Lightning and Hope have successfully navigated the Vile Peaks, and enter the Gapra Whitewood. The door closes behind them, and Lightning confidently states “that’ll slow down pursuit”. I’m not sure if she was supposed to have sabotaged it, or something, but I feel like if the door cheerfully let the Pulse l’Cie through, it’s not going to do much to slow PSICOM.
In any case, Hope decides to step forward and lead the way. Apparently he’s done some growing since Lightning’s freak-out before Odin, and feels that he’s ready to take on the military himself. Lightning questions this, and Hope rolls off her old phrase of “it’s not a question of can or can’t.” Using Lightning’s own catchphrase earns him her approval, and she lets him take over.
At this point I decided to pause and upgrade one of Lightning’s swords. Doing so can certainly make things a lot easier – take a look at Hope’s stats vs Lightning:
Lightning helpfully informs Hope that the lights in the area can be used as a guide to move in the right direction. I’m not sure this advice is needed, as the Gapra Whitewood is probably even more linear than the Vile Peaks. The upper areas are largely just walkways that lead in one direction, even though they look at first like they might split into different directions.
Hope queries whether Lightning’s been here before, but she replies that she has not. She’s a former member of the Guardian Corps, while this area’s covered by the Woodlands Observation Battalion. She asks if Hope’s scared, and he denies it, so she hands him a knife, presumably as a symbolic gesture, since he only ever uses his boomerang. If boomerangs are such deadly weapons in the hands of teenagers, I think the Sanctum might want to consider restricting their availability.
In any case, we move on to an awkward scene where Hope spots possible PSICOM movement, and he grabs Lightning and yanks her behind some robo-leaves. It feels very weird to see him dragging Lightning around like a child. When the soldiers fly past, Lightning remarks that it’s not PSICOM, and then supposes that PSICOM hasn’t publicised the l’Cie escape.
Slightly further down the path, Lightning points out a “bulkhead fal’Cie”. It seems that there are probably millions of different fal’Cie, and while some get to be massive machine gods, others get to be doors. The fal’Cie door lets them through shortly after, which should be a hint that the fal’Cie might not be as ill-disposed towards the l’Cie as it seems.
Hope and Lightning also have a discussion about the other protagonists. Lightning suggests that even if the others escape, they’ll get captured in the end. Neither one of them seems too concerned about that possibility. They then move onto their favourite subject of mutual hatred – Snow.
Hope questions where they got the name “NORA”, and Lightning explains that it’s “No Obligations, Rules, or Authority”. Hope deems that irresponsible, and Lightning doesn’t seem to think much of it either. This cutscene also hands over some more backstory that you can check out in the Datalog:
I’m sorry I didn’t get to see it.
After this, Hope finally shares that he blames Snow for his mother’s death. He tells Lightning that Snow needs to pay for it, while toying ominously with Lightning’s knife. Lightning looks mildly conflicted but not too bothered, though I suppose I can’t blame her; Hope doesn’t seem the most homicidal or threatening, even when he’s swearing vengeance.
Further down the line, we pop back in time to see Lightning’s birthday on Day 12. This is the dispute that’s pestered Lightning in the present day, so it’s nice to get a look at what actually went down. Far from being the collected and cold present-day soldier, she reacts poorly to Serah’s confession that she’s been branded as a l’Cie, and it doesn’t help that it’s been coupled with the news that Serah plans to marry Snow. We also get a reminder that Lightning’s still not far off her teen years:
Serah runs out in distress, while Snow hangs behind to be the reasonable one in a conversation with Lightning. Of course, I say that like it’s something new, but Lightning’s debating technique in the present day is usually to punch him. In any case, Lightning sneers at the possibility that Serah could really be a l’Cie, prompting Snow to declare that he’ll protect Serah.
After he’s left, Lightning checks Serah’s present, and finds the knife that she’ll later lend to Hope. As she looks it over, the news interrupts to bring an urgent plot development. It confirms that a Pulse fal’Cie was found in Bodhum, prompting the Sanctum to quarantine the town. At this point, Lightning realises the error of her hasty dismissal, and we rejoin her in the present where she’s still chiding herself for it.
I’ve said a lot of negative stuff about the game so far, but generally speaking I like all the flashbacks. This one is no different; it neatly shows why Lightning has been blaming herself, why she’s so defensive, and even a little about why she and Snow are always opposed. While Snow does show himself up quite often, and doesn’t always approach situations in a particularly rational manner, he’s been more loyal to Serah than Lightning throughout the story, and he’s never insulted or assaulted Lightning, for that matter.
One of the running themes of XIII (pre-emptive pun there) is one of Serah’s lines – “save it for later”. The idea, I believe, is that if something can’t be fixed right now, don’t bog yourself down in it, and sort it out when it’s time. Unfortunately, along with the fact that it’s dangerously close to a procrastinator’s creed (I should know), it usually manifests itself in Serah with her bottling stuff up and running away at the first sign of trouble, which doesn’t really underline her point very effectively.
That ties in neatly with the overall story of XIII, where our fugitive protagonists spend much of their time running in different directions (be it to Palumpolum, Nautilus, or Pulse itself), until they finally get it together and join up to head for Eden. But that still doesn’t quite work, because the active character there is Barthandelus, who gives them that united purpose, since they can’t work it out for themselves. So I suppose the message is to wait until a giant machine god gives you a goal? Sounds appropriate for l’Cie.
I digress. The point is that I like seeing the “normal world” before things went bad, and it’s good that the main characters aren’t all perfect. Lightning’s stubborn and unwilling to listen, Serah’s afraid of rejection and struggles to express herself, and Snow relies too much on blind faith and not enough on considering consequences. Back in the present, we can also see that Hope is caught up on vengeance, even if he’s walking in completely the opposite direction, since, for all he knows, Snow’s still back at Lake Bresha.
Lightning gives Hope a pep talk, encouraging him to rely on instinct and ignore doubts. This sounds suspiciously like Snow’s creed, but let’s forget that for now. This advice inspires Hope to give his goal a name – Operation Nora. I grumbled earlier about name repetitions in XIII, and here’s another – Nora (person), NORA (group), and Nora (operation). Lightning, of course, thinks he’s naming it after Snow’s group, so Hope has to correct her.
She realises he’s still out for revenge against Snow, and finally challenges him on this, stating that the Sanctum murdered his mother. Hope briefly flares up, demanding to know whose side she’s on, but when she says she’s on the side of truth he cools off and says he’ll fight the Sanctum with her.
Further along the road, they fight a strange plantrobot thing, and Hope eagerly announces “This is it. Operation Nora!” After killing it, and declaring “Stage One Complete”, they leave the Whitewood behind and see Palumpolum in the distance. Hope and Lightning briefly re-visit the topic of Hope’s father, with Hope not eager to meet him, and Lightning gently reminding him that he’ll have to tell him what happened to Nora.
I wondered at this point if we were going to finally visit a friendly residential area, but I was soon to be thwarted on several fronts. The first of these was that we were done with Lightning and Hope for now, and we can talk about the rest later. Leaving them on the coast, we instead zoom back through the skies to join up with Snow, who’s still aboard the Lindblum as a guest of Cid.
In a brief set-up scene, Snow and Fang discuss that they’re planning to hunt the other l’Cie, specifically just to “find them”. Snow then speaks to Serah’s crystal, wondering if he’s doing the right thing, leading us into a brief flashback.
In a another Star Wars-style action sequence, Snow and Serah avoid pursuit from PSICOM back on Day 12 in Bodhum. Snow hops onto a spacebike with Serah and they fly off towards the Pulse Vestige while (mostly) avoiding PSICOM’s gunfire. He drops her off outside the Vestige, only for a strange liquid metal to seize her and draw her inside. Struggling with the bike controls, Snow is unable to follow her, and then the Vestige fatally damages his bike with an electric blast of some sort, causing the bike to plummet from the sky and crash land on the beach far below. Fortunately, the sand was there to soften Snow’s landing, and he survives.
After this, Snow notes that he had hoped the fal’Cie would help Serah, but that it didn’t succeed. Fang then pops up behind him and gets his attention by punching him in the head, which doesn’t work out well for either of them. After complaining about hurting her hand, she advises him that it’s time to move out, while Cid commands his troops over loudspeaker not to let the l’Cie escape. We’ve practically confirmed that the Cavalry has benevolent intentions at this stage, but Cid persists in using slightly suspect language when giving orders.
All-in-all, it’s a short and sweet sequence that bridges the gap between Serah talking to Lightning, and then getting trapped in the Vestige. The cutscene’s a nice little action setpiece, and the scenery is lovely. I also enjoyed Fang’s banter with Snow – these short character moments are important for me to get attached to characters, so it’s good to see that the writers spent time inserting these despite some of the other choices I didn’t like so much.
With Lightning and Hope on their way to Palumpolum, and Snow and Fang about to hunt down their fellow l’Cie, we’re well on our way to a major showdown with PSICOM. First, though, it’s time to chill out in a relaxing sidetrip with Sazh and Vanille.