After my last essay, I decided to springboard off my paragraph about Hope and Vanille and go into why I like them together so much. This is my opinion. If you think you might not like something here, there's a back button for a reason. But don't be afraid to read on, either...
Let me start off by saying that I didn't like Hope all that much at first. People kept saying he was a whiny emo kid and, having not played the game yet, I believed 'em. Then I played the game and read other stuff and saw hey, he actually behaves like a fourteen-year-old kid. OH DEAR ME. It's not exactly common in the series for people to act their age, so this is probably why it and all the other characters threw so many people off. They all acted their age. Except maybe Fang, she was a little more mature. But I digress.
I've been following this couple for a long time. So long that I don't even remember where it started. It probably started with this, though.
It helped that I loved Vanille from the start. She had a fascinating story arc, she was beautiful, adorable, and a great warrioress. You know her binding rod? It has hooks on it. Do you know what hooks do when attached to something with enough tensile strength? They cause a lot of pain. Vanille is no weakling, nor is she a typical chipper genki girl. She does, however, have a very sweet side and she's often very vulnerable, shown by how Fang comforts her (and in turn uses her for comfort) during the game. She came from a community where everything is shared and everyone lives together. That's just how it is. Having no one is probably very strange and lonely for her. As a result, hugging Hope isn't a big deal to her, nor is touching him in general. At least, at the start of the game.
As for Hope... yeah. Let's talk about Hope a second. He's fourteen, and he just lost his mother. The one person he was closest to. Estranged from his father, and deeply attached to his mother. He got dragged along with the Purge. Then he loses her. And he doesn't just lose her. She's shot in front of him by a weaponized airship, then DROPPED hundreds of stories (through no real fault of Snow's, but that's another matter). And he's screaming, goes through a MASSIVE blue screen of death, and has absolutely no idea what to do next except stand there. No direction. No mother to comfort him. No one to tell him everything will be okay. No reason to think everything will be okay.
Then this girl shows up. Years later Hope will admit to missing her smile. Why? It's the first real comfort he saw after losing his beloved mother. And it comes from a very pretty girl who not only embraces him, comforting him, but understandingly tells him "it's too much" and to "face it later" before running off very cutely. And he's fascinated, and drawn to her, and he goes after her, forgetting what had just happened in favor of this girl who smiles and makes everything better for a second. And why not? Stop and think about it, just for a second. Hope just lost his whole world. And then THIS GIRL shows up, gives him all the comfort he could want, and trots off looking mischievous and girlish and very adorable, and he just can't help it.
One could argue that it's the maternal stuff that draws him to her. I disagree. Lightning has maternal feelings for both her sister and Hope. She demonstrates it very clearly in the game, going so far as to assert "[she'll] keep him safe". She taught him how to fight and helped him to his feet. That was the whole point of their trek together through the Gapra Whitewood (SUCH A BEAUTIFUL PLACE OH DEAR ME) and the Nutriculture Complex (and the BSOD Lightning had there). But she doesn't demonstrate more than a mentor/maternal/sisterly nature toward him, and this extends to the almost complete lack of mention of anything about them come XIII-2.
But Vanille still gets talked about. Vanille HELD him up. Assertive when she needed to be. Really chipper when he was feeling angsty. Come on. Grabbing his hand and making him wave and look stupid in Lake Bresha? Hugging him in the Pulse Vestige? Getting dead serious when he says she doesn't understand? Always smiling and cheering him up when he needed it the most? And what about this famous scene in the Yaschas Massif?
He tells her he likes her smile, then says he's just teasing. But is he really just teasing? I'm not so sure. I don't think he is - or, if he was, he wasn't later. Not when he says he misses her smile in the Paddra ruins (the same geographical area where they had their "talk" and confirmed a nonexistent promise). And it probably DID make him happy when she smiled. I mean, look at that SMILE! She has one of the most adorable smiles ever, and it's as bright and cheery as the sun, no matter what. Even in the ending, when everything goes to pot, she's smiling, and it's beautiful. And afterward, Hope asserts that they can change their fate again and see Vanille and Fang again. Of those two, though, who do you think he wants to see most? The woman he barely interacted with? Or the girl who picked him up off the floor whenever he fell on his face?
In the second game, he lost his mentor Lightning, eventually lost his father, lost Fang, and lost Vanille. Eventually, he loses most everything he cares about, and soon the only thing that matters is saving Cocoon and making sure Fang and Vanille are safe. What if he'd hoped they would wake up once they were safe again? What if he'd hoped to be reunited with this girl who probably means a lot to him? He'd be older than her now, but not by a freakish amount, and who knows what might have happened?
But now, she's being held hostage by a group that worships a thing resembling a scary snake-god. That's not cool. But he can't care, because the creepy snake-god took Hope's emotions, I guess to make him a more effective tool or something, and Hope can do nothing except go along with it. He's become the exact thing he always hated: a slave and a tool of monsters. If he knew Vanille was in trouble, would he go after her? For all we know, for the first 331 years he lived in Nova Chrysalia in his (presumably) adult form, he searched for her. Maybe he eventually found her, but in her crystal form, and could do nothing about it.
Ultimately, what draws me to these two is that the development of their relationship is so... how do I put it? Almost like it's "obvious". Kind of like a typical Final Fantasy romance. The good girl to help the gray protagonist. Sure, Lightning was a big help, but she couldn't fulfill all his needs. Vanille lost her entire community except Fang, and Hope lost everything in the end, too. But they helped each other up. I mean, he even tells her to "keep smiling", something she'd told herself on the way to the Pompa Sancta earlier in the game. For all of this, and the crazy amount of "cute" that comes with them, I like to think of it as less of a pairing and more of a key part of both characters' development that, if taken out, would take quite a bit of their respective stories with them. Honestly, I don't like shipping them when Hope's fourteen and Vanille's nineteen (kind of an awkward age gap there) but twenty-four and nineteen, respectively? YES.
And on that note, I'll leave you with this. Because Vanille says it best.