Honkai: Star Rail developers reflect on game's successful first year, from 'interacting with trash cans' to Qingque's 'work to live' attitude

Of course, that doesn't mean that the game doesn't have any heavy or emotional moments. We've had plenty of that in Penacony so far.

Honkai: Star Rail's dev team say their vision for the game was to 'craft an experience that's both fun and laid-back' in an interview with Yahoo Southeast Asia. (Photo: HoYoverse)
Honkai: Star Rail's dev team say their vision for the game was to 'craft an experience that's both fun and laid-back' in an interview with Yahoo Southeast Asia. (Photo: HoYoverse)
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Honkai: Star Rail, the smash-hit space fantasy turn-based RPG by Chinese developer HoYoverse, will be celebrating its first anniversary on 26 April. In its first year, the game saw the release of 46 playable characters, four planets, and tons of fun content across nine versions to be enjoyed by a dedicated player base of millions.

In an exclusive interview with Yahoo Southeast Asia, Honkai: Star Rail's developer team reflected on both the success and challenges they faced in the game's first year of release as well as their vision for its future.

"From the very beginning, our vision for Honkai: Star Rail was to craft an experience that's both fun and laid-back: a space comedy inviting every Trailblazer to embark on a joyous cosmic odyssey," said the developers.

A space comedy, Lordly Trashcan included

Honkai: Star Rail's 'space comedy' vibe is arguably one of the biggest reasons why the game has been such a hit with players.

There's a certain whimsical feeling that is always present in the game, such as in the Trailblazer's canon love for trashcans that references the typical RPG player behavior of snooping through everything in search of loot.

The devs have even pushed that joke further by introducing the 'Lordly Trashcan', a sentient trashcan with muscular arms and legs spawned by the Trailblazer's subconscious in a fever dream, as NPCs and enemies.

Aside from that, there's plenty of jokes and pop-culture references scattered throughout missions and overworld interactables to give players a chuckle every now and then.

Among these include the constant 'joke' dialogue options for the Trailblazer - even in heated moments - that elicit frustrated reactions from other characters, especially March 7th.

The developers said they keep a close eye on what appeals to players when it comes to these things, even going so far as to check what memes they're making.

"In order to continuously create a gaming experience that is both fun and meaningful, we actively incorporate the players' positive feedback on elements such as 'interacting with trash cans' and 'text message conversations'", said the developers.

"The players' passion for the characters and storyline, coupled with their impressive meme-making talents, has led to delightful surprises and heartfelt moments for the dev team."

The appeal of Qingque's outlook on work

The emotional connection created by the game's comedic and light-hearted aspects also goes both ways.

One thing that the developers said really surprised them was the overwhelmingly positive reception for the 4-star character Qingque, whose whole thing is doing just a good enough job so she can slack off and play space mahjong.

Qingque's core gameplay mechanic of basically gambling skill points to deal more damage only added to her appeal.

"[Qingque's] distinct personality, especially her attitude of "working to live, not living to work, and taking breaks when needed," immediately resonated with the players from the moment she arrived. Many players saw reflections of themselves in Qingque.

This resonance is not only evident in the lively discussions among the players but has also spawned a series of interesting memes featuring Qingque on social media — something that both comforted and surprised us," said the developers.

Could a space tragedy be in the works?

With that said, Honkai: Star Rail is much more than just the space comedy the developers describe it to be. For every whimsical moment, the game's story also throws out dramatic and emotional narratives that put players on an emotional rollercoaster that makes it that much more engaging.

While there have been plenty of heavy and emotional moments in Honkai: Star Rail's 1.x versions, the developers have really turned up the drama with the release of version 2 and Penacony.

Before version 2.0 was released, the developers were kind enough to clue players into what they can expect when Honkai series writer Shaoji described the Penacony story arc will be "heartwarming, uplifting, positive, and wholesome".

As anyone who has played Honkai Impact 3rd (HI3) before, it's perhaps best not to believe Shaoji when he says such things. After all, one such "uplifting" HI3 story arc involves a familiar and beautiful red-haired woman giving her beloved student a "Final Lesson".

So far, Penacony has been just that: an emotional rollercoaster filled with mysteries, twists, and drama set against the bright lights of the Planet of Festivities. Version 2.1's Trailblaze Missions have notably delivered what I think is the game's most emotional storyline so far with Aventurine, a character I did not expect would become the game's most well-written one yet.

While Honkai: Star Rail's developers say the game is envisioned as a space comedy, a healthy dose of tragedy is good too.

Throughout the game's development process, the dev team say they have "always strived to find a balance between light-hearted stories and profound themes".

The developers say they are very much willing to delve into the heavy stuff in service of a more profound narrative. And based on how players have engaged with Penacony so far, I'd say they have delivered on that promise.

"Honkai: Star Rail isn't shy about delving into more substantial themes. In our latest release, players, as esteemed guests, will traverse to Penacony and partake in the Charmony Festival, a celebration set against the backdrop of a dazzling interstellar resort," said the developers.

"Of course, this venue is just a jumping-off point for a wealth of profound narrative discoveries."

Honkai: Star Rail is still very early in its life cycle, and what we have so far points towards a very promising future.

While the developers have not outlined what the game's overarching narrative will look like, as they did with Genshin Impact, there are still plenty of worlds out there for the Trailblazer and the Astral Express Crew to explore in their journey across the cosmos.

And if Penacony is anything to go by, players can expect more stories filled with both lighthearted experiences and heavy moments in turn. Even if we're not done with our adventures in the Planet of Festivities yet, I can't wait for what's next.

Honkai: Star Rail version 2.1 was released on 27 March and saw the release of three new characters in Acheron, Aventurine, and Gallagher, reruns for Luocha and Jingliu, and two new areas in Penacony. Not only that, version 2.1 is also Honkai: Star Rail's first-year anniversary patch and as such will give players tons of rewards!

If you're still on the fence on who you should pull for in the first half banners of version 2.1 between Acheron and Luocha, then check here and we'll help you decide.

After version 2.1 comes version 2.2 in May, featuring two new 5-star characters in Robin and Boothill.

Yan Ku is a full-time dog parent, part-time (gacha) gamer, and part-time writer.

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