Zenless Zone Zero is an exciting blend of Persona 5 and Street Fighter, but I worry whether it'll be able to sustain itself in miHoYo's modern mold

Koleda swinging at an enemy in Zenless Zone Zero.
(Image credit: Hoyoverse)

Being plonked straight into New Eridu, Zenless Zone Zero's main city hub, and I can't help but notice how everything oozes coolness. It's got those ultra-stylish vibes I feel traversing through games like Hi-Fi Rush and Persona 5, the kind that make me question my own trendiness. The landscape is vibrant, the roster is impeccably dressed, and I feel ready to fumble my way through parry after parry. 

The action RPG is miHoYo's latest endeavour, one I admittedly haven't paid much attention to up until recently. It's a surprise considering I'm well-versed with the rest of Hoyo's catalogue at this point, and Zenless Zone Zero looks especially up my alley despite my lack of experience with parry-heavy action combat. 

After tinkering around with a preview build for a couple of hours, I came away a little frustrated. Most of that was down to miHoYo plonking me several hours into the game with no tutorials or story to be directed to,. Instead I faced down a myriad of side quests. As someone who hadn't played the beta that took place recently, it was a bit of a trial by fire. But after some assistance from fellow journalists who had played the beta and an extra hour to dabble, I was finally picking up what Zenless Zone Zero was putting down. 

I checked out a variety of the game's characters while I played: Wolf butler Lycaon and his colleagues Rina and Ellen (who's a freakin' shark maid), briefcase-wielding Nicole, fiery hammer user Koleda and her electric pal Grace. I managed to squeeze a quick battle or two in with the majority of the other 15 agents, but these folk were definitely my favourite of the bunch. 

(Image credit: Hoyoverse)

Like I said, I'm not one for parry combat at all, which left me a little worried when I realised I would have to be engaging in some well-timed button presses against the game's foes. I've always favoured being able to mindlessly slice through my enemies, or taking my time carefully deliberating my next move in a turn-based format. Having my brain constantly switched on for those deflections is a feat, but I was having an absolute blast with it in Zenless Zone Zero.

The visual feedback on a parry is fantastic, with huge bright lights slicing across the screen as a satisfying weighty metallic clang rings through my ears. Pulling off a parry allowed me to continue my assault with a great flow, while getting smacked by an attack leaves me building up my rhythm all over again. The telegraphing on attacks is mercifully easy to register for the most part, allowing me to pull off multiple parries with ease.

Along with parries, switching around between characters seems more vital than in any other Hoyo game I've played. It's also by far the most fun I've had mixing and matching team comps to see what works and pulling off some disgusting juggles that rendered my enemies unable to even sneak a single jab in. Floating around with Rina, shooting electric orbs at foes from a distance before leaping straight into close-quarters combat with Koleda never stopped being satisfying, and I ended up leaning on the duo quite a lot during my time with the game.

(Image credit: Hoyoverse)

It almost reminds me of old tag-based fighting games in a way. Maybe that's because I played a lot of Tekken Tag Tournament 2 earlier this year, but something about having one character wrap up their attack while I switch another one in to continue the flurry of attacks was sparking the same satisfactory feelings. Considering producer Zhenyu Li is a huge Street Fighter fan and drew inspiration from it for Zenless Zone Zero, I suppose it makes sense that I'm getting some fighting game vibes from the combat. As a lifelong enjoyer of the genre, it's a huge bonus for me, one that has helped me enjoy a style of brawling I don't traditionally engage in.

Despite having a great time discovering my hidden Sekiro player, my biggest worry comes from how much staying power Zenless Zone Zero will have. It's doing away with the more open exploration-focused open worlds that miHoYo has been pushing with the likes of Genshin Impact and Honkai: Star Rail, opting more for instanced combat through modes such as the roguelite-esque Hollow Zero. It had me hopping through different television screens, each one holding some risk, reward or challenge within. 

It's very reminiscent of Honkai: Star Rail's Simulated Universe, a mode I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with already. I'm not super into roguelite elements and having to slog through different scenarios to reach a boss fight at the end, but I'm an impatient girlie, so your mileage may vary. Most other combat modes will likely have a Genshin or Honkai equivalent people can attach them to, like Expert Shadow sharing similarities with Honkai's Stagnant Shadow.

(Image credit: Hoyoverse)

Instanced content isn't bad, don't get me wrong. In fact, it's all fine and dandy—it served Honkai Impact 3rd just fine for like, eight years—but I can imagine hopping through television screens and having to go out of my way to set up exploration-based missions won't hold my attention forever. I found its menu-heavy formula was detracting from how slick the game's world was, a world I would be very happy to spend more time in away from UIs and option selects.

Of course, I could be totally wrong, and Zenless Zone Zero could be brimming with replayability that inevitably pulls me away from a gacha game I've been fixated on since September. For how much fun I had jamming out to the game's excellent electronic soundtrack while marvelling at how snazzy each agent's combat animations were, I don't know how long that could hold me over when I'm having to spend much of my playtime buried deep in menus. 

Part of why I love Genshin and Honkai so much comes from the way those games balance exploration with all the boring admin-y bits that come with playing a gacha game, and I fear Zenless Zone Zero's attempt to break away from the modern miHoYo formula might end up being its undoing.

Mollie Taylor
Features Producer

Mollie spent her early childhood deeply invested in games like Killer Instinct, Toontown and Audition Online, which continue to form the pillars of her personality today. She joined PC Gamer in 2020 as a news writer and now lends her expertise to write a wealth of features, guides and reviews with a dash of chaos. She can often be found causing mischief in Final Fantasy 14, using those experiences to write neat things about her favourite MMO. When she's not staring at her bunny girl she can be found sweating out rhythm games, pretending to be good at fighting games or spending far too much money at her local arcade.