Seekers Of Dorkness – Part III: A Cornucopia Of Xehanorts

by Noah Sharma

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.

Kingdom Hearts II marked a pivot within the series. Where KHI and, especially, Chain of Memories balanced their own stories with laying track for the eventual mainline sequel, it was still very narrowly focused on Sora’s quest. After Kingdom Hearts II there was something of a Big Bang event where an entire universe of side stories came into being, leading to and supporting each other to varying degrees. All of a sudden each game was leading not simply to the next game, but towards the completion of a story that ran through all of them. Prior to this point, if you told me that there was a master plan in place for the story I would laugh in your face, but once Kingdom Hearts II landed…well I would still laugh, but I would be wrong an unclear percentage of the time.
From nearly the moment KHII ended, it was apparent that the next phase of Kingdom Hearts would not be a third numbered game, but, despite the branching of its universe, one of the three next efforts was given particular attention: the prequel game, Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep.
Though the less powerful consoles and more limited scope of 358/2 Days and Coded marked them as stories of lesser centrality, the clearest endorsement was Birth by Sleep’s assumption of the treasured Secret Ending slot, teased in “The Gathering” in Kingdom Hearts II’s initial released and expanded into a video titled “Birth By Sleep” in the Final Mix rerelease, which too went frustratingly untranslated for years. Regardless, especially in the second attempt, Square once again wowed with a gorgeous, fan servicey battle that expanded what a Keyblade wielder was.
The second video revealed “The Gathering”’s mystery antagonist as an old man wearing Ansem’s clothes. Now as a prequel, seemingly depicting the ancient days of Keyblade legend, you could be forgiven for thinking that this would be a Xehanort-free game, but Square immediately did away with that by promising something pertaining to the “Memory of Xehanort”, a new mystery which had been briefly and underwhelmingly dropped into one of the second game’s Secret Ansem’s Reports.

Master Xehanort and Vanitas approach Master Eraqus' students near the end of Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep
Thus beginning a long tradition of hanging out with boys in skintight outfits…

The reuse of Ansem’s attire and golden eyes immediately connected this old man to Xehanort, (though he had the decency to button up) but whether he, the younger masked boy he seems to clone from himself, the brown haired boy with Xehanort’s hair style and eyes, or none of them were this era’s incarnation of the future mastermind was left uncertain. Before long series creator and belt-enthusiast Tetsuya Nomura confirmed that this wizened Keyblade bearer was also named Xehanort.
In a mysterious echo of destiny (or lazy, circular writing, pick your poison) Master Xehanort was born on the Destiny Islands some ninety or so years before the events of Kingdom Hearts I. A solemn and thoughtful boy, Xehanort knew that he was meant for more than his tiny islands could provide and dreamed of escaping them. Eventually he managed his escape and traveled the Worlds, somehow finding his way to one known only as the Land of Departure. There he became apprenticed to an unnamed Keyblade Master, who only trained pupils with ridiculous names, and studied alongside another boy named Eraqus.
But traveling through dimensions to learn mystical swordsmanship wasn’t enough for Xehanort. Keyblade wielders were tasked to keep a Star Wars-like balance between Light and Darkness while following Star Trek’s Prime Directive and avoiding meddling in the destinies of other Worlds. But if there was one thing that Xehanort couldn’t stand it was being kept in a box and he quickly began exploring more Worlds. In these travels his curiosity was piqued. He had been taught to always use his Keyblade to manifest armor to protect himself from the closeness to Darkness that inter-World travel required, but Xehanort wondered why. And that was the first step.
With his faith in his master’s teaching’s shaken, Xehanort questioned even the basics of his cosmology. Why should Worlds be separate and the truth kept from them? How could Darkness be evil when Light and Darkness are inseparable? Why doesn’t Stacey appreciate my poetry? That kind of thing.
Like a Star Wars apologist in the early 2000s, Xehanort determined that if there was supposed to be a balance between Light and Dark, the Light had been far too effective. Not only was it a metaphysical injustice but a spatial one as well. It was the fear of Darkness that forced the Worlds into isolation and had kept Xehanort a prisoner for those many years. And so, delving deep into study of arcane and ancient Keyblade Master texts, Xehanort came to the only reasonable conclusion. He had to cause instrumentality…
You see, according to Xehanort, a true, complete Kingdom Hearts – that is, one connected to literally every heart – could only be summoned and unlocked by a special Key forged by pure Light and equal pure Dark clashing against each other. And this long forgotten ultimate Keyblade? Disguised in the cleverest way imaginable (/s/), it hid beyond knowledge as the legendary χ-Blade!
Oh what’s that? Oh? The symbol? Oh silly you, that’s the Greek letter Chi, of course!

A most ancient letter. Some say “kye,” but the meaning is the same. Death… A letter that spells endings. —Master Xehanort

As Master Xehanort put it in his notes: “You see, […], there is another “Key Blade.” While it may sound the same when spoken, it is notated uniquely: “χ-blade.”
I’ll give you a minute to wrap your head around that…
The now Master Xehanort confessed his desire to destroy all Worlds with another Keyblade War to his foster brother Master Eraqus, who, had been named their master’s successor. Understandably Eraqus a bit peeved. So Xehanort slashed up Eraqus’ face and left, and Eraqus, a true paragon of virtue, never bothered to go after him.
As the laws of Keyblade primogeniture demand, Xehanort was supposed to become a teacher and pass on what he had learned. Those who can’t do teach, after all. But the idea of a pupil held no interest for him. It wasn’t until he realized that there were other uses to having a strong but impressionable youth around that he acquiesced and took on an apprentice.
Having spent his life in the pursuit of forbidden knowledge, Master Xehanort feared that he would not live to see his plans fulfilled. His body was in decline but his heart still ached to accomplish that simple goal of remaking reality. So, when opportunity knocked, he took a young boy named Ventus under his tutelage, planning all along to steal the poor boy’s body.
But Ventus was totally unwilling to embrace the Darkness, and that just didn’t work for Xehanort. But, being a ‘use the whole tragic child sacrifice’ kind of guy and unable to take his body, Xehanort found a new purpose for Ventus’ heart, as a living test tube where he could experiment to create the χ-Blade. But this too required Ventus to let his Darkness out, and eventually the frustrated Keyblade Master ripped the Darkness out of Ven’s heart whole cloth, in a hardcore moment of guerrilla science. This created a new being called Vanitas, but the process basically destroyed Ven’s heart.
To briefly detour into Ventus’ story, this should have been the end of it. However he was mysteriously healed by a baby’s heart, who lent him the strength he needed to recover. This child SURPRISE! was Sora, a thoughtlessly helpful anime protagonist from literally his first moments of life. Supposedly this is why anything weird about Sora and Roxas makes sense. It’s why Roxas looks like Ven, why Sora was chosen as a Keyblade wielder, and why Roxas has two Keyblades (even though 358/2 Days already gave a possible explanation for that, but, we’re way too deep into the ‘from a certain point of view’ school of retcons to complain about that?).
With Ventus recovering, Master Xehanort realized that, if Ven’s Light could become equally strong to Vanitas’ Darkness, he could have his χ-Blade. So he dumped the kid with Eraqus, who even he thought was unusually chill about the whole ‘disfiguring you and promising to end the multiverse’ thing. Even better, Master Xehanort realized that one of Eraqus’ apprentices was a perfect candidate for his new body.
It was a good day for Xehanort.
He wrote about it in his diary.
Despite his enormous significance to Kingdom Hearts as the original form of its many Xehanorts, Master Xehanort only really appears in two of the series’ eleven chapters, with his appearance in Dream Drop Distance effectively only a brief promise of a fuller return in Kingdom Hearts III. Even so, he dominates the story of Birth by Sleep, manipulating everything effortlessly through the insight he gains from Eraqus and Vanitas.
Master Xehanort’s preferred tactic seems to be playing to his pawn’s optimism and aspirations. Most of his allies and lackeys are baited with honest information about what they want, but only supported insofar as they advance Master Xehanort’s goals and he encourages his enemies to continuously give him the benefit of the doubt as a wise Keyblade Master and a sad old man. He frequently deceives people, but prefers lies of omission and minor falsehoods that paint him in a positive light to flat out fictions. That said, he’s never terribly subtle (though it’s not clear whether the narrative pretends that he is or not) giving Terra what he wants most by referring to him as “Master Terra” after Eraqus is forced to fail his Mark of Mastery Exam. Of course he neglects that this only occurs because he had consistently mentioned Terra’s Darkness to Eraqus and sabotaged the Exam.
Xehanort makes little effort to disguise his fascination with Darkness, counting on his status as Master and his rhetorical prowess to convince others that his is merely another point of view. That doesn’t make him any less of ham than his later incarnations, though. Even more than Xemnas’ graceful gestures, Master Xehanort’s hands are constantly in motion, sweeping, gripping, and undulating to punctuate each sentence, often with the uncomfortable straining sound of his gloves to support it.

Master Xehanort's creepy, creepy hand gestures from Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep
Birth by Sleep is basically six hours of this…

But while he prefers to solve his problems with a kind word or a phony apology, Master Xehanort is more than capable of holding his own in a fight. Master Xehanort is almost certainly the most powerful spellcaster we’ve seen in action in the Kingdom Hearts series, reshaping the very substance of the Keyblade Graveyard in his battle with Terra and sending a slashing tempest of Keyblades to aid Vanitas on the other side of the Badlands. He’s also a formidable swordsman who wields a mysterious Keyblade called No Name.
The oldest surviving Keyblade to be forged, No Name was created by the mysterious Master of Masters. The morally ambiguous and over the top creator of the Keyblades was, debatably, the architect of the first Keyblade War, just as Master Xehanort seeks to be for the second. Entrusting five of his six apprentices with copies of his future-telling Book of Prophesies, the Master gave No Name to the final apprentice, Luxu, alongside a mysterious case and a mission to ensure that the No Name was passed down from master to apprentice in perpetuity. The animated film Kingdom Hearts χ Back Cover explained that this mission was so important because SURPRISE! the biting of the No Name contains the Master of Master’s own eye, the Gazing Eye, which would allow him to watch history unfold around the No Name and bring that knowledge back in time to place in the Book of Prophesies.
Master Xehanort brandishes the No Name in Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance
Whether he knows it or not, Master Xehanort’s Keyblade reports all it sees back to the Master of Masters. Here it is reading the subtitles for him…

One other thing that is interesting about Master Xehanort is his odd empathy. It’s clear that he has no qualms lying, stealing, or killing to achieve his goals, it’s all going to be destroyed anyway I suppose. He shows no remorse for the things he does and legitimately doesn’t seem to recognize that he should, only that he’s expected to. Despite this, when it doesn’t cost him anything he’s happy to be kind. He quietly rages at the cruelty of Keyblade Masters to leave Worlds in ignorance like he was and, most famously, he brought the shattered Ventus to his childhood home to die in the peace of a tropical paradise when moments earlier he was kicking the unconscious boy for being an impediment to him.
Master Xehanort waited four years, dropping hints to Eraqus to sabotage Terra and awaiting Ventus’ maturation. Eventually he was invited to Terra’s Mark of Mastery exam and used Vanitas to lure Ventus and Terra away from Eraqus’ protection. There he continued to groom Terra and revealed Ventus’ potential as part of the χ-Blade in order to position his endgame. Using Ventus, he pitted Terra and Eraqus against each other, stabbing his so-called brother through the chest. Without Eraqus to stop him, Xehanort dropped the pretense and beckoned Terra and Ventus to the site of the final battle of the Keyblade War to complete both his plans.
Xehanort kept Terra separate from his friend until it was too late for Ventus and, believing the χ-Blade completed, he released his own heart and gained his new vessel. This changed Terra’s eyes and hair to match Master Xehanort’s, giving him the more familiar Xehanort look, and altered his voice. This new Terra-Xehanort possessed Ansem’s voice, rather than either of his components’. From this point on Master Xehanort is clearly no longer fully himself, but its not quite accurate to attribute the personality that Terra-Xehanort later displays either. It’s murky, even for this series.
A render of Terra-Xehanort from Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep
One-fourth as old, just as smart, and one-hundred percent more Richard Epcar!

Either way, Master Xehanort had chosen Terra because the boy craved power and control and Terra fought hard to maintain his status as an independent entity. First his consciousness possessed his discarded armor and defeated Xehanort, but was prevented from ending their feud when the destruction of Ventus’ χ-Blade flung Terra-Xehanort to another world. Then, when Terra’s friend Aqua discovered the unstable fusion, Terra’s heart made it impossible for it to unleash its full power against his dearest friend. Lost between the Terra and Xehanort identities, the combined entity summoned Xehanort’s Keyblade and, in a blind attempt to silence Terra for good, turned it on himself, locking both away until one can emerge victorious.
When Terra-Xehanort awakens he has no memories and is taken in by Ansem the Wise, leading the character originally introduced as the one, true Xehanort to the point where we met him. From here, this version would follow the path we know: discovering the Heartless, taking the name of his mentor, and splitting into Ansem and Xemnas.
It’s not clear if the Master Xehanort personality ever resurfaces within any of these forms or if echoes of his influence are all that remain. Regardless, after Kingdom Hearts II Yen Sid (the grumpy wizard from Fantasia) predicts that Master Xehanort will reform when Ansem’s heart rejoins with Xemnas’ body, seemingly ignoring Terra-Xehanort.
But it was not Terra-Xehanort or Master Xehanort who returned first, but the young boy from Destiny Islands.
Ansem approaches Young Xehanort in Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance
‘Wait, you’re who!? I’m sorry, I just feel like this is very complicated. I just with there were a rambling article series to clarify it all for me…’

During his time without a body, Ansem put into effect a backup plan of sorts (possibly on the orders of or due to regaining the memories of Master Xehanort). Taking advantage of his longevity and his lack of corporeal limitations, he traveled back in time to the farthest point we had seen in Xehanort’s timeline. There he gifted his temporal powers to the Young Xehanort and instructed him to travel forward and collect twelve other versions of himself from time.
Young Xehanort speaks with a dull, morose monotone, far from the forceful bellow of Ansem or the growling eagerness of Master Xehanort. It is possible that this was intended to show how disinterested he was with his island or how he acted upon Ansem’s plan not out of excitement but inevitability. Indeed, Young Xehanort doesn’t seem to have argued against his future self’s proposal at all. Why should he? If Ansem was here talking to him, he must determine that it’s what he wants eventually. And so Young Xehanort cherry picked his successors, leading to this very article series!
With all but two of the new incarnations assembled, Young Xehanort turned to the offense. After the events of Kingdom Hearts Re:Coded, Sora and Riku undertook a special exam to become full Keyblade Masters. In order to defeat Master Xehanort, they would need to rescue Ven and Terra and therefore must know how to awaken a sleeping heart. Therefore the exam was to revive seven worlds destroyed during Kingdom Hearts I that fell into slumber, a trippy but poorly explained state that effectively disconnected them from time and space as the worlds’ hearts played out dreams of how things should have been. Using Yen Sid’s magic, the pair’s consciousnesses were sent back to the Destiny Islands the the night that Riku allowed them to be swallowed by Darkness and the Sleeping Worlds were lost.
Knowing what was to happen from Young Xehanort, Ansem positioned himself on Destiny Islands that night, allowing him and all of his allies to follow Sora and Riku into the Sleeping worlds and SURPRISE! trap Sora in a dream of his own within the Sleeping Worlds. A “dream of a dream”, like a Russian nesting doll of Kingdom Hearts metaphysics.
Young Xehanort appeared to Sora and Riku multiple times through the Sleeping Worlds. He and Xemnas taunted Sora about his lack of understanding and overstated sense of importance, while he made one last attempt to draw Riku into Darkness alongside Ansem. Xehanort, in particular, seemed unimpressed with Sora’s cluelessness, finding Riku a superior but frustratingly untenable option, but Sora himself wasn’t necessary for what Xehanort planned for him.
Xemnas and Young Xehanort confront Sora at Prankster's Paradise in Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance
‘If I had the chance, I’d ask the worlds to dance…’

Counting on Sora’s inexhaustible optimism to last longer than his stamina, Xehanort let him waste his energy fighting Xemnas and whittled away at the boy’s sense of reality before finally revealing that SURPRISE! Sora was to be the thirteenth and final host of Xehanort’s heart. This would not only complete the Real Organization XIII but deprive Yen Sid’s warriors of Light of one of their most experienced Keybearers.
And Young Xehanort was almost successful! He had Sora comatose and helpless and even fended off a rescue attempt by Riku before Mickey Mouse arrived and froze the entire room in time. Untrained and deeply connected to the flow of time, Young Xehanort couldn’t overcome that on his own, but he returned for one final boss fight when the spirit of Master Xehanort arrived to possess his body.
Both Young and Master Xehanort assembled alongside their ten other incarnations and the aged Keyblade Master informed Mickey that these thirteen Xehanorts would clash against seven pure hearts of Light to reforge the χ-Blade, now with the proper mathematical proportions. He even took some pleasure in admitting to Mickey that ruining Ven and Aqua’s lives was a hasty mistake, an experiment improperly measured. But you’ve got to break a few dreams to make an omelette…
Whether corroborating Yen Sid’s fears or hinting at yet another turn of the screw, Master Xehanort was explicitly stated to be the Xehanort from the farthest point in the future, not a version from the Birth By Sleep era brought to the party. This was to be the day he reformed completely after his battle with Terra many years prior and, when he appeared for real, along with his twelve disciple selves, the Keyblade War would begin.
Last minute interference foiled the Xehanort’s attempt to appropriate Sora, but it didn’t faze either of these two. Master Xehanort had seen the measure of his opposition and found it well within his predictions and, worse still, an ontological paradox had been fulfilled.
Though Young Xehanort could not take his memories of what had occurred back with him to the past, the experience had changed his heart forever. The marks on his heart ensured not only that Ansem would return to the Islands to allow the scheme, but that Xehanort longed for the outside world in the first place.
And so the incredible unlikelihood of Xehanort’s tactical ability was explained. His brilliant mind was backed up by an instinct to fulfill his plans and an ontological need to be in the right place at the right time to conceive them. But, even that wasn’t all that Xehanort had in his corner. From near the beginning he had partners. One in particular who followed him grudgingly the entire way and another who’s late entry to the plan did nothing to stop him executing it with precision. Next time we look at the only other Nobodies to be members of both incarnations of Organization XIII, Xigbar and Saïx.
Concept art of Xigbar in Kingdom Hearts II by series creator Tetsuya Nomura.Concept art of Saïx in Kingdom Hearts II by series creator Tetsuya Nomura.

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