You know, at first I didn’t like Lightning, I thought she was just one of those characters where somehow they misconstrue “strong female character” with “asshole who punches guys a lot.” But the more they showed her internal struggle the more attached to her I became.
If Chapters 9-10’s story was about plot, chapters 1-8 story was about the characters, and how very, very badly people react to tragedy. Snow believed in delusions, Hope projected, Sazh gave up, Fang gave in, and Vanille ran away. Lightning chose to survive the only way she can.
“Think of it like a strategy- focus on your ultimate goal, shut out everything else, steel your mind, move on instinct. Let doubt take over and despair will cripple you.”
Rather than have everyone surround her despite her attitude, it tore the group apart and they would not reunite until she dealt with her personal baggage. I once said that Lightning’s reactions came solely on the fact that her entire life was devastated in the span of hours, but that’s not entirely true. Lightning’s callousness was present before Serah was taken away from her, but the l’cie curse amplified her faults. Because sometimes tragedy doesn’t suddenly inspire heroics or turn good men into villains, sometimes it takes that one flaw you have, and exasperate it, blow it out of proportion.
Lightning’s story wasn’t just about a tough girl who had a soft spot for kids, it was about how she found how destructive her attitude was, how it poisoned the relationships around her and was leading Hope down a bad path. Lightning wasn’t just a sister to Serah, the game, voice actor interviews and the datalog make it clear she was a mother and father to her. Lightning didn’t just lose a sister, she failed her daughter. And framing her relationship in that sense, Lightning’s anger and frustration at the world is easier to understand.
She needed to get stronger for Serah, but her view on strength was too immature and it ended up distancing herself from her sister. Serah came to her at her lowest point, scared for the future and looking for help but Lightning didn’t just ignore her, she called Serah a liar and threatened her. This is what haunts Lightning, she turned her back on the one person she loves and wants to protect. And even after what it did to someone who was practically her own daughter, she didn’t change.
I always felt the game was telling us that Lightning knew this; she knew being callous was wrong and knew that it broke more than it fixed. She could see that it was corrupting Hope. But she just couldn’t muster up the strength to change, this was the only way she could cope. It wouldn’t be until she thought about the relationship between fal’cie and humans did she decide to stop her mission. She realized it wasn’t strength or survival that was driving her, it was her pettiness. The loss of Serah, not just to fate but because of her own actions, her loss of control of her own life, losing her home, losing her future, and understanding that she only had a short time to live only made her more bitter, cold, and unsympathetic. And she changed that.
This is why the plot couldn’t start until Chapter 9, because had her fate been revealed any other time, Lightning wouldn’t have had the strength to take it on. She started from “This is my fate, what do I do now?” and had to get to the point where she said “They say this is my fate, why should I accept that?” She had to get to the point where she could try and keep on hoping, to unite the people around her, and push on even when characters like Hope and Snow faltered and also needed help. Lightning had completely changed through her journey, she started off bad, got worse, until she recognized that the first thing that needed to change was herself.
Lightning (and the rest of the characters) start off as the worst of their trope. She was always focused, intelligent, driven, and stubborn. But at her worst, her actions were violent, she drove people away, she was bitter about what happened to her, she was frustrated at her surroundings. But at her best, she supported her friends, she led the charge against fate, and never gave up against overwhelming odds. When fate was forced on her- she changed it, when her search on Pulse gave her no answers- she made her own, when the world was against her- she both destroyed and saved it, and when her own actions turned her sister away- it was her that apologized and embraced her.
And that’s why I liked Lightning.