The 2000s were truly something else.

No smartphones, no social media, not many people on the internet — it was a time when things were much simpler.

Back then, pastimes included enjoying Britney Spears’ latest hits on your iPod, caring for your Tamagotchi pet, and watching Friends on VHS for a good laugh.

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If you’ve ever yearned to revisit those carefree days, the good news is that you don’t need a time machine or a magic potion. HoYoverse has developed a new video game, Zenless Zone Zero, to engage players in the nostalgia of the 90s and 2000s eras.

In an exclusive interview with ONE Esports, we spoke to video game producer Zhenyu Li (李振宇) to understand how HoYoverse crafted this game with a keen focus on capturing the spirit of these eras that profoundly influenced our childhood.

Belobog Heavy Industries faction comprising Anton Ivanov, Ben Bigger, and Koleda Belobog
Credit: HoYoverse

Zenless Zone Zero’s New Eridu takes you back to the 90s and 2000s eras

In Zenless Zone Zero, a supernatural catastrophe called the “Hollows” has wiped out modern civilization.

These Hollows appear suddenly, creating chaotic realms where mysterious creatures known as the “Ethereal” wander. The surviving city, New Eridu, has thrived by developing technology to extract valuable resources from these Hollows.

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As New Eridu becomes a miraculous haven, drawing in more residents, it utilizes extensive exploration of the Hollows for expansion.

The Hollows transform into an industrialized and monetized zone under the city’s control, sparking tensions among monopolies, gangs, conspirators, and fanatics.

Zenless Zone Zero Gentle House aka Cunning Hares featuring Billy Kid, Nicole Demar, and Anby Demara
Credit: HoYoverse

In New Eridu, players come across numerous references to real-life past hobbies that have faded away due to the technological advancements of the modern age.

“From my perspective, my aim was to share aspects of my childhood that shaped me,” Zhenyu told ONE Esports. “This includes experiences like hanging out in arcades, talking about movies in VHS stores, or discovering music in record stores — activities that have become a rarity in 2023.”

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In the game, players take on the roles of Belle and Wise, siblings who jointly operate a video store named “Random Play” situated at the heart of the fictional city.

Hoshimi Miyabi and Soukaku of Section 6 faction are Zenless Zone Zero characters
Credit: HoYoverse

This narrative puts the spotlight on video rental stores, which used to be ubiquitous primary destination for movie enthusiasts to find and rent films before the rise of online streaming. These stores featured aisles filled with VHS tapes or DVDs, categorized by genre.

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Customers could pick a movie, borrow it by paying a fee, and face additional charges for late returns. However, as online streaming gained popularity, video rental stores dwindled, and many closed down.

Through Zenless Zone Zero, Zhenyu hopes “to bring these joyous and formative experiences to today’s players, letting them relive a slice of the past.”

Zenless Zone Zero Belle wallpaper
Credit: HoYoverse

Defying stereotypes associated with the post-apocalyptic genre, navigating New Eridu in Zenless Zone Zero offers players a unique experience reminiscent of 1990s Tokyo, Japan. In this setting, the fusion of old technology with futuristic architecture becomes apparent.

“Despite its post-apocalyptic theme, our narrative isn’t overwhelmingly grim,” Zhenyu said. “Our goal was to depict an all-encompassing setting in this post-apocalyptic landscape, a virtual world where players can find a sense of connection and resonance.”

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The urban elements of Zenless Zone Zero draw from two key influences. Firstly, they are shaped by the HoYoverse team’s distinctive and artistic vision. Secondly, there is a deliberate effort to instill a sense of “community” and “urban life.”

Anticipated for release in 2024, Zenless Zone Zero will be available on Microsoft Windows, iOS, and Android devices.

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READ MORE: Exclusive: Zenless Zone Zero is HoYo’s next big gacha — and its already so different