'It's got a fearlessness': Tales of Kenzera: ZAU lead animator reveals how the cut 'melee powerhouse' African boxing style inspired its martial movelist

 Character standing between two shining masks.
Character standing between two shining masks.

Tales of Kenzera: ZAU boasts two kinds of stunning fighting styles that are each tied to a mythical mask, and according to the animation lead, they are both inspired by just one martial art originating from Nigeria.

"Early on in development, we actually had three different masks," the animation lead, Griffin Warner, explains in a Twitter video. "The mask that we ended up cutting, though, was the original melee powerhouse of the game, and its animation set was based on a martial art with Nigerian roots called Dambe."

The inspiration that this third mask left behind, long after it was cut from Tales of Kenzera: ZAU, is glaringly obvious. Instead of Dambe being restricted to just one of the masks, the team over at Surgent Studios boiled the martial arts down to its two main premises and incorporated them into the remaining moon and sun masks.

In Dambe, fighters compete with a cloth-wrapped hand called a spear, which they use to make rapid and precise attacks against opponents. "It's got a fearlessness, the stances are quite wide and imposing and they work really well in 2.5D where we often show characters from a side or a three-quarter profile."

This attacking style inspired the sun mask, which focuses on striking and close combat. Armed with two spears, you can make quick work of crowds of enemies as well as dart around the map—I can already see it being a speedrunner's best friend.

"Dambe's influence on the two masks should be very clear even though the combat and animations have changed a few times during development," Warner says. "In fact, the sun mask's fast strike combo was completely overhauled and remade in just a day or two at the beginning of the year. But it came together really quickly."

Then there's the moon mask, which is more concerned with long-range attacks, defense, and maintaining distance between you and your enemies. There's ample opportunity to use both in Tales of Kenzera: ZAU, but people will inevitably gravitate towards using one more than another, and I think it says a lot about you, depending on which mask you pick. I'll likely stick with the moon mask when fighting enemies. It may sound like a cowardly move, but being able to keep oncoming attackers at arm's length will definitely keep my blood pressure at a reasonable level.