ZZZ cast
Image via miHoYo

Review: Zenless Zone Zero

A change of pace for gacha games.

I’ve been riding the Hoyoverse train for a few years now, with the ever-popular Genshin Impact and the futuristic Honkai: Star Rail. So, when I first caught wind of the developer’s next title, Zenless Zone Zero, I was curious to see how this new venture would stand out in its growing library of gacha-driven titles.

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Since its initial reveal in 2022, the next action RPG from the developer has undergone several open beta tests. HoYoverse has spent round after round of its early access tests fine-tuning the otherworldy, apocalyptic adventure and turning it into something brilliant and distinct from its predecessors. Recently, I joined in for my own trial run in the latest early access build, diving into the world of ZZZ knowing it was completely different from Hoyoverse’s previous entries, especially with the absence of open-world features.

Initially, I believed this element would really sour my experience, though I soon realized how much I liked not spending endless amount of hours just to get to one spot on a map. Plus, the cutscenes weren’t too drawn out, saving more time. You can think of Zenless Zone Zero as a gacha game for those not quite as interested in longer moments of exposition, perfect for someone like me with a shorter attention span and eager to throwing enemies around.

ZZZ key art
Image via miHoYo

Zenless Zone Zero (PC [reviewed], Android, iOS, and PlayStation 5)
Developer: HoYoverse
Publisher: HoYoverse

Released: July 4, 2024
MSRP: Free-to-play (with microtransactions)

In Zenless Zone Zero, you’ll experience the life of the main protagonists, Belle and Wise. The siblings are known for their technological expertise in the last contemporary civilization, New Eridu. As apocalyptic scenarios tend to do, you soon learn the rest of their universe was destroyed by the supernatural Hollow disaster, unleashing the monstrous Ethereal enemies. Belle and Wise are tasked with getting humanity out of this mess by assuming the role of Proxies, a profession that helps guide others in the alternate dimensions of Hollows. 

What’s unique about this feature is the fact that the main protagonists don’t get involved in combat whatsoever. They’ll mainly stay on the sidelines and cheer on other characters who dare enter the Hollow. It’s a tad untraditional, sidelining the central character as non-combatant, but it gives you a chance to get to know the rest of the cast. And, it’s not like Belle or Wise take a back seat entirely, either, given that they roam New Eridu and make decisions during missions.

Any time you begin a quest out of New Eridu, you’ll immediately gain control of the Agents. The characters, Billy Kid, Nicole, and Anby, are among the first you’ll encounter, and they are a part of the rag-tag team, Cunning Hares. This is where combat comes into play to eliminate those pesky Ethereals. This is perhaps one of the parts I enjoyed the most, as Zenless Zone Zero’s fighting mechanics rely heavily on teamwork-based tactics that remain smooth and fluid through even its busiest sequences.

Fighting as Anby in ZZZ
Screenshot by Destructoid

It’s easy to maneuver characters around the battlefield in light of its intuitive targeting system, too. The RPG is good at guiding you to its next opponent after the current target drops, avoiding weird breaks in the action, and keeping up that seamless flow of battle. As a standout feature, the teamwork weaves itself into nearly everything, as Agents often help each other over the course of the story. Assist attacks are, by far, my favorite of the bunch, as it switches out the current fighter to unleash another strike with the sub-in.

It’s an excellent alternative to the standard dodge, and it can be even more beneficial if you time it right. And while mostly satisfying, I spent a chunk of ZZZ’s early game breezing through a bit too easily. Perhaps it’s an early access thing, or that’s just Hoyoverse with early-game training wheels. I will say it grew a little dull in parts, but the layers of ZZZ‘s other inner-workings were more than enough to keep the appeal here.

Despite this setback, I still found combat exceptionally entertaining, primarily with the Agent’s distinct Attributes and Fighting Styles. The system works like any other RPG, using different elemental attacks and certain roles, such as Support. I had a lot of fun wielding Billy Kid, specifically, wielding one of his attacks where he wildly fires bullets in a circular motion. I’ve used this move more than a few times now, and I can’t seem to stop, just so I can see how cool it looks. It’s also satisfying to watch the Wipeout slow-motion scene, which triggers after you’ve killed the last enemy. It’s a small and simple detail that feels glorious after a challenging quest. 

While all the fighting is going on, you’ll also be met with the unique Hollow Exploration. Instead of walking to points A and B in missions, you’ll need to move your character in a board game-like layout, selecting the spaces you want to go to next. There will be a bunch of points of interest presented here, from reward collectibles to boss fights. In most cases, players must think strategically when moving characters, or they may end up disrupting the path.

ZZZ Hollow Exploration
Screenshot by Destructoid

Although I’m more of an open-world lover, it’s refreshing to see exploration done this way. I think of all the times I’ve gotten frustrated in adventure games, depicting the typical scenario of fighting numerous foes to reach a specific area. This stress is completely gone in Zenless Zone Zero, as many pathways can be quick and easy to complete. Of course, not all journeys are short-lived, regarding the more difficult landscapes that put strategic thinking to the test.

Reaching the finish line in Hollow Exploration returns you to New Eridu. It’s a relatively compact map, especially compared to Genshin Impact’s massive landscape. However, it somehow feels much bigger than it actually is, thanks to its variety of exciting features. The video store, Random Play, will be your main base of operations. I lived out my Blockbuster fantasies here by selecting the movies for the store’s loyal customers. 

Once you step outside, you can enjoy a nice hot cup of joe at the Coff Cafe shop or get some grub at the Waterfall Soup. It’s a nice change of pace from the constant combat intervals. Oh, and these shops provide buffs to your character to get you ready for the next fight. My favorite of the New Eridu points of interest is the Godfinger Arcade. I always like it when there’s some form of Inception, letting you experience a game within a game. So far, I only got to try out two arcade ventures with Soul Hounds III and Snake Duel. The second game takes me back to the retro days of Snake, moving around a creature to increase its size.

New Eridu in ZZZ
Screenshot by Destructoid

The Arcade and food shops cover only a portion of what’s available in New Eridu. ZZZ also has upgrade shops and VR training to maximize your character’s build. The VR training makes up for those undemanding battles, considering that they provide more advanced trials to throw you in for a wild ride. On top of that, New Eridu offers plenty of side quests to familiarize you with its residents. I quite enjoyed these small adventures, even when it’s just as simple as kicking around a ball with the adorable Bangboo creatures. The cuteness of the Bangboo, alone, is what turned me into a real sucker for ZZZ, mainly because they are incredibly valuable assets for battles.

On the other hand, exploring everything in New Eridu can be slightly overwhelming, despite the rest of the RPG’s care for respecting the balance of tedium. I got lost a few times trying to remember how to do specific tasks mentioned earlier in the story. Fortunately, there’s a tutorial section to get you back on track.

Venturing across New Eridu and the rest of the map is also a reward in its on ways, too. I can tell that miHoYo has spent a lot of time designing the characters and the environment around them with its array of fashionable outfits and tiny details. Characters come to life with their vibrant personalities, striking ensembles, and cheeky dialogue. The cast’s back-and-forth banter made ZZZ a standout alongside the studio’s other beloved RPGs, and there’s assuredly a few contenders here for spots alongside some of the developer’s most endeared.

ZZZ dialogue scene
Screenshot by Destructoid

Even more so, Zenless Zone Zero switches up the beat by replacing some cutscenes with comic-style strips. Not only are they visually pleasing to look out for, but they also shorten the pace of long-drawn stories. It’s quite different from my days in Genshin, but the shorter, moment-to-moment encounters appeal way more to the me who isn’t always in the mood for some of those longer sequences.

It’s an excellent alternative for Genshin Impact fans looking for something new. Even if you’re not into some of the other Hoyoverse titles but still fond of its service model, ZZZ presents a nice change to gacha games in general. There’s plenty of content to keep you entertained for hours on end despite the lack of open-world title, and with so much to do, it’s easy to appreciate the absent strain of long treks. Not to mention that the Zenless Zone Zero will only continue to grow with its expected updates.

Ultimately, ZZZ delights with guiding design principles—remembering what so many adore about other Hoyoverse characters while breaking those moments up into short, snappier pieces. It’s rather easy to pick up and put down, and for something on the go, it’s certainly the preferable Hoyo title. For now, I’m all on board with New Eridu, and eager to watch the cast and world grow in many of the ways Honkai and Genshin have, too.

Impressive efforts with a few noticeable problems holding them back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth your time and cash.

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Kristina Ebanez
Staff Writer - Kristina has been a video game lover ever since she saw Solid Snake get under that cardboard box in Metal Gear Solid. She continues to show off her love for gaming and has been writing about it for more than two years. Aside from the Metal Gear Solid series, she enjoys playing The Sims, Call of Duty, Disney Dreamlight Valley, Horizon Forbidden West, Minecraft, and many more.