I think by this point, most of us are pretty familiar with the concept of magic as a nebulous fantastical element. Whether coaxed into purpose by an incantation of old or readily available if one only knows where to look, magic often has this sort of metaphysical existence that tends to boil down to “it’s just there, and has always been there”. Rarely is there reason for magic’s existence or how people have come to be able to wield it, and that’s fine; sometimes leaving parts of the unknown as an unknown is a benefit to the narrative. Yet during my playthrough of Tales of Xillia, I was surprised at how much I was intrigued by their physical explanation as to why magic-using was so omnipresent, and how this practical understanding both helped and hindered the people in their world.
Everyone born in Xillia’s world of Reize Maxia has the power to use magic—it’s just a fact. This is because everyone is born with something called a mana lobe: a biological construct that allows people to utilize the mana present in the world and transform it into magic. There are people who are more skilled at using mana, and who have larger mana lobes than others, but biological discrepancies are typical for everyone human. I mean, not everyone’s going to grow up to have the physiology to become a basketball player. Due to this ease by which magic is performed, Reixe Maxia isn’t a world of mages, but a world of people who use magic to facilitate typical jobs that would be found in our world.
One of our protagonists, Jude, is a nurse. In visiting his medical school, rather than the hand-wavey white magic of games like Final Fantasy (how does Cure actually cure people?), the player sees that while they have magic, due to how magic and human physiology are so intertwined, doctors still must go through extremely intensive training. There’s even one scene where Jude and his father are faced with a man who collapsed in a mine. Jude states that to make the man’s body safe to move, he needs to use “healer” (the name of his healing spell). However, rather than just leaving it be at that—that healing magic is, of course, going to heal the guy—Jude’s father mentions that if Jude doesn’t perform it exactly right, the man will die. Healing magic, then, becomes less of a mystical force that always does what it’s supposed to and more of a normal medical procedure that always has a chance of failing, no matter how skilled the doctor is.
Having this understanding of and relationship with magic is extremely beneficial, but also harmful. With no other way of doing things, the people of Reize Maxia are extremely dependent on their magic, so when events occur that throw their ability to use magic out of whack, there’s a world-wide panic. When the balance of mana is thrown off, most people begin suffering physically, some with simple headaches, others collapsing due to weakness, and some who suffer from more serious effects still. But more than that, there’s a legitimate fear that they won’t know how to do their normal, everyday tasks without the use of magic, making them almost helpless to the fluctuating tides of mana.
In contrast, later in the game Jude and his friends discover that Reize Maxia is not the only world; beyond an imposed barrier lies the world of Elympios, a world where mana all but vanished. As such, the people of Elympios can’t use magic, and instead siphon the remaining mana in the world into man-made tools that won’t destroy the mana, but recycle it, in a sense. However, despite their lack of ability to use magic, the people of Elympios still have mana lobes. It’s only due to their predecessor’s misuse of mana—overusing it to the point of scarcity—that their mana lobes have atrophied to their current, nigh-unusable state. This, understandably, causes conflict between Elympions and Reize Maxians once they become aware of the existence of the other. And if not just straight up conflict, then it’s the Reize Maxians suffering depersonification, as they’re essentially taken as war prisoners for Elympion scientists to study how their mana lobes interact with mana.
By giving mana this more physical, tangible presence in people’s lives, Xillia has crafted a world that is both new (or at least new to me, since I haven’t seen this premise before) and nuanced in terms of discussions of privilege and moderation. Elympios wasn’t introduced until the later fourth of the game, so not much time could be devoted to looking at what the people of Reize Maxia thought of the people of Elympios, and vice versa, without the pretext of “wow, I really don’t want to go to war” behind it. I hope that in its sequel, Xillia takes a closer look at how these different worlds begin to interact, and how the discussion of the different states of mana lobes may parallel to how people with various disabilities are treated. At the very least, it’s made me interested in playing it to see how both Elympions and Reize Maxians have adapted two years later.