zenless zone zero closed beta
Screenshot by Siliconera

Zenless Zone Zero Does Not Feel Like a Gacha Game

The Zenless Zone Zero closed beta opened in late November 2023 and I got the chance to experience the world of New Eridu ahead of the game’s official launch. While there are still some rough patches, it is a promising game that steps away from the HoYoVerse gacha game formula that most players are probably familiar with.

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In Zenless Zone Zero, you play as Phaeton, a famous Proxy whose job is to essentially act as mission control for people who travel inside Hollows. You can choose between a male or a female avatar for your Proxy, but the sibling you don’t choose still plays a major role in the story. I actually suggest choosing the one you’re not as interested in. Belle is my protagonist but Wise, as my mission control, actually feels way more prominent a character than Belle. I enjoyed how there are voice lines for Belle’s dialog options, which forces characters to respond in a more direct manner than in most gacha games. It gives the feeling that Belle is a legitimate character in this world rather than nothing more than an author avatar.

Zenless Zone Zero Phaeton preview
Screenshot by Siliconera

There are many different kinds of cutscenes in Zenless Zone Zero. Sometimes, the characters are essentially talking heads. Other times, it’s an animated movie that you watch. But the majority of the time, the story progresses like a vomic (not a typo; a comic book that the game presents panel by panel with voices, sound effects, and music). I’ve always been very partial to the HoYoVerse webtoon art style and I found it very charming to start the game off in this way. It really matches with the slightly goofy vibe of the game. The old-timey aesthetic of the game is also right up my alley.

Zenless Zone Zero vomic
Screenshot by Siliconera

Frankly, none of the characters prior to my participation in the beta test stood out to me. Anby, for example, seemed like a very run-of-the-mill quiet girl with one gimmicky personality trait. In practice, she’s really cute, sweet, and funny. Nicole in particular stands out with her greedy penny pincher personality contrasting with her genuine heart of gold. She and Billy are pathetic in two different ways, and I like that in characters. I wish that the trust missions were a little more interesting, but with so many other anecdotes and missions, as well as limited time, it might get overwhelming.

In Zenless Zone Zero, the day’s split into three segments. Some quests are only available in the morning, for example, so you have to schedule your day depending on your quests. Belle does need to go to sleep every day at midnight, but frankly I don’t really notice any particular reason for this. It’s probably just a way for the game to progress through the story. It feels like an extra step for no reason, so I hope that the final product attaches some meaning to sleeping or removes it entirely. You do need to use stamina in the game to play through missions, and you can refill stamina from the coffee shop. I never felt bogged down by the stamina limit, though. Each round feels long and satisfying enough that usually I’m feeling pretty done with the game by the time I use up my energy.

Screenshot by Siliconera

That’s probably the strongest point for Zenless Zone Zero, in that it doesn’t feel like a standard gacha game. At no point did I crave more mindless violence, only to see that the game literally won’t let me until I wait for a few hours. I also never felt like I needed to pull for new characters because the free ones you get feel fantastic to handle. The battle system is very similar to Honkai Impact 3rd. Like, really similar, which the retro font and aesthetic kind of exacerbates. This isn’t a bad thing, of course, because Honkai Impact 3rd is really fun.

However, in Honkai Impact 3rd, there are a lot of differences in the play style and damage potential between and S tier and an A tier character. The same goes with Genshin Impact. On paper, you could go through both Honkai Impact 3rd and Genshin Impact with nothing but your own skill. But in reality, the game kind of discourages you from doing so. For example, certain characters in Genshin Impact are incredibly useful for exploration (Kazuha, Keqing) or there’s a timer in domains, forcing players to have to throw themselves into the RNG hell of Artifact farming.

equipment screen
Screenshot by Siliconera

There is no exploration aspect in Zenless Zone Zero that requires your characters. For the most part, you’re using the Proxy to traverse through a grid, solving puzzles using your brain. You can encounter random battles or on combat tiles in the grid, and it plays out kind of like a Honkai Impact 3rd level. Because there usually isn’t a timer, you can take as long as you need to. While leveling up my characters and giving them different equipment did make a noticeable difference in how much damage they deal, it didn’t make my life significantly easier. Characters like Nekomata feel easier to play than Corrin, but not to the point I felt compelled to go and pull for her. I really like this aspect of Zenless Zone Zero because it lacks the pay-to-win element that generally turns people off gacha games as a whole.

Zenless Zone Zero combat
Screenshot by Siliconera

When I first booted up the closed beta, the fun battle system and aesthetic really charmed me. But as I continued, I realized that in its current build, the game is a bit of a mixed bag. The combat is incredibly fun and smooth, feeling similar to the ilk of NieR Automata. The characters are generally quirky and fun. I kind of want to get to know them a bit more, but the game keeps putting us with our sibling and Fairy, a mysterious and somewhat snarky AI. The story doesn’t stand out to me, but the presentation is very unique compared to other HoYoVerse games.

However, I personally don’t enjoy the grid exploration aspect. They make each Hollow run feel like they take forever and the camera is a bit too close to my icon, making it annoying to constantly adjust. I was especially irritated about how it feels like I spend more time doing grid exploration than combat, especially when the game’s selling point is the combat. Rally commissions do kind of offset this a little, since you can avoid doing the grid stuff there. But it’s still a bit of a slog, which is probably why the stamina limit never bothered me. Aside from that, the game shows promise as a Honkai Impact 3rd for the new generation. Hopefully, it’ll remain as F2P friendly in the actual release.

zenless zone zero grid exploration
Screenshot by Siliconera

Zenless Zone Zero will come out for the Windows PC and mobile devices some time in 2024.

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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.