The Female Narrative
What strikes me about The Legend of Dragoon beyond its story is the narrative dominance and significance of its female characters – especially with it being an old school JRPG, which is a time and genre I associate with countless male sword-wielding protagonists that are the driving force and center of those stories. The following is a look at The Legend of Dragoon's female figures, their positions and roles, their personalities, bonds and contributions.
Presence & Diversity
Of the nine party members, not just one or two, but four are female. The Legend of Dragoon gives you four very different women with very different strengths, motivations, ambitions and pasts, and all of them feel fleshed out as persons: Rose's strength stems from her experience, sense of duty and the force of her resolve, Miranda's strength is deeply rooted in anger, bitterness and her desire to protect something very personal, Meru's lies in the source of her overwhelming optimism, hopes, beliefs and curiosity, and Shana, who is so often labelled as weak and underwhelming in comparison to the other three, shows remarkable strength and dedication in that weakness as she keeps straining herself to do her best, which is definitely something that her comrades don't fail to notice.
Even with Shana being written out of the story in later parts of the game and ultimately being reduced to her role, her characterization and interactions in the early-game still remain stronger than Albert or Kongol's, two male characters who appear as early as on disc 1 (though not available as party members from the beginning); their characterization and development are fairly stagnant, if not nonexistent, and clearly pale in comparison to the rest of the group. Shana, Rose and Meru are also immensely important to the story's development and the game's worldbuilding, each of them being a piece in the puzzle that eventually unravels the past.
Significance & Authority
Even beyond party members, female figures make up an important part of the game's world, holding key positions in that world and within the story. Before the party learns of Meru and Lloyd's identities as Winglies (when Winglies were believed to be extinct), Lenus, a Wingly woman, has already been prominently featured on disc 2. The plot that Lenus is involved in also concerns the two princesses in the second region of the game, Tiberoa, and it is in fact the younger sister who sends the group on the right track for their quest out of concern for her elder sister. Although Tiberoa is ruled by a king, the focus of the story clearly lies on the two sisters and their concern for each other as well as for the kingdom that spurs them into action, with the king being not much more than an oblivious regent with many entertaining rather than crucial spoken lines.
On disc 3, the group visits the third region of Endiness, Mille Seseau – a matriarchy ruled by a queen and flanked by four Sacred Sisters, positions of high rank and authority. Their personalities are distinct, each of them has a role within the story (one of them eventually joining the party), and together with the Queen, they are family, the significance of which is shown when they all are seen spending time together in the game's epilogue.
Of the former Dragoons, three of the seven were/are female; one is still fighting, and one is still holding on to her spiritual consciousness for the sake of her former comrades' restless souls. Shirley's presence is not just noteworthy because she looks out for Rose and shows up twice in the game, but also because two of the former Dragoons speak highly of her during the Dragoon Tower sidequest.
Finally, when the group reaches Ulara on disc 4, the Winglies closest to Rose are women. Charle, an elderly Wingly lady, is not just the apparent head of the town, but also Melbu Frahma's sister (the former Wingly dictator) and the sole authoritative Wingly figure out of four in the game (the other three being Melbu, the optional boss Faust, and Ancestor Blano of Meru's village) to actively and convincedly promote peace between the different species.
Support & Adaptability
When Ulara's Winglies cooperate with Tiberoa's monarch later on to send the group on its last mission, Rose remarks that "this is one way, this city has been looking after the world". And that does sound right, even if we aren't told that much of Ulara's involvement with Rose's mission beyond Charle stopping Rose's time. They are so clearly supportive of Rose and know her and her journey so well, I'm sure they had a part in it: whether it's welcoming Rose back if she checked in every now and then (or perhaps she spent a lot of time there in between cycles) or helping her track down the Moon Child every cycle, as it's never stated how Rose, as the Black Monster, found those newborns.
It's not a stretch to assume that Ulara's Winglies, under Charle's guidance, have been helping Rose preserve the world: After all, when you enter the town, its looks and mood is remarkably different from that of the Forest of Winglies. The Forest of Winglies, visited on disc 3, is extremely gloomy, with a good part of the villages scorning and hating Humans and the majority of Winglies sharing the opinion that it's better to keep to themselves, living out their days on that small spot of land warded from everyone else's eyes – as the losers of the Dragon Campaign and as the stigma of history. Ulara, on the other hand, though visited on disc 4 when the end of the world seems inevitable, is marked by solidarity, hope and support, but also continued trust in Rose as well as her companions, many of which are Humans. None of the other three authoritative Wingly figures were able to create a united front with so much positive force.
Speaking of Winglies, Meru represents their species within the party (Kongol represents the extinct Gigantos, but his presence is sadly not strong enough to really drive that point home), and is the driving force behind a potential revolution in ideologies within her village. She's similar to Rose in that she fights and keeps standing up for her beliefs even as her own species shuns and exiles her. Yet, Ancestor Blano acknowledges that effort and that conviction, even though Meru is younger than other Winglies and thus does not have as much authority, and considers her thoughts something worth listening to.
Acknowledgement & Responsibility
In Meru's final trial and personal battle on the Moon That Never Sets, she faces the Archangel, a symbolic manifestation of old Wingly supremacy ideology, who tries to make her see the errors of her ways and remember the pride of the Winglies while justifying what Winglies did in the old days. But Meru won't have any of that, and never so much as wavers: Not only does she proclaim her fierce love for Humans, she rejects the ideology that she must have grown up with, and acknowledges her species' past crimes – something that takes a lot of open-mindedness and courage.
Archangel: Silly. Humans are feeble-minded even more than you would think. We have to rule them or eventually they will cease to exist.
Meru: I don't think so!! All the lives in this world are equal. We shouldn't rule or be ruled!
Archangel: Silence, Meru! Have you forgotten what we have accomplished? We have stabilized the chaotic world, and saved tribes that would otherwise be extinct. [...] Once there was 107 species and half no longer exist. Our rule prevents the subversion of the world.
Meru: That's wrong. 'Cuz there were species that were stamped out during the Winglies' domination!
Archangel: They were meant to be extinct from the beginning.
Meru: You liar!! You destroyed them because they rebelled against the Winglies!!
Archangel: Meru! A heretic like you disturbs our ordered world.
Meru: Shut up!! You are not real! You are an invented god so they can justify themselves, Archangel. Disc 4: The Moon That Never Sets
I'm not mentioning all of this just because I love Meru's writing; I mention it because beyond responsibility – especially responsibility for the past – being a central theme of The Legend of Dragoon (with each character dealing with it differently, including Haschel, Albert, Lloyd, Zieg, monarchs, etc.), Rose, Meru and Charle form a triad that assumes collective responsibility for past actions of entire groups or species: Rose carries on her comrades' legacy and what she has sworn to do as a Dragoon because the accidental shattering of the Crystal Sphere started the entire transmigration cycle, so she keeps saving the world over and over. Charle probably regrets not having stood up more strongly to her younger brother, not foreseeing his plans and perhaps not having the magic power required to rein him in; she watched him cause so much suffering and bloodshed, but after his fall and demise, she has been watching over the world while working closely with Rose. Meru fights against millennia of indoctrination in the name of progress to shape a new future, and does not turn a blind eye to what her species has done. In a way, all three of them are taking responsibility for the aftermath of a long war, even if they aren't personally expected to (because they weren't directly responsible for what happened) – and that strength, resolve, sacrifice and courage really speak to me.
Bonds & Interactions
I've mentioned plenty of it above already, but the female characters in this game have plenty of interactions as a whole (keep in mind the typical script of a PlayStation JRPG), which is also why this shrine places so much focus on Rose's interactions, similarities and differences to female party members under The Comrade. They're all different relationships too, and women aren't pitted against each other for anyone else's sake or characterization (especially to boost a male character's desirability). Instead, the conflicts that arise between them speak for who they are as persons, for their similarities and differences, and are not without a point. The "rivalry" between Shana and Rose turns out to be one-sided and is part of Shana's characterization rather than any love triangle, and the two more or less become friendly behind the scenes. Similarly, the animosity between Rose and Miranda is not due to them being women, or them being spiteful towards each other, it's due to their individual pasts and different ways of living.
It also feels to me as though the life-long friendships between women in this game are also the ones that leave the most impact, especially due to what they bring about: Charle and Rose's friendship, the union that acts from the shadows to prevent the destruction of the world, with Charle trying her best to be of comfort to Rose, and Shirley and Rose's bond, visibly touching Rose after so much time has passed and even when she's dead inside. Charle makes Rose feel welcome and gives her a place to belong, Rose sends Damia off while taking away some of her loneliness, and the five women of Mille Seseau, though not tied by blood, find family in each other (Luanna, blind survivor of Neet, has the youngest sister, Setie, act as her eyes; Miranda was taken in by the Queen when her own mother abandoned her). Women keep helping each other in The Legend of Dragoon, and make homes for each other when no one else does.
Roles & Stereotypes
If you look at the Kindred Spirits line-up, you'll notice most of the characters with the strongest similarities with Rose regarding role and personality are male. That's because Rose's many roles in the game are typically male – not in that men are more likely to assume such roles while possessing the traits that come with those roles, but because those roles are usually assigned (a conscious choice on the creator's part) to male characters, at least as far as JRPGs are concerned. Rose joins the group as a stranger, remains a question mark for a good part of the game, yet is accepted nevertheless due to her strength, experience, knowledge and guidance. She may not walk in front of the group, but she does, in a way, lead the party with her words: where to go, what they ought to be doing, how they ought to stay focused, and so on. She's strict, serious, mysterious, and has some authority within the group, but she's also emotionally aloof and may have her own agenda.
These characters also don't usually remain static, but go through some change due to their interactions on the journey with the leading character (who is also usually male), at the end of which they'll have some fondness for said leading character and may express their gratitude and appreciation in some way. They enter the game by acting as guides and mentors, but realize that they, too, can learn and change when challenged with a different perspective.
It's refreshing to me that Rose was given one such role, and I do think that "straying" from the norm is something that doesn't go unnoticed by the many girls and women who have played The Legend of Dragoon – because fact is, we don't get characters like Rose as often. It's even more important to me that Rose wasn't written as Dart's love interest, because, judging JRPGs as a genre with recurring narrative elements, I doubt The Legend of Dragoon and Rose would be what they are were that the case. Rose and Dart strongly affect each other, are very important to each other, and grow alongside each other, and that connection is one of the strongest in the game – and it needn't be romantic for it to be that way.
It also moves me how much control Rose has in the game, and how much agency the narrative ascribes to her: She is consistently written as a character who makes her own choices, as I've stressed throughout this shrine, based on her own beliefs. She isn't written as a character who follows orders without questioning and whose character arc ends with rebelling and finding her own path, and the bad things she's done aren't things she regrets, which is why her journey is not about making amends – both these narratives aren't inferior, they're just different, and they usually rely on the leading character opening the eyes of that one emotionally cold character. In The Legend of Dragoon, however, Dart's involvement in Rose's history, mission and resolve are minimal (though no doubt just as important and as meaningful) – he isn't there to change Rose, but to help her regain things she has lost over the years. And though Dart may be the main character, The Legend of Dragoon and Endiness' history are through and through Rose's story. It's tremendous that a female character claims one such narrative as her own.
Question & Rebuild
In the end, so much of the game's world and narrative are shaped by women, as they rise from loss and destruction to rebuild not just themselves, but the world around them. And it is also the women who receive impressive characterization and show so many different kinds of strengths and courage as they defend the things that matter to them and stand up for what they believe in – even if it is a battle not just with themselves and their immediate environment, but against everything they have learned, be it abuse and neglect, self-serving and false ideologies that uphold the status quo, what others think they should or shouldn't be doing, and even if the entire world turns its back on them because it doesn't know what it's like to be in a position it can't even begin to imagine.