zenless zone zero preview
Screenshot by Siliconera

Review: Zenless Zone Zero Forced Me to Fix My Posture

After years of development, Zenless Zone Zero is finally ready for public release, and it’s one that I feel like will be really hit or miss among the general HoYoVerse fandom. On my end, the snazzy aesthetics, fast-paced battle system, and interesting characters are enough to outweigh any oddities present.

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zenless zone zero story
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The story in Zenless Zone Zero follows a pair of siblings who work as “Phaethon,” a Proxy whose job is to guide people through Hollows. Hollows are like interdimensional spaces. People go in there for a variety of reasons, such as for investigations. It’s more urban sci-fi than a grandiose space opera like Honkai: Star Rail. While there is an overarching storyline regarding a mysterious AI and some conspiracies that you discover, it progresses in episodic bites, introducing factions that hire or work with Phaethon due to their credible reputation.

Like in other HoYoVerse games, you can choose which sibling you want to play as. But unlike the other ones, the one you don’t choose still plays a key part in the story, along with serving as the main mission control at times. It plays very similarly to Fate/Grand Order, where the Master you choose only affects who you see and control in the main story. Phaethon characters, as a Proxy service, never actually appears as controllable allies in battle. So in my opinion, there’s less pressure. Mind that the Phaethon you choose is still the one you have to look at in the main menu (until you unlock more characters to set in the screen), as well as the character you control, so you should still put some thought into whose visual you prefer.

zenless zone zero phaethon
Screenshot by Siliconera

The Phaethon siblings and Fairy have a really fun dynamic together. They have a really endearing bond. Fairy’s oddly antagonistic relationship with your sibling feels more akin to a sitcom nemesis as well, making their occasional barbed comments at each other funny rather than uncomfortable. Starting from Nicole’s Cunning Hare and then the bizarre members of Victoria Housekeeping, the characters in the game all have fairly fun quirks. It makes them seem a lot more cartoonish at times compared to characters from previous HoYoVerse titles. Anby, for example, seems like a cold, stoic girl hiding a dark past. But she quickly reveals herself as a pretty silly movie otaku who delivers ridiculous lines in an earnest deadpan. That’s not to say the entire game is a joke, though, as it still goes through themes like corporate corruption, with playable characters affected by these injustices.

There are three main types of quests you can partake in: story, exploration, and combat. You should take note that certain quests are only available at certain times of day. So for example, if there’s a quest in the afternoon, you might need to kill time in the morning with another quest or something before you can move onto that. It’s never really an issue, but I remember feeling a little overwhelmed at the sheer number of quests you can get at once. As far as I saw, none of them were time-gated or anything, so you can definitely take your time without worrying about missing one forever. As a note, the game will provide a summary if you decide to skip all the cutscenes. So if you don’t feel like reading or don’t care, you can still have a basic understanding of the plot.

zenless zone zero ellen
Screenshot by Siliconera

The combat in the game is the best part. It’s fast, stylish, and fun, even if you don’t fully grasp what a character’s kit can do. There’s more emphasis on the order of your team, as you only have one button to swap between the characters. So if you, for example, lower an enemy’s DEF with Nicole and then want to immediately swap in your attacker Billy, you’ll want to make sure they’re next to each other in your roster. It’s not that big of a deal if you forget though. The swap is seamless enough that one extra button press won’t cost you.

I’ll say that doing a lot of combat can be killer depending on who you’re using and what mode you’re playing. Shiyu Defense, for example, is this game’s version of Forgotten Hall and Spiral Abyss, essentially. You can play through nonstop combat rounds without having to load too many times in between. But my goodness, Nekomata teams and Soldier 11 teams made me feel like I developed carpal tunnel. This is unfortunate because their play styles are some of my favorites and always have been. I had to really readjust my posture when playing it on the mouse, so I feel like this game is better with a controller. Or, at the very least, a wrist brace.

zenless zone zero kit information
Screenshot by Siliconera

What’s unfortunate is that some characters have very complicated kit descriptions in the menu, which can make them feel unapproachable or difficult to use. It’s far easier to go into the character’s individual tutorial in the VR Mode to get the summarized version. A more concise description of their various abilities would be nice. Aside from a character-specific tutorial, you can also go into free training mode. This is a nice way to enjoy the combat and let off steam without worrying about things like a time limit in Shiyu Defense. You can also use it as a way to better learn your characters and enemies, such as memorizing attack patterns for certain enemies if you want to main Nekomata (who gains enhanced attacks after dodging).

grid exploration
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Aside from combat, the grid exploration aspect is still here in story and exploration commissions. When you enter Hollows in story quests and other commissions, you’ll need to go through a “map” of TV screens. In the closed beta test, I really hated these segments because they felt long and tedious. While I do think they’re still on the boring side, the option to fast-forward the animation makes it feel like less of a slog. It might also be better on a more powerful machine, as I played Zenless Zone Zero on a 5-year-old gaming laptop with a NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650 inside of it. It’s not the most powerful machine in the world. So the load time every time you had to do an enemy encounter was not great.

Screenshot by Siliconera

I mentioned earlier that the characters feel a lot zanier in this game, making them seem like cartoon characters. The animation style definitely feels like it’s leaning into that. I can’t quite place my finger on which Cartoon Network show it reminds me of, though. The characters move a lot more than I expect in the cutscenes though, and their facial expressions can be on the more exaggerated side. This isn’t a negative, per se, but it can be surprising if you’re used to how the characters move and talk in previous HoYoVerse games.

Finally, I love the aesthetic of the game. It’s a perfect mix of retro and modern—like Y2K retrofuturism. Though it takes place in an obviously futuristic world, the Proxy siblings work in a video rental shop and can offer suggestions on old (fictional) movies for their patrons to watch. This is kind of oddly specific. But the heading font in the game reminds me so much of those Jampack demo catalogues or old skater aesthetic stores in the mall. It’s so charming in a nostalgic way, and I love how the UI looks. I’ll say that it was kind of hard to navigate at times because I wasn’t sure where anything is, but I’m sure it’ll be easier to do so with time.

video archive
Screenshot by Siliconera

Zenless Zone Zero is a snappy action game that feels rewarding to master. Though the story can fall flat at times, the characters are so fun that it’s fun to see their reactions. The presentation of the plot—the comic book format and the colorful animations—keeps it entertaining and fresh. Instead of appealing to everyone, it feels like it’s striving to hit a particular audience and I personally am one of those people. Hopefully the dailies won’t be too hard to manage on top of everything else in the market.

Zenless Zone Zero is available on the PS5, Windows PC, and mobile devices.

Zenless Zone Zero

Zenless Zone Zero is a sci-fi RPG where you play as a Proxy, a guide who can access the Hollows, a warped reality full of Ether and dangers. Explore the city of New Eridu, meet various characters, and uncover the secrets of the Hollows and the old civilization. Windows PC version reviewed.

While I personally really like the combat, characters, and presentation, the grid exploration and parts of the story can feel weak.

Food for Thought:
  • If my wrist keeps acting up when I play Nekomata, I will simply have to do some more exercises. Yes, I like her fighting style that much.
  • It's a breath of fresh air that ZZZ is using such a different UI from Genshin and Star Rail. They're clean and easy to look at, but ZZZ feels so unique and creative in comparison now.
  • It does suck that Wise's design is so simple compared to Belle's. I wish they were closer to the Stelle/Caelus binary where they look pretty much the same.

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Stephanie Liu
Stephanie is a senior writer who has been writing for games journalism and translating since 2020. After graduating with a BA in English and a Certificate in Creative Writing, she spent a few years teaching English and history before fulfilling her childhood dream of becoming a writer. In terms of games, she loves RPGs, action-adventure, and visual novels. Aside from writing for Siliconera and Crunchyroll, she translates light novels, manga, and video games.