With Kingdom Hearts 3 coming soon, it's a great time to get versed in the lore. Kingdom Hearts is a confusing series, so don't feel bad if you need extra help. The games' stories, characters and their complex relationships can be daunting for both series veterans and newcomers alike.
Since Kingdom Hearts' debut in 2002, the story has grown into a labyrinthine beast. If you're eager to jump in with Kingdom Hearts 3's upcoming release, our explainer can help make sense of everything. We've compiled this from various sources such as the Kingdom Hearts Wikia, GamesRadar, various BradyGames strategy guides and personal experience.
(Editor's note: MAJOR SPOILERS ahead.)
What kind of game is Kingdom Hearts?
Kingdom Hearts is an action role-playing series that was born as a collaboration between Square Enix and Disney. Characters from both Final Fantasy and the Disney universe intermingle in a sprawling narrative. You'll find Mickey, Donald and Goofy, as well as Squall and Yuffie from Final Fantasy. Players travel from world to world in the Disney universe to save them from being forced into darkness. There is a wealth of worlds out there inspired by Disney franchises like The Little Mermaid, Hercules and even Tron.
The game is split into a few different segments. Players can explore each world on foot, travel to worlds in customizable Gummi Ships, and engage in real-time combat. While Kingdom Hearts may look colorful and welcoming for beginning video game fans, it's complex, multi-faceted, and chock-full of nuggets of plot that make taking the journey more than worthwhile.
Kingdom Hearts 3 plot guide: Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep story explained
To understand Kingdom Hearts, you must first understand the lore behind the series. Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep is an excellent place to start.
Thousands of years ago, existence revolved only around one enormous world, instead of the several you find yourself visiting throughout the Kingdom Hearts series. The denizens of this world lived in peace and harmony alongside an entity full of light, wisdom and knowledge known as Kingdom Hearts.
Alongside the Kingdom Hearts, there was a powerful weapon, the X blade, that kept all of this goodness and light protected from evil. But there were uprisings from those looking to take the power of the X blade.
As a result of these uprisings, people started making their own X blade copies called Keyblades and began the Keyblade Wars. In the end, even the X blade itself was shattered, and Kingdom Hearts was lost. The world became fragmented.
One Keyblade master, Xehanort, plays a major role in the Kingdom Hearts narrative. During the Keyblade Wars, he straddled the line between light and dark and felt that life with Kingdom Hearts was too quiet, innocent and good. His solution was to reclaim Kingdom Hearts and bring back the X blade. With the X blade, Xehanort would be able to control all of the worlds splintered from the loss of Kingdom Hearts.
Xehanort found that the X blade is summoned when a heart of pure light meets a heart devoid of it. To summon the X blade, he created two people out of his apprentice and named them Ventus and Vanitas. Ventus was gifted the light and Vanitas, the shadow. While the two were separated, Ventus began to train with another Keyblade master, Eraqus. And as Ven is introduced to Aqua and Terra, Eraqus' apprentices, Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep begins.
Ventus was able to have friends, but Vanitas struggled with his true nature inside, which was darkness. Eventually, this darkness manifested in the creation of the "Unversed," or "those who were not well-versed in their own existences," as an echo of Vanitas' negative emotions. The Unversed make up the bulk of the enemies in Birth by Sleep.
Ven, Aqua and Terra were all working together to become respective Keyblade masters, but unfortunately, the group is splintered after working together for so long. Aqua becomes a master, Terra fears there's too much darkness in his heart and Vanitas has the Unversed within him.
Suddenly, Ventus and Aqua found themselves alone. Terra has gone missing, so Ventus and Aqua search for him. While they do find him, and join up again for a brief period, Terra had some issues he needs to resolve, thanks to Xehanort's influence.
Xehanort discusses his plan to create the X blade once more, and ends up sending Ventus to the Land of Departure, which is a sort of limbo between light and darkness. During all of this, Keyblade master Eraqus grows tired of dealing with the problems that have arisen.
A battle begins between all involved parties, including Terra. Unfortunately, Xehanort ends up killing Eraqus, and then everyone meets up at an area known as the Keyblade Graveyard for a final showdown. Terra loses his heart and Xehanort decides to claim Terra's body.
Ventus and Vanitas come together to create the X blade, joining the light and darkness in each of them, but the fight between all parties still rages on. In the end, Ventus's heart is shattered and he's left comatose. King Mickey — yes, Mickey Mouse himself — ends up rescuing Aqua so that Aqua can steal Eraqus' Keyblade and take Ventus to the Land of Departure.
Aqua then changes the world into Castle Oblivion as an attempt to keep Ventus's body safe from harm. In one of the first shifts to the Kingdom Hearts characters and main cast we know, young Sora feels something from Ventus's shattered heart. He ends up putting the heart inside his chest to keep it safe. No, that doesn't really make sense, but it's an important thing to make a note of for future story beats.
The fight still rages on between Aqua and Xehanort with Terra's body, and Aqua is eventually trapped in the Realm of Darkness (the world between light and dark). Xehanort makes his way to the Radiant Garden, a world that's ruled by Ansem the Wise.
Xehanort has amnesia and starts studying under Ansem, learning more about Kingdom Hearts. This isn't a good look for anyone, and Ansem the Wise's followers, under Xehanort's influence, overthrow him. Everyone turns into the monsters known as Heartless or are simply turned into more people with amnesia scattered throughout the universe.
Ruling the Radiant Garden now, Xehanort has plenty of time to experiment and try and reclaim Kingdom Hearts. He turns into two different people: a Heartless named Ansem, and a Nobody named Xemnas.
To make it clear once more, a Heartless is an enemy made from darkness. Some Heartless are Emblem Heartless, which are essentially the darkness out of a person's heart as well as the heart itself.
Nobodies are the bodies and souls of the heart that became a Heartless. Unversed are also a type of enemy that we mentioned earlier, and they're enemies born of negative emotion that were created from one thing, then disappeared when whatever they were created from was destroyed.
Following these shenanigans, Ansem the Wise's apprentices turn into Nobodies as well, subscribing to Xemnas's ideas. Soon, this group transforms into the group known as Organization XIII. Their hideout is named the World That Never Was.
Ansem — not Ansem the Wise — becomes obsessed with collecting the Princesses of Hearts, who are Disney princesses you're likely familiar with, because their hearts are pure and full of light. Xemnas is on board because he wants to destroy people. With the stage and motivations set, it's time to launch into the first Kingdom Hearts.
Kingdom Hearts 3 plot guide: Kingdom Hearts story explained
Kingdom Hearts begins with Destiny Islands, an idyllic place where a teenager named Sora lives. You've probably seen him, spiky hair and all, in the Kingdom Hearts marketing materials and every game since. Sora lives on the Destiny Islands with his two best friends Riku and Kairi. He finds island life boring and always wants to see what takes place on the other worlds out there.
One fateful night, a terrifying storm destroys the islands, and shadowy Heartless come to destroy the happiness Sora and his friends shared. In the tumult of the storm, Kairi's heart somehow reaches out to Sora's heart, and she falls into a coma as well. Sora's got a lot of heart business going on now inside of him. The Heartless are looking to "unlock" the hearts of the worlds out there that, handily, Sora will eventually be tasked with saving. King Mickey is frustrated with the destruction of this world and sends his disciples, powerful fighters Donald and Goofy, to seek out a Keyblade master to make things right again. Mickey then leaves to try and figure out what's been going on out in the world.
Sora, separated from his friends, finds himself in a new world known as Traverse Town. He meets several unfamiliar characters (most of which are from the Final Fantasy series) who let him know that he's been selected to wield the ancient weapon known as the Keyblade and save the other worlds out there that have been plunged into darkness. Donald and Goofy join him as they proclaim him the "savior of worlds" that King Mickey was looking for. He can use his Keyblade to "lock" the other worlds' keyholes and keep them from harm.
On the trio's journey, they see Riku, who has met with Sleeping Beauty's Maleficent, in a bit of a plot twist, to try and figure out what's going on with Kairi's heart. There's something special about Kairi, who would normally become a Nobody without her heart. She's one of the seven Princesses of Heart that Ansem has been searching for, so keep that information under your hat.
Eventually, Sora and friends end up at Hollow Bastion, or the world that used to be known as Ansem the Wise's Radiant Garden. Sora and Riku fight there because Riku seems to be working for the enemy, and Riku steals Sora's Keyblade. It turns out that Riku is possessed by Ansem, Xehanort's Nobody. Remember that? Ansem knows all about that little bit with Kairi's heart being inside Sora's somehow, and he's trying to get at Sora because of that. Sora's course of action is to stab himself in the heart to release Kairi's heart back to her, but that makes Sora a Heartless. Kairi solves this dilemma and puts Sora back to normal, but don't expect an explanation as to where these powers come from. All that is pretty well not explained at all.
After this big bundle of drama, however, Sora has ended up creating two Nobodies after stabbing himself in the chest. One is named Roxas, for himself, and one for Kairi named Namine. These will become important in the next game.
Sora goes with Riku to the last world of Kingdom Hearts called the End of the World. This is an area where lost souls go after being killed. There's a door to Kingdom Hearts created from the ashes of the worlds already destroyed, and Ansem is back here with the door ready to open it and walk through. He opens the door and is instantly killed thanks to the overwhelming amount of light. The door doesn't close, and an abundance of Heartless are trying to take over. Our heroes sacrifice themselves for the greater good by sealing the door from the inside.
As the End of the World is torn asunder, Sora tells Kairi he'll be back with her one day as he becomes sealed inside the door. Kairi goes back to Destiny Islands by herself. It's pretty tearjerking, but it might be a little sadder if it weren't so convoluted. It should all be getting a little clearer by now, however.
Ready to play? Kingdom Hearts is available on PlayStation 2 as a standalone game, as part of a PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4 compilation called Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix and in a Japanese-only release called Kingdom Hearts Final Mix.
Kingdom Hearts 3 plot guide: Kingdom Hearts 2 story explained
Kingdom Hearts 2 follows a very different path than you may have been expecting. Following both Roxas and Sora, this is where so many of the confusing parts you might have seen in the series so far converge. Sora's Nobody is Roxas, who becomes a member of the Organization XIII group. The other Nobody is Namine, who's able to change Sora's memories. She also kind of resembles a young Aya Brea from Parasite Eve — that's actually who I thought she was at first.
During Kingdom Hearts 2, Organization XIII is still out there trying to accomplish their nefarious plans. However, they're looking to get their hearts back, because they're not pleased with being Nobodies. Meanwhile, a member of the group named Marluxia is looking to take over the group for his own. To do this, he tasks Namine with changing Sora's memories, all while Namine warns Sora about the impending issues that are happening with Marluxia and company. Sora learns about the plan and decides to fight Marluxia. When he wins, Namine restores his memories, but he remains in stasis, frozen, for two years.
Meanwhile, Roxas has fake memories of a town with his own friends and is living up life under the player's control, essentially as a Sora replacement until Namine reveals the secret that the two of them are Nobodies. His memories are sent to Sora, and Roxas understands his status as a Nobody once and for all.
But what about the rest of the Disney gang? Riku and King Mickey have been trapped in the Realm of Darkness together since the beginning of Kingdom Hearts 2. Roxas finally discovers what's happened to Sora and sets out to make things right, as he and Mickey, as well as a stranger named Diz, set out on the path to do just that. After Roxas joins Organization XIII, Sora is released from stasis and he, Donald and Goofy look throughout the worlds for Riku and Mickey. This is one of those things that could easily have been solved by assigning cell phones to everyone.
In the end, while both groups clash against Organization XIII, everyone meets up at the End of the World, where Diz — assumed to be Ansem the Wise — lets loose a machine that's meant to take care of Kingdom Hearts once and for all. Upon its release it destroys Kingdom Hearts, while Sora and Riku meet up and attack Xemnas, who's finally come back to wreak havoc on people again. Unfortunately, while Riku and Sora have won the fight, they end up being trapped in the same world that's stuck between light and darkness.
Luckily, the power of friendship brings them together and is robust enough to take them back home to Destiny Islands. That means Sora, Riku and Kairi are back home together and can live in peace once more, until they receive a message from King Mickey.
Mickey explains the intricacies of Sora and company's journey and explains that they must still go out into the world and do their best to save all the rest of those connected to Sora and figure out everything that's still a little screwed up out there. This brings us to Kingdom Hearts 3, which has yet to be released, but you're ready to jump right in, having read this explainer. Read on for some of the accompanying games.
Kingdom Hearts 3 plot guide: All the other Kingdom Hearts games
Now get ready for a whole new bushel of additional information after you play Kingdom Hearts 3. But don't forget there are several other games out there you can play to add more to the Kingdom Hearts lore that we didn't cover. Let's go over them briefly, though playing them is entirely optional.
Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories and Kingdom Hearts Re:Chain of Memories
This Game Boy Advance release eventually re-emerged as Kingdom Hearts Re:Chain of Memories with 3D graphics and expanded content in Japan as part of the Kingdom Hearts 2 Final Mix compilation in 2007, but it made its way to North America as a standalone game in 2008. Chronologically speaking, it's a direct sequel to Kingdom Hearts, and it ends about a year before Kingdom Hearts 2.
Sora and the same characters you meet in Kingdom Hearts explore Castle Oblivion, the castle created by Lord Marluxia from Organization XIII. The game's combat utilizes special cards that you need to shuffle between for various abilities, and also features several different Disney worlds in addition to Twilight Town, meant to represent "the other side of Sora's heart." It's now available as part of both the PlayStation 3's Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix, as well as on the PlayStation 4 under the same name.
Kingdom Hearts: Coded and Kingdom Hearts Re:Coded
This game originally came out on mobile phones back in 2008, but it wasn't until its re-release as a Nintendo DS game in January 2011 that it picked up steam. It came out in a few different episodes as a phone game, but Kingdom Hearts Re:coded compiled everything into one. Gameplay mechanics were altered with the jump from DS to the new console, and additional scenes were spliced in, including a new secret movie and hints about the then-upcoming game Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance. The new version retained many of the mechanics from the original, but the tweaks made it much more playable as a remake on a new console.
Kingdom Hearts Re:coded takes place after Kingdom Hearts 2 and follows Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy and Jiminy Cricket as they explore parts of the Kingdom Hearts worlds as seen in Jiminy's journal from the first Kingdom Hearts game. Sora appears as an AI version of himself called "Data-Sora," and the enemies are actually software bugs this time around that are trying to corrupt the data in Jiminy's journal. It's a jaunty, fun game in the style of movies like Tron.
Kingdom Hearts Mobile
This game never made it to the U.S., but it's an interesting release nevertheless. Kingdom Hearts Mobile came out for mobile devices in 2008 in Japan, meant to be used with Kingdom Hearts: Coded upon its debut. It's not part of the main Kingdom Hearts storyline and was instead meant for community-based social gaming. It's not available for Western players, and it likely will never be. Luckily there's nothing particularly necessary in it for understanding the series as a whole.
Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days
This game's subtitle should be read as "Three Five Eight Days Over Two," if you're confused, and it originally appeared on Nintendo DS, taking place near the end of Kingdom Hearts and continuing alongside Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories. It follows Roxas' adventure as he's recruited by Xemnas to join Organization XIII. It switches between Roxas's perspective as well as Axel's and introduces a new member of Organization XIII: Xion. It's available as part of the Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix collection for PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4, but it wasn't given a full remake. Instead, it was given a 3-hour cinematic feature retelling to get fans up to speed with new voiceovers and about 70% of the main plot.
Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance
This Nintendo 3DS original came out in 2012, with 3D support for the handheld and classic Kingdom Hearts gameplay. It takes place after Kingdom Hearts Re:Coded, following Sora and Riku's mark of mastery exam in parallel worlds where Xehanort is returning. You can play as both Riku and Sora as well as recruit special Dream Eater creatures. It's available on Nintendo 3DS and Kingdom Hearts HDS 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue on PlayStation 4 as an HD remake.
Kingdom Hearts ?, Kingdom Hearts Unchained ? and Kingdom Hearts Union ? [Cross]
Originally, Kingdom Hearts ? (pronounced "chi") was a browser game that came out only in Japan. It was then released as Kingdom Hearts Unchained ? later as a mobile game in North America in April 2016, serving as a prequel to the entire Kingdom Hearts series. It sets the stage 100 years before the Keyblade Wars we went over earlier, and you take up the role as a Keyblade wielder who joins one of five factions warring for control over light in the world.
The plot will be central to Kingdom Hearts 3, and the title even refers to the X blade, the same one we talked about earlier in the article. The game received an update in April 2017 to add the Union Cross mode, rebranding the game as Kingdom Hearts Union ? [Cross], which allows players to team up in parties of six to take on quests, with additional story chapters to complete as well.
Are you ready for Kingdom Hearts 3? You should be. There's no release date just yet, but we're patiently waiting for it, and we'll update this article as it comes.
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