Saturday, March 31, 2012

In Memory Of Xehanort

Today, I shall honor a fallen friend. A villain whom I have, and always shall, love, hate, and love to hate. I speak of Xehanort, the main villain of the "Kingdom Hearts" video game series. For three main games, he was a compelling antagonist and one who was always fun to watch and interesting to explore. But once Tetsuya Nomura officially mutated the series into a saga bearing Xehanort's name,  the great villain's fate was sealed. He was doomed to total decay, just like just about everything else in this franchise. But before we get to that sad point, let's look over the detailed history of Xehanort's character, his various guises, and how he "evolved" over time.

In the original classic "Kingdom Hearts", there was no Xehanort. There was only Ansem.  Supposedly, Ansem was a wise researcher and the ruler of Hollow Bastion. When he discovered the Heartless and the true nature of the heart and darkness, he did experiments with the darkness that ultimately drove him to madness. He turned himself into a Heartless but was able to hold onto his feelings even so. He commanded the Heartless in bringing about the ruination of his own world. Now the pure evil Heartless master, Ansem believed that since all worlds and hearts are born in darkness, they must return to darkness too, so he sought the heart of all worlds, Kingdom Hearts, in order to claim its' power and use it to cast the universe into everlasting darkness. But since he lacked the strength to seek out the door to darkness that would lead him to where Kingdom Hearts resided, he gave control of the Heartless to Maleficent so that she may direct them in their world conquest and direct her band of villains in search of the seven purest hearts that would open the final keyhole. Eventually, Ansem took possession of Riku's body and entered through the final keyhole. Sora, Donald, and Goofy pursued him. Ansem fought them at the Endless Abyss but was defeated. He beckoned the door to darkness to open so that Kingdom Hearts could rejuvenate him with more darkness, but what came out instead was a shining light that struck him down, obliterating him.   

Ansem was a well designed, well conceived, well written, and well handled villain for this story and his dubbed voice done brilliantly by the marvelously hammy Billy Zane. However, there was one thing about him that could rub one the wrong way: he was essentially the Disneyfied version of Final Fantasy VII's Sephiroth. And not just in his character design, either! If you were to take his backstory and replace being a wise researcher/king with a respected SOLDIER commander, and replace the Heartless with Jenova, and who do you have? Yeah, I can call Ansem many great things but "original" isn't exactly one of them. But for what he is, Sephiroth clone or not, he's a great villain.

In "Kingdom Hearts II", the story changed. In a shocking twist revelation made halfway through the game, Ansem was revealed to have not been Ansem at all! He was actually Xehanort, Ansem's young chief apprentice who ran experiments on darkness even after Ansem had forbade them, wrote reports under Ansem's name, and eventually betrayed Ansem by banishing him into darkness and taking his place. And when he had become the Heartless who was the first game's villain, his empty shell that was left behind became the Nobody Xemnas, who is the leader of Organization XIII. Xemnas also wanted to claim the power of Kingdom Hearts, which he intended to use to cast the universe into a state of nothingness so that he could rebuild it "one heart at a time", with him as the supreme ruler. Through manipulating Sora into using the keyblades' power to release captive hearts from Heartless that the Organization then captured, he forged his own link to Kingdom Hearts, a heart shaped moon. When Ansem the Wise gave his life to hinder his plans, Xemnas attempted to take over the great heart from within using power from hearts filled with darkness, but was defeated by Sora and his friends. Drawing fourth one final lifeline from the nothingness, Xemnas tore apart the existence of the World That Never Was and threatened to do the same with all other worlds. In the final showdown with Sora and Riku, light and darkness joined together to destroy Xemnas for good.

Xemnas was originally planned to be Ansem's Nobody, keeping with what was established in the first KH, until Nomura decided to change that. There was thus a lot of controversy over the twist that Ansem wasn't really Ansem and was actually Xehanort, because it was, I won't lie, a plot twist for 
the sake of being a plot twist. Whether it made the character better or worse is up for debate. 
I personally thinks it made him better. He had slightly less of a Sephiroth rip-off origin now and "Xehanort" was just a cooler sounding name for the Big Bad than "Ansem". Meanwhile, the REAL Ansem was revealed to be the true identity of DiZ. This is another thing that shows me that the twist worked out, since Ansem the Wise is quite an awesome character, and he has Christopher Lee's voice in the English version too! Xemnas was also an impressive villain: as badass and edgy as the best "Final Fantasy" villains and yet still an expressive, pompously melodramatic, hammy windbag even whilst being unemotional. And really, Ansem actually not being Ansem but instead being his apprentice committing identity theft really isn't all that convoluted a concept to understand. The problem, I think, lies in the fact that they had DiZ impersonate "Ansem" (Xehanort's Heartless) back in the "Reverse/Rebirth" mode of "Chain of Memories" and now since it turns out that DiZ is the real Ansem, that essentially means that DiZ was Ansem who impersonated a guy impersonating another guy who was impersonating Ansem! And also the fact that Riku, for some reason, took on the form of "Ansem" when he fully embraced his darkness and conquered "Ansem's" darkness that was still inside of him.  So that means we had DiZ, Riku, and Xemnas all being Ansem in the same story!  Total mindfuck. If they had only not had Riku and DiZ take "Ansem"'s shape at any point, the whole Ansem thing would be easier to understand. Take that away, and the Xehanort twist is perfectly fine and comprehensible. However, Ansem's other reports mentioned that Ansem took Xehanort in after "rescuing him from death's door" and Xehanort in fact had no memory of who he was other than his name. Uh Oh! There was still something hanging here!  Where oh where could THIS be heading?

Here's where thing officially start to go crazy. In the prequel game, "Birth By Sleep", we discover Xehanort's forgotten origins. He was a boy from Destiny Islands who wanted to leave his tiny prison of a world and see other worlds, exactly like Riku, meaning that "Ansem"'s words about Riku can now also be applied to himself. As a young man, he escaped his world and became a keyblade wielder, eventually joining the ranks of his colleagues Yen Sid and Eraqus as a keyblade master. Upon studying the nature of light, darkness, hearts, and the universe, Xehanort realized that there should be equal balance between light and darkness, and thus delved deeply into the darkness (without even wearing his protective armor!) while trying to exploit it's power. He opened his heart to it and was driven to madness and evil. His dark heart now burned with ambition to unlock all the World's secrets and a desire to recreate the entire universe how he saw fit, and to do that, he'd have to first recreate it's initial destruction, which was stated in legend to be the outcome of a great Keyblade War. As an old master, he's the main villain of the game, in which he enacts an incredibly convoluted scheme with two end results to be met: re-forging the mythical X-Blade so that it can unlock the true power of Kingdom Hearts to start another Keyblade War, and finding a younger, stronger new body with immense darkness for his heart to possess. The first goal of his plans were thwarted by Aqua and Mickey, but he was able to successfully manipulate Terra into fully embracing his darkness so that he would be the perfect vessel for him. Xehanort cast aside his old body and took over Terra's, but Terra fought back from within. In a bout of insanity, he used his keyblade to lock his own heart and would have dissolved into the darkness had Aqua not saved him. That's when Ansem the Wise found him, completely amnesiac due to the heart lock, and made him his pupil. When Xehanort took part in the darkness experiments under guidance from Braig, Master Xehanort's heart was reawakened and completely consumed Terra's essence, giving the villain full control of the body. He then went on to do the things described earlier and became the villain of the original trilogy, meaning Xehanort was two guys who became one guy and then that one guy became two guys.

Xehanort was much simpler back in "Kingdom Hearts II" when we knew nothing of his past. Now he was a far more convoluted existence. And yet somehow, he still worked.  This was partially due to Master Xehanort's character coming off incredibly well, being a deliciously evil and vile monster of a man with all the melodramatic hamminess you've come to expect of this villain and the powerful voice of Leonard Nimoy. The sheer depths to which he sinks in pursuit of his goals and the predatory manipulation he pulls on other characters, even Eraqus, who used to be like a brother to him, are compellingly repulsive. It was also because, when you really analyze him, he's still a perplexing entity, but pretty damn fascinating too. Of particular interest is the fact that the Xehanort who initiated the plot of the original KH games was really Master Xehanort's heart commandeering Terra's body, which makes "Ansem" the Heartless created from Master Xehanort's heart, and Xemnas the Nobody of Terranort, explaining why he acts upon the leftovers of both Xehanort and Terra; the body is still technically Terra's, but the evil essence that corrupted it is all Xehanort. And if you study the charts above, everything about this character actually adds up as long as you don't try to factor in Riku and Ansem the Wise as truly being part of his character. When all was said and done, Xehanort was an excellent, beautifully realized villain and this was a perfect place to leave his character.  BUT.

...Nomura was not about to let go of Xehanort because he had already predetermined that the entire "Kingdom Hearts" series as we know it was now "the Xehanort saga." So for the sake of "surprising the players", Nomura added new twists to Xehanort's character and has as of now put a whole new spin on him. First, the secret ending of "Re:Coded" reveals that Master Xehanort has risen from the dead due to some previously unheard of rule that killing a Heartless and a Nobody of a person in that order will result in the person returning whole again. Then came "Dream Drop Distance." It seemed Xehanort had returned to his pretentious younger self and was playing the part of main antagonist in that form, while wearing the fashionable black raincoat that as of now has no meaning behind it whatsoever. But then it was revealed that Young Xehanort was actually a phantom existence of Xehanort as a boy taken out from his own time period. Immersing himself in darkness, he has the power to travel through time and is doing so in search of other "Xehanorts".Wait, what? It's also revealed that "Ansem" can also travel through time and actually used this power to go to the past and convince his young self on Destiny Islands to embark on his quest that would end in him turning to darkness! WHAT? Are you kidding me? And THEN it's revealed that old Master Xehanort is the present-day Xehanort who was revived, and in order to enact whatever new evil plan he has to take over Kingdom Hearts via that damn X-Blade, he's creating an organization of "XIII Xehanorts", which consists of either different forms of Xehanort from different times (such as "Ansem" and Xemnas), and people who have been made into Xehanort through being infected with his darkness (such as Braig and Isa), and somehow he has enough ties to Sora to want Sora, who already has enough people who are somehow eventually him or part of his heart or connected to him, to become Xehanort too, and that this organization of Xehanorts, and the plots of the original Trinity games for that matter, was all part of his magnificent grand master plan from the start because now he can okay, stop! STOP!!! God, I'm sorry but this DOES NOT MAKE SENSE. Nothing in this story is coherent, nothing adds up, everything is too convoluted or pretentious, and the very idea of the all-consuming Xehanort is now enough to break one's brain trying to think about it! The writing here feels like it comes from a different planet or realm with an entirely different logic entirely. As of this game, the "Kingdom Hearts" series has completely lost it's plot because Tetsuya Nomura has completely lost his mind. The original storyline of this series and all of it's ideas and elements is now drivel. It is dumb, DUMB, DUMB.

And as of now, Xehanort has lost all sense of individuality, originality, and specialness because anyone and everyone can now be him. He's no longer a credible villain because all the evil stuff he says and does is stupid. And like Sora, he's not even a true character anymore: he's a thing. An idea, a concept, an entity, a tool. He's basically been equated to a plot disease that all these original villains have caught due to the darkness and his heart and time travel or whatever. Now to his great credit, he's still an often incredibly entertaining entity because of all the ex-characters that he has encompassed and how almost self-aware Master Xehanort seems to be in his new roles, and for that  I shall always enjoy him. But I cannot appreciate him any longer because he has lost his integrity and dignity as a creation, being the "heart" of this abysmal Dark Seeker Saga notwithstanding. 
I wouldn't be surprised that if by "Kingdom Hearts III", Master Xehanort starts to express himself as if he has a death wish. So I hope his final appearance will at least be enjoyable before he's at last put out of his and our misery. And I can also hope the same to befall Sora as well. I can only hope....

"Please....someone....end me....END MEEEEEE!"


  1. But Eric, you don't understand...

    This is all one big set up for the Kingdom hearts ANIME.


  2. KH3 is out now. And it got even WORSE.

    Alas, poor Xehanort. I knew him well...