Hm, well… This is kinda risky to say since first you must know the original version and then you have to read between lines. And by reading between lines I mean understanding the metaphores, the imagery, the composition, and the symbolism. Lightning and Hope’s relationship isn’t as explored in words as in the lines between, let’s say. We say it’s “heavily implied canon” because we don’t have a word confirmation, but sometimes actions and images speak louder than words.
There’s one thing that is absolutely canon: Hope’s love for her. Bhunivelze’s original battle confirms it, maybe not with the infamous “I love you”, but since Bhunivelze’s “love” is distorted love, that’d be incongruous. Also, the track that plays in Bhuni’s battle speaks louder than anything: "Divine Love". And claiming it was all originated by Bhunivelze has no foundament: Bhunivelze doesn’t have a soul nor emotions. I was planning to expose in more detail all of this in the analysis I’m planning but I’ll leave some things here since you asked. Hope’s soul was most likely split in two -it’s possible since we know that was what happened to Dajh, but his got split in five- : his memories -which are inside his body- and his emotions -they were sucked into Bhunivelze-. By the final battle, Hope’s soul goes progressively losing itself more and more in Bhunivelze’s consciousness: his memories are dormant, his emotions rampaging, but in Bhuni’s fourth form there’s no more “love”, distorted and wicked it might be in the first three forms. Bhunivelze loses all of this the more Hope’s soul lost itself. If it was just a Bhuni thing he wouldn’t have to have Hope’s voice. Don’t get me started on the English version: what counts here and in all matters is the original version, not the censorshipped one.
Hope’s feelings for Lightning were even made stealthily canon during an interview with Motomu Toriyama and Yoshinori Kitase. It was more a “not denying it” than “we confirm it”, but keep in mind these men have to be EXTREMELY cautious with what they say, it’s Word of God. Thanks to lovely tensai-shoujo, it came to my knowledge that the interviewer expressed how sad it was for Hope -back in XIII, when he was a teen!- having his feelings unrequited by Lightning. What was Toriyama and Kitase’s answer? A slight nod, acknowledging this. They could’ve remained just silent, but they didn’t.
Hope’s love is also a major driving plot. It’s actually the arc of the whole game besides the creation of a new world and stuff. But I’ll speak of this in the analysis. It’s quite long and now it’s not the moment. Yet. [ ;D ]
So, about Hope/Lightning as such. That’s the “heavily implied canon”. We don’t get to see them together in the epilogue, but throughout the game it becomes more and more obvious. Specially in the original version. Not even the English version could get rid of it -probably for the controversial physical appearance of Hope and his popularity in Western audiences- because their relationship is shown in deeper meanings and visuals. The endgame is major Hope/Lightning because of this. There’s also the call-backs to the most famous couples of the Final Fantasy saga and the symbolism and traits they share with them: I’m speaking of Tidus and Yuna and Squall and Rinoa. Both of them. Yes.
Lightning’s part is which is left more open to interpretation. But even so, Light showed heavy dependance on Hope -moreso in the original version- throughout the game: she even describes love as “mutual dependance” and this defines the relationship between them in LR. She -according to the Ultimania- imbued the survival knife with her feelings for Hope to wake him up. The fake Serah -who speaks in behalf of Lumina, who is her own self- said right after Light told Hope to leave her: “Don’t leave me. I don’t want to be alone.” She was voicing what Lightning felt immediately after this, in her heart -which is that Ark-shaped place- and before she saw ‘Serah’. Hope was the only one who got into her heart -not even Serah!- after she cried out embracing the part of herself she tried to kill -thus she most wanted to hide- and so he’s the only one who knows the real Lightning, or more exactly, the true depths of Lightning’s heart. Hope saved Lightning’s soul, he IS her Savior. Not to mention Lightning opened her arms to him in the ending in the same way Serah did so to her beloved Snow. And this is just the external layer. I’ll explain things in a lot more depth soon. [ ;D ]
Personally, I firmly believe it’s heavily implied Lightning returns Hope’s feelings. And that’s the only implied thing because Hope’s are canon. And I won’t hold back at stating this. I might get a lot of hate, but I don’t care. I admit I sometimes get too excited when talking about Lightning and Hope, but in serious stuff I’d NEVER state anything without solid proofs. And in this case, I have them. You can ignore them, of course. I won’t be pursuing anyone for choosing not to believe them, unlike many people I keep seeing chasing off another shippers because their weak imagination doesn’t let them ship whatever they want regardless of canon-ness.
I’m gonna tag this as ‘Hoperai’ because the question was about it. But I won’t be doing it when it comes to official stuff. I warn you now, just in case you might prefer unfollowing me now. Be consequent now or don’t expect me to tolerate hate and crap when I do so. Sorry if I’m getting a bit rude, but I expect the same respect I try to have with people with different opinions of mine. And trust me, I know I have followers that don’t like Hoperai and I don’t like their OTPs, and I think we’ve been following each other since I came to Tumblr in peace.
(Yes, that goes for you, hopeestheimofficial, I know it must be hard for you following me but you don’t know how happy I am for still having you among my followers.) [ ;D ]