Kingdom Hearts, despite all its little jagged edges, is a fascinating attempt at existential philosophy through a candy-coated lens. I dismissed the series for a long time, but once that aspect of it finally clicked with me, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. The laws of existence in Kingdom Hearts are a huge vessel for all its bizarre, intricate-by-circumstance character drama, and one character in particular acts as a sort of anchor point for nearly everything. Because of what her brief, tragic story means for Kingdom Hearts as a whole, I find myself looking back to Xion as my favorite character in Tetsuya Nomura’s wacky brainchild.
Spoiler warning: A whole lot of Kingdom Hearts secrets will be discussed below!
Kingdom Hearts and the Meaning of Life and Stuff
Exploring the self is a common theme in nearly any piece of fiction, but one of my personal favorites is Ghost in the Shell, which comes in many flavors but generally explores the idea of what happens to the self when technology overtakes the physical flesh. There’s also Appleseed (another Masamune Shirow work, so you can see where my brain generally is here), which asks what life even is when artificial intelligence is part of our reality. I find myself comparing Kingdom Hearts to these works in a way, as the series’ questions of existence have little to do with technology (shout out to Data Sora), but do involve how various permutations of the body affect the essence of self.
The world of Kingdom Hearts is, frankly, terrifying. When the natural order of darkness and light is manipulated by outside forces (Xehanort, mostly), new forms of “human” life are discovered. There’s the regular form of human existence, or the “Somebody,” the corrupted “Heartless” version, and the one that leads into a lot of the series’ trademark messiness, the “Nobody.” This stuff can be complicated, but here are some Cliff Notes.
Heartless come in many forms, but when it comes to the meddling, Heartless are born from a person deliberately separating their heart from their body and surrendering it to the “darkness.” Heartless can also come into being naturally or artificially, but generally speaking, they are a manifestation of human corruption. Nobodies are the byproduct of a Heartless being created from a person, meaning that if a Heartless is the result of a corrupted heart, a Nobody is what happens to the leftover body. Nobodies are mindless monsters just like Heartless, but if a strong-willed person becomes a Nobody, they can retain their human form and even memories. Although, with no heart, they have no true being. Or so we’re told earlier in the Kingdom Hearts story.
Xion, the Replica of Roxas, the Nobody of Sora, the Hero of These Dang Video Games
During the first game, Sora turns himself into a Heartless in order to save his friend Kairi. Although he finds his way back to his original human form, this process creates a Nobody, who becomes known as Roxas. Roxas is picked up by Organiation XIII, a collective of Nobodies being manipulated into doing the bidding of Big Bad Xehanort. While the Organization’s members think they’re working to restore their hearts, in reality they’re furthering Xehanort’s experiments and ultimate plan to essentially rule over everything like a big ol’ villain. One of those experiments involves human cloning: Replicas. During the events of Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days, we are introduced to Xion as a part of Roxas’ backstory. Over time, we learn that Xion is actually a Replica of Roxas, meant to replace him if his Sora-ness kicks in and he betrays the group.
Things don’t go as planned for anyone, obviously. One of the initial rules presented in Kingdom Hearts lore land is that these three states of existence are separated. Humans are just normal-ass humans, Heartless are corrupted hearts without bodies, and Nobodies are bodies without hearts. Introducing Replicas threw a wrench into the Rules, and Xion’s story ends up challenging those rules in ways that answer an important question about how the creative minds behind Kingdom Hearts perceive living. Despite hard rules separating the various physical states of being in the Kingdom Hearts universe, one thing these rules don’t account for is memory. A Nobody may not have a heart and will therefore struggle to feel emotions, but they do have minds. With minds come the ability to develop memories and experiences. As it turns out, those memories are a defining attribute of a person’s essence in this world, which in turn is also how the series seems to present what having a “heart” is like. Despite the separation, we start to see some things intertwine.
We see this manifest itself in front of the player through Xion’s unfortunate existence. Being a clone of Roxas, Xion also has a connection to Sora. Sora’s whole deal is complicated, to say the least, as his heart is prone to making strong connections to people both on purpose and otherwise. Sora has great inner strength, and that ends up carrying over to and affecting Roxas and Xion as well. Roxas is a rare Nobody who can’t remember his past and comes to Organization XIII as a blank slate. But as a blank slate who doesn’t understand the world around him, Roxas defies everything the Nobody crew knew and makes friends. Xion is one of those friends, and the bond between the two causes some weird chemical reactions with memories.
It All Works Out in the End
Ultimately, Xion’s experiences as Xion begin to develop an essence of their own, her connection to Roxas becomes a memetic connection, and she starts to experience memories from Sora, which causes events such as siphoning power from Roxas. She struggles with this as a clone and becomes a catalyst not just for the overall Kingdom Hearts lore, but also the strained but earnest relationship between Xion, Roxas, and their spiky pal, Axel. Sadly, one of the other big questions in Kingdom Hearts is the right to exist, and that question is presented as both Xion and Roxas are sent back inside of Sora, which led to everything that goes down in Kingdom Hearts II and III. In Dream Drop Distance, we learn that a Nobody that develops strong memories can inadvertently generate a heart (therefore essence, therefore legitimized existence) of their own. Xion’s experiences set the table for this revelation, as well as the subsequent character developments that run through the rest of the series to date.
Xion starts life as a clone, a tool developed by the antagonists in Kingdom Hearts to further their misguided schemes. A clone violates the initial tenants of what makes a life legitimate in Kingdom Hearts, which leads to a resentment from characters like Saix, especially once the “ice cream pals” group begins to take form. But that violation leads into a new step added to those previously established rules, showing us that a person doesn’t have to play by those rules in order for their existence to be real, valid, and worth protecting. By the end of Kingdom Hearts III, Xion and Roxas are both finally allowed to be their own people in one of the most gratifying scenes in the whole series. Thanks to Xion’s struggles, it is established that one only needs to experience life to deserve it. Despite all the other little details, that’s good enough.
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