I was around six years old the first time I contemplated the concept of death. It was overwhelming, as if a veil of innocence had been lifted. I suddenly realized that I could die at any moment. It was an introductory thought to questioning the purpose of life, and whether any of our actions truly mattered in the grand scheme of things.
Despite the discomfort, I also found a strange sense of clarity. It’s a part of growing up that now makes me appreciate the fleeting moments in life more. All of this started when I looked at a tombstone for a boy who was the same age as me, who’d died from an illness.
That same feeling of dread and then clarity came when I was a teenager and played Legend of Dragoon for the first time. Released in 1999 on the PlayStation console, its story became the first experience of video game storytelling creating an existential crisis within me. The game was recently re-released on PlayStation 5, and that experience still haunts me replaying it nearly two decades later.
Legend of Dragoon begins with Dart, a young swordsman who returns to his hometown of Seles. It’s been attacked by a group of unknown warriors. They were after his childhood friend Shana, who possesses a mysterious power that they seek. In typical fantasy adventure fare, Dart sets out on a journey across the realm of Endiness. One of the first people to join him on his adventure is Lavitz Slambert.
Lavitz, with his intense bromance energy with Dart, is my favorite character in Legend of Dragoon. As the captain of the First Knighthood of the Kingdom of Basil, he is a loyal and honorable knight, who devotes himself to his king. He quickly becomes a trusted friend to Dart when the two meet in Hellena Prison. However, his part in the story is short-lived compared to the other cast members.
Lloyd, a character revealed to be evil, steals a Moon Gem from His Majesty Albert’s body. Lavitz charges forward while transforming into his Jade Dragoon Spirit form. As he lunges forward, Lloyd pulls out a mysterious sword and pierces Lavitz’s armor. He slowly crumbles to the floor and Lloyd leaves by jumping out the window. The silent scene swells with a simple series of piano chords as Dart gathers him up in his arms and Lavitz entrusts him “with everything.” He pleads for Dart to survive and as he dies, his Jade Dragoon Spirit seeks out Albert as its new owner.
I still remember the overwhelming feeling of loss when he died. I was playing at around 4 in the morning, my TV turned low so my mom wouldn’t wake up and tell me to go to bed. I had no idea that death happened in video games. To me, death was something that only happened in real life. Video games, while immersive, are fantasy. I had a hard line drawn between the two and Lavitz shattered that boundary.
In the darkness of my room, I thought about that moment in which I saw the boy’s grave as a child. Perhaps because I was a teen at the time of playing Legend of Dragoon, but I hadn’t really thought about mortality in such a drastic manner in a long time. Or perhaps it was too much for me to think about, so I pushed it deep down for years. Either way, Lavitz had resurrected a sobering contemplation I had forgotten, and I felt a panic attack rising in my chest.
I started to cry and couldn’t continue playing until the following night. I dreamt about him and didn’t get much sleep. I felt tired and empty the following day and wondered about when I would die. I was fixated on the concept, and didn’t want to talk to anyone about it because how silly would it sound to say that “I’m mourning the loss of a video game character,” especially since my mother already considered my obsession with them to be contrived. I swallowed the bitterness and eventually continued the journey with Dart and company.
When the party progresses to Mayfil, they fight the parasitic Zackwell who’s taken possession of Lavitz’s dead body. After he’s defeated, he becomes a parasite again and clings onto Lavitz’s back. Lavitz completely loses control to the Devildom. He attacks Dart and disarms him. Just as he’s about to kill Dart, Dart shouts his name and Lavitz comes to his senses and plunges his halbert into his chest, killing Zackwell for good. Without his soul to keep him attached to the land of the living, Lavitz returns to the afterlife, but as a parting gift, leads the party to the Signet Sphere.
I was worried that the game would just forget Lavitz and move on. After all, isn’t that what happens when we die? But watching his pale, dead body return to help the group one more time… it gave me a second goodbye, and closure that I really needed.
A funerary song plays as a ghastly Lavitz talks about his possession and how he was happy to see Dart and Albert again, even in death. It was Dart’s cliché but heartfelt response that became a salve to my emotionally exhausted brain– “You are not dead! You will continue to live within us!” The three of them fist bump before Lavitz departs.
Playing through the game now was metacognitive. Three layers of memories folded onto one another as I put the controller down and watched Lavitz die again. Death has already been on my mind for a year, as I lost my non-biological dad in 2022, so now I know what it’s like to not only contemplate death through a fictional character, but someone you’ve hugged, talked to, and grew to know beyond a 40-hour romp in a fantastical land.
I’m no longer embarrassed to admit how deeply Lavitz’s death affected me so many years ago. In a way, he helped me process the deaths that would inevitably come throughout my lifetime.
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