Disney Gaming: A Kingdom Hearts Deep-Dive Overview

Kingdom Hearts 3, the latest and 12th game in the Kingdom Hearts series, was finally released this year to fervent anticipation and wide acclaim. In the interests of completion, I have now finished all the games (or watched all the cutscenes) available and can finally give a deep-dive overview for those new to Sora and his gang, in preparation for tackling the new game.

Kingdom Hearts Logo

Kingdom Hearts 3 is preceded by a long storyline encompassed by many different games designed for many different platforms.

Sora from Kingdom Hearts, with friends Donald Duck and Goofy

One recommended playorder:

  • Kingdom Hearts Final Mix
  • Kingdom Hearts Re:Chain of Memories
  • Kingdom Hearts 2 Final Mix
  • Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days
  • Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep Final Mix
  • Kingdom Hearts Re:coded
  • Kingdom Hearts HD Dream Drop Distance
  • Kingdom Hearts χ[chi]
  • Kingdom Hearts χ Back Cover
  • Kingdom Hearts 0.2 Birth by Sleep–A Fragmentary Passage–
  • Kingdom Hearts Union χ
  • Kingdom Hearts 3

The first six games can be found on the remastered collection KINGDOM HEARTS HD 1.5 + 2.5 ReMIX, which I covered here, with Dream Drop, Back Cover, and Fragmentary Passage on Kingdom Hearts 2.8 (which I also covered here.)  The χ sub-series is an RPG (role-playing game) that was originally created as a PC browser game, but by Union χ was released as a mobile game. The Back Cover cutscenes were included on 2.8, while χ and Union χ cutscenes can be found at various places online.

Before you play Kingdom Hearts 3, it might be helpful to understand what came before.

The Story So Far (Spoilers for the earlier games)

The Dark Seeker Saga largely revolves around Sora, a young boy who starts out living a peaceful life with his two friends Riku and Kairi on Destiny Islands.  In Kingdom Hearts 1, the three are separated by powers of darkness and while Sora is introduced to familiar Disney characters Donald and Goofy and proceeds to learn to wield a keyblade weapon, Riku’s heart becomes possessed by a malevolent force.  The main combatants for Sora are the Heartless — the physical manifestations of people’s hearts after they give in completely to the darkness.

Sora and the Heartless

Ultimately, Sora manages to defeat Maleficent’s plan to use the seven Princesses of Heart: Snow White, Cinderella, Aurora, Alice, Jasmine, Belle, and Kairi, whose heart was discovered to be hidden inside Sora‘s heart. (Sora then extracted her with a keyblade and became a Heartless until he got better.) The plan was to open the door to Kingdom Hearts — the heart of all worlds, and the source of great power (whether light or dark is uncertain).  It turns out, however, that Maleficent is just a pawn of a being named Ansem who was the same dark force that took over Riku, and who wanted to access the power of Kingdom Hearts for his own nebulous purposes. Sora was able to defeat him and permanently shut the door to Kingdom Hearts, but was forced to lock both Riku and King Mickey on the other side in the Realm of Darkness.

In Chain of Memories, Sora, Donald, and Goofy all find themselves wandering through Castle Oblivion searching for Riku and Mickey, but gradually losing their memories. This turns out to be an orchestrated scientific experiment run by a group called Organization XIII who are all Nobodies — the body and soul that are left after a person falls to darkness.  (Note:  Darkness apparently splits a person into two parts — the heart, which is ironically denoted as “Heartless,” and everything else, including the body, known as “Nobody.”)

They use a mysterious girl called Namine to erase Sora’s memories of Kairi, and replace her with Namine in hopes of using him in their mysterious plans.  A lot of this game involves the different factions of the Organization and how they interact and scheme collectively and independently.  Riku is also drawn to the castle and is used to create a dark replica of himself.  By the end, the Organization members are routed and a freed Namine (eventually discovered to be Kairi’s Nobody from the time when Kairi’s heart was stuck with Sora’s heart) puts Sora, Donald, and Goofy into pods where they will sleep while she restores their original memories.  Riku, who never did find them while they were all in the castle, manages to come to terms with the darkness that still resides in his heart, and decides to join up with Namine and a mysterious stranger named DiZ to protect Sora while he sleeps.

Riku

Kingdom Hearts 2 starts off with Roxas, a young boy whose general physical form is suspiciously similar to Sora, who is living a peaceful life in Twilight Town with his friends, when strange phenomena that only he can hear and see start taking over his life in an eerie “Twilight Zone” fashion.  We eventually find that Roxas is actually Sora’s Nobody from the brief time that Sora was a Heartless, and he is living in a virtual simulation created by DiZ to prepare him to merge with Sora so that Sora can finally wake up after a year of memory reconstruction.  We learn that the Organization’s aim is to collect all the hearts that are released whenever Sora destroys a Heartless, to create a Kingdom Hearts celestial body, which will somehow give them power to get their own hearts back — their ultimate goal.

Sora and co. subsequently find Mickey, who tells them that back before all this mess happened, he was pals with Ansem the Wise, and the dude they killed back in KH1 was not him.  The person they fought was actually the Heartless of Ansem’s apprentice Xehanort, whose Nobody (Xemnas) was now leading Organization XIII.  (This leads to one of my favorite moments in the game when, after Mickey delivers this long exposition, they walk outside and see Xemnas and Donald yells, “HEY!  IT’S… THE GUY WHO’S NOT ANSEM!”)

Xemnas

After everyone finally meets up on The World That Never Was, Riku is revealed to have been hiding himself because after he released the full dark power of his heart to defeat Roxas in battle, he was transformed into the likeness of Xehanort.  DiZ is then revealed to be the actual Ansem the Wise who had gone temporarily mad with anger at the Organization’s betrayal and who had subsequently developed a machine to suck up the hearts from Kingdom Hearts in remorse.  Unfortunately, the machine fails on activation, causing an explosion that transforms Riku back into his usual self, and causes Ansem to disappear entirely.  After defeating Xemnas and the rest of the Organization, Sora and Riku are trapped in the Realm of Darkness until a note in a bottle from Kairi comes to show them the way to get home.

358/2 (cutscenes) shows some of the events that took place over the year that Sora slept in the pod — Roxas’ initiation into Organization XIII, his burgeoning friendship with Axel, and his final showdown with Xion, a replica designed to absorb Sora’s memories, who must be reintegrated before Sora can wake up.

Axel, Roxas, and Xion. The story of Kingdom Hearts is basically a bunch of kids sitting around eating sea salt ice cream in the most dangerous spots possible.

Birth By Sleep starts 10 years prior to the events of KH1 and follows the paths of three potential keyblade masters:  Terra, Aqua, and Ventus, a young boy whose general physical form is suspiciously similar to Sora .  While they all train under Master Eraqus, a visiting Master Xehanort (voiced by the late, great Leonard Nimoy) influences their test of mastery so that Aqua passes but Terra does not.  As the three visit different worlds defeating the Unversed — products of negative emotion — chasing Xehanort and occasionally each other, Xehanort perpetually nudges Terra to give in to the darkness in his heart.  Finally, Ventus learns that when he was younger, Xehanort had split his heart into two with the dark part going to his manifested twin, Vanitas.  The purpose behind that was to eventually have both of them fight and recombine into a legendary keyblade known as the χ-blade.  In order to stop Xehanort from obtaining the χ-blade, Eraqus, in a moment of weakness, tries to kill Ventus (Eraqus is voiced by Mark Hamill who apparently has a habit of trying to kill his pupils).  Terra arrives in time to defend Ventus, however his fight with Eraqus weakens him, and he can only watch in horror as Xehanort arrives and easily finishes Eraqus off.

They all end up at the Keyblade Graveyard, site of the Keyblade War some 100 years prior.  Here, a lot of fighting goes down. Ventus and Vanitas end up fighting and merging to create the χ-blade, but Aqua and Mickey manage to destroy it, leaving Ventus catatonic.  In a different location, Terra and Xehanort fight and it’s revealed that all this time Xehanort has been corrupting Terra’s heart in order to facilitate the transfer of his mind into Terra’s body from his own decrepit one.  Aqua seals the sleeping Ventus into Castle Oblivion and casts a spell so that no one can find him but her, and then goes to battle the possessed Terra.  While Terra does his best to assist Aqua from within, they all wind up falling into the Realm of Darkness and faced with a choice, Aqua saves Terra at her own expense, trapping herself there.  The ending has Ansem the Wise finding and taking in an amnesiac Terra who gives his name as “Xehanort.”

Terra and Xehanort. I will root for anyone voiced by Leonard Nimoy.

Re:coded (cutscenes) was an odd chapter in this story, and looking back on all the rest of it, that’s saying something.  After the events of KH2, Mickey, Donald, Goofy, and Jiminy Cricket discover a cryptic message in Jiminy’s journals that he doesn’t remember writing:  “Their hurting will be mended when you come to end it.”  They proceed to digitize the journals and create a virtual Sora who can travel around the virtual worlds debugging the journal.  At the end, they discover that the message was left by Namine, back when she was restoring Sora’s memories.  She had found that there were several people still left in jeopardy with some connection to Sora’s heart, and now it was his duty to go rescue them.  At the very end of it, Master Yen Sid reveals that when you destroy both the Heartless and the Nobody of someone (as they did with Xehanort in KH1 and 2), they automatically come back.  Whaaa?

Namine

In Dream Drop Distance, Yen Sid puts Sora and Riku through a Mark of Mastery exam in anticipation of Xehanort’s return.  While they make their way through their task of awakening worlds gone to sleep after having been destroyed by Heartless, they encounter a man who is eventually revealed to be a younger version of Xehanort.  His mission is to create the real Organization XIII with various incarnations of Xehanort from different times, along with hosts of Xehanort’s fragmented heart.  (This is revealed to have been the whole point of the original Organization XIII, unbeknownst to its members.)  Once he has thirteen Seekers of Darkness, Xehanort plans to use them to battle seven Guardians of Light at which time prophecy says the χ-blade will once again be formed.  By the end of the game, Riku has received the title of Keyblade Master, while much of Sora’s powers have diminished, secondary to his almost becoming one of Xehanort’s vessels.  Yen Sid sets up the events of KH3 by revealing his intention of gathering seven keyblade wielders to take the place of the seven Princesses of Heart in the prophecy.  To this aim, they must find Aqua, Terra, and Ventus; Sora must regain his lost powers; and Axel and Kairi need to go to keyblade school.

Sora and the Gang:  They may look angry, but they’ve been through a lot by this time.

Kingdom Hearts χ (cutscenes) is set 100 years in the past when the Master of Masters reveals the Book of Prophecies to his apprentices, which claims that there will be an inevitable conflict in which darkness will win and all light snuffed out.  He then leaves cryptic orders for the Foretellers to create different factions and assume different roles in their society, and disappears.  Eventually the Keyblade War does take place and most of the keyblade wielders are killed at what will later be known as the Keyblade Graveyard, with the exception of a handful recruited as “Dandelions” which remain separate from the conflict in order to rebuild afterwards.  This game is still ongoing and being updated.

The Foretellers

Fragmentary Passage is a short prelude to KH3 which follows Aqua right after the events of Birth By Sleep, as she wanders through the Realm of Darkness.

Aqua

Ok, you got all that?  Because NOW we’re finally ready to take a look at Kingdom Hearts III.

The aforementioned collections KINGDOM HEARTS HD 1.5+2.5 ReMIX and KINGDOM HEARTS HD 2.8 FINAL CHAPTER PROLOGUE are available for purchase together in THE STORY SO FAR collection now available on the Square Enix Store.

Are you a Kingdom Hearts fan? Let us know in the comments.

You can read more about Disney’s Kingdom Hearts in these other posts:

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Baseline Tap House

Jeanine resides in Southern California, pursuing the sort of lifestyle that makes her the envy of every 11-year-old she meets. She has been to every Disney theme park in the world and while she finds Tokyo DisneySea the Fairest Of Them All, Disneyland is her Home Park... and there is no place like home.

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One Reply to “Disney Gaming: A Kingdom Hearts Deep-Dive Overview”

  1. First game was amazing. So good for Disney and Final Fantasy fans. Second was where it started to drag. Now, KH3 is a convoluted mess of a story that despite everyone chomping at the bit for it for over a decade, it had a completely lukewarm release. Days afterwards, it had been universally panned as the worst in the series by a mile. Like all the extraneous games, they worked too hard on a story that most didn’t care about and that should have been simple but kept adding more twists and folds to try to make it deep and lost the attention of their audience. Sad what has happened to a game with such an amazing universe available. This is par for the course with Square-Enix as of late.