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I bought scratchcards from a dog in Zenless Zone Zero and it made me stop and look around

Actually quite zenful

A dog sells scratchcards at a stall in Zenless Zone Zero.
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun / Hoyoverse

In Zenless Zone Zero, the free-to-play follow-up to Genshin Impact, your character steps out into the city hub and announces their daily ritual - to visit the scratchcard stand. This is on-brand. But, oh no, a wink to real life gambling could be interpreted as a transparent acknowledgement of the gacha genre's psychological claw machine, which is maybe why the developers decided the scratchcard stall should have a sole employee: a very cute dog.

It's also indicative of the general flavour of ZZZ, which professes to be zenless in the title, but is actually quite chill if you stop thinking about its myriad currencies and baffling menus for a moment. The city streets are bright, colourful, full of neat detail, and very stylish (the whole thing is stylish, it's basically the game's core design pillar - "look cool").

There's relaxing lo-fi music, a noodle stall, a cool bench made out of skateboard decks. There is a trashcan that generates suspicious noises from inside, almost certainly containing a cat or raccoon I am impatient to meet. The arcade machine that glitters right out in the street advertises an arcade building that promises Snake and other simple minigames, once I get far enough to unlock the door (is the game machine called "God Finger" in reference to Capcom's God Fist or James Bond's Goldfinger? Perhaps neither. I'll let you decide).

An arcade machine called "God Finger"
A noodle vendor with robotic arms.
A bench made out of colourful skateboard decks.
The player's character stands in a city street at sunset.
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun / Hoyoverse

As a developer, it's not unusual to fill your hub zone with detail like this. And for my money it's still nowehere near the best futuristic city block PC gaming has to offer (Deus Ex Mankind Divided's Prague, anyone?). The invisible walls and pointless dead ends don't do anything to distract from the game's ultimate goal - to railroad you into the gacha loop as much as possible. But I appreciate the colour all the same. In some ways ZenZoZe is the gachification of Persona 5's mementos - the sorta-optional dungeon trips you use to grind stats and farm personas. But at least it also channels some of that JRPG's downtime wandering, the exploration of its city streets.

This is honestly when I like video games best. When you allow yourself the time to stop and appreciate the craft or effort in a street bench or a video store's cluttered shelves. I'll be playing more Zenless Zone Zero in an effort to give it a fuller write-up. So far, my eyes are widened by its sense of style, even if my brain is outright rejecting the the opaque machinery of what sometimes feels like a very pretty scratchcard.

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