There has been as much time between the release of Kingdom Hearts II and Kingdom Hearts III than there was between my birth and the release of Kingdom Hearts I. That kind of delay in a sequel could easily tank even a serious game franchise, but Kingdom Hearts, the game that wondered “Why has nobody ever had Mickey Mouse team up with Cloud Strife?”, isn’t just any franchise. Beloved for its Disney nostalgia; anime AF style; and its crazy plot filled with twists, betrayals, and dramatic turns way too intense for Donald and Goofy, Kingdom Hearts has become a phenomena and, supposedly, that story, the Dark Seeker Saga, is finally coming to an end.
For the last sixteen years and change we nerds have been following the story of Sora as he tries to protect the worlds of Disney and Final Fantasy from a host of weirdly adorable incarnations of evil and black coated hotties that all seem to come back to one man, Xehanort.
But who is Xehanort? How does everything manage to tie back to him? What plan could he possibly have that needs eight and a half full games, a mobile game, and a feature length animated movie to explain it all? And what does it mean to “get Norted?” Is it hipster lingo? Is it drugs!? ARE YOUR KIDS GETTING NORTED!?
Well fear not. Whether you’re just curious, want to pick up KHIII for the gameplay, or simply lost the plot about four spin-offs ago, I’m going to do my best to sort out the many, many Xehanorts of Kingdom Hearts for you.
Organization XIII was a huge hit for the Kingdom Hearts brand. From their designs to their unprecedented scheming at Castle Oblivion to their dramatic internal struggles in Kingdom Hearts II and Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days they captured the minds of fans almost immediately. But the Nobodies were not created equal. Though every member is somebody’s favorite, both the game and the fans as a collective played favorites.
Up to the release of Kingdom Hearts II Square released basic art and information about the new members of Organization XIII. This included their titles, numbers, and weapons. Xigbar was one that immediately captured my imagination. The number two of the Organization, Xigbar held control over space, an intriguing power set. He also looked decidedly different than the others, with his greying hair and facial structure giving the impression of an elder statesman and his ecstatic expression and title hinting at a carefree old man, confidence backed up by experience. Still riding high on Metal Gear Solid 3, I imagined him as the Big Boss of the Organization, down to the weapons and eyepatch.
But I was only vaguely right. Xigbar’s excitement was accurate, but when KHII dropped his voice portrayed him as a typical surfer guy, his scars perhaps the cost of some long ago risk taking. Nothing about him, aside from a single line uttered four years later, implied that he was meaningfully older than his fellows. And most dramatically of all he didn’t seem to hold any significant role in the Organization’s hierarchy. Despite his number, the role of Xemnas’ right hand man undoubtedly went to Saïx.
Saïx was, on the other hand, easy to read. He’s a character steeped in anime tradition. The wolf-themed, no nonsense anti-villain fighting for his own tragic goals. He was even voiced by anime staple Kirk Thornton, famous for such roles as Jade Curtis, Gabumon, and Hajime Saito in Rurouni Kenshin. So, yeah, he can be a little typecast…
Saïx is probably the most quintessential Nobody among the Organization, epitomizing their emotionless condition and desperate desire for a heart of their own, better than even Xemnas. This unstoppable need led him to serve as the Organization’s consigliere, internal police, and mouthpiece to the player during Kingdom Hearts II.
In the original release of Kingdom Hearts II, Saïx was the true believer among the Organization, his communications with Sora serving to lay out the group’s plans. His scenes, almost without exception, revolved around attempts to manipulate Sora into serving the Organization’s goals, quietly aching for his lost heart, or seeking the renegade Axel. Initially there was little to suggest that this represented anything more than Saïx seeking to tie up a loose end, especially as this had previously been Axel’s role within the group, but this aspect was strongly represented in all of Saïx’s in-game profiles, contributing to a vague sense that there could be something personal between the fiery red Nobody and his icy blue counterpart.
In battle, Saïx wielded a massive claymore named the Lunatic and drew his power from the moon, eschewing traditional magic in favor of a massive berserker power boost under the light of Kingdom Hearts.
Saïx and Xigbar both survived through most of Kingdom Hearts II, each one falling victim to Sora’s final rampage through the Castle That Never Was. Each of the Nobodies taunted Sora by ignoring him and speaking directly to Roxas. Saïx was the final canonical member of the Organization to fall before Xemnas and he died calling out for his heart in one of the game’s most memorable scenes.
Xigbar, on the other hand, had only a handful of encounters with Sora. His second was barely worth mentioning, while he built up Organization XIII in the first and delighted that “he used to give me that exact same look!”, obviously* referring to Roxas. Xigbar and Sora’s final encounter was their showdown in The World That Never Was. Unlike Saïx, Xigbar died with almost no fanfare but dropped one of the game’s most significant mysteries before the fight, implying that he had known Keyblade wielders before Sora. This unique mention of the series’ past was probably Xigbar’s only moment of particular significance and he and Saïx faded out of the story, well loved but not especially agentive within the game’s plot.
At the time many, myself included, concocted numerous theories as to why Xigbar seemed to possess no special privileges despite his rank. Well loved for his dramatic reads and surfer persona, some assumed (based on very little, mind you) that Xigbar was one of least villainous of the Organization, a good dude in a bad situation as was assumed for Axel, Lexaeus, or fan favorite Demyx. Saïx also saw significant fan apologia, though in his case there was no attempt to ignore his complicity in the Organization’s widespread murder and cruelty. In their eyes he was merely a tragic figure, led to horrible acts by his circumstances, a man more sinned against than sinning. Fans demanded more of the Organization, but even the broad outline of each character that Kingdom Hearts II offered was more than enough to support endless fan work.
The wheels were clearly turning at Square, but it was after KHII that things really kicked into high gear. In 2007, Japan received Kingdom Hearts II: Final Mix, a remake that added the same kind of additional cutscenes and boss fights as the first Final Mix, however, this time the added scenes were much more substantial and none of the added gameplay was present in the International releases, leading sad American weebs to pine after it until it was miraculously released in 2014 as part of the Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 ReMIX collection. KHII:FM immediately set about expanding our view of the Nobodies and aiming KHII‘s story towards the plans that had either emerged or finalized in the wake of its blockbuster sales.
Both Saïx and Xigbar received additional character beats in this update that brought them into line with the new roles they would continue to grow into. Saïx’s suspected connection to Axel was strengthened, with numerous scenes showing him taking an interest separate from Xemnas or bitterly mocking the connection that led Axel to turn from the Organization.
But it was Xigbar who received the most interesting additions. Xigbar finally started to demonstrate hints of a particular importance in the Organization power structure, appearing more often than any of the other members, save Xemnas and Saïx. His contributions to group scenes tended to sarcastically test other members who dared to neglect their collective nonexistence or assure the assembled members that Sora had the heart of a hero, and was easily manipulated for it.
Xigbar also got a spotlight scene. Here he cozied up to Zexion, one of the Organization’s least seen and most mysterious members, trying to pry information about Xemnas out of him after eavesdropping on a conversation. Despite pushing hard for information from the well-read Nobody, Xigbar seemed to already know everything, holding not only well hidden secrets about the Organization’s Superior but insights into his goals that Xemnas was playing close to the chest. If Zexion was being asked to ally with Xigbar, he seemingly declined, but this scene made it clear that Xigbar was interested in the mysteries of the Keyblade War, further emphasizing his connection to previous Keybearers, and that there was distance between Xigbar and his master, distance that Xigbar didn’t seem to appreciate. This characterization of Xigbar as a sneak with all the answers firmly up his sizable sleeves would quickly become the essential version of the character.
When Organization XIII got their own game in Kingdom Hearts 385/2 Days, fans were disappointed to not see much additional depth in most members’ personalities. Xigbar’s jolly surfer persona was not quite as strong in this game, implying that it was largely an affectation, but, where he did appear, he continued to eavesdrop on his compatriots, horde secrets, and question Xemnas in private. He also had one standout scene where he was chosen by Saïx to ensure Axel’s compliance, facing off with the game’s leading lady/macguffin/OC(DoNotSteal), Xion when Axel was unwilling to bring her in. Xion appears to each person as they imagine her and represents Sora as the Keybearer. Where many in the Organization saw her as a faceless doll and Xemnas saw her as Sora, himself, Xigbar saw the upcoming tritagonist of Birth by Sleep, Ventus, who (as we mentioned in the last article) looks exactly like Roxas. Not only does this suggest that Xigbar sees Sora and Roxas as mere imitations of Ventus, but it even revealed that *SURPRISE! it was Ventus’ glare that Xigbar was referencing in Kingdom Hearts II!
…Look they can’t all be earthshaking gems of insight…
As for Saïx, 358/2 Days slowly made it clear that he and Axel did have a history, being best friends since before they became Nobodies. Saïx’s story also explained many of Axel’s mysterious deeds as SURPRISE! secret orders given by the up-until-now loyalest of the loyal Saïx to ascend in the ranks of the Organization and even overthrow Xemnas, if necessary!
Saïx is revealed as the reason Axel murdered the seemingly loyal Zexion in Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories along with the traitors he was assigned to dispose of, taking the initiative to remove one of Xemnas’ most trusted executives so that Saïx could take on his role as task master and second-in-command without even the chance of being implicated.
No longer able to feel warmth or joy, Saïx was content to distance himself from Axel and call upon him as needed to ensure the loyalty of the Organization and advance their plan. However, despite Saïx’s best efforts, Xigbar’s personal logs indicate that the Freeshooter knew not only that Saïx had desired Zexion gone, but that Axel was in on it. In return, Saïx maintained a barely disguised contempt for Xigbar, exceptionally aware that Xigbar knew more than he was letting on kept many significant secrets from the Organization.
Saïx’s distance had another effect. Reacting to the loss of his emotions differently, Axel longed for the friendship he remembered having with Saïx’s Somebody, Isa, and found something that made him feel human in the company of the Organization’s newest member, Roxas, and, soon after that, Xion. Saïx hated Xion, aware that she was merely an automaton and a pawn in one of Xemnas’ schemes, and Axel’s continued attention for her and Roxas created friction between the two old friends. When Axel questioned a plan that would have to sacrifice Xion to save Roxas, Saïx demanded to know why he would save “the puppet” over a true Nobody, before rephrasing to ask if Axel would rather have “some make-believe friendship, or a real one?”, a statement designed to appear as though it referred to Roxas and Xion but, as the game goes on, becomes all too transparently about the two of them and forms the core of Saïx’s character.
For Saïx even what Axel feels now is an illusion. All that matters, the only person Saïx can care about, is the one who he knew before he turned and choosing Roxas over him is not only a betrayal but a betrayal that, to his mind, cannot possibly be about anyone but him.
As before, Saïx plays the role of Xemnas’ public face, assigning missions to the Organization and giving orders that are assumed to undoubtedly be Xemnas’ will, with the rare exceptions being from the boldest members, and even they are cautious not to suggest anything self-serving unless they know they can get away with it.
Axel and Saïx’s friendship was finally depicted on-screen in Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep, where a teenaged Isa keeps his rambunctious friend Lea out of trouble long before either of them were reborn as Nobodies.
By this point, it had become very clear that there was more to Xigbar than met the eyepatch and Birth by Sleep properly introduced players to Xigbar’s Somebody, Braig. Lacking the grey hair, yellow eyes, or his trademark injuries and dressed as Ansem the Wise’s captain of the guard, Braig is the only one of Ansem the Wise’s apprentices to play a significant part in the game, but the part that he did was debatably bigger than Xigbar’s roles up to this point.
Appearing in Terra’s story, Braig kidnaps Master Xehanort and lures Terra to aid the ailing Keyblade Master, though he wasn’t a good enough actor to fool anyone but Terra into believing that the whole thing wasn’t set up by Master Xehanort to pull Terra closer to the Darkness. In that Braig succeeds, but perhaps too well, and even his power over space can’t save his face when Terra unleashes his Darkness. When he next appears Braig is sporting a yellow eye as well as his trademark scars and eyepatch.
By the way, can we discuss how weird it is that the Organization seemingly had their powers even before they were turned into Nobodies?! I mean, I guess there’s nothing that said that they didn’t, but it’s just so weird! Anyway…
Where Xigbar was kind of wacky more than threatening, Braig immediately reads villainously and makes no secret of what he’s capable of. He threatens to murder a teenage girl in cold blood and empties clip after clip at Master Xehanort to show his displeasure with him, with no visible confirmation that he could protect himself. Despite the ‘poor overeager apprentices lured into forbidden research’ narrative put forward in the Ansem’s Reports, Ansem the Wise’s trust seems to have done nothing to keep Braig from ending up a murderous opportunist obsessed with power. Indeed, both as part of his charade to Terra and when beaten by Aqua, Braig strongly implies that everything he does he does for the chance to wield the Keyblade’s power himself.
At game’s end, Braig discovers the amnesiac Terra-Xehanort, smirking when the latter’s identity is confirmed. He manipulates Ansem the Wise’s kind nature to ensure that he can keep an eye on his benefactor, only to be confused when Terra-Xehanort appears to be neither the mastermind he risked everything to back or the young man who could expose him. In the end, he determines to support Xehanort, waiting for the day his memories return.
And so the mystery of Xigbar’s conflicted loyalty to Xemnas begins to unravel. It’s not that Xigbar wasn’t loyal to Xemnas, but that he’s really on board with the larger plan of Xemnas’ original form and still waiting for Master Xehanort to make good on his promises. Braig’s self-serving nature makes him one of the most unique characters in Kingdom Hearts, selfish and manipulative but informed and capable enough to operate at the level of the major villains. Though he’s a dependable member of Master Xehanort’s cohort, he openly promises to fulfill his own plans and seems poised to betray anyone and everyone the moment he gets the Keyblade he so hungrily desires.
But though Birth by Sleep showed us that it was possible for the Keyblade wielder to willingly pass on the gift to a worthy candidate, Xehanort didn’t do that for Braig. So how was Xehanort going to make him a Keyblade wielder? If you’ve been reading these articles through in order, you probably have already figured it out.
When Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance released in 2012, Axel awakened alongside the other Radiant Garden-born members of the Organization, recompleted as Lea. The former Nobodies began adjusting to the idea of not only having the hearts they sought but being alive at all. But Braig and Isa were missing.
As Sora traveled through the Sleeping Worlds on his Mark of Mastery Exam he encountered Xemnas, a seeming impossibility. After sealing the final Sleeping Keyhole, Sora found himself in The World That Never Was, confronted by Xigbar. Acting independently of Young Xehanort, Xigbar was Sora’s master of ceremonies as he was lead into the final stages of the plan. And, at last, even when Xemnas joined him to help Sora understand some crucial details about Nobodies, it was Xigbar who ran the show, revealing that – NOT REALLY A SURPRISE AT THIS POINT BUT STILL HUGE AT THE TIME! – Organization XIII’s true goal was never to regain the members’ hearts, but to create copies of Xehanort out of them.
Understandably Sora was confused. For Xemnas it made sense, but surely Braig had to understand that he would cease to be himself if that plan were to succeed? Well of course. But – COLOSSAL SURPRISE DOUBLE WHAMMY! – Xigbar had been “half Xehanort” since before his fight with Aqua twelve years prior, his yellow eyes indicating not a fall to Darkness but the introduction of Master Xehanort’s heart!
Xigbar even challenged one of the series’ original plot twists by undercutting Sora’s right to the Keyblade. Sora had only gained the Keyblade in the first place because Riku’s heart had been weakened by Darkness, but by trusting in his friends he gained the power to wield it. Xigbar agreed. Sora’s friends were his power. They’re all he brought to the table. He himself would never be worthy of the Keyblade. In fact, Xigbar even implied that the Kingdom Key didn’t even pick Sora, but merely reacted to Ventus’ heart. Xigbar’s breaking speech culminated in an offer to give up and become part of the True Organization willingly (I don’t know if you can tell, but underneath all of the KH buzzwords, I thought this was a fantastic scene).
But Sora held firm. Being chosen because of all the people he cared about rather than on his own merits didn’t trouble him in the slightest and the self-serving Xigbar had nothing to respond with, panicking and demanding that the more powerful Xemnas step in to put Sora in his place.
Sora bested Xemnas but exhausted himself in the process and fell into the Xehanorts’ clutches.
Xigbar assembled along with the other twelve Seekers of Darkness, defining himself by his still shortened temper and a so-far unique willingness to talk back to Master Xehanort when Lea’s arrival finally threatened to truly spoil their plans. With Ansem and Xemnas busy restraining Riku and Mickey, a sixth Seeker revealed themself. SURPRISE! In true melodramatic fashion, Lea’s former best friend Saïx was beneath the hood, handpicked by Braig and Young Xehanort as the member of the Organization most receptive to Xehanort’s heart.
But, before Saïx or Xigbar could do much more, the dramatic but poorly explained rules of time travel scattered the members of the Real Organization, leading us straight into Kingdom Hearts III.
And so the world gained the term Norted. Seeing how even characters who initially had no direct connection to Xehanort could become Xehanort, even aginst their will, some Kingdom Hearts fans began to refer to the process as getting Norted. Signs of being Norted include golden yellow eyes, pointed ears, wearing an Organization coat, and dry mouth.
It’s unclear what stage of Nortification™ Saïx is at or whether he will retain his own personality. In a troubling turn, Saïx and Xigbar were always depicted with pointed ears and yellow eyes, signs that Saïx may have already been Norted when we met him! Ether way, with Lea joining Sora as a Keyblade wielder, it seems highly likely that rescuing Saïx will be a high priority for the former assassin.
But, as we turn towards the final chapter of the Dark Seeker Saga, that’s all we know so far. The game is finally out and there are seven more Seekers of Darkness to uncover. Numerous characters have appeared in trailers, implying that they may well be additions to Xehanort’s Seekers of Darkness, but, as we’ve seen, Kingdom Hearts loves it’s twists. Who else will join the ranks? Vanitas? Terra-Xehanort? Aqua? Larxene for the couple of us Chain of Memories fans? We don’t know, but, after fourteen years (seven since Dream Drop Distance), you can finally find out.