Q. Who or what is Organization XIII?
The answer is all about nothing.
The overall feeling, whether deliberate or not, of Kingdom Hearts 1 is that Sora and his companions are Square teenagers living in a decidedly Disney universe. Destiny Islands, Sora’s home, is peaceful, isolated, and idyllic until the very moment it is invaded by outside forces and obliterated. From that point on, Sora ventures to Traverse Town, which is the KH1 home of the Final Fantasy crew, but also Gepetto & Pinocchio, 101 Dalmations, and The Sword in the Stone’s Merlin living in sin with Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother. Traverse Town is also home to a lot of “landmarks” that either evoke a Disney theme, or are more blunt, like an inexplicable Lady & the Tramp fountain. Sora then ventures onward to planet after planet, every single one themed after a different Disney movie. While the heartless are wonderful minions, the bosses of each area are Disney villains. Finally, Sora reaches Hollow Bastion, which is the real home of Team Final Fantasy, but it is conquered by Disney malcontent Malificent, who has certainly spruced the place up with a number of thorns and other decidedly Disney architectural features. The absolute finale of Kingdom Hearts is a very Square “journey to the center of the Universe” dungeon, but even in Kingdom Heart’s Northern Cave there are repeated references to Disney movies (like a lingering Snow White motif), and even Ansem’s final line of defense appears to be Chernobog of Fantasia.
Then Square took back the universe with a vengeance.
Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories is a very weird game. Remember the old days of portable gaming, where a Gameboy game was simply its console counterpart, just scaled back dramatically to fit the confines of portability? At first blush, this is Kingdom Hearts COM: it’s Kingdom Hearts I with its entire battle system scaled down and rejiggered to transition from the Playstation 2 to the more modest Gameboy Advance. Sora and friends follow the same “path” as Kingdom Hearts 1, jumping world to world, basically in the same order, and fighting, basically, the same enemies. “Traverse Town” is level one, Sora meets Leon, Aerith, and Yuffie, fights some minor heartless, and then defeats the boss, Guard Armor. On a basic level, COM could have been a straight “portable” remake of Kingdom Hearts 1.
But it’s not. Someone, somewhere in production could not leave well enough alone, and decided that, while the basic gameplay progression of COM would be exactly like its predecessor, the plot should be something that advances the overall franchise narrative. But it can’t progress too much, because this is just a portable “side” game, and Kingdom Hearts 2 will be the sweetest plum, so this entire game, and everything in it, should be simply… tantalizing? Everything has to be a mystery. All setup, no punchline.
Organization XIII was born of this desire, and we are all poorer for it.
Without exaggeration, everything about Organization XIII is built to facilitate some vague feeling of mystery. They all dress alike, wearing full body cloaks with hoods, so they can all line up next to each other and be indistinguishable. Their motivations are ambiguous, even to themselves. They don’t trust each other, so they can betray and shift allegiances at the drop of a hat. They’re built to be outlines that can be filled in with whatever details the plot demands.
They’re a group of empty nobodies.
ORG XIII FAQ
What are Organization XIII? They’re a bunch of nobodies, aka a body without a heart, but retain memories of their previous lives. The initial six members of Organization XIII were all created at about the same time, when Xehanort went batty and ripped out his own heart, shouted, “You guys gotta try this!” and then proceeded to perform the procedure another five times. All six of these guys were considered the apprentices of Ansem of the Wise, even though three of these “apprentices” were just for-rent security guards. Also: good job guarding there, hotshots. The other members of Organization XIII were all nobodies who were inducted at some nebulous “later” period.
What’s with the names? All Organization members receive a new name upon joining. The new name is the letters of their old name rearranged with an “X” added. As of Birth by Sleep, the explanation for this X fascination is Xehanort’s obsession with the χ-blade. Prior to BBS, the explanation for the X is that Xehanort is secretly an Adam X fan.
What’s with the numbers? “I’ve never felt so accepted in all my life. These people looked deep within my soul and assigned me a number based on the order in which I joined.” – Hexmor
What do they want? In one of the most confused messages in all of storytelling, Organization XIII’s goal is to reclaim their hearts, or any hearts, because without their hearts, they cannot experience emotions. Putting aside the conundrum of whether or not “desire” or “ambition” are emotions, Organization XIII members frequently, from the first moment they’re introduced, display emotions. And not even in a half-assed Spock way, either, they’re frequently emotional powder kegs. The (lazy) explanation in KH2 is that all nobodies are faking emotions that they “remember” from when they were complete humans. As of Dream Drop Distance, the explanation has become that they were growing new nobody hearts, but Xemnas did not want his minions to get all emotional about it. I’d make a joke about how ridiculous this is, but just rereading what I just wrote makes me angry… or maybe I’m just remembering what it’s like to be angry.
Who are Organization XIII? Let’s take a look at these nutbars on a case-by-case basis, in descending order just for funsies.
Not Members of Organization XIII: Mickey, Riku, and DiZ (Dreaming Icky Zek) all have Organization XIII paraphernalia, but are not members, and have never been members. All three are basically the anti-org, and actually seem to accomplish more to foil Org 13 than Sora, who, as Square heroes are want to do, is just playing into Organization XIII’s hands, bwa ha ha, and whatnot.
Also Not a Member, but a Nobody: Naminé, Kairi’s Nobody, is also not a member of Organization XIII, but is frequently their pawn. Naminé has the maddeningly specific ability to play with Sora’s memories, and, at Org’s behest, turns Sora’s poor noggin into swiss cheese during Chain of Memories. She loses interest by the end, probably because of friendship or something, and then spends a year putting Humpty Dumpty back together again while Diz calls her worthless. She follows that with spending a lot of time coloring before finally deciding to get off her ass and do something, and uses random world traversing abilities to rescue Kairi from Organization XIII, which… is it altruistic when you save a person, but that person is actually a former and future version of yourself? While an exaltation of philosophy majors were scratching their heads over that one, Naminé gets reabsorbed into Kairi at the finale of Kingdom Hearts 2. Despite no longer existing from that point on, Naminé seems to pop up randomly through future installments of the franchise, usually to say something wildly cryptic. I’m assuming her voice actress is cheaper than Kairi’s…
Actual Member #14 Xion
- Looks like: Kairi (or Naminé) with black hair
- Weapon: (Sora’s) Keyblade
- Official Title: None (Ouch)
- Element: Light (I guess)
- Original Name: No. i (as in the imaginary number)
Okay, remember when I said everyone in Organization XIII was designed to be mysterious? Well, the problem with that particular plot train is that it’s hard to know when to throw the brakes, and, whoops, everyone spent Chain of Memories and Kingdom Hearts 2 being so mysterious, they forgot to have super tragic pasts and interesting backstories and motivations, and, drat, by the end of Kingdom Hearts 2, everybody is dead. So Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days was created as a prequel set during the time that Sora is in a Naminé-coma so Organization XIII can be more fleshed out. But, writing problem again, we already know all these guys are gonna shuffle off this mortal coil in the game everyone already played, so how does one make the prequel interesting and sufficiently mysterious?
Xion is the answer to the question no one should have ever asked.
Xion is the central character of 358/2 Days. To save everyone the trouble of having to actually play said game, Xion is an unstable clone of Sora created from those memories Naminé heisted in the previous entry. When I say she’s unstable, I mean it, as she doesn’t even have a face until Roxas wills her to be an off-brand Kairi, ostensibly because he’s lonely. She spends the majority of her life in the thrall of Organization XIII, breaks out, does her own thing, and then ceases to do her own thing when she is completely obliterated from existence. Due to her general instability, when she breaks down, she not only ceases to be, but all memories and evidence of her, everywhere, are erased forever. Sucks for her, though does conveniently explain why she is never mentioned in Kingdom Hearts 2. As noted in a previous post, Roxas absorbs whatever is left of Xion, so she sorta lives on.
Also, for those of you paying attention: Kingdom Hearts 358/2 heavily features the story of a woman. Yay. She is literally born of a man’s machinations, her personality and body are determined by another man, she lives most of her life as a slave to a group of almost all men, and then dies, but in a manner that grants a power-up to a man. #notyourclone
Member #13 Roxas
- Looks like: Sora with blonde hair
- Weapon: Keyblade
- Official Title: The Key of Destiny
- Element: Light
- Original Name: Sora (duh)
Roxas is Sora’s nobody, but has absolutely no memories of his time as Sora. He is better for it. Roxas really is a bizarro Sora: while Sora charges headlong into danger and doesn’t seem to ever think about the fact that he’s gone from a happy kid playing with his friends to a child soldier in the war against a primal Jungian archetype, Roxas questions everything. Why am I here? Why was I created? Life… dreams… hope… Where’d they come from? And where are they headed? Frankly, he’s exhausting. Roxas spends 358/2 Days (wow, that’s the game’s title and the time involved) with his head up his ass. He finally pulls it out of there when he gets an answer (Roxas, you are here to hit the B button until everything on the screen is dead), and then gets his memory reformatted back to square one. Roxas ver. 2.0 is much less insufferable, but, because the world is a cruel place, this version only lasts about a week before he is reabsorbed into Sora. You might expect an entire fully formed personality being absorbed into Sora to affect his own personality, but, nope, that would require some introspective thinking, and Sora is too busy hitting things to get into that.
Member #12 Larxene
- Looks like: The Girl. She has that weird antenna hair thing you see in anime sometimes and makes cosplay an absolute pain in the ass
- Weapon: She’ll show you what a knife is
- Official Title: The Savage Nymph
- Official Title (Translation): Angry Girl
- Element: Lightning
- Original Name: Unknown… let’s go with… NeEarl
Larxene is the only female member of Organization XIII… or at least the only female member that isn’t a failed science experiment. For plot purposes, she’s basically Marluxia’s sidekick, so I guess skip ahead to his entry if you want more info on that. As far as traits that are exclusive to Larxene, she’s a sadist, and… that’s about it. Okay, her characterization may be dagger-thin, but I think she’s the only original female character in the Kingdom Hearts franchise that doesn’t spend a significant amount of her life worrying about what the boys are doing. For this sin, she does not survive beyond her debut game, and is Sora’s first Organization kill.
Member #11 Marluxia
- Looks like: He’s the dude with the feathered, pink hair
- Weapon: Badass Scythe, likely to overcompensate for the previously mentioned feathered, pink hair
- Official Title: The Graceful Assassin
- Ever actually assassinates anyone? Nope
- Element: Flowers
- Were all the good elements taken? Yep
- Original Name: Unknown, again. Laura-Mi?
Organization XIII is very poorly named: As you may have noticed, there are rarely thirteen members, and they’re about as “organized” as a tub of live bait. Six members of Organization XIII, three of the “original six” and three newbies are sent to Castle Oblivion at the tail end of Kingdom Hearts 1 to accomplish… something. They’re there to investigate the place, and, given the castle has a sort of “curse” that dooms everyone in the universe except one woman to fail miserably at doing anything in the place, their expedition goes about as well as you’d expect. Actually, now I’m trying to think of a situation where Organization XIII accomplishes something, anything, successfully. Drawing a blank.
Anyway, Marluxia is tired of being #11, and wants to be #1, so he strategizes the events of Chain of Memories to advance his own plan to murder everyone else in the organization. Here’s the plan:
- Make Naminé his exclusive pawn
- Use Naminé to wipe out Sora’s memories until Sora is Naminé’s pawn
- Control Sora and his keyblade
He never makes it past step three, though, as Naminé flakes out. Also, while Larxene is completely loyal to the cause, Marluxia makes the critical error of trusting Axel. Axel is bad at staying on any one team for longer than about ten minutes, so he betrays Marluxia, and wanders off with Naminé. In the end, Marluxia’s plan eliminates one “original six” (by Axel’s hands), and one newbie (Larxene, at Sora’s keyblade), which balances to a big fat zero on the scoreboard. Marluxia is then walloped into the next life by Sora. Fun fact: Thanks to the whole memory-wipe thing going on during CoM, Sora doesn’t even remember meeting or killing Pinky. A life well lived.
Member #10 Luxord
- Looks like: Whitish hair, goatee, square mustache
- Weapon: Playing Cards
- Official Title: The Gambler of Fate
- Element: Time
- Wow, that sounds really powerful, does he use it for anything interesting? No
- Original Name: Unknown, but obviously Dolur
Luxord likes gambling. That’s about all we know. For some reason, Luxord winds up being one of the nobodies with the longest lifespan, falling to Sora in the final 5% of Kingdom Hearts 2, which you would think would indicate he’s important, or high ranking, or has some special quality, but nope, just a dude that likes gambling. He does find a way to weaponize the cursed gold of Pirates of the Caribbean, so good on him for at least being one of the more creative Kingdom Hearts villains.
Member #9 Demyx
- Looks like: Mullet!
- Weapon: Sitar
- Class: Bard
- Official Title: The Melodious Nocturne
- Element: Water
- Original Name: Unknown, but there’s only so many combinations here… Myde.
Demyx, like Luxord before him, doesn’t get much development. Demyx is defined by his own slothfulness, as his every appearance is punctuated by his statements about how he doesn’t want to be there, doesn’t want to do anything, and would just would rather sit back and let his stupid water monsters do the fighting for him. This gets old real fast, so he’s the first to die in Kingdom Hearts 2. Sora just does not have time for his spoony nonsense.
Member #8 Axel
- Looks like: You know what he looks like
- Weapon: Chakrams
- Official Title: The Flurry of Dancing Flames
- Element: Fire
- Original Name: Lea (not pronounced like you think)
- Got it memorized: Yes.
Ugh. Crap. It’s Axel. I’m gonna need a minute here.
To break narrative for some trivia, Axel is supposed to be some weird alternate version of Reno of Final Fantasy 7 fame. You know how Disney characters utilized this sort of “toon as an actor” thing, wherein, say Mickey Mouse could star as “himself” or as Bob Cratchit or a keyblade wielding maniac? Well, for one special character, Nomura decided that the Kingdom Hearts universe would take break-out celebrity Reno of the Turks and make him the template for a “new” character. Could have gone with Don Corneo, but, okay, guess Reno is alright, too.
I can’t tell you exactly where Axel went wrong. It would be too reductive to simply say “mary sue” or “obvious creator bias” or “worst thing to ever happen”. Axel is… beloved by a significant, or at least very vocal, contingent of the Kingdom Hearts fan community. Right now, as you read this post, he is being cosplayed by someone, somewhere. Whether due to creator-love or fan-love or just lame plotting, Axel, in the fullness of the franchise, always seems to come out on top, smelling like a rose and beloved by his comrades and the universe at large, all despite the fact that, karmaticly, he’s about as deserving of praise as Walter White.
Axel debuted in Chain of Memories, involved in that earlier mentioned Marluxia coup. He fought Sora a few times, killed #IV Vexen on #XI Marluxia’s orders, and then betrayed Marluxia. Right off the bat, he’s directly responsible for one Organization member’s death, and tangentially responsible for another. Then he swings by the Castle Oblivion basement, and bumps off #VI Zexion. So he’s got a kill count of three: two loyal organization members, and one traitor.
Then it’s time to play Kingdom Hearts 2. The central conflict at the start of the game is that Axel has been ordered to either retrieve or eliminate former member Roxas, but big ol’ softy Axel just can’t bring himself to do it. That’s our Axel, always so emotionally conflicted about carrying out deadly orders.
So, rewind. 358/2 Days, which, again, takes place after Chain of Memories but before KH2, reveals that Axel was super best buddies with Roxas and Xion during their time in the organization. They hung out and ate ice cream together. Aw. Roxas really gets his back up about the whole Xion situation, and nearly betrays the Organization for her sake, but loses his train of thought when Xion stops ever being a thing. Roxas continues to exist, though, thus creating the deep bro-love that drives him through Kingdom Hearts 2.
Would have been nice to know that when actually playing Kingdom Hearts 2.
Back to KH2, Axel finally pulls the trigger on betraying the Organization by throwing his fight against Roxas and allowing his former buddy to escape to be absorbed by Sora moments later. If you want to show someone clearly how Kingdom Hearts treats storytelling, show them the first few hours of Kingdom Hearts 2, which plainly states two things:
- Nobodies are irredeemable creatures without emotion.
- Axel, the nobody, really deeply cares about Roxas, another nobody.
Anyway, Organization XIII is kind of hard up for members after Axel killed so many of ‘em, so he stays on the payroll after his failure. He kidnaps Kairi (rather ineffectively, too. He is initially thwarted by Pluto the dog, whose only skill is “is a dog”) for the Org, but seems to spend his spare time hanging out with the secret good guys like Riku. Finally, Axel sacrifices himself aiding Sora in his rescue of Kairi (reminder, Axel kidnapped her in the first place), by which I mean he betrayed his employer so hard, he exploded.
But were that only his end!
Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep showcases Axel as a child, then named Lea, when he was just a dork hanging out fighting random kids with a pair of flying discs. He duel-plays briefly with Ventus, keyblade warrior, and speaks exclusively in foreshadowing. The whole thing just looks like a silly cameo until Kingdom Hearts Dream Drop Distance, where Axel is revived as adult-Lea, and, whatthecrap, Axel is now a keyblade wielder. Everyone is really happy to see Axel and have him on team good guy, despite the fact that he has betrayed basically everybody he has ever known, knowingly and repeatedly.
Here’s a tip, Sora, if Kingdom Hearts 3 involves a dungeon called “The Sealed Cave,” leave Axel the hell at home.
Member #7 Saix
- Looks like: Blue hair, big scar on his face, elf ears
- Weapon: Supposed to be a claymore, but you go ahead and find me a claymore with a pointy circle at its tip
- Official Title: The Luna Diviner
- Element: Moon
- Favorite Zelda Game: Majora’s Mask
- Original Name: Isa
Saix, despite his designated number, is the second in command of Organization XIII, and is the guy barking orders at everybody while Xemnas is off concocting grand failures. Saix is also a lifelong friend of Axel, which should tell you everything you need to know about Saix’s judgment. Saix has been casually alluding to his own hidden agenda for like three games now, but barely a hint of what he’s actually planning has come to the surface, so let’s just assume he’s one of those guys that is always telling you about how he could kill you with his mind, but he’s not going to, because he’s too disciplined to do something like that. But he totally could if he wanted to!
Saix is also a confirmed member of the New, post-Kingdom Hearts 2 Organization XIII, so, again, really has a knack for picking the losing side.
Member #6 Zexion
- Looks like: Emo white/silver hair, kinda short
- Weapon: A Dictionary. He’s a weaponized English Major.
- Official Title: The Cloaked Schemer
- Isn’t the entire Organization schemers who wear cloaks? Yes
- Original Name: Ienzo
Golly, I’ve barely mentioned the other half of Chain of Memories. See, while Sora is upstairs playing with Marluxia, Riku is downstairs being taunted by Zexion and his heterosexual life partner, Lexaeus. Zexion is the brains of the operation, and expends a great deal of effort trying to tempt Riku to give in to the darkness because that’s what bad guys do. Zexion, naturally, fails. After Riku kicks his ass, Axel appears before Zexion, and sicks Riku’s clone on Zexion, killing him. Kind of a surreal death.
Zexion and a number of other organization members reawaken after Kingdom Hearts 2, re-alive and refreshed. Zexion, technically Ienzo now, happily explains the whys of their collective resurrection to Axel/Lea. I bring this up because I’d like to think that if I were ever assassinated by someone, and then came back to life, my first impulse would be to turn into a sociable exposition machine for my murderer.
Member #5 Lexaeus
- Looks like: Big guy, stern expression
- Weapon: Tomahawk-Axe-Sword thing
- Official Title: Silent Hero
- Favorite Anime: Dragonball Z
- Element: Earth
- Original Name: Aeleus
Lexaeus is the Larxene to Zexion’s Marluxia. If that sentence made any sense to you, congratulations and welcome to crazytown. They were running out of personalities by the end of Chain of Memories, so Lexaeus is just the strong, silent type, and that’s about all we get out of him. He is very dedicated to Zexion, though, so there’s yet another example of an emotionless nobody having extreme emotions related to another nobody. Lexaeus is Riku’s one direct org-kill.
Member #4 Vexen
- Looks like: Seems to have a lesser version of Sephiroth’s hairdo. Surprisingly doesn’t wear glasses
- Weapon: Shield. Hey, it works for Goofy…
- Official Title: The Chilly Academic
- Element: Ice
- Original Name: (I Don’t) Even.
Vexen is supposed to be the smartest member of Organization XIII. Proving that he’s actually smart:
- He’s some kind of clone-genius. He creates some lesser clones of Sora, a really great clone of Riku, and mostly singlehandedly created Xion.
- One of the only combatants in all of Kingdom Hearts that considers defense in any way.
- … Did I already mention the clone thing?
In the “might be an idiot” column, however…
- He doesn’t seem to realize that nearly every Organization member can’t stand him. The old guard treats him like garbage, and the new recruits openly dismiss him frequently.
- Created Xion, who lasted only a year before dropping off the planet, and ultimately served only to empower Organization XIII’s enemies.
- Has a shield… made of ice. Not the most reliable material in our universe, doubly ineffective in a universe where children can master fire spells.
- Is the absolute first Organization member to die, and at the hands of Axel, no less.
Vexen, you might be the smartest guy in Organization XIII, but that is just such a low bar…
Member #3 Xaldin
- Looks like: Black hair, sideburns, and weird braids everywhere
- Weapon: Lances. All the lances
- Official Title: The Whirlwind Lancer
- Dragoon much? Affirmative
- Element: Wind
- Original Name: Dilan
Xaldin is another enforcer-type in the Organization. He’s combat focused, and spends two games unsuccessfully trying to taunt Beast (as in Beauty and the) into darkness. Let’s consider the fact that if Xaldin was left on the cutting room floor, we’d probably have a boss fight against Gaston in his place. Xaldin died as he lived, being deeply ineffective at Beast’s castle.
Member #2 Xigbar
- Looks like: Ponytail, eyepatch, can’t miss ‘em
- Weapon: Guns… wait… Arrowguns? Is that a thing?
- Official Title: The Freeshooter
- Element: SPAAAAACE
- Original Name: Braig
Xigbar is kind of neat. While Kingdom Hearts 2 portrays him as yet another nobody that seems to know a bit too much but nothing ever comes of it, Birth by Sleep reveals that Xigbar/Braig, unlike the rest of Organization XIII, has been bad to the bone since before Sora was out of kindergarten. Braig joined up with Xehanort early, and apparently was gifted with a bit of Xehanort’s heart before BBS even hit its finale. This means that everybody’s favorite cyclops has known an awful lot over the last decade of Kingdom Hearts history, and has simply decided not to do a thing with this information, despite the fact that it’s very likely it will all lead to the end of the universe. Gotta respect that level of not giving a damn.
Member #1 Xemnas
- Looks like: Ansem. Not that Ansem, the other one.
- Weapon: Lightsabers
- Official Title: Superior of the Inbetween
- Element: Nothing. No, I mean, he has an element, and that element is nothing. I don’t give a darn.
- Original Name: Xehanort (Ansem if you’re nasty)
Oh, look, it’s Xehanort again. I’ve already covered this dork ad nauseam, but, yeah, he’s the big bad behind everything, and he’s had at least, what, five years of evil plotting to get this Organization doing something important, and the best he could come up with is, “Let’s make a new moon.” Given he is powered by the raw failure-drive of not only Xehanort, but the whole Organization, he accomplishes nothing. Not the kind of nothing that he likes, to be clear.
This whole Organization XIII thing ends in a bust, but that was the plan all along! Turns out Organization XIII was secretly founded by Xehanort/Xemnas so he could insert his heart into all the “empty” nobodies, and make himself 13 Xehanorts. But it turned out that all these nobodies were a bunch of stupid wieners, so he gave up and decided to clean house via Soracide. As of Dream Drop Distance, Xehanort has started up his all-new, all-better organization, featuring amazing new members like…
- Xehanort, but younger
- Xehanort, but a heartless
- Xehanort, but a nobody
… And six other guys who have yet to be revealed. They wanted Sora, noted org murderer, to be the new #13, but he politely declined.
It worked so well the first time, let’s do it all again! It’s the Kingdom Hearts way.