Honkai: Star Rail Review – A Rocking Space Opera

Honkai: Star Rail is HoYoverse's newest title, showing up their smash hit Genshin Impact with flashy visuals and a headbanging soundtrack.
Honkai Star Rail Review
Image: HoYoverse

It’s hard to understate how popular Genshin Impact was and continues to be. HoYoverse was put on the map by the fantasy Gacha game, which had 65 million active players as of March of this year. Not only does Genshin Impact have one of the highest player bases of any game out there right now, it attracts a massive fanbase that extends to people who have never even played the game.

Personally, I’ve never been able to get into it. I’m currently on my third install of the game, and I’ve yet to get past the first area in the game. While not personally my thing, I can see why several aspects that I don’t like about the game would be appealing to others. The game uses a somewhat generic anime isekai fantasy setting and formula that’s hugely popular, but that I personally was never interested in.

I had very little hope for Honkai: Star Rail because of this, and boy did HoYo make me feel stupid.

Honkai: Star Rail is the culmination of everything HoYo learned from their success on Genshin Impact. However, unlike many companies in the industry, HoYo didn’t just copy its proven successful formula. While Honkai: Star Rail definitely has some similarities to Genshin, the game takes chances and isn’t afraid to stand out from its popular predecessor.

For those who haven’t been following our coverage of the game, Honkai: Star Rail is the newest game from Genshin Impact developers HoYoverse. The game is free-to-play, is primarily a turn-based action RPG and features a steadily paced story, easily digestible worldbuilding, and wonderful characters. Some of these characters return from the past Honkai games, though now set in an alternate universe along a plethora of new characters, all available to collect through the game’s Gacha system.

For those unfamiliar with Gacha games, its a type of collection game popularized by Eastern video games and in a huge part Genshin Impact itself. The term refers to Japanese Gacha toys, which are dispensed randomly at vending machines, so you don’t know which you’re going to get when you play the machine. This is similar to how Genshin Impact and Star Rail play, with playable characters unlocked by purchasing and using chance-based drops.

The Gacha system, along with the character progression and item equipment systems, are the ways in which Honkai: Star Rail is the most similar to Genshin Impact. While these systems are virtually identical to Genshin, the rest of Honkai: Star Rail plays far differently than its predecessor.

Honkai Star Rail Character Screen
Image: HoYoverse

For starters, the anime that Honkai: Star Rail and Genshin Impact take their inspiration from are so far separated that Star Rail takes on a completely different tone than Genshin.

Honkai: Star Rail is inspired by the Space Opera anime, a beloved genre primarily remembered from the 80’s and 90’s. Space Dandy, Cowboy Bebop, and Captain Harlock are all inspirations you can feel in Star Rail’s darker, more violent but not humorless setting. Character dialogue and motivations feel more at home in these darker tones, while flashy and explosive combat animations remind me of Gurren Lagaan and Mobile Suit Gundam.

Honkai Star Rail March Utlimate
Image: HoYoverse

The characters in Honkai: Star Rail are, in my opinion, leagues above Genshin Impact’s. Character motivations feel realistic, and reflect their personalities, which are on average much grittier and avoid the cutesy trap that I feel many Genshin characters fall into. Even our bubbliest character, adorably named March 7th, is a bit of an on-occasion rude airhead and isn’t overly nice at all times, an anime character trope I personally can’t stand.

The biggest way Honkai: Star Rail separates itself from Genshin is the gameplay. Honkai: Star Rail is a turn-based strategy game, requiring some planning and combos executed based on turn order to win encounters. However, if you’re like me and get a bit bored in most turn-based games, don’t worry: Honkai: Star Rail’s turns move incredibly quickly, and are loaded with so much flashy animation that the pacing of fights feel much more like a free-running action game.

Honkai Star Rail Battle
Image: HoYoverse

Turn-based fans might be a little disappointed by this, because it means that there isn’t really a lot to do in each turn. Characters have basic attacks, skills that require a resource built through basic attacks, and an ultimate. Enemies have elemental weaknesses that some characters can exploit, and your ultimate can be used at any time — even seemingly during an enemy’s turn (I’ve had mixed results with this, where sometimes it happens during the turn and other times it waits for the enemy’s turn to be over.)

Because of this, there isn’t a whole lot to do during a turn, and you’ll spend most just hitting your auto attack to build resources for a skill or to get some damage out. Fans of big, lengthy turned-based games with lots of micro and macro planning aren’t going to find that in Honkai: Star Rail.

Honkai Star Rail Farewell Hit
Image: HoYoverse

Honkai: Star Rail’s presentation is phenomenal for selling the vibe of the game, making the game really feel like the action-packed space opera it was meant to be. Every move you make in battles is accompanied by beautiful animation and flashy effects, with your ultimate ability taking this a step beyond with a screen-filling. cinematic cutscene that makes your character feel like an absolute badass.

Honkai Star Rail Han Utlimate
Image: HoYoverse

The last, most unexpected goodie Honkai: Star Rail surprised me with was the soundtrack. Star Rail’s OST is filled with music that would be right at home in the genre of anime the game is inspired by. At times the game lulls you with Lo-Fi electronics accompanied by soothing electric guitar riffs, and at others its high energy EDM with remixed piano chords.

The Celldweller-like sounds and cinematic fight scenes actually had me gasping in my first encounter in-game, and it was from that moment that I knew HoYo had given me something special.

The Final Word

Honkai: Star Rail is a gem I didn’t see coming. While the Gacha system might put some players off, the new setting and tone of HoYo’s latest title is bound to appeal to both Genshin fans who are looking for a change of pace, and players like me who couldn’t get into the game’s predecessor.


Honkai: Star Rail was reviewed on the PC. Find more detailed looks at popular and upcoming titles in the Game Reviews section of our website! Honkai: Star Rail is available on the HoYo Website, Epic Games, the Google App Store and Apple App Store.

Erik Hodges

Erik Hodges

Erik Hodges is a hobby writer and a professional gamer, at least if you asked him. He has been writing fiction for over 12 years and gaming practically since birth, so he knows exactly what to nitpick when dissecting a game's story. When he isn't reviewing games, he's probably playing them.


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