The Female Narrative

“Oh, I am a woman too.”

What strikes me about The Legend of Dragoon beyond its story is the narrative dominance and significance of its female characters. This is doubly interesting considering that it is an old school JRPG of the PS1 era, which is a genre and time I associate with countless male sword-wielding protagonists that are the driving force and center of those stories. (Not that all that much has changed in that regard, but enough to be noticeable.) The following is a look at the game’s female figures, their positions and roles, their personalities, bonds and contributions.

Meaningful 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 different strengths, motivations, ambitions and pasts, and all of them feel fleshed out as individuals: 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, so often labelled by players 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, an effort that her comrades do not fail to notice.

Even as Shana is written out of the story in later chapters and ultimately 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 Disc 1 (albeit not in the role of party members from the get-go). Their characterization and development are fairly stagnant, if not inexistent, and clearly pale in comparison to the rest of the party. What’s more, Shana, Rose and Meru are 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.

On top of that, these female party members have plenty of meaningful interactions as a whole, especially considering the typical script of a PS1 JRPG. (Of course, there could have been many more interactions! All I say is, what’s there is substantial — if you let it.) This 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 very different relationships too, and women aren’t pitted against each other for anyone else’s sake or characterization, least of all to boost a male character’s desirability. Instead, the conflicts and tensions 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, for example, 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 rooted in their gender (that is to say, gender stereotypes), or any personal spite, but a consequence of their individual pasts and different ways of living.

Figures of Authority

Beyond party members, female figures also make up a significant part of the game’s setting, holding key positions in its world and its story.

Before the party learns of Meru and Lloyd’s identities as Winglies, that is to say, when Winglies were still believed to be extinct, Lenus, a Wingly woman, has already made prominent appearances on Disc 2. The plot that Lenus is involved in further concerns the two princesses in the second region of the game, Tiberoa, and it is in fact the younger sister who, out of concern for her elder sister, sends the group on the right track for their quest. Although Tiberoa is ruled by a king, the focus of the story clearly lies on the two sisters: It is their concern for each other as well as for the kingdom that spurs them into action. The king, on the other hand, is little more than an oblivious regent, and his words, rather than of crucial nature, primarily aim to entertain.

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 occupies a role within the story (one of them eventually joins the party), and the five of them are family in everything but blood. The significance of their familial bond is emphasized once more in the game’s epilogue, as all five are seen enjoying their time together after peace has been restored at last.

Of the former Dragoons, three of the seven were/are female. Two of them have not allowed themselves to rest in over 11,000 years, instead carrying on their duty for the sake of what they hold dear: one of them assuming the role of the Black Monster to shoulder the fate of the world, the other holding on to her spiritual consciousness to watch over her former comrades’ restless souls. Shirley’s presence is noteworthy as she looks out for Rose and is the only fallen comrade to appear twice in the present. She is, however, also a compelling character in her own right, seeing how 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 firstly the apparent head of the town, secondly the sister of the former Wingly dictator Melbu Frahma, and thirdly 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 promote peace between the different species with conviction.

The Power of Unity and Adaptability

Personally speaking, the life-long bonds between women in this game are also among the most impactful in the narrative, especially in view of what they bring about.

  • Meeting Shirley again after all this time visibly touches Rose even as she’s dead inside. Though their exchange is brief, it must have meant unspeakable solace in this seemingly unending darkness.
  • The five women of Mille Seseau, though not tied by blood, find family in each other. Miranda was taken in by the queen after her own mother had abandoned her; Luanna, blind survivor of Neet, has Setie, the youngest Sacred Sister, act as her eyes.
  • Even in death, Rose tries to ease some of Damia’s loneliness as she sends her off, softly promising that they will meet again.
  • Charle and Rose’s bond is the union that acts from the shadows to prevent the destruction of the world. Charle tries her best to be of comfort to Rose, makes her feel welcome and gives her a place to belong.

Women keep helping and supporting each other in The Legend of Dragoon, and make homes for each other when no one else does. This is the kind of power that allows them to carry on.

When Ulara’s Winglies cooperate with Tiberoa’s monarch later on to send the group on its final mission, Rose remarks that “this is one way, this city has been looking after the world”. That sounds right, even if we aren’t told that much of Ulara’s involvement with Rose’s mission beyond Charle stopping Rose’s time. Ulara’s Winglies 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 are remarkably different from that of the Forest of Winglies. The Forest of Winglies, visited on Disc 3, is extremely gloomy: A good part of the villagers scorn and hate Humans, and the majority of Winglies share the opinion that it’s better to keep to themselves and to live 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, and 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 such positive force.

Collective Responsibility

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 conviction, even though Meru is younger than other Winglies and thus does not have as much authority, and considers her thoughts worth listening to.

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. The Archangel 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 — maturity that comes from tremendous 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 — is not just a central theme of The Legend of Dragoon on an individual level, with each character dealing with it differently (including Haschel, Albert, Lloyd, Zieg, monarchs, etc.). No, responsibility is a central theme of the overarching narrative, with Rose, Meru and Charle forming 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 by saving the world over and over because the accidental shattering of the Crystal Sphere started the entire transmigration cycle.
  • Charle likely 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 refuses to 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 , as they weren’t directly responsible for what happened. And that strength, resolve, sacrifice and courage really speak to me.

Breaking Out of Stereotypes

As laid out in Group Dynamics, Rose joins the group as a stranger, remains a question mark in many regards for a good part of the game, yet is accepted regardless on the basis of her strength, experience, knowledge and guidance. She may not walk in front of the group, but she does lead the party with her words: where to go, what action to take, how they ought to stay focused, and so on. She’s taciturn, mysterious, serious, strict, intimidating, and has considerable authority within the group, but she’s also emotionally aloof and may have her own agenda.

If you look at the Kindred Spirits line-up, you’ll notice most characters with the strongest resemblance to Rose in terms of role and personality are male. That’s because Rose’s many roles in the game are typically male — not because men are more likely to assume such roles while being more likely to possess the qualifying traits, but because those roles are usually assigned (i.e. a conscious choice on the creator’s part) to male characters, be it in JRPGs, video games or fiction overall.

As a rule, characters of this type don’t remain static, but usually go through noteworthy change due to their interactions on the journey with the lead character (who is usually male as well). By the end of the journey, they’ll have grown some fondness for said lead character and may express their gratitude and appreciation in some way. Though they enter the game as guides and mentors, they realize that they, too, can learn and change when challenged with a different perspective.

It’s refreshing that Rose was given one such role, and I do think that this straying from the norm is something that doesn’t go unnoticed by the many girls and women who have played The Legend of Dragoon. Characters like Rose are rare to this day, even on their own, let alone as part of a context so rich with female characters and contrasting female party members, and never mind as the hidden protagonist. (If anything, the “strong woman” type arguably tends to be more of a token female character.) It’s even more significant that Rose wasn’t written as Dart’s love interest, because, going by JRPGs as a genre with recurring narrative elements (tropes), 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 no romance is required 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. Rose isn’t a character who follows orders without questioning and whose narrative 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.

Narratives of that kind are different, not inferior, and 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, albeit no doubt just as important and as meaningful. His presence is not meant 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 may claim one such narrative as her own.

Against All Odds

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. In the same vein, it is 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. They fight with conviction 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, or outside views on what they should or shouldn’t be doing, and they continue to fight even as the entire world turns its back on them.