Zenless Zone Zero review – ultracool action at a smaller scale brings miHoYo’s characters into focus

Zenless Zone Zero can’t decide if it wants to wow you with chaotic action, or let you kick back and explore its comic-book-styled urban streets. One mission could be packed with frantic dodges and chain attacks as you mow down monsters in dangerous ‘Hollow’ areas, whereas the next might be just grabbing coffee with a bud, or teaching a cute bunny-robot-thing Bangboo to play football. So instead of committing to one atmosphere, Zenless Zone Zero has doubled down on both. Spending time in its slick streets is a blast, no matter if it’s throwing combat challenges or coffee dates your way.

If Zenless Zone Zero’s fun and stylish gameplay wasn’t so distracting, its smaller scale might initially come across as a bit of a downgrade when compared to developer miHoYo’s open world in Genshin Impact, and the universe of possibilities found in Honkai: Star Rail. But it only takes one walk down the post-apocalyptic streets of New Eridu to see that a smaller area doesn’t equal a lesser experience, as the city’s subtleties have room to breathe, bringing the whole game to life. Its beautiful art style may be reminiscent of games like Persona 5, Jet Set Radio, and Hi-Fi Rush, but something relatively small that makes a notable difference are the NPCs. As far as I can tell, they all have custom designs on top of unique personalities, and they’re sometimes more lovingly crafted than the characters in your own squad. (Sorry, Grace, but your goggles just don’t compare to Enzo’s mechanical arm and fancy sunhat.)

Even the simple act of exploring feels personal, as you can only do so with your main character – Belle or Wise, depending on who you pick at the beginning. The pair are siblings who run a video rental store called Random Play, but their main gig is moonlighting as illegal Proxies – techy individuals who take on commissions from New Eridu’s denizens in need of guidance, as they traverse corrupted Hollow bubbles that could turn them into Ethereal monsters if they linger. It may sound a grim premise, but New Eridu actually has quite the cheery attitude in the face of danger. Who cares about being turned into a monster anyway when you can play Snake and Mr. Driller clones at the local arcade? Not these pop culture obsessed folks. It’s a pleasant change from the typical world-ending stakes tacked on to many anime video games, and actually being able to play these arcade games only adds to the chilled vibes of taking in the city.

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