For better or for worse, HoYoVerse imported several familiar elements from Genshin Impact into its upcoming Honkai Impact 3rd spin-off, Honkai Star Rail. This is hardly a surprise, considering the global influence that Genshin Impact has on the gaming community. While some changes are a welcome improvements from the more dated Honkai Impact 3rd, there are several major downsides to Star Rail taking cues from Genshin. Perhaps the biggest negative is the implementation of the voiceless Trailblazer as a player avatar.
What separates Honkai Impact 3rd from its more fantasy-inspired counterpart is its protagonist-driven narrative. When Honkai Impact 3rd starts, it puts the player into the shoes of Kiana Kaslana — an actual character. We get to experience everything through her dreams, goals, and her struggles. Kiana has a distinct voice and personality that makes it easy for the player to connect not only with the characters, but with the world and the story as well. She takes charge of her own story in a way that can only be possible with a protagonist who is a real voiced character.
In contrast, Genshin Impact’s Traveler is a voiceless player avatar. Paimon does the bulk of the communicating for them. This is fairly standard practice in gacha games and some RPGs. But as the plot of Genshin Impact became more complicated, the limits of the voiceless protagonist became clear. All of its more impactful storylines revolve around characters with an actual personality – Nahida, Wanderer, Kazuha… In contrast to that, the Traveler’s plot to find their sibling falls woefully flat. This is unfortunate in Star Rail because the premise of traveling to various planets in a galactic train to solve problems is so exciting.
When Honkai Star Rail begins, you control the ridiculously cool and suave Kafka. Genius hacker Silver Wolf then tags along for the ride. You get to see the two of them banter as they skillfully navigate through enemy troops and traps. “Oh my God,” I thought to myself. “This is so cool!”
And then the Trailblazer wakes up. I will not be so greedy as to say that I wish Kafka is the protagonist. But the voiceless protagonist feels so dated and stifling for the grand story that HoYoVerse obviously wants to tell that it took the wind out of my sails a bit.
Another failing in Honkai Star Rail’s narrative is its inefficient storytelling in the beta. The voiceless player-insert protagonist is the best in helping to establish the lore. If the protagonist is as clueless about the world as the player, then it’s easy to explain “obvious” things. The Traveler has the mouthy Paimon, and Kiana has her stupidity. But even though the Trailblazer is as clueless as the player should be, no one ever really explains anything? Maybe I’m the one who’s stupid. But even after hours of playing the game, I only have the vaguest of guesses as to what factions there are and what their relationships are with each other. March 7th, an amnesiac, is already on the Star Rail. Why not just have March 7th be the protagonist? Or even better, why not simply give the Trailblazer an actual personality and voiced lines?
But Genshin Impact’s… well, impact on Honkai Star Rail is not a complete negative. A major aspect that had me lose interest in Honkai Impact 3rd was in how confusing its main user interface is. It always took me a long time to figure out how to get from screen to screen. However, Honkai Star Rail uses a user interface that is a lot closer to what Genshin Impact has. It makes navigating the menu a breeze, and it looks way cleaner to boot. It’s clear that HoYoVerse has been taking notes on where it can improve its games from the success of Genshin Impact.
Obviously, at this stage of development, there is no way for HoYoVerse to just rewrite the story so that the Trailblazer is an actual character. They do not even have the Traveler’s more charming facial expressions (which only started appearing more in earnest in later versions of Genshin anyway) to provide some sort of personality. On top of that, HoYoVerse’s penchant for telling way more than showing – a major issue that plagues several main and side quests in Genshin Impact – is prominent in Honkai Star Rail as well. So it ping-pongs between telling nothing and telling too much. This is unfortunate from a narrative standpoint. Gameplay-wise, Honkai Star Rail has a lot to offer even in its beta stage. Hopefully, as HoYoVerse adds in more cutscenes to the final version, it will feel more like a real galactic adventure.
Honkai Star Rail will come out on Windows PC and mobile devices some time in 2023.
Related: Everything We Know About Honkai Star Rail on Attack of the Fanboy