What’s the recipe for a perfect mobile game?
Shanghai-based developer miHoYo found the golden ticket to a successful game with three key ingredients: lore, character design, and worldbuilding.
Begin with a premise straight from a JRPG with an interdimensional Traveler on a search for their missing sibling. Next, get the player attached to a beautifully designed set of characters, each with their own detailed backstories. Last but not least, send your players out to travel through the scenery of Teyvat, a strange world not so different from our own.
This combination of factors is the secret behind Genshin Impact, a free-to-play open-world RPG that’s been called a Breath of the Wild clone. The game is known for its crushing gacha system that made upwards of $15 million within its first 6 months of existence. But before you get mad about in-game gambling, let’s take a step back and look at the locations that make Genshin Impact worth coming back to for 18.6 million players.
1. Starsnatch Cliff
Located just outside of Monstadt, Starsnatch Cliff gives players a panoramic view of the ocean all the way to snowy Dragonspine. Its dedicated soundtrack perfectly captures the sense of awe you get when you first make your way to the peak. It’s easily one of the best places in the game to watch the sunrise and sunset, making it no wonder that the location is known in Monstadt as a popular dating spot.
But Starsnatch Cliff shouldn’t get all the credit. It takes its stunning views from a real-life location in our world.
Though the Genshin Impact‘s team didn’t explicitly share their inspirations for the Monstadt map, it’s easy enough to find the places they based their map on with a bit of geography. The sharp peak of Starsnatch Cliff bears a striking resemblance to the Isle of Skye, an island in Scotland that features the same stony cliff faces and tranquil shoreline surrounding the edge of the Monstadt map.
Face away from the ocean in Starsnatch Cliff and you can see Monstadt, the main settlement of the first map. The small medieval-style city is located in a lake connected to the rest of the map by a cobblestone bridge. Fans of Tangled might immediately make the assumption that it’s also inspired by Mont-Saint-Michel and they wouldn’t be far off.
Despite the lack of a stone bridge connecting it to the mainland, Mont-Saint-Michel shares a lot of similarities with Monstadt’s layout. The streets of Mont-Saint-Michel also give way to sweeping staircases that lead tourists up to a Gothic church, the same architectural style used for the in-game church. Just like the Church of Favonius, Mont-Saint-Michel Abbey commands the very top of the historic settlement.
All of our mentioned locations so far are just the tip of the iceberg. For a chillier viewpoint, we need to leave Monstadt and head south towards Dragonspine.
Players who take their first step into Dragonspine will be left in awe of the ethereal vibe of the mountain. But before you end up staying too long in one spot while listening to the soundtrack, remember to light a fire. Aside from its serene atmosphere, the snow-swept paths of Dragonspine feature a sheer, cold mechanic that puts a player’s character at risk of dying from hypothermia.
With its imposing size and formidable reputation, Dragonspine might remind you of Mt. Everest at first. The real-world mountain is known for taking more than a few hikers’ lives each year, proving its treacherous beauty. That said, miHoYo made it clear that Mt. Everest wasn’t what they had in mind for Dragonspine.
In Snow-Covered Path, a behind the scenes video released by miHoYo, Dragonspine concept artist Bu Yiding shared how they considered several mountains in Europe before settling on the Swiss Alps. This was further narrowed down to Matterhorn due to its imposing peak.
4. Wangshu Inn
Wangshu Inn is the first landmark that players see when they reach the nation of Liyue. Its whimsical architecture, a traditional Chinese building built on top of a millennia-old tree, is nothing short of attention-grabbing. The style of it is reminiscent of a Studio Ghibli film.
Already, we get a sneak peek of everything the Liyue region has in store for us. Rolling plains, winding rivers, and limestone mountains can all be seen from the viewing deck at the top of Wangshu Inn.
The Genshin Impact team dedicated a ton of time and attention to designing Wangshu Inn and the surrounding area of Dihua Marsh. Since it’s the first thing we see in Liyue, the design team wanted to encapsulate the atmosphere of Eastern fantasy to make it entirely distinct from the Monstadt map.
Ziyuan, a member of miHoYo’s art department, had this to say about Wangshu Inn and its inspirations:
“Eastern beauty is about striking a delicate balance — neither overdoing it, nor underdoing it. Aiming to achieve the same balance of content and empty space characteristic of Chinese landscape paintings, we constructed an array of peaks and stone forests in the distance behind that floral sea. The essence of Dihua Marsh we define as follows: vivid, expressive, and free.”
5. Qingce Village
If you ask Genshin Impact players what their favorite place in the world of Teyvat is, many of them will tell you it’s Qingce village. Located on the far upper right of the Liyue map, Qingce village is a feast for the senses, combining a breathtaking view of orange and azure rice terraces with what many players agree to be the game’s best soundtracks.
The vivid views of Qingce owe their looks to the Honghe Hani Rice Terraces, located in China’s Yunnan Province. These real-life fields on which Qingce is based are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a photographer’s wet dream. In the summer, the Honghe Hani Rice Terraces explode into a symphony of gold and orange tones, which is the version immortalized in Qingce village’s pixels.
6. Huagang Stone Forest
Another favorite among players of Genshin Impact, the otherworldy Huagang Stone Forest is home to key locations such as Mt. Aozang, Mt. Hulao, and Jueyun Karst. Its heavenly views, far above the reach of mortal eyes, are enjoyed by its resident “adepti,” the divine guardians of Liyue.
miHoYo, being a Chinese game developer, went all out when designing the map for Liyue with an emphasis on representing Chinese culture through the game’s aesthetics. In a short 4-minute documentary, Travels Afar, miHoyo’s Environment Art Team Lead explained how their team collected field images of China’s landscape before deciding to use Zhangjiajie National Forest Park for Huagang Stone Forest.
The unique topography of Zhangjiajie features towering sandstone peaks interspersed with a colorful array of pine and maple trees. Scenery concept artist Qiang Ge shared the mystique of Zhanjiajie that lead it to become Huagang Stone Forest:
“The vistas of towering sandstone karst forests leave more room to the imagination due to being shrouded in swirling clouds.”
Looking at the sea of clouds curled around the mountains of Zhangjiajie, it’s not difficult to imagine mythical beasts roaming between its forests.
7. Mt. Tianheng
Before players can get to Liyue Harbor, they must first pass through the arch of Mt. Tianheng. The expansive mountain covers an area that stretches from one side of the harbor to the next, protecting it in a stony crescent formation. A long series of stairs lead up to the passage, lined on both sides by golden trees. Walk a little further and you’ll start to hear the Liyue Harbor theme playing as you come closer to the city.
If you thought the steps leading to Liyue were tiring, then you’ll be in awe of its real-world counterpart.
Tianmen Mountain, which is also located in Zhiangjiajie, features a strikingly similar set of stone steps leading to a passage known as the Gate to Heaven. The 99 steps of Tianmen Mountain represent the Emperor, who is thought to be the Son of Heaven to Taoist practitioners.
8. Liyue Harbor
Liyue Harbor is the beating heart of the Liyue map and serves as the major commercial hub in the world of Genshin Impact. Fans of Hayao Miyazaki will definitely get Spirited Away vibes while walking up the steps of Feiyun Slope. But while the bathhouse and town of Spirited Away take their inspiration from Jiufen, Taiwan, Liyue Harbor bears more similarities to a newer Chinese location.
Hongyadong, which is located in the municipality of Chongqing, China, features the same iconic stairs from Liyue Harbor. A steep staircase juts out from the main streets of Hongyadong and winds its way up past traditional buildings and into a series of overhead walkways. Its ancient looks, which stand in stark contrast with modern skyscrapers, are owed to the fact that Hongyadong is ancient.
With a history starting in 1046 BC, Hongyadong was one of China’s first and most developed piers. Just like Liyue Harbor, the pier of Hongyadong would have been a major trading hub in its prime, with hundreds of ships docking each day. Though Hongyadong sees more traffic from tourists than ships these days, the wooden stilted houses of this historic harbor are still a feast for the imagination.
9. Luhua Pool
Genshin Impact isn’t shy about flaunting how much their developers like Luhua Pool. Surrounded by high peaks with flat, open spaces, Luhua Pool easily lends itself to being gazed upon. It’s such a scenic spot that players can pick up a quest to help an NPC named after Johannes Vermeer find his painting materials, which he left scattered around the Luhua Pool area, presumably because he was trying to paint Luhua Pool.
Though the crystalline waters of Luhua Pool appear to come straight from a fantasy book, the views are just as real as the others on this list. Luhua Pool is based on the travertine waterfalls of Huanglong River. Bu Yiding, Genshin’s environmental concept artist, described Huanglong River as having a “dreamlike essence” that made it ideal for creating an entirely one-of-a-kind location. The real-life Luhua Pool, Huanglong Nature Reserve, is famed for its rare flora and fauna. The high altitudes of Huanglong are home to pandas, panthers, and even golden monkeys.
10. Summer Archipelago
Just because the Genshin Impact team hasn’t given us a behind-the-scenes documentary doesn’t mean we can’t speculate! We can take a few clues from what we’ve seen from the 1.6 patch trailer. For instance, the new archipelago map features tropical fauna such as banana tree-like plants. Its cool waters are also dotted with limestone islands that burst abruptly from the depths, literally. Watch the trailer and see for yourself.
Aside from mechanism-activated islands, players also get to enjoy zipping around the coastline in a new device called a “skiff.” Skiffs are wooden boats with canvas roofs that serve as the primary mode of transportation in the new Genshin Impact update.
So, what does that call to mind?
Vietnam’s Ha Long Bay, which is located a few hours from Hanoi, proudly sports the same relaxing vistas that the 1.6 archipelago has. Ha Long Bay, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is famous for its scenic mountainous islands and clear, tranquil waters. The view and conditions make it a popular destination for a relaxing cruise on a bamboo boat. You know, just like cruising in a skiff in Teyvat’s seas.
We’ve already started speculating about the real life inspirations for the upcoming Genshin Impact patches, so let’s go all out.
The Version 1.6 Special Program stream gave us a sneak peak of all the new locations we’ll get to explore in the following 1.7 patch. The 1.7 version of the game takes us on a trip to Teyvat’s version of Japan, complete with the country’s historic isolation policy, the Sakoku Edict of 1635. Ruled by the Electro Archon, a goddess known as the Raiden Shogun, Inazuma is closed off to the rest of Teyvat.
But when has that stopped adventure-hungry players?
One of the concept art images released in the 1.6 stream was an image of Tenshukaku, a palace located in Inazuma City. Tenshukaku, meaning “heavenly protector,” serves as the seat of power of the Raiden Shogun and is the hub of Inazuma’s central government. Its regal purples complement nicely the flora of its location, which features the famed cherry blossoms of Japan.
While I can’t post leaks here for legal purposes, I can tell you that the recently leaked in-game screenshots of Tenshukaku bear a striking resemblance to Himeji Castle. This towering fortress, which is nestled in Kyoto, Japan, was completed in 1609.
Himeji Castle is also known as White Heron Castle, a name inspired by its elegant roofs and white color that remind onlookers of a heron. Despite its name, nothing about the function of Himeji Castle is remotely dainty. It’s a maze of fortifications littered with defensive features around every turn. Enemy troops assailing Himeji Castle would have found themselves facing a rain of arrows coming down from slits in the walls.
It’s a fitting inspiration for the seat of an in-game dictator, if you ask me.
Inazuma is expected to come in patch 1.7, which is set to follow the 1.6 patch that dropped this month. Considering the update patterns miHoYo has had in the past, we can anticipate the 1.7 version around a month after the 1.6 patch. That being said, I’m not miHoYo, so keep your ears to the ground, fellow Travelers!