetition grows old quickly, sullying the rinse-and-repeat cycle with dull monotony.

Due to its live-service nature, the extent of its narrative potential cannot be accurately determined. As of Chapter 3, the story has picked up in a way that sparks a little curiosity, though not enough to warrant a commitment, leaving behind an air of cautious optimism. There are traces of the HoYoverse spirit (“You slay, girl! The last move ate it up,” says an NPC in Zhu Yuan’s Agent Story, preserving the modern, Gen Z-type humour that spans all of its titles), and relentless grinding, alongside item farming, will almost certainly be present. 

At its core, though, Zenless Zone Zero represents a commendable, bold leap into new territory.  There’s plenty to praise about its aesthetic language, from the urban streetwear influence and the crisp animation, to the way everything blends in so effortlessly. A combination of substance and style, the game has proven it possible to look and play good, taking off with a strong and promising start. The action-focused experience may be less of a motivating factor for some, and that’s fine – it just means plenty more stylish combat for fans to soak in.



Zenless Zone Zero is a visual kaleidoscope that ensnares players in the jaws of heart-racing gameplay and handsome graphics, even if it may not necessarily be everyone’s cup of tea.

  • Gameplay - 8.5/10
  • Story - 7/10
  • Presentation - 9/10
  • Geek Satisfaction - 8/10