Friday, April 28, 2023

All Aboard The Skytrain! - Honkai: Star Rail: Very First Impressions

Yesterday, I wrote about how I woke up to an email from a company I'd never heard of  - Cognosphere - inviting me to try a new game called Honkai: Star Rail. I wanted to take a look but after reading the Terms of Service I had some reservations, which I fed back to the developers by way of the email address they'd kindly provided.

I wasn't really expecting an answer, least of all something drafted specifically to address my concerns. At most, I thought I might get a canned response of some kind, most likely restating the general principles of the issue but clarifying nothing.

Imagine then, how surprised and impressed I was to wake up less than twenty-four hours later to find this in my inbox:

"Hello Trailblazer,
Thank you for contacting us!

We do not prohibit non-commercial personal use and you may, subject to all of the following terms and conditions, produce and publish derivative content based on Honkai: Star Rail materials for non-commercial personal use.

You can use Honkai: Star Rail's in-game footage to create videos, upload videos, or livestream. For more details, we invite you to read the Star Rail Fan Creations Guide and our Terms of service in the articles below:

If you have any further questions, please don't hesitate to contact us again.
Thank you for your support to Honkai: Star Rail.

Best regards,
Honkai: Star Rail CS Team"
Now, this clearly wasn't composed just to answer my email. It's obviously a standard reply to queries of this nature which, by inference, I'm guessing means they must see a lot. Nonetheless, it provides an accurate, helpful and very satisfactory resolution to the concerns I had. 


I took the trouble to (skim) read the linked article 17883171 ( Aka Honkai: Star Rail Fan Creations Guide v1.0) and just like the ToS, it's clear, comprehensive and comprehensible, covering numerous means and methods by which players and fans of the game can express their creativity without running up against copyright issues. 

All of this creates a very positive image of the company, in my mind at least. With the legal decks cleared, the question now remaining is whether the game itself can build on that strong foundation.

After an hour's play, my initial impression is that yes, it most certainly can. After I got back from walking Beryl the dog, who immediately fell fast asleep in the armchair behind me, where she remains, immobile, four hours later, I got straight to installing the game, a very swift and straightforward process that took just a few minutes.

Rather than make a new account I thought I'd try my Genshin Impact login. It worked. I ummed and aahed a bit about whether to play on the European or American server, plumped for the US, then caved when the game asked me if I was really sure, what with my IP address being in Europe and all. 

I'm not entirely sure if Honkai: Star Rail is a quasi-mmo or a straight-up rpg and even an hour's play hasn't cleared that up for me. I never really worked out what Genshin Impact was, either. For a long time I thought other characters I was seeing in the game were players but in the end I realised they were all NPCs. Or I think they were. Frankly, I'm not certain, even now.

Anyway, if the game's not a full-on mmorpg, I don't care where the servers are located. I'm not going to meet or talk to anyone, so it makes sense to go as close to home as possible. All the cultural and practical advantages of playing with first-language English speakers outside primetime cease to apply.

One reason I'm still unclear about the exact nature of the game is that, after an hour, I think I'm still in the tutorial. Again, it's hard to tell. I have reached the control deck on the space station and a disembodied voice has told me that from now on I'll need to make my own story, but the tutorial pop-ups are still coming. Then again, in some games (Yes, I am looking at you, Chimeraland.) those kinds of pop-ups never seem to stop.

There was a time when an hour would have seemed like quite a stretch for a tutorial but those days are long gone. Now, tutorials regularly seem to last for days. Maybe even weeks. I guess it's a good thing. I mean, we're always learning, right? 

Yeah, me neither. I'd rather just get on with it, make my own mistakes and hopefully learn from them, even if it isn't the efficient way of doing things. Luckily for me, no fricken' game ever tells me the things I want to know in the tutorial, so I get to figure it all out for myself anyway!

By that, I mean they very rarely tell you how to remove screen clutter for a nice, clean, minimalist look and they never tell you how to take a screenshot. I can't fault H:SR on the clutter issue; it's as neat and unfussy as I'd like it to be. Didn't need to touch any controls there at all. Screenshots, though, are a different matter.

Of the hour I spent playing H:SR at least ten or fifteen minutes must have been fiddling around in the settings and keybinds, looking for a screenshot hotkey, then googling to find out there isn't one. What there is instead is one of those in-game cameras that lets you pause the action and take posed photos and selfies. They're great and I love them. I use them all the time in any game I play that has them. They still aren't a replacement for an actual screenshot key.

Belghast put up a post yesterday detailing how he's set up his system to take screenshots of whatever he's playing automatically, one every sixty seconds. I don't want to go that far but I do want to be able to record things so I can use them here. 

I tried FRAPS but it didn't work first time so rather than fiddling around with it I thought I'd try Windows own baked-in screenshot function. I never use it normally, mainly because I never remember it's there, but it's actually pretty good. The only problem is the keys you have to press - Win+PrtScr - are on opposite sides of the keyboard. You'd need to be Robert Pershing Wadlow to make that combo with one hand.

Enough about the mechanics and my ineptitude with them. How about the gameplay? Well, you can't - or shouldn't - read too much into a tutorial but the first session, the first hour, of any game is crucial. If you're going to use it to tell people how to click on things, you're going to get judged on that. It's when the hooks, if any, are going to be set. 

Did Star Rail set them and if so, how deep did they go?

Here's the thing. I would totally watch Honkai: Star Rail the anime or TV show or even Visual Novel. The writing is good, the characters are strong and likeable (Other opinions are available.), the setting is intriguing, the graphics are stylish, the plot is involving, the voice acting is excellent... The problem, as usual, is with the game part, specifically all that fighting. 

Not that I disliked it. Combat is turn-based rather than real-time action, which makes it far more accessible for me than Genshin Impact. I didn't have too much trouble getting to grips with it, although the ironic thing about tutorials is that by using pop-ups to tell you where to click, they can end up leaving you not knowing much more than when you started about what to do when the "Click Here" boxes vanish.

No, my problem is that the combat's there at all. When you're enjoying the banter between the characters and trying to follow the metafictional plot, having to stop every few minutes for a battle in a corridor is just annoying. 

It may be, of course, that the plot drops into the background more when the tutorial comes to an end but that never really happened in Genshin Impact so I doubt it'll happen here. The question is whether I'm going to find myself sufficiently invested in finding out What Happens Next to put up with all that repetitive shooting each other in the face. 

The jury's still out on that - more evidence definitely required - but Honkai: Star Rail makes a strong first impression. I'm going to need to find out where this train goes next before I make any decisions about whether to stay for the ride.


  1. I did like the characters once I got past those two! I'm still baffled why there's a character named March 7th though. Is that her birthday or something?

    I haven't played too much farther than you have, but my experience in Genshin is that there are quests, in particular Story Quests, that have a lot of dialog and story-telling, then there's the 'daily' stuff you do to get leveling materials and so forth and that is almost all combat. Hoping we find we have the same story-rich types of quests here.

    1. I get the impression from a number of previous conversations that you and I have very similar tastes in general but very different in detail! I really liked both Kafka and Silver Fox, particularly for the cynical, dry wit and thinly-veiled ennui. I liked March 7, too, especially her name, which I really hope never gets explained because it'd be so much cooler that way. The rest of them so far seem kinda bland but its early days.

      I was quite surprised to see, after I'd written the post that,according to the trailer on the game's website, it's apparently supposed to be a comedy rpg. That'll be different.


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