Genshin Impact may not be the best game I’ve ever played, but it’s my guilty pleasure and its draws are hard for me to pass up. The beautiful open world and exploration, catchy and memorable melodies, unique character designs, and JRPG mechanics and team-building opportunities are incredibly appealing to me.
I’ve played the game on and off since its release, but lately, I’ve been sticking with it more consistently. Part of that is due to the story campaign in Inazuma being pretty engaging and interesting, and also because of Kazuha, my favorite character in Genshin Impact by far.
A Brief Overview of Kazuha’s Design and Gameplay Mechanics
Kazuha was introduced in Genshin Impact last year in version 1.6 as an Anemo support character and the first representative of the then-new region, Inazuma. A calm and collected wandering samurai, his design takes several cues from Japanese culture, with the maple leaf iconography reinforcing his peaceful, quiet personality. At the time, Kazuha’s character design was a stark contrast to the more European and Chinese-inspired designs, signaling Inazuma’s own inspirations of Japanese culture.
Not only is his character design unique and a selling point for many fans, but it also contributes to his playstyle and characterization. Anemo characters share the common thread of being poised fighters, and Kazuha’s no exception. As a fighter, all of his abilities are designed to support the party, with an Elemental Burst that Swirls elemental damage to devastating effect.
Unsurprisingly, the number of party compositions and synergy is a key point of discussion for many Genshin Impact players. Articles and videos online frequently revolve around Kazuha’s utility in combat, dissecting how “good” he is in combat, if he was worth pulling for, and the best characters to pair him up with. Kazuha ranks pretty high in all of those regards, and while that’s fine and good, something I don’t think fans give the characters enough credit for is their development and writing.
While it’s easy to focus on a character’s fighting style, their design, or utility in combat, I think it’s equally important to consider their personality traits, backstory, and presence in the plot with the whole package. Because if we ignore the whole picture and only focus on specific details, we overlook the individual pieces that work together to make a character great in every way.
An Example of Why The Whole Picture Matters
Most of the characters in Genshin Impact are defined by their personality quirks and little else. Noelle’s the dutiful maid, Xialing loves food and cooking, Bennett is optimistic, and they tend to be pretty one-note. They may have interesting play styles, but they don’t have especially in-depth backstories, so they don’t feel like fully-realized characters. Others like Eula had the potential to break the mold with the combination of her fantastic and unique character design, interesting backstory, and fun combat style. But — and I’m sure I’m going to enrage the Eula mains out there with this — her personality is incredibly boring and flat.
Eula is a member of the controversial Lawrence Clan and a Knight of Favonius. She tries the walk the line in-between, but the result is that she’s an outcast in both worlds. She’s ostracized by people in Mondstadt due to her family line, and shunned by her clan for joining the Knights who “robbed” them of their power and status. On paper, this should be absolutely fantastic and lead to some interesting conflicts for her character. Sadly, the execution leaves a lot to be desired.
Her character quest revolves around awkward, drawn-out scenes of her attempting to “teach” the Traveler the ways of the nobility, thwarting her obviously-evil uncle’s plot to take over Mondstadt, and spouting the line “vengeance will be mine” over and over with little provocation. The “vengeance will be mine” phrase is a cool one-liner in combat, but not nearly as cool in every single one of her cutscenes. I think it’s meant to be funny? But it very quickly stops being amusing, and as a result, it becomes a tired and overplayed expression.
Part of the problem is that her character quest adds very little to her backstory or arc. It’s also not connected to the plot or world-building in any real way. That’s not to say that every character quest needs to be connected to the story all the time, but they should still bring something unique to the table. If they aren’t connected to the story and it’s a standalone adventure, that’s fine, but show us something new about the character that we can’t get anywhere else. Sadly though, Eula’s character quest fails her.
She’s so singularly defined by her repeated “vengeance” line and nothing else that she falls short of being a great character. There should have been more substance to her story, something to make her more vulnerable and interesting. After all, the best characters are the ones whose story and arcs work together to complete a whole picture.
I’m a very character-driven person. A game can have the greatest story in the world, but if I don’t like the characters, I likely won’t stick with it. For a while, I lost interest in Genshin Impact. I didn’t have a team I was super happy with. I either hated the character’s personalities, didn’t like their play style, or wasn’t invested in their stories and didn’t care enough to stick with the main plot.
Luckily, Kazuha’s introduction helped fix those issues I had, combining great gameplay and design and a compelling backstory and role in the story with a balanced and interesting personality.
Kazuha’s Backstory, and How it Ties Him to the Plot
What first drew me to Kazuha’s character wasn’t just his cool design or fun playstyle that was showcased so beautifully in his Samurai Champloo-inspired demo trailer; it was his backstory. Animated in a unique 2D art style that’s almost reminiscent of stop motion at times, Kazuha’s backstory is one of tragedy that is intrinsically tied to the main plot in Inazuma.
The story in Inazuma revolves around the Raiden Shogun, the god of the region, stealing people’s Visions to achieve her notion of “eternity.” In the Raiden Shogun’s mind, if she forces the world to never change, she can’t be challenged by other people’s dreams or goals. By enforcing the Vision Hunt Decree, she can mold the world to her liking.
In Kazuha’s backstory, his best friend decides to challenge the Raiden Shogun on her ideals, claiming that there will always be someone to “brave the lightning’s glow.” He challenges her while Kazuha is on the run, and by the time Kazuha returns, his friend is slain. Kazuha snatches his friend’s Vision and flees, putting even more of a target on his head.
Slight tangent, but I have to give a huge shout-out to Kazuha’s English voice actor, Mark Whitten. He gives Kazuha a gentle, soft-spoken voice, and his line deliveries in Kazuha’s backstory are excellent. Whitten perfectly balances the poetry of Kazuha’s speech with the somberness and tragedy of his past despite a nearly indiscernible change to his performance, and it’s so well done. He does a fantastic job.
I’ve always been a sucker for interesting conflicts. What I love about Kazuha’s backstory is that it intrinsically ties his past to the main conflict through the Vision Hunt Decree in a way I haven’t seen with any other character so far.
Why Kazuha’s Characterization Works, and How It Adds to the Story
Kazuha’s backstory isn’t just limited to the conflict with the Raiden Shogun. His personality is fleshed out and well-established, all very much in line with his “wandering samurai” moniker. He loves nature, traveling the countryside, and writing haikus. But a key distinction here is that Kazuha isn’t defined by certain quirks or just his backstory. It would have been very easy for his character to become singularly defined by these traits and nothing else.
There’s even more of his backstory to uncover as you boost your Friendship levels with him (like that he’s the last member of the once-wealthy Kaedehara clan and he leads a more minimalistic life as a result), and it all contributes to his character. Instead of being a flat or one-note character, he has discernible motivations and a compelling arc in the Inazuma story campaign.
When you meet Kazuha in the story, he’s been wandering Liyue for quite some time in search of someone to reignite his friend’s Vision, using fighting tournaments as a front. This mini-character quest establishes his calm personality (even after the Vision is stolen, he doesn’t overreact) and ties his backstory to his current circumstances.
Unable to find anyone who can reawaken the Vision, Kazuha is content to keep traveling and you go your separate ways when you arrive in Inazuma. But eventually, the resistance against Raiden Shogun grows strong with the Traveler’s help and Kazuha answers the call to return and fight back against her oppression. He goes from avoiding conflict and taking the more peaceful route, to challenging the Raiden Shogun head-on.
Kazuha is directly impacted by Raiden Shogun’s decree because of his friend’s death, and it keeps him actively involved in the story. It’s also because he’s so connected to everything going on that he plays a big role in the finale of the Inazuma story campaign, leading to arguably the best moment in Genshin Impact so far, and definitely my favorite cutscene (which I won’t dare spoil here). Afterward, Kazuha returns to the grave of his friend, reinforcing his fully realized arc of being able to avenge him and find peace. It’s great stuff.
For me, Kazuha ticks the boxes of being fun to play as, having a unique character design and a compelling story, and interesting characterization, and miHoYo took it even further by linking his backstory to the plot. They elevated Kazuha from a minor character who might show up in some side stories to a key player in the main story.
I’m hoping they write more nuanced and fully-realized characters with real stakes in the story like Kazuha in the future. It’s okay for characters to be fun to play as and have certain quirks to help them stand out, but it’s equally important for that to be balanced with their motivations and backstory.