“Someday, something will happen, and if you cannot chasten your insanity, I wonder if you will be able to endure it?”
Video games, as any medium, have tools unique to them to convey messages and stories, whether in isolation or combined with other elements. One of them is their mechanics — layers upon layers of technical information that exist parallel to the actual narrative, reinforcing it or foreshadowing its developments. For JRPGs specifically, part of it is made up of the information conveyed through continuous battles and the elements that not just constitute the battle system, but affect the flow of battles, such as:
- the order in which members join the party,
- the distribution and growth of stats,
- an individual’s battle style,
- how well any given member performs in battle,
- how that performance changes over the course of the game as more skills, equipment and party members become available,
- how well they complement specific members and the party itself.
In the following, I will explore the narrative cues of Rose’s presentation and behaviour in battle, and offer my own interpretation on her mechanical identity, that is to say, that which sets her apart as a party member in battle. For that sake, I will also be contrasting it with the mechanical identity of several other party members. In no way do I assume that the creators meant specifically any of this in designing Rose, though, as with any creation, some thoughts must have gone into these elements beyond having to fill party member archetypes.
Rose is the fourth to join the party, which consists of Dart, Lavitz and Shana at the time. She’s the third physical attacker, the second member with good magic stats, the second to bring a healing spell of some sorts, and the first to have their Dragoon form available next to Dart. All of this plays into her role within the active party and her performance. Battle animations — be it battle stances or attack sequences — usually stay the same throughout a game, and the same applies to The Legend of Dragoon. What changes, however, is our perception of them as we learn more about the character.
Let’s look at Rose’s battle stances first. At the start of battles and during idle phases, Rose, as any other member aside from perhaps Meru, has her weapon drawn and raised, signalizing that she is ready to attack any moment. In contrast to other members, however, her legs are not wide apart; unlike Shana, for example (see the screencaps below), she doesn’t seem tense. Rose is used to battles. After all, she has faced things far worse than random monsters, and has so much power and experience to show that very few things manage to catch her off-guard.
After battle, most party members celebrate with a victory dance. Shana and Meru in particular are visibly relieved that the fighting has ended, with Meru going so overboard in her celebration that she falls to the ground. Rose makes a movement as if stretching, but afterwards, she immediately assumes a guarded battle stance again, as if already preparing for the next battle. Rose doesn’t celebrate and doesn’t relax. Here’s a video of her victory pose at the end of the clip, which can be compaired with the rest of the party. If you watch the video of her victory pose in Dragoon form, the same can be said for that (again in contrast to other members’ victory dances): She slashes the air with her sword to signify that the battle is over, but seems to be ready for the next battle, accepting it with open arms. Neither of her victory poses show her overtly excited or leave her open for attack.
I think the same is conveyed in her idle as well as her casting stance in Dragoon form: Rose may be the only Dragoon who has their weapon pointed at the enemy at all times, whereas most other members in Dragoon form have their weapons rested at the side, with Dart and Haschel in particular looking entirely relaxed.
All of this, to me, conveys that Rose is used to constant battles and has been in plenty of fights. She may not be tense, but she’s always alert and ready. Narrative-wise, while there’s a lot of time between the birth of the Moon Child (which calls the Black Monster into action), this may reflect how Rose has never truly been able to relax due to the knowledge that there’s always the next slaughtering to prepare for. Rose is a soldier who has had to march out time and again. In the early game, this vigilance contributed to her perception as the group’s guide. I imagine the other characters must have felt safe around her not just due to her knowledge, but the experience that she shows in battles through things such as these battle stances. Rose never had to prove herself to the group or offer any explanations regarding her own identity even as she’s the stranger who tags along, because her expertise and actions in battle speak for themselves, and the group is more than happy to call on her for support.
Next, her technique. By the time Rose joins the group, Dart and Lavitz have already gained their second Addition, which are executed with multiple hits. Rose joins with a single hit Addition, her next not unlocking until after Dart and Lavitz’ third respectively fourth Addition. And yet, she holds her own in battle and contributes significantly as a third physical attacker. Her Additions in general are also very easy to hit.
Additions in the game are not just animated to fit the weapon or battle style of choice, but to also reflect the fighter, and in some cases, even the evolution of their fighting style:
- Dart’s sword slashes evolve to a fighting style that is a full body effort with impressive footwork as he becomes more agile.
- Meru has an Addition during which she actually stumbles and falls down, while her Additions in general feature quite elaborate movements (jumping, spinning, moving around a lot) due to her being a dancer. The speed and rhythm of Additions are most likely also programmed to match that, as Meru’s rhythm is difficult to match at first since she seems to do as she pleases.
- Bow users like Shana and Miranda have no Additions at all due to the lack of direct physical touch of their long-range weapons. (This still sucks.)
- There’s a lot of time between Kongol’s early Additions due to his axe swings being heavy, but as he unlocks new Additions and masters the axe, his swings become swifter.
As for Rose, there’s smoothness and considerable ferocity in her fighting style: She closes in for the kill, leans forward with the entire body, her strikes are swift, her movements elegant and composed, and she gets the job done efficiently — no clumsiness, no breaks or wind-up time, no hesitation. This also translates to her Dragoon form, in which she attacks just as relentlessly with her D-Additions, whereas other members tend to leave quite some time between heavy strikes. A video of her normal Additions and a video of her D-Additions can be viewed along with those of the rest of the group. A particularly impressive moment that demonstrates Rose’s swiftness and quick decision-making occurs when Dart’s Dragoon Spirit is stolen and Rose is the only one to immediately lunge at the thief.
Rose has fewer Additions compared to the rest of the party members, even those who join later. A possible interpretation of that is that as an experienced fighter, she does not need to experiment as much anymore. (And I do think that some members are clearly experimenting: see Dart’s evolving fighting style and Meru’s clumsiness as she tries out new dance steps.) She knows her techniques, she knows her own body, she knows which attacks are the most efficient. Her Additions being quite easy to hit for the player would also be a sign of her experience. Not counting members with no Additions (bow users), Kongol is the only party member with fewer Additions than Rose. And if you follow this train of thought, it’s easy to see why. As a Giganto, his physical strength is unparalleled. Kongol’s life, even more so than Rose’s, has been about fighting and getting stronger all along: strength to survive, strength to fight back after his species was eradicated, strength to serve Emperor Doel in his vision of unifying Endiness — strength to fight in many wars as the most powerful weapon of all.
Lastly, Rose’s Dragoon transformation: If you watch the videos of all the transformations, you may notice that for everyone, transforming is either the embracing of new power or the unleashing of the power that slumbers within. They are stances of comfort or of confidence as the respective elements envelop the new Dragoon. In stark contrast, Rose’s transformation looks neither of that — it looks painful. Her arms are crossed as if she’s holding on to herself for support. She’s somewhat writhing while the darkness bursts forth to eventually form an orb around her, not unlike a prison that temporarily traps her. This is striking because although all Dragoon transformations are visually unique with hardly any common elements, the actual change (of outfits, if you will) is immediate in all other cases. Rose’s silhouette, however, flashes several times while she’s in the orb of darkness before she eventually assumes Dragoon form.
I think all Dragoon transformation sequences mean to convey something, including whether the character is passively receiving their power (light shining down on Shana and Miranda) or actively helping it break forth (Meru slamming the ground with her hammer). The unique elements of each focus on different things: Kongol, already durable, seems to gain another layer of protection as the earth encases him, while Dart’s transformation focuses on the growing of his wings to signify his new potential — which makes sense, as his is the first Dragoon transformation the player witnesses, and Dart is the main character and the player’s introduction to Dragoons.
For Rose, the Dragon’s power comes with suffering, because after 11,000 years, the Dark Dragoon Spirit is the only one to still be in the hands of its original Dragoon. All other Dragoon Spirits have had at least two different holders (the original Dragoon during the Dragon Campaign and the new Dragoon in the party), usually three (the boss that the Dragoon Spirit was obtained from), sometimes even four (when a party member is permanently replaced). (As an aside, this makes it very interesting to analyze the common aspects between the holders of the same Dragoon Spirit. This won’t be done here as Rose is an exception, but I will gladly refer you to fan fiction) Narratively, Rose’s Dragoon form is directly connected to her status as the sole survivor among the former Dragoon as well as her duty as the Black Monster, both of which bring nothing but painful memories to Rose.
What’s more, one has to keep in mind Rose’s words of caution on board of the Queen Fury: Dragoons gain their power in times of need to serve in wars, the source of that power being insanity. Rose brings this up again when she’s alone in a cave with an unconscious Dart later on as she reminisces about the past and draws parallels between Dart and Zieg, saying that Dart’s presence
“tame the insanity of the Dragoon for [her]”. Rose’s strength of spirit is immense, but one can only imagine what exactly the insanity of the Dragoon does to her (when even her Vassal Dragon, a species with enormous endurance, has already gone insane after all this time), the effects of which are surely mixed in with the rest of her emotional baggage that shows in her warped and empty self.
Rose’s element is darkness, which, like the colour black, conveys mystery, danger, the unknown and death. As if Rose’s transformation sequence weren’t unsettling already, the Dark Dragoon Spirit’s spells have something quite disturbing to them . This does not just concern their visuals, but also their effects, and how unique those effects are even compared to every other Dragoon spell and entire Dragoon spell sets (each Dragoon has four spells), part of which has already been alluded to in the presentation of Rose’s Dragoon form.
Let’s have a look at the other party members:
- Dart’s magic is purely offensive, his casting stance relaxed, perhaps conveying that he has plenty of people watching his back and supporting him so that he can focus on what’s ahead.
- Haschel is a martial artist who has been wandering and fighting by himself all these years, which explains why his spells are also purely offensive.
- Kongol is all about strength, and as mentioned above regarding his Additions, this reflects who he is as a character. This may be why he is the only Dragoon to only have three spells instead of four — magic, to him, is an afterthought. (Or perhaps the creators just forgot, which wouldn’t be surprising since Kongol has the least presence in the game.)
- Lavitz and Albert are knight and king in service of the people they have sworn to protect. It’s very fitting that they have a damage mitigation spell that targets the entire party and lasts for several rounds.
- Shana is capable of healing, reviving and removing status ailments because she desperately wants to be of help to the group, but her strength does not lie in fighting, and her nature not in killing.
- In contrast, Miranda, who takes Shana’s place later on, has the same spells, but for different reasons: I don’t think caring was always in Miranda’s nature, but that she had to learn to care until she eventually found something worth protecting.
- Meru has to fight and heal the entire historical consciousness of her species to make them see beyond their own paralysis and misconceptions. She can’t afford to act in isolation, but needs to pull others along. Thus, her healing spell’s animation features rainbows of all things, targets the entire group and is decidedly triumphant.
Here is a video of Rose’s spells. Astral Drain, the spell she starts out with when she joins the party, is unique in that it has a damaging and a healing component. It’s the only HP Drain mechanism in the game, and as such, neither component is without the other. Astral Drain converts one third of the HP dealt to HP gain for each party member — without damage, no healing. To me, this shows how the Black Dragon feeds on others’ lives, which is very similar to the Black Monster’s mission: Rose prolongs the life of the world at the cost of other people’s lives. During the first part of the game, this spell is reliable enough with its damage output and healing that the player can afford not running a primarily healer — Shana — in the party, which may also show Rose’s self-sufficiency over the last 11,000 years: She can keep fighting while sustaining herself, even if that sustenance comes with the necessity to inflict hurt.
Next is Death Dimension, a spell that inflicts darkness damage on all enemies with the probability to inflict the status ailment fear; frightened enemies have their attack and defense halved. Death Dimension is frightening because it shows Rose’s unique ability to trap enemies in a different dimension, where they are exposed to harm, only to spit them out again. I think what’s most notable about this attack is that Rose has her eyes closed for almost the entire duration as she brings darkness over everything, only opening them again when all of it is over. I associate this with her mission as the Black Monster, and how she must have killed part of her heart to be able to continue killing. Part of her has to look horror directly in the face, but part of her protects itself by looking away so as not to further the Dragoon’s insanity.
Demon’s Gate is the most disturbing attack of all not just in how it’s an instant kill spell directed at an entire group, but in its visuals — especially in its original version Hell’s Gate, which, even more so than Astral Drain, makes one wonder what exactly the creators were thinking. Rose bleeds (look, there’s no way around it, so yes, it looks like menstruation blood), leans back as if losing consciousness, and seems to split in two as the blood and darkness from what must be her uterus form a gate to another world, which sucks in all enemies on the field.
All of this is unique not just to Rose’s spells, but her entire spell set. None of the purely offensive fighters — no other offensive spell, period — have an instant kill spell or a damage spell with secondary effects, much less negative status infliction. No healer has a HP drain spell. No spell is so much about darkness, blood and personal pain as Rose’s various spells. Whether you’re speaking of Rose’s magic or healing, I think her spell set really reflects her being caught between destruction and salvation, between death and life, which goes back to the duality of her role as the Black Monster: destruction for salvation, death for life. Power in exchange for suffering.
Speaking of status ailments: The game has eight of those, at least seven of which are applicable to monsters. Yet, only one of them was worked into the Dragoon spells of the game — the secondary effect of fear in Rose’s Death Dimension. I think there’s meaning to that ailment being chosen out of all of them, especially since Rose also has a weapon capable of frightening enemies and is the party member with the most weapons with negative status infliction potential. (If you count instant death, all other members have 0—2 such weapons. Dart has confuse, Shana and Miranda poison, Albert and Lavitz fear, Haschel and Kongol stun and instant death, Meru stun. Rose has fear, stun and instant death.) To me, Rose having two means of triggering instant death as well as two means to inflict fear, is also about her mission and her perception as the Black Monster, which is feared to the point of people working it into myths and religion.
Interestingly, when the party visits Capital Vellweb for the first time at the end of Disc 3, they pick up a piece of equipment on the way: “Rose’s Hair Band”. It is not commented on (which, again, is further explored in fan fiction), but to the player, its significance is clear: The only plausible reason Rose’s hair band, a headgear only equippable by Rose, is sitting in a chest in the ruins of the former capital of Humans is because Rose had been there. Rose resided in the Tower of the Seven Dragoons back in the day, and her hair band is a remainder of that time. It’s fitting that it has a unique effect: immunity to instant death. It’s fitting, as she didn’t die during the Dragon Campaign and hasn’t been allowed to die in the 11,000 years that followed.
In retrospect, all these things that are conveyed through battle are a symbolic foreshadowing of the revelations at the end of Disc 3, and I love how they form an organic whole: weapons, spells, Rose’s element and her roles.
To round it out, I’ll add to what I’ve said about Rose’s performance and contribution in battle, this time not from a gameplay perspective, but as a follow-up to the interpretations offered on this page. Rose is a great physical attacker and magic caster early on. The physical side has already been addressed above when analyzing her technique. As for magic, The Legend of Dragoon is unusual for JRPG standards because characters cannot naturally (that is, without the help of items) cast magic at all in their normal form: Humans and Gigantos can’t because they do not possess magic, Winglies can’t because their magic has deteriorated to the point they can hardly fly, much less wield offensive magic. To make use of magic, each character first has to gain the power of the Dragoon and enter their Dragoon form. I think magic, especially in this game, is associated with ancient knowledge. Therefore, Rose being a proficient caster fits her initial role as the party’s guide and Dart’s mentor.
Rose’s stats are also very balanced, especially if you compare them to Dart’s: Her physical attack is slightly below his, her magical attack slightly above his. As will be subject on a different page, this is typical for a JRPG protagonist, all the more so if they’re wielding a sword.
Rose’s biggest drawback the more the game advances is her incredibly low HP — lower even than the game’s designated healers, Shana and Miranda. (Healers usually have the lowest HP and worst defense in JRPGs.) This is unusual even with female characters in the game having lower HP and physical defense than male characters, considering that Rose is clearly a physical damage dealer as well. With her low HP being much more noticeable later on, an interpretation of this is that she is weary from the long journey. She’s tired of life, and the insanity of the Dragoon, the cries of her victims as well as her conscience are eating away at her.
Rose has had to carry the weight of the entire world while fulfilling different roles all alone. That may explain why she’s not a specialized character and has such balanced stats. Like the female member and magic casters of the group, she’s frail, quick and adept at magic — but not quicker or better at magic than Meru, Shana and Miranda. Like the male members of the group, she hits hard — but not hard enough. Rose as a party member is average, which isn’t negative, but it pales in contrast to the specialists of the group. In the end, Rose performing comparatively worse in battle as the game progresses is not something to lament, but to welcome: After all this time, she has finally found comrades to rely on, comrades who fill in the gaps that she cannot cover by herself.