WHAT ABOUT THE ZEUGELS?
Updated: Apr 7
Tales of Arise (2021) is a tale of two worlds, Dahna and Rena. It is also a tale of fluffy and adorable owls who come in various colours and monstrous creatures with wings, fangs, claws and horns called Zeugels. Who are these Zeugels exactly? Well, they are the monsters you find in almost every RPG that need to be killed to gain experience points. Except, in Tales of Arise we are given an interesting explanation as to why there are monsters roaming just outside of human settlements.
The description in the Official Game Art Book reads:
Zeugels have come to embody just about every sort of danger imaginable on Dahna. These creatures are not native to Dahna, rather they were introduced by Rena. Three centuries prior to their invasion, Renans were tempering with native wildlife. And with generations of subsequent mutations and hybridization, evolution has resulted in an altogether different ecosystem.
However, a more effective explanation is provided by the main character as Hootle the white owl meets an adorable black cat called Zareh. We are told that the two creatures below are native to Dahna, as Rinwell the mage chips in ‘…and Zeugels definitely aren’t!’
This scene symbolizes the narrative dissonance we have been experiencing for some time, as we have spent many hours admiring the cuteness (minus the creepy sounds) of the owls we have been locating around the lands of Dahna as well as slaying hundreds of ravenous Zeugels. It is of course nothing new in the world of Japanese RPGs where the cute often exists alongside the monstrous. But in Tales of Arise we have a reasoning offered as to why the characters love one type of animal creature and despise another. Even the cold, stoic Shionne cannot deny that she likes both owls and cats when pressed. And how many users of popular media such as video games do not?
What gives this added significance is because Tales of Arise is so focused narratively on overcoming forms of repression and discrimination. It is a story about people liberating themselves but also about dealing with the aftermath of both liberation and oppression. As pointed out by Edward Said (Orientalism), the psychological trauma of the oppressed and colonized manifests in many ways even after the oppressors leave. But what of Dahna’s ecosystem, irrevocably transformed by experiments and tampering? The Renans did not just oppress the people of Dahna but changed and manipulated entire weather systems all for the goal of extracting as much astral energy as they could. In Cyslodia they literally stole the light. When defeated, Renans send a huge beam into the very core of the planet and all pretenses that their rule was about anything other than exploitation are off.
The owls fit neatly into this narrative by representing the native aspect of nature that has survived despite the hardship and exploitation. And the Zeugels…well, they represent the worst aspects of Renan rule, immoral manipulation and calculated aggression. The game makes the point that not all Renans are bad (two of your party members are Renans) but Zeugels are not afforded this luxury. They have been made into killing machines and should be culled when possible, such as during the many side quests you undertake. These involve a myriad of reasons to exterminate them, one being that their growls are frightening the citizens of Dahna. There has been one exception I have encountered so far. One quest involves a girl who thinks Zeugels themselves are cute and wants one to call a pet. But how exactly? I was under the impression that they are all bloodthirsty animals. Her reasoning is that they are mean but if they are beaten up beforehand then one can ‘keep them’. Is violence the raison d'être behind pet ownership?
The way the animals of Tales of Arise are categorized strikes a particularly deep chord with me as a citizen of Australia. Up to 50 percent of Australia’s native species have been made extinct since European settlement and many of the country’s native species, now endangered, such as koalas and platypuses are presented in highly endearing terms. On the other hand, there are many animals considered to be pests, such as foxes or rabbits, which have to be either exterminated or highly controlled. Like Zeugels, these were introduced into a foreign environment by humans and hundreds of years later find themselves the scapegoats for the wholesale changes the continent has undergone from industrialisation, urban growth and pollution. In the fight against this 'foreign' menace poisons are often used that are considered acceptable to both humans, other animals and the environment. Can some animals really be categorized as loveable and others as loathsome? Tales of Arise reveals a deep seated discrimination of animals that humans accept and engage in. As I near the end of Tales of Arise I ponder what will happen to these Zeugels. Will they somehow be accepted as part of Dahna’s wildlife or will they be hunted to extinction, their only sin being experimented on by the enemy. I am guessing the ending of the game will skip answering that one while I am pretty sure we will get a cute owl moment somewhere.
That's how we do things in Calaglia