Content Warning(s): Spoilers for Tales of Zestiria, Abuse, Assault, Rape Culture, Survivor Mockery, Rape Metaphor, Denial, Lack of Resolution
Day twenty-eight! April is Sexual Assault Survivor Month! This post will contain sensitive material; please exercise caution if you see a topic that could be upsetting to you. A final caveat: these are written from my limited perspective as a bi woman who was raped. I don't have all the answers and I'm still working through my own journey. There are many other kinds of sexual assault and abuse that are relevant this month. Take time to consider the needs of your diverse fellow survivors. Speak up for them when they can't speak up for themselves, but don't speak over them. Thank you!
This is another one of those very niche pieces I've been dying to write as it relates to the nerdy/cosplay community at large - bear with me. I highly advise that anyone who's remotely invested Tales of Zestiria read the entirety of what I have to say about my observations. PLEASE hear me out; this is my survivor's view of Zestiria as it relates to Dezel, Rose, and the problematic reactions of Sorey and most of the party.
Tales of Zestiria was the second Tales game I played after I started cosplaying again. As many reviews will inform you, it wasn't very well received. Tales of Xillia 2, which had released the year prior, had been met with mixed reviews largely based on the context of the original Tales of Xillia, but was embraced by fans. This game? Oh man, did it suffer. It was the first Tales game to be released on the PS4, and development was such that it included an "open world" with "no" loading time between field and battle. Unfortunately, the camera designed to follow the players in battle was more often drawn to corners and monster crotches than the flow of battle. The worldbuilding was confusing at best, especially regarding a race known as seraphim who are invisible to most NPCs in the world.
The game features a battle style called "armatization" in which a human character can be possessed by a seraph to wield their elemental power. One must armatize between active members of the party and the armatus is the only efficient way to deal powerful blows and healing spells. This mechanic means the full party can either consist of one human and three seraphs (one armatus and two seraphs if armatized), or two humans and two seraphs (two armati if armatized). The protagonist is Sorey, a human who grew up among seraphim and can see and interact with them; other humans include the temporary party member princess Alisha and the assassin Rose. Since Alisha (in the game, the anime is different) doesn't possess the power to armatize, that means that Rose must.
Because of the armatization mechanic, it's understood that Rose will automatically be able to armatize, although when you meet her before she joins the party, everyone seems to believe she wouldn't do it even if she could.
The player meets Rose toward the beginning of the game, but her relevance to the Dezel weirdness begins on the way back down from Rayfalke (where you meet Zaveid and Edna as well), where she's accompanied by a mysterious seraph in black that she doesn't seem to be aware of. Party member Lailah remarks that Rose has high resonance (ability to see and interact with seraphs) but all agree that it's weird that she doesn't realize she's being followed.
Some time later, Sorey's group ends up allying with the assassin guild that Rose belongs to. There's a scene where Sorey is trying to convince Rose to try a method for letting her see the seraphim, and the two are surrounded by guild members. It's well known that Rose is afraid or spooked by seraphim, that she has a clear aversion, but it's not explained why. Sorey takes Rose's hands; she's shown trying to escape, but Sorey keeps holding her there and says, "Try to focus." Red flag. Rose is able to hear but not see the seraphim, and her reaction is to get so freaked out that she punches Sorey. Cue laughter of the guild.
Rose runs out of the room and Sorey is left to speak with the guild members who are STILL laughing about what just happened. They say things like, "Hahahahaha! Guess you really pushed her buttons, Mister Shepherd." As if what I just saw wasn't:
- Her lack of enthusiastic consent to try to hear the seraphim
- Sorey's pushing it on her anyway
- The seraphim being creepy
- Her automatic fight reaction against the person responsible
- Guild members laughing off her pain and embarrassment by implying Sorey "pushed her buttons" instead of literally touched her without her consent.
The first time I saw that scene, I felt uncomfortable but couldn't place why. When I looked at it a second time, I noticed that Rose looked uncomfortable through that whole exchange. The physical force of Sorey and the voices of the seraphim in her head caused Rose to react in a way familiar to me - she didn't think, she just punched him and ran away, unable to talk about why it was wrong. Unable to assert how he'd violated her space and the guild had violated her trust. Hm.
Immediately after the guild members leave this scene, Dezel is there. He asks Sorey, "What's that ability you've got that envelops you in the power of the seraphim? You think I can get one as well?" He's already heavily implying he wants Rose to become his vessel, as it was just demonstrated that she CAN pick up on seraphim, unlike most humans. Sorey explains that it's not something that can just be obtained, that it's a collaboration and requires consent on both parties and Dezel responds with "Hmph. [Getting a human to agree to it] sounds like a real hassle." Red flag.The first and only time Mikleo responds in a way I agree with is when he says to Dezel, "I don't get you. What is it you're after?" To which Dezel replies, "Just weighing the situation. And seeing if it's connected to my personal agenda."
Then Dezel flat-out says "That girl, Rose... Do you think she could enact the power of the armatus?" Surly Edna (Eizen's sister) raises her umbrella and says probably, "but the way she is now? Not a chance. She could have all the natural affinity in the world, but she denies the seraphim. Whose fault is that?" The camera pans to Dezel, who replies, "Tch."
RED FLAG. Edna's implying that Rose's fear and aversion for the seraphim comes from Dezel's meddling in her life. She seems to be the only one to catch on, but she's also one of the older seraphim, having lived through the Advent in Tales of Berseria and witnessed humans' ability to see seraphim drop off and all belief in them wane. Something that's explained elsewhere is that Dezel is "cursed," meaning bad fortune is all he seems to bring people around him and it's not his fault. Edna's brother Eizen (now turned into a dragon from malevolence) ALSO had a curse that brought misfortune to everyone around him, which you get to see in Tales of Berseria. Eizen shows guilt for his situation, even abandoning Edna at a young age because he feared he'd put her life in danger. This causes a deep and complicated relationship between the siblings; Edna has seen her brother try to do what he thought was right by keeping the curse away from her, having lost the close relationship they could have had while he was still a seraph, and she's seeing Dezel recklessly wanting to abuse his misfortune for his goals. I'd be upset, too.
Amusingly enough, the next line that's spoken is, "Guess he's not willing to listen to us. I never did understand those wind seraphim." "Those wind seraphim" as in "wind seraphim will be wind seraphim." As in "boys will be boys." As in "there's nothing we can do, so we might as well accept culture the way it is." Red flag.
[This upcoming section was extremely triggering for me to watch.]
The next time you see Rose is when the party sees her hovering around a monster she can't see. Sorey's viewpoint shows that there's a hellion there attempting to attack her and that Dezel is also there (under the guise of "protecting" her, but if his curse hadn't affected her, maybe she would have avoided it altogether). This is her reaction: she flails her arms and yells, "Stop it! Stop it!"
The second watch-through, hit me. As far as Rose knows, the invisible thing COULD BE a seraph. She doesn't know about hellions and has never seen malevolence turn a seraph into a hellion. She's clawing and swinging her sword at something she can't see but knows is there, and she's actively yelling, "Stop it! Stop it!" Red flag. I'll bet that most people playing Tales of Zestiria saw this as an obvious opportunity for her ability to see hellions to manifest, but this is what I saw: an assault. She's being actively harassed by something she can't identify that she doesn't want to be there. I'm haunted by her words, here, as they're words I myself said when I was being raped.
When Sorey arrives and advises her to get out of there, this is her response: "I know, I know! But it's all my fault that things ended up like this!" Red flag. Survivor guilt if I ever saw it; blaming oneself for the misfortune of the situation and feeling like something has to be done even if one can't do anything.
It becomes clear that the party wants to armatize Rose so they can defeat the hellion. Lailah explains that the only reason Dezel hasn't become a hellion yet is because Rose is so "pure" as a vessel for him. Lailah pushes the idea onto the party that it's better that Rose armatize so she can continue to be his vessel rather than she stay out of the situation. What that means is: Lailah's saying Rose's body is LESS IMPORTANT than Dezel not turning into a hellion with all his wickedness and lust for a revenge that isn't even explained to the party yet.
The pact is made, and Edna is the seraph to step forward and possess her. Rose passes out after the battle and the party wants to let her rest there. (Note: Edna is the only one who checks on her before exiting her body, otherwise nobody attempts to check her condition.) It's at this point that Dezel reveals to the rest of the party he's been following Rose for a while. "Keep what I told you a secret from Rose. She believes that she's come as far as she has with her own ability, without anyone's help. (Red flag; she's unaware of the "help" and didn't ask for it.) I don't want her to be troubled by the knowledge of what I've been doing behind her back... Or the reasons why I did it." Rose isn't even conscious, but Dezel is already trying to gaslight her into believing he has some nobler cause to be there except to USE HER BODY FOR HIS OWN MEANS. Red flag.
Afterward, Sorey can talk to party members before the plot continues. This conversation with Edna is where I really had to stop for a moment and process what was happening. She says, "Let me tell you something. That girl, Rose. She conducts way too much power. I was able to enact the armatus and control her body even when she was completely zonked out." Sorey asks, "What do you mean?" "She's far too used to the power of the seraphim. It's probably because Dezel's been secretly interfering from the sidelines for so long."
Pay attention to what she says next: "HE MUST HAVE MANIPULATED HER ON MULTIPLE OCCASIONS WHILE SHE WAS ASLEEP OR UNCONSCIOUS. If that weren't the case, there'd be no real explanation for why such power flows through her."
Tales fans: I don't care if you think he was protecting her by following her. He entered her body WITHOUT HER CONSENT, WHILE SHE WAS UNCONSCIOUS. This is assault! This is absolutely without a doubt a metaphor for someone being assaulted.
Sorey continues. "So Dezel used Rose to his own ends time and time again, just to get his revenge? And just as he was hoping, Rose had the ability to enact the armatus."
Edna: "If she loses consciousness, she can be manipulated freely. He's crafted the ideal vessel out of her. Keep that in mind."
Sorey's response? "Okay." RED FLAG.
Sorey goes on to have a conversation with Dezel during this time of the game (while you can talk to anyone in any order, it's strongly indicated based on the position Sorey is in that you should speak to Edna first). What does he say to Dezel? "I, uh, I kinda like having you and Rose around." Sorey invites someone into the party whom Edna JUST informed him to be someone who manipulated Rose when she was asleep. Because to Sorey? "OKAY." Red flag. I was insulted as a player that you didn't get to decide whether Dezel joins or not. I was just told Dezel assaulted Rose. I'm a survivor of rape. I don't want someone who reminds me of my rapist to join the party.
So, then, the "big" spoiler, let's get it over with: Later, Dezel dies.
Here's how it happens. Symonne explains to Rose that Dezel "abused [her] remarkable resonance to periodically commandeer [her] body." I love the way Symonne says, "It was all right, he thought. It was all to avenge his friend. I do wonder if you [Rose] agree." Dezel replies that he'd do it all again in a heartbeat to take his revenge against Symonne, who it's revealed had NO HAND in the ill that befell Dezel's friend. Dezel enters a battle against Symonne and during its course, Rose gets sucked into Symonne's darkness. The only way to save her is for someone to go get her, to which Dezel volunteers. It seems as though he's going to be the hero. However, if Dezel hadn't started the fight, Rose wouldn't have been in danger in the first place! So he makes his noble sacrifice, learns through Symonne's consciousness that HE was the one who caused his friend to die from his curse, and that it was all in vain.
When he goes to apologize to Rose, he gives a sweeping, "I'm a bad guy, I'm sorry for all that stuff," which is the most dismissive apology for, in case you forgot, MANIPULATING HER ON MULTIPLE OCCASIONS WHILE SHE WAS ASLEEP OR UNCONSCIOUS. No matter what other ills befell her life because he was there, that was something that he did of his own will and for his own means and he never apologizes specifically for that. Moreover, Rose's reaction? "I was so happy. In fact, I'm grateful to you. Really."
How on earth could someone THANK their attacker? My question was answered promptly after Dezel's death. Talking to Rose, she isn't very sad at all. Of the incident, she says, "The garbage that crazy Symonne chick was spouting... I think it says more about her problems than anything else." She follows up to Sorey's response with, "Oh, I just don't like to think too much."
So Rose 1. Calls Symonne "crazy," thereby dismissing the reality of her statements 2. Calls the statements "garbage," as though her brain threw them away immediately and 3. Says she doesn't want to dwell on Dezel's death because she doesn't want to think "too much."
Rose is always emphasized as a "pure" vessel, and more than a few times she blames her situation and her body on the scale of how impure she "must be" compared to Sorey, the Shepherd. In order for her to armatize, she must remain this pure. (Remember: armatizing is the only way one can win big boss battles in this game.) Therefore, she must not think about or mention what Dezel did to her, and she's not allowed to feel upset at all after she armatizes the first time, whereas she was shown earlier to fully express her dislike of seraphim. Endgame spoiler, she eventually becomes the pure Shepherd while Sorey isn't around. To the writers of Tales of Zestiria, it is more important that Rose remain a functional game mechanic and stand-in for their unemotional, "pure" Sorey than process what happened to her by way of Dezel's possessing her.
I find the treatment of Rose and the avoidance of addressing potential trauma caused by Dezel unconscionable. I was upset the entire rest of the game (or what we played of it, because at that point I was unwilling to give it a chance). Everyone other than Edna condoned, either through confirming that it was better for Dezel not to turn into a hellion or by not questioning Dezel's motives and methods, what he did to her. This is rape culture. And the fact that if you read through this and had no idea people like me could feel this strongly about it should indicate what it sneaks up on you.
In addition, a lot of people are not only fans of Dezel, but support a "Dezerose" ship. I feel it's due to what we call woobifying. Sure, Dezel hides his revenge during some happy la-la dungeons where he seems to be unproblematic, liking puppies and being blind as a handicap. Does that excuse what he did to Rose? No. Does Rose's "happy" reaction mean that she actually should be with him romantically? HEEEELL no. It means the writers thought it would be easier if her personality was the type to "just get over it," when I know that there are many people who couldn't "just get over" something like that happening to them even with the help of many professionals and a large support network. It was easier to mitigate Dezel's crime against Rose's body and have Rose be okay with it than it was to address the fact that Dezel assaulted and abused her. Now, you can still like Dezel as a character (in fact, I was hoping they'd explore something akin to rapist's guilt rather than have him escape having to face what he did BY DYING, and I would have at least respected his character if he paid for his wrongdoings) - but if you're unwilling to address the fact that it's said multiple times by multiple characters that he ABUSED Rose, I would truly ask you to consider how your viewpoint affects people who are survivors in your life. If I see someone supporting fluffy Dezerose without any penance, resolution, or fix-it material, I feel like I see someone who wouldn't have believed me if I confided in them what happened to me. Sometimes I see an entire fandom of passive bystanders who let things like that happen by buying into rape culture of fandom. Please consider how I viewed this narrative and how it could have affected other people in your life!
Thanks for reading! Tomorrow's topic will be a special one, so stay tuned.
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