Trials and Resolve
A good part of The Legend of Dragoon's characterization and insight, especially as far as the characters' pasts are concerned, comes from formal trials that the members of the group have to face at several points (in addition to their ongoing growth throughout the journey). The characters mostly face these trials alone as they are separately tested by their "examiners", with each of them facing their own demons – demons that they may not have revealed to the rest of the group, which makes these trials very intimate experiences.
Rose may be the party member who receives the most characterization in the game, even more so than Dart, and she is unquestionably the one character whose past is most fleshed out due to her being the anchor of the story, but even with her already being special in that regard, what truly stands out to me about her trials are two points: Firstly, the instances in which she is tried all have an immediate interpersonal element to them that goes beyond the actual trial itself. Shirley, the first examiner, is an old friend and comrade of Rose; Savan, the second examiner, has been watching Rose specifically for thousands of years; and when each member of the group has to fight a literal personal battle in the final dungeon, Rose alone is accompanied by Dart when she faces hers. This is different from the other characters' trials because they "only" face illusions that are manifestations of their past, their doubts and fears; there is no interpersonal element to their trials, much less anything that connects them to the examiners.
Secondly, two of those tree formal trials that each member of the party goes through aren't actual trials in Rose's case. Rose is singled out by both Shirley and Savan as someone who does not need to be tried (albeit for different reasons), and they personally hold conversations with Rose instead. It's not surprising that Rose doesn't need to prove herself to them, because she has already proved herself over and over; their acknowledgement of that is testament to Rose's strength of will and resolve. Rose's mind is not at all clouded by any doubts because she has been through so much and has seen so much already, yet has always stuck to her mission; even barely conscious and on the verge of passing out, the one thing on her mind is the task she has fully committed herself to: "Don't worry, I am carrying out your will. We took this world back together, I won't let them ruin it."
Rose being steadfast in her resolve and dedication is perhaps conveyed the most strongly in the optional scene at Fort Magrad, when Rose kneels in front of the war monument and reminisces about the past. Dart approaches her with his thoughts in what may be the sole instance where he comments on Rose as a person before the revelation of her identity, and Rose rises and faces him:
Dart: Sometimes... I don't know. If you are really the Rose I know...
Rose: I am... just me.
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In the later half of disc 1, Dart, Lavitz and Rose make their way to a shrine in search of a cure for Shana's poisoning. The entrance of the shrine bears the relief of a Dragon, which Rose recognizes right away, and she tells her two companions to take out their Dragoon Spirits. The resonating of the three Dragoon Spirits and the relief make them shine, indicating that there might be a Dragoon within the shrine. This moment is remarkable in hindsight because it's quite possibly the only time where Rose takes the lead, as she walks ahead with no explanation ("Go see it with your own eyes.") and is the first to enter the shrine. It's different from Rose's usual behaviour (especially in the early-game), as she usually stays in the back and just quietly follows the group; Shana's affliction doesn't seem to touch her on a personal level either, even if she goes along to look for the cure. I think Rose must have known or felt somehow that the shrine harbours the spirit of Shirley, a former comrade and holder of the White-Silver Dragoon Spirit. Maybe Rose walking ahead is an expression of disbelief at the thought that another Dragoon other than herself could have survived, or that the spirit of an old friend still lingers in the world; maybe it is barely concealed impatience to see an old friend once gain, the loneliness and longing breaking out of the 11,000-year-old shell.
When the small group has reached the innermost part of the shrine, Shirley appears as a ghost, addresses them as holders of Dragoon Spirits and asks them why they're disturbing her peace. While Lavitz points his weapon at her and asks what exactly she is, Dart tells her quite vehemently that they are only there to save their friend's life. But before anyone can ask more questions or elaborate on anything, Rose steps forward and interrupts the conversation, which, again, is uncharacteristic of what the group has seen of her so far.
Rose: Do you remember me?
Shirley: You are... Rose, aren't you...? Oh... I understand. You have been on your sad journey since then.
Rose: You too, Shirley.
Shirley is clearly surprised to see Rose, and can barely believe it, as is shown when she hovers backwards and proceeds to circle Rose. Although she is dead, she seems to know about Rose's mission. Dart and Lavitz do not question this exchange though, probably because there are more urgent matters at hand; Dart speaks to Shirley again and tells her that he's willing to try anything if it helps save Shana, at which point Shirley reveals her Dragoon Spirit: The Dragoon Spirit of the White-Silver Dragon is filled with healing magic capable of removing the Dragon poison in Shana. Shirley doesn't just let them have it, however, and challenges them to see if they deserve it.
I have already addressed part of Shirley's trial; for Dart and Lavitz, it's a test to prove whether they are worthy of being Dragoons. In battle, Shirley takes on the form of Shana and King Albert respectively to address the two men separately. The two of them have to realize what is truly important – for Dart, Shana or revenge, for Lavitz, helping others or sticking to orders – and answer Shirley's questions correctly in order to pass the trial. Once they've given her the right answers, Shirley asks each of them one more question that can be replied to either way (of the two answer options that are presented), though depending on the answer, Shirley responds with different words. Rose, however, is not tested, and Shirley only speaks to her at the end of the "battle" to ask her what life means to her – her words are the concern of a friend. And whether Rose replies that she has never thought about it or that it is nothing but sacrifice, Shirley's response is the same:
Rose, I see the end of your agonizing journey. The young man there will awaken the old you, and lead you to the future. Now, illuminate the dark road with my White Silver Dragoon Spirit. The new Dragoons!
At this point, Shirley's words foreshadow Rose's release from her mission as well as the connection between Dart and Rose, though the player doesn't understand yet because Rose's presence has not been great enough for anyone to see that she's far more important to the story than she lets on. Shirley entrusts her Dragoon Spirit to the new Dragoons, nods to Rose and fades away without taking her eyes off her former comrade. As her parting light turns the screen white, she has a few last words of comfort to offer to her friend:
Shirley: Farewell Rose. I am looking forward to the date our roads of fate cross again.
Rose: She is headed to the place where she belongs.
And as if Rose's previous calm "Do you remember me?" at the beginning weren't heart-wrenching enough already, when Dart and Lavitz hit the road right after Shirley's parting, Rose lingers for a moment and looks up to the sky, her gaze directed at the spot where Shirley disappeared.
Rose and Dart meet Shirley again at the end of disc 3 when they approach the Tower of the Seven Dragoons. This encounter is not a formal trial, but a sidequest; nevertheless, it can be interpreted as a kind of trial in its own right, not just because the battles against the former Dragoons are optional boss battles, but because during the trial (as in, when visiting the Dragoons' rooms), only Rose and Dart are visible on screen. Rose speaks to Dart in each room as she introduces her former comrades, and it's evident that this whole episode is an emotional trial for her as it personally relates to her; Dart is an observer, there to provide emotional support to Rose. When Shirley first appears at Vellweb and tells them she has been waiting for them, Rose is visibly aghast:
Why? Why are you here? You ascended to heaven I thought...
Rose, in that scene, gestures wildly (in start contrast to her usual composure) to express her disbelief and frustration at seeing Shirley still rooted to the world, and gestures strongly again when she hears that Mayfil, the Death City that Rose destroyed during the war, is laying claim to her former comrades' souls. Evidently, it shakes Rose to learn that after all this time, they have still not been able to find the peace they deserve, even with her having soldiered on to protect the world in their stead. And now, Shirley is asking her to lead their souls to heaven, which means facing them again after having been apart for 11,000 years, only to part with them again. It also means facing them as the sole true survivor, still alive when everyone had to give their life. But it's precisely because Rose was their comrade and knew them, and because she is still alive, that she is the only person capable of granting them peace.
And Rose accepts that responsibility. She goes and talks to each of them, even if it's hard on her too: She gently speaks to Syuveil and asks about his studies as if he were still alive, then comforts him to take away his fear of the uncertainty of death. She doesn't know what to say that could possibly ease Damia's loneliness, present in life and in death, but then sends her on her way, assuring her that they'll be together again soon. She criticizes what Kanzas did when he was still alive, but is eventually able to show some understanding for him and wishes him well. She has to make Belzac realize and understand that he is no longer alive, and gives him solace with the thought that Shirley, though also dead, is waiting.
After determining the location of the lost city of Aglis from the Outland Village Rouge on disc 4, Rose tells the group that she senses they're being watched by someone. Mere moments later, the ground starts to shake and the sea splits open, as if inviting them in. Aglis, like the other Wingly cities, used to float in the air, and although it now lies at the bottom of the sea, it is still supported by magic. As the group advances, they learn that Aglis is powered by seemingly sentient creatures created with magic or technology that didn't exist in this form during the Dragon Campaign. These creatures bear messages from someone who claims to know their purpose:
Welcome to the seven heroes fated to be here. And Rose, these thousands of years I have waited were neither as long as eternity nor as short as a mere twinkle of a star. People who confront their fate with courage...
Through conversations with these creatures throughout the dungeon, they are told that Aglis, too, is succumbing to corruption and monsters due to the deterioration of the maintainer's magic. The city, however, still has an objective, which is about to be completed – with the Dragoons being the key. The maintainer they are speaking of is called Savan, and from many different lines, it's obvious that he is very familiar with Rose and even with her growth: "It's Rose, pino. You are in the mirror, Rose, pino. It's Rose who got friends and is in the mirror, pino." or "The mirror that reflects the present has been watching you forever, pino. For thousands of years, watching you, Rose, pino. Savan is the same as you, Rose, pino. The same as all of you now, pino." for example.
In a chamber in the depths of Aglis, Savan introduces himself as "a Wingly fated to wait", a survivor of the Dragon Campaign who continued studying magic in order to reconstruct the world of the Winglies. Although he made himself ageless and immortal for that purpose, he had to realize that the world has no need for him or the vision of the Winglies anymore, rendering his 4000 years of loneliness worthless and robbing him of his sense of purpose. But then, 7000 years ago, while in utter despair and without appreciation left for either life or death, Savan "was saved by Rose":
I found the meaning of life in the Black Monster in the mirror. Rose, who now is confronting her fate. I restarted my study for Rose.
For an eternity now, Savan has been working on two tools to cross the creator Soa's plans for the last species (the Psychedelic Bomb and Moot, which won't be elaborated here), and they are finally nearing completion. But to activate the bomb, Savan needs the courage of each member of the party as they each endure their own challenge. Savan's role is similar to Rose's in that he, too, has been living and waiting for over 11,000 years, fighting alone and dedicating himself to something that will help save the world, fighting alone. But now, he knows that the end of his role and his wait is nearing. Everyone in the group faces a personal trial, many of which share the theme of breaking free from the past, accepting it for what it is, and choosing to live on – rather than reach for premature death – in order to bring about change.
Rose alone faces no trial from Savan and his creatures and again does not need to show her courage or resolve by choosing between to answers, because Rose's mind has been made up all along. Instead, Savan – the examiner! – talks to her in person and asks for her view on several thoughts that have been making him doubt himself and his new purpose:
Savan: I would often think about it. The thing we are doing, namely Charle creating the Signet Sphere to seal the Moon That Never Sets, and Rose continuously killing the Moon Child. I prepared for the coming evil day with a new signet, Moot, and the Psychedelic Bomb. And waited until the moment. The road to destruction laid by the creator Soa was supposed to be absolute. But evolution was stopped by us, Winglies. I would often think about it. Whether our deeds were the right thing. And will continue forever. I am afraid. Whether I will be myself until the day my body perishes and becomes dust. Will our intention be engulfed by the intention of the creator Soa eventually? Is everything meaningless?
Rose: You go too far. We are neither immortal, nor gods. We are mere people. People should just live in the present. Because it means living for the "next" present. I have been that way. And I won't change. When is my challenge?
Savan shakes his head and retreats.
In this constellation, Rose is the one who, in a way, tries the person who confronts her. Savan shakes his head to signify that Rose's words have reached him, and that there is no challenge for her. For Savan, Rose certainly has been a guiding figure for thousands of years, and he expresses that in his last words when the place blows up after he has teleported the group out of danger:
Dart: Savan!! You have to come too!
Savan: I will see this til the end. You should hurry to the next city, the Signet Sphere of Aglis is now being destroyed.
Dart: Are you starting it alone? And ending it alone too!!
Savan: Even if my body vanishes, my heart will remain. It will give you wings to fly the sky, to the Moon That Never Sets, where Zieg is heading.
Rose: I still have something to ask you!
Savan: Rose, I am grateful. Rose, you... were... my...
Rose was Savan's hope, the light that has illuminated his last 7000 years and kept him focused on what he can and must do for the sake of the world. Rose may have had some comfort due to the shared knowledge and the support of Ulara's Winglies, but unlike Savan, there was nobody who was still alive whose strength and determination could have inspired her to keep going, yet she kept going anyway. In the end, maybe just knowing that her continuous battle and struggle has not just saved the world (which remains oblivious to Rose and curses the Black Monster), but affected someone personally by giving them a sense of purpose, makes the memory of the last 11,000 years somewhat... lighter.
Rose's light keeps burning brightly even after Savan's death, for she turns her back to the explosion and moves forward without hesitation: "We have no time for being sad."
In the final dungeon of the game, the group travels to the Moon That Never Sets, the body of the God of Destruction. The final dungeon seems to be a large area shaped by the characters' memories, as the environment keeps changing and looks like a patchwork of numerous areas the group has visited throughout the game. The Moon That Never Sets merges past and future and shows each character scenes of their own past, presented as solid reality, not illusion. It's unclear whether it does so intentionally, or whether that's just how it was created – whether it shows them the past to make them doubt themselves and break down before they reach the end, or whether it challenges them so that they can find the strength needed for the final battle. There may not be any reason behind it at all. Each party member reaches a point where they split from the group to face their own battle against a manifestation of their doubts, regrets or otherwise unresolved feelings. These battles are heavy on dialogue and rely, just like trials before, on making the right choices by giving the right answers rather than forcing one's way through with brute strength.
In a late part of the dungeon, a Dragon emerges out of nowhere and fires at the group, causing the group to split up. And finally, Rose is tried, though Dart accompanies her in this case just as he has done in the Dragoon Tower sidequest. Rose identifies the attacker as Michael, her Vassal Dragon. Since the final dungeon materializes feelings that exist in the characters' heart, Rose must have been holding lingering feelings for her Dragon. True enough, she tells Dart that Michael is calling her from where she met him for the first time (although it is a memory evoked by the Moon That Never Sets). She tries to call out to him despite knowing that he can't possibly be on the moon, but "just like last time", he is out of control and attacks the two.
Dart and Rose find themselves in a fight with the Black Burst Dragon, but struggle severely due to his overwhelming power and invulnerability to all attacks. Some time into the battle, Rose reveals that Michael does, in fact, have a weakness, and her trial consists in choosing whether or not to reveal it to Dart so that he can help bring it down. After she does, and after they have beaten Michael, Rose reveals to Dart that she had to kill Michael with her own hands after having been with him for more than 10,000 years. Michael's heart turning savage after having lived for so long and having seen so many battles is not something that Rose had any influence over, so although she has done nothing that she regrets since embarking on her long mission, she regrets that she had to kill Michael and that she had to say goodbye to her dear old friend.
The important thing about this trial and this battle is that it shows Rose's change and growth: She is no longer a solitary warrior who fights and shoulders burdens all alone, and she is also no longer the stranger who looms in the back while keeping her distance and her secrets. The real Dart being present during her trial and her confiding in him during and after the battle reveal how that distance has been closed, and displays the confidence Rose has in her new comrades. Rose no longer has to clench her teeth and try her hardest to stay strong because her comrades have her back.
Dart: That's enough of looking back at the past. You have lived for 10,000 years because you didn't want to see the future to be destroyed, right, Rose?
Rose: You are right. Thank you. You reminded me of what's important.