There is something that has been weighing on my mind since finishing KH3, has persisted through ReMIND, and now continues into this new Project, and that is Xehanort’s character.
Spoiler ShowBack in 2010, after finishing BBS and reading through all of the Reports. I was absolutely enamored with Xehanort’s character. There were a few blanks in his backstory that I perhaps filled in myself unconsciously, but I felt that everything I inferred about Xehanort’s character was backed up by the Reports as well as dialogue from Ansem and Xemnas. Here is what I thought:
Xehanort started on Destiny Islands. Just like Riku, he dreamed of more. A naturally curious and inquisitive boy, he felt limited by the tiny islands. He wanted to see what was beyond, to learn. He was a “seeker” by heart.
So he found his way to Scala. There he learned of the Keyblade, and befriended Eraqus. He was taught of the duty of a Keyblade wielder; to protect the light and drive back the darkness. But in Kingdom Hearts, we are told repeatedly that light and darkness are two sides of the same coin. You can’t have one without the other. Both forces are a natural part of life. And so, Xehanort wonders: why? Why are we battling the darkness if it is a natural part of the world? And when nobody could give him an answer that made sense, he went looking for the answers himself.
Xehanort has always been a man of curiosity and a "seeker". His motivation for doing terrible things was because of the way he questioned the status quo. He felt that the past was hiding some sort of secret, and that the way darkness was rejected in the modern world was contrary to the true order of things. His interactions with Eraqus caused him to think that people's fear of the darkness was unjustified and that they had become afraid of a natural force of the universe due to ignorance. That's why he became the "Seeker of Darkness" in the first place. He felt like the world was a giant puzzle that needed solving, and that the missing pieces would only be found by embracing the dark corners of the world that everyone else was too afraid to look into.
I always assumed that he discovered that people feared the darkness because of how it consumed the world during the Keyblade War, so he went searching for answers about what really happened. This turned into an obsession, which lead him down the path he ultimately walked. Xehanort's belief is that humanity will THRIVE once they embrace the darkness in their hearts, rather than only accepting the light. He has always believed that humanity repressing the darkness in their hearts is holding them back and that once they learn to allow both light and darkness to coexist in perfect balance (As we see demonstrated by Riku) that they will reach their true potential. That was his entire motivation for obtaining Kingdom Hearts. He wanted to reset the world to bring perfect balance to the forces of light and darkness so that the universe would thrive by existing in accordance with its true nature.
I had always thought, that KH3 would end with Xehanort’s philosophy being proven to be right, but his actions were what needed punishment. Humanity IS better off when they learn to accept that darkness is a part of who they are. Just like we literally watched happen to Riku, when humankind learns to make peace with their flaws rather than trying to stamp them out in search of "purity", they gain a new kind of strength, more powerful than either light or darkness alone. One of the core messages of the series has always been that light and darkness do not equate to good and evil. Accepting the darkness does not mean accepting evil. Good and evil come from the intent of the heart. We've seen Riku wield darkness to help others, and we've seen Eraqus wield the light with the intent to murder Ventus. Light and darkness are forces of nature, not morality. This is exactly what Xehanort was trying to prove all along, but he lost himself along the way. In the pursuit of truth, he lost touch with his empathy and kindness for others. I had always assumed that THAT would be the lesson from Xehanort's character. His theory was right, but his actions were still wrong.
But, it seems that this may not be the case. From what Xehanort said at the end of KH3 and even Young Xehanort’s speech in the opening of ReMIND, Xehanort’s motivation seems to be exactly what was said in English at the end of KH3. People’s selfish nature to be virtuous and “of the light” is a seedbed for darkness. Xehanort wants to maintain order in the world, believing that this darkness growing in people’s hearts will destroy the world if left unchecked. Essentially, he sided with the darkness in order to control it, so that he could prevent it from destroying the world once more.
Personally, I feel like Xehanort’s new motivations don’t make as much sense. It still feels like there is a major disconnect between the Xehanort of KH3 and the beliefs/actions of Ansem, Xemnas, and BBS Xehanort. I certainly hope the upcoming Project Xehanort is able to fully clarify everything. I am genuinely VERY excited for that project and can’t wait to play.
I will say though, that perhaps it was my own fault for somewhat headcannoning the full context of Xehanort’s backstory. However, I feel that what I had always believed to be true about Xehanort was more interesting than what we are currently being shown about his character. I will admit that there is an element of bias, because I latched onto the idea of Xehanort being a “seeker” because I am the same way. I have always been someone who seeks to understand the world around me, always seeking knowledge even just for its own sake. And I completely related to the idea of seeking knowledge, becoming obsessed, and losing touch with yourself in the process. I really felt connected to that story. So, maybe it was my mistake, accidentally taking my own life experiences and projecting them onto this character before his backstory was fully told. Maybe that’s why I feel this strange sense of sadness, that Xehanort’s story/character isn’t what I thought it was.
Regardless, I am very excited to learn Xehanort’s full story and I hope Nomura is able to connect the old “embrace the darkness” Xehanort with the new “We must save the world from darkness” one. I just hope it all comes together, because Xehanort has always been one of my favorite elements of Kingdom Hearts, and the confusion over his motivations in KH3 was my biggest disappointment with the game. I just hope that this future project is able to fully contextualize this character I have found so fascinating for over a decade, rather than potentially ruin him for me.