Zenless Zone Zero Review

Zenless Zone Zero header artwork

Genshin Impact and Honkai Star Rail were both games that proved that free-to-play doesn’t mean lightweight and frivolous. While you can question the business model of their ‘gacha’ style setup, miHoYo’s differing gameplay styles across both games have hit home with players. Zenless Zone Zero is the latest title from the developer, and once again gameplay is the star of the show, though at times it doesn’t make enough of the standout parts of it.

Zenless Zone Zero is set in the futuristic city of New Eridu. This world has been beset by Hollows – areas of frozen time that are polluted with Ether, a substance that’s capable of mutating people into terrifying monsters known as Ethereals – but which have also proven to hold substantial wealth, if you have the means to collect it.

You play as a Proxy, choosing between the siblings of Wise and Belle. Proxies can send their consciousness into the Hollows within a Bangboo – a strange combination of Rabbid, Pokémon and a robot – and from there direct teams of Hollow Raiders who can fight off the Ether monsters on their way to whatever target they’ve been set. It’s a suitably sci-fi/anime setting that draws in and builds successfully on ideas we might have seen or heard before, but Zenless Zone Zero does an incredible job of selling them via its stellar presentation.

Zenless Zone Zero action combat attack

Put simply, Zenless Zone Zero looks and sounds incredible. I might be a sucker for anime-styled games, but the art style and overarching design of New Eridu and its inhabitants is simply breathtaking. It looks like a comic that’s come to life, and at points, it actually is a comic, with cutscenes and dramatic moments told via pages of a graphic novel. Beyond that, interactions between characters are often fully voiced, and as you spend more and more time with them you’ll come to love them, especially the opening trio made up of the emotionless Anby, street-smart Nicole and the Deadpool-lite Billy. You unlock new team members via the different gacha machine-style mechanics, each with their own personality as well as unique weaponry and appearances, virtually guaranteeing that you’ll find a favourite amongst them.

Zenless Zone Zero is much smaller scale than Genshin Impact, and where that aped Breath of the Wild and its sprawling landscape, ZZZ is closer to NEO: The World Ends With You, with its central elements happening across a much more limited area. It’s more approachable to newcomers, and makes more obvious sense on mobile as well as console or PC, placing it firmly between miHoYo’s expansive Genshin Impact and the smaller-scale Honkai Star Rail.

Zenless Zone Zero city environment

While it might sit somewhere between the two gameplay-wise, it shares the same ‘gacha’ elements as both its forebears, meaning it’s built to try and make you spend actual money. You’ll likely know whether this business model works for you, but this is a game that is fundamentally fully playable without spending anything. You do, however, rely on RNG to gift you the most powerful versions of each character, and their equipment, so if you want to maximise your chances you have to spend some cash. I’ve spent 99p though, and the game is certainly worth more than that.

The thing that shines brightest of all here, and the element that’s worth a pretty penny, is Zenless Zone Zero’s combat. Entering a Hollow sees you choosing a team of three Hollow Raiders, and then fighting off an increasingly dangerous set of Ethereals. Hack-and-slash combat is built around standard and special attacks, but the game’s coup de grace is the ability to switch between all three members of your team on the fly. If you time it so you dodge an incoming attack you’ll perform a more powerful switch attack, and you can chain these together, creating a spectacular anime battle in real-time. It feels powerful and natural, and the visuals back it all up wonderfully. This is the consistent highlight of the game, and it does not wear thin.

Zenless Zone Zero action gameplay

What might wear thin is that you’re not always involved in that delicious combat. At the moment, the weakest elements of Zenless Zone Zero lie in its focus away from the exciting and vibrant battles, especially in the board game sections that seem to stand in your way for very little reason other than to have you do something before hopping back into the fray. These happen within the proxy’s HDD computer, with you exploring a route tile by tile, collecting information, different materials and currency while facing whatever foes you can’t avoid. The thing is, you won’t want to avoid these enemies, because that gets you back to the best bit.

Depending on the type of person you are, you can get heavily involved in the levelling up, unlocking and collecting of each character’s equipment. As a free-to-play title you’ll probably be familiar with the fact that literally everything has a notification next to it, and you can complete challenges at an impressive pace, gaining more and more material to pile into every possible slot. miHoYo are masters of this art, and I rarely found it getting in the way, especially when I was enjoying it as much as I was.

Zenless Zone Zero character customisation

At launch, there are little quality-of-life things that we can hope miHoYo implement, like your characters having an auto-speech option during cutscenes, which would make everything feel just that little bit smoother, and improving or minimising the amount of loading or updating it does every single time you start the game. Still, as a free-to-play title, this is a generous and hugely enjoyable package that will hopefully grow into another success for the company.

Summary
Zenless Zone Zero is a stylish and incredible-looking blast of anime goodness, and even when it’s deliberately slowing the pace down, another frantic bout of the stellar combat won’t be too far away.
Good
  • Amazing visuals
  • Superb combat
  • Enjoyable world-building and characterisation
Bad
  • Drawn out HDD sections
  • A few tiresome moments between rounds of combat
8
Written by
TSA's Reviews Editor - a hoarder of headsets who regularly argues that the Sega Saturn was the best console ever released.

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