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Honkai: Star Rail understands the key to making great ‘side’ content

Near the beginning of Honkai: Star Rail, one of the game’s most iconic characters says, “When you have a chance to make a choice, make one that you know you won’t regret.” It’s a recurring theme that’d central to the mobile RPG, so much so that it’s even baked into its side quests.

Official Release Trailer - "Interstellar Journey" | Honkai: Star Rail

Many narrative-driven games primarily rely on the mainline story to drive emotional investment in the protagonist’s journey, with side missions treated more as extra content that builds out the world or simply adds a few more hours of playtime. After all, they’re just side content — missions you don’t need to do. They need to enrich your experience or offer some reward that makes them worth chasing, but it can often feel less important to put energy into something optional than just sticking to the required reading.

That’s why it’s such a novelty that Star Rail lets me ruin some lives with its side missions. While not every Star Rail mission is noteworthy, the most heartbreaking ones prove that side content doesn’t need to lack stakes or impact. The littlest decisions can affect even the smallest of characters, shaping a game’s universe through valuable extra stories.

Hard choices

Honkai: Star Rail has a few different mission types. Trailblaze Missions follow the main quest of the Trailblazer and their planet-saving adventures as part of the Astral Express crew. These missions are linear in nature, even if you can pick between dialogue options. On the other hand, Companion Missions and Adventure Missions give you more reign over the outcome of that particular part of the story.

Companion Missions focus on specific characters. You naturally come across them as you complete the main story and interact with new people. Characters with their own Companion Missions include Arlan, Asta, Clara, Hook, Natasha, Serval, Gepard, Luocha, Bailu, Yanqing, Yukong, and soon, Kafka. Each Star Rail update brings more and more of these missions, giving us more insight into companions that might’ve not had much screen time. These characters also appear on the Astral Express as occasional visitors after you complete their Companion Mission.

Bailu, Trailblazer, and Banxia fighting armored monster near stairs
Image used with permission by copyright holder

The most impactful of these Companion Missions branch into separate endings depending on the choices you make. In Honkai: Star Rail 1.1, HoYoverse introduced Baliu’s “Evanesce Like the Morning Dew” Companion Mission, which forces you to choose between telling a man about the fate of his lover or hiding it from him. On one hand, he learns that his beloved turned into a monster. On the other, he’s misled to believe she’s elsewhere. These choices challenge players to pick between telling the man a truth that will lead to heartbreak or a lie that will spare his feelings a little bit longer. There isn’t a right or wrong answer, just different consequences. One choice spawns a whole other quest connected to Bailu, and the other ends the story right there.

Expanding the adventure

Adventure Missions, which usually are worldbuilding missions about random NPCs, can have as many branching paths as Companion ones. Some, like Guide Paradox, have become a subject of conversation for fans that have grown invested in the endings they chose. Many times, players need to choose between telling characters a difficult truth, a beautiful lie, or something else altogether. In Guide Paradox, the mission’s primary character effectively perishes if you choose to tell her the truth. Your companion remarks that it’s the “worst possible outcome.” Meanwhile, Sheila still appears in another form on Herta’s Space Station. These changes don’t affect the overall Trailblazer’s journey, but they make a mark on the world that you can’t erase.

HoYoverse makes a smart choice in creating side missions with consequences that add stakes to Star Rail‘s storylines without affecting the main plot. After all, the coding intricacies of developing drastically different branches of the main story are demanding in comparison to a few throwaway characters that you won’t have to regularly interact with. However, that approach presents players with tough philosophical questions and keeps them thinking about side missions long after they finish them.

Blue-haired fox lady leading group of people
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Unfortunately, HoYo can only go so far with the branching paths. Not all missions force you into making difficult decisions. In those cases, missions have to have more going for them outside of the stakes.

Honkai: Star Rail 1.2’s “For I Have Touched the Sky” Companion Mission always leads to the Trailblazer and Welt Yang learning more about Yukong and helping her and her daughter see eye-to-eye about the latter’s future. It doesn’t have alternate endings, but it does have enough melodrama woven into the plot that it’s an entertaining bonus worth completing. It even has the unique art of Yukong and her friend Caiyi, and voice lines that add life to the story.

Honkai: Star Rail isn’t completely free of filler quests — like all of the fetching you need to do for the Belobog Museum event. Still, the fact that even some of them can hook casual players into the story is noteworthy. There’s definitely more than one spooky urban legend and the surprisingly heavy story behind those unassuming quest names. You just need to be curious enough to give them a chance, or at least look them up.

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Jess Reyes
Jessica Reyes is a freelance writer who specializes in anime-centric and trending topics. Her work can be found in Looper…
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