It isn’t unusual for a game to occasionally shift protagonists. It can happen briefly to serve as a way to introduce a person or a story element. With Honkai: Star Rail, we’ve seen HoYoVerse employ this mechanic both with Kafka and Dan Heng, two people with major roles in the story. In both cases, it can feel a bit different than the typical exposition or character questline, and it works to the benefit of the game in many ways to make its storyline, lore, and even gameplay better.
Editor’s Note: There are no spoilers for Honkai: Star Rail’s story or Kafka and Dan Heng’s background below.
By having the player be Kafka when Honkai: Star Rail begins, it helps provide a greater opportunity to question her motives and morality. We’re someone who is setting the story in motion. Kafka is bringing our avatar to life. Can she really be bad? Likewise, it’s letting us see her interactions with Silver Wolf and perhaps see that maybe she isn’t as potentially malicious as our later Astral Express encounter and Xianzhou Luofu experiences with her suggest.
Then, by splitting up the Astral Express party and adding Dan Heng playable segments in Honkai: Star Rail, it is offering greater insight into both a character and situation. He’s completely opposed to heading to the Xianzhou Luofu at first. He notes he’s banned from it. But once he realizes how involved Blade is and what could be happening, he abandons his own safety for the sake of others and to return. He’s always a quieter character, but casting him as the lead for these segments forces players to pay more attention to him. Also, as a stranger to people like Sushang and Luocha, it means he’s forces to show another side of himself and be a bit more talkative. At the same time, we’re seeing a side of the conflict and issue that our Trailblazer, March 7th, and Welt can’t see.
Not to mention in each case, it’s a showcase of what the characters can do. We already all get Dan Heng for free. Maybe we stop using him after we get other characters from the gacha? Being forced to use him in the Xianzhou Luofu story segments lets us see what the he can possibly do. Kafka isn’t a playable character at launch. The teaser of her in the tutorial lets us see what another five-star is like and what she may be capable of later if someone does get her.
Most importantly, HoYoVerse including these segments where Kafka and Dan Heng briefly become the Honkai: Star Rail protagonists reinforces the fact that the Trailblazer — and by extension player — isn’t the most important person in the universe. Other people matter too. They can be just as critical. By making these sections you need to go through, rather than side character stories as in Genshin Impact, it is making us realize how important other viewpoints and people are to the story.
Really, the way Honkai: Star Rail incorporates these additional storylines starring characters like Dan Heng and Kafka only benefits the game and its players. We’re getting closer looks at people who influence the course of the story. The segments are showing us how important they are, rather than HoYoVerse putting white text on a black screen explaining what they went through and “telling” us it mattered. It’s also letting us see those characters as the stars for a moment and, in so doing, force us to use them and see what they’re capable of. As a result, it might even change how we play by convincing us certain people should be in our main party. It’s all handled well, and I hope we see more of it.
Honkai: Star Rail is available for PCs and mobile devices, and PS4 and PS5 versions are in development.