It’s sold over 25 million copies across the world – but damned if anybody can make sense of it. Sam Brooks brings you the exhaustive, definitive guide to the world of Kingdom Hearts.
History was made one day in the late 90s when Shinji Hashimoto and Hironobu Sakaguchi decided they wanted to make a game with full freedom of movement, aka a platformer. They wanted a game that could rival Super Mario 64, but the only way to make a game that rivaled that one in popularity would be one with Disney characters. A flawed, and insane, hypothesis, but one that persisted.
One Tetsuya Nomura, who is mostly popular for designing video game characters overloaded with both zips and belts, overheard this conversation and offered to lead the project. One more conversation – a literal elevator pitch between an unnamed Disney executive and Shinji Hashimoto, at that stage a high level executive at Square-Enix (the result of a merger between Squaresoft and Enix) – led to the project transforming from an insane fever dream into… an even more insane, but very much realised fever dream.
Tetsuya Nomura would later say that the game’s name was inspired by Disney Theme Parks like Splash Mountain or Animal Kingdom or Johnny Deep Overacting Pirate World. Nomura couldn’t claim the IP with just ‘kingdom’, and the development team was beginning to think about ‘heart’ as a core part of the story. Therefore, they combined the two to form the name ‘Kingdom Hearts’.
This kind of barely intelligible logic would come to define the series, and the succeeding 17 years.
My friends, consider this your definitive guide to making sense of the Kingdom Hearts series, just in time for the release of the much-awaited ‘third’ but secretly ‘tenth’ game in the series on January 29:
The simplest way to describe Kingdom Hearts is that it’s Disney and Final Fantasy fanfiction. There’s a whole bunch of Disneycharacters and a whole bunch of Final Fantasy characters who interact with a bunch of OCs (that’s original characters, for you fanfiction philistines). Disney worlds and characters provide the backdrop and text, while Final Fantasy has generally provided the tone and texture. As the series goes on, both will take such a backseat to the OCs that they’re tied up, gagged and bound in the trunk.
With that explained, this is a dive into the general premise and plot of the first game, released for the PlayStation 2 in 2002 to fanfare, critical acclaim, and mild bewilderment.
- Sora, Kairi and Riku reside on the Destiny Islands. They all yearn to go to other worlds that they’ve heard of on the other side of the ocean. However, on the night they decide to leave, their island is attacked by Heartless (a Heartless is what’s left of a human when their hearts are stolen – this is very important to the series and not at all important to your actual life, so pay attention). All three are separated, but Sora acquires a Keyblade.
- Sora ends up in Traverse Town, and runs into Donald and Goofy (yes those ones) and also Squall from Final Fantasy VIII. Mickey Mouse, who is the king of this entire universe, kind of, has tasked Donald and Goofy with finding the wielder of the Keyblade, because that’s the key to stopping the encroaching darkness. Riku shows up in Traverse Town, but he runs into Maleficent, who manipulates him into believing that Sora has abandoned him, because apparently the best way of achieving her slightly vague plans of destroying all the worlds is emotionally abusing a teenage boy.
- Oh, also, Maleficent runs a cabal of Disney villains. These include Clayton from Tarzan, Hades from Hercules, Jaffar from Aladdin, Monstro from Pinnochio, The Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland, Ursula from The Little Mermaid and Oogie-Boogie from The Nightmare Before Christmas. They are looking for the six Princesses of Heart, who vaguely line up with the canonical as-of-2002 Disney Princesses, who are the key to stopping the darkness along with the Keyblade wielder. If the villains get them first, darkness continues unimpeded, in theory. This is forgotten for many games and suddenly picked up towards the end.
- Sora, Donald and Goofy travel through the above worlds, fighting alongside the likes of Aladdin, Peter Pan, Hercules, and Beast from Beauty and the Beast, who does not appear in a world based on Beauty and the Beast but in a world called Hollow Bastion, where the Final Fantasy characters hail from in this canon.
- At some point, Riku defeats Sora in battle (after being manipulated by Maleficent emotionally into doing so, because any witch should be able to manipulate a teenaged boy). While under the possession of a malevolent force, he turns Sora into a Heartless for a brief amount of time. This is an immensely important event in the canon of the series, and is not to be overlooked. Sora is quickly turned back into a human being, and it is revealed that Riku has been possessed by Ansem, who is manipulating Maleficent, and is someone who is capable of manipulating the powers of darkness.
- Kairi is revealed to be a Princess of Heart, which is surprisingly unimportant to the series! But at some point, she’s turned into a Heartless. Sora releases not only his heart but Kairi’s, and this event is surprisingly important to the series!
- At a place literally called the End of the World, Sora, Donald and Goofy fight against Ansem outside the door to Kingdom Hearts, which is a literal place is this series. Ansem believes Kingdom Hearts, the place, to be the key to unlocking all of darkness and… dooming the world or something. It’s not really clear what he wants at this point. Ansem opens the door, and surprise, it’s actually the source of light! Beyond that door are King Mickey and Riku, who are fighting many Heartless. King Mickey, who is also a Keyblade wielder, helps Sora close the door but he and Riku are trapped on the other side, in the Realm of Darkness, even though the door was to the light? Look, it’s too early to be splitting hairs.
- The game ends happily. The worlds hurt by Heartless reconstruct themselves, Kairi goes back to Destiny Islands, while Sora, Donald and Goofy go on a journey to save Mickey. No gamer is aware of what will happening the succeeding 17 years of real-time, and likely neither are the people who make this game.
- Oh, there’s this post-credits scene, which would become a staple of the series. These post-credits scenes are essentially high quality, immensely cryptic cinematics that hint at the plot for the next game in the series. I won’t be explaining these here, because they’re quite confusing, and this thing is already going to be long enough:
Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories
This is where the train goes off the rails, Thomas the Tank Engine style. The second Kingdom Hearts game was on the Gameboy Advance, and if you happen to have not had that portable system at the time, then you were locked out of the canon! Congratulations.
Chain of Memories is where the conceit of the Kingdom Hearts series becomes truly apparent: Disney is the icing on the cake, but none of these worlds or characters (outside of Mickey Mouse) have any impact on the overall canon. Double this irrelevance for Final Fantasy characters.
With all that said, Chain of Memories, here we go:
- Sora, Donald and Goofy run into a hooded traveller, and rather than ignoring him like reasonable people, they follow his directions to go to Castle Oblivion, which is not at all a foreboding name. The deeper they go into Castle Oblivion, the more of their memories they lose, but the further they go, the more they’ll uncover new memories. Please don’t think about this.
- Sora runs into ‘Organization XIII’, 13 hooded figures who call themselves Nobodies, at some point – maybe not in this game, but it’s important to label them now before things get too confusing. Nobodies are creatures that are formed when a Heartless is formed. You will remember from Kingdom Hearts that a Heartless is formed when a human being’s heart is ripped from them, somehow. The heart turns into a Heartless, the body turns into a Nobody. This will be stupidly, stupidly relevant to the series, and it never gets any less confusing.
- As Sora fights members of the Organization and regains his memories, he ‘remembers’ that a friend of his called Namine is being held prisoner. He also runs into a replica of his friend, Riku, who believes himself to be the real Riku. This is… probably important in Kingdom Hearts III, but not especially at this point.
- Namine is freed from her person by an Organization double agent, Axel, and reveals to Sora that she has been forced to manipulate his memories by Marluxia, the lord of Castle Oblivion and member of the Organization, who also wants to overthrow the Organization.
- Sora defeats Marluxia, and Namine puts him, Donald and Goofy into some kind of sleep pod machine to recover their memories, although they will lose the memories they ‘found’ in Castle Oblivion.
- While all this is happening, Riku is doing some stuff that turns out to be very relevant to the series canon. After being stuck on the other side of the door to Kingdom Hearts, a real literal place, he winds up transported from the Realm of Darkness to the basement of Castle Oblivion, and has to fight his way through the basement, and also against his inner darkness.
- At some point, Vexen, a member of Organization XIII creates the replica of Riku. Also, Riku is being occasionally possessed by Ansem, the defeated villain of Kingdom Hearts, but he is ultimately kept at bay by the powers of Mickey Mouse.
- Riku meets DiZ (pronounced ‘Diz’, an acronym for Darkness in Zero, which isn’t even top ten of dumb names in this stupid amazing series), Riku defeats his replica and banishes Ansem from his heart, and Riku’s story in his game ends with him resolving to use both the darkness and light in his heart. It’s important to note here that in the Kingdom Hearts series, the power of darkness is a very literal thing and not, even remotely, a metaphor.
Kingdom Hearts II
We return to the Playstation 2 for Kingdom Hearts II, which remains my favourite of the series up until this point, which is also the general critical consensus. Does that mean that it makes any sense? No! As you’ll see below.
(Also, if you want a purely visual, nonsensical, music video retelling of the first two games in the series, the above video will give that to you.)
Here we go:
- The game starts off with you playing as Roxas, who has up until this point not been a character in the game. You play as him for five gentle, plotless, hours until its revealed that Roxas is Sora’s Nobody, created when Sora’s heart got removed in Kingdom Hearts. Roxas has been put in a digital simulation of Twilight Town, somehow, by DiZ (who is voiced by genuine movie legend Christopher Lee) in order to incubate while Sora recovers his memories. Axel, the Organization double agent, breaks into the simulation to free Roxas, but Roxas turns against him, and he is merged with Sora. Namine is involved somehow.
- At some point, somebody had to explain this plot to Christopher Lee. This isn’t important to the plot, but it is extremely important to me that you know that at some point this happened.
- Sora, Donald and Goofy wake up, go and meet King Mickey and Yen Sid (the wizard from Fantasia) and are sent on a new quest to find Riku and unveil the Organizations plans. Oh, also Maleficent is revived when the fairies from Sleeping Beauty remember her, and Pete, a huge dog (?) who hails from Disney’s Steamboat Willie days, is her servant.
- Sora, Donald and Goofy travel to these worlds: Mulan (it’s never addressed that Mulan is set in real-world China, and it’s best not to think about it), Pirates of the Caribbean (also set in the real world, ostensibly), Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King (real world, Africa, don’t think about it), Hercules (Greece), Tron (a computer) and in a genuine inspired choice, Steamboat Willie. None of these are relevant to the canon, but it’s important to note here that the hour-long-ish plot of each world tries to correlate to the actual plot of the movie they’re from, and it’s… very confusing and not worth going into because we’re only three games and many, many words in.
- We find out that the Ansem that was defeated in Kingdom Hearts was not Ansem at all, but actually a man named Xehanort, and Xehanort’s Nobody, Xemnas, is currently running Organization XIII. Also, the real Ansem, is DiZ, who has a whole bunch of bandages over his face for unimportant reasons, and he was Xehanort’s mentor many years ago.
- Organization XIII’s plans revolve around Kingdom Hearts, and they want to acquire the power of Kingdom Hearts to get their hearts back. Nobodies are formed when a Heartless forms, but they have no souls or hearts or emotions, and for some reason they want those pesky things back. You do you, Organization XIII.
- Sora, Donald and Goofy chase Organization XIII to a world called The World That Never Was, which is where Xemnas is trying to access the power of Kingdom Hearts! It backfires, and Xemnas gets engulfed by a light explosion, which also returns Riku to his original appearance. Oh, also, Riku is there and he looks different because of the power of darkness. It’s not important.
- Everybody ends up on the Destiny Islands, and the series could have ended here. But… it didn’t. In a post-credits scene, a Keyblade War is cryptically hinted at, there’s a bunch of people in armour, it’s spooky as hell, and… actually really not super crucial to the plot. Trust me, it’s explained by other games, so this is just a moody trailer.
Kingdom Hearts coded
This was a mobile game, and has minimal relevance to the canon. By which I mean there’s a lot of gameplay, but it doesn’t add a whole lot or complicate things, being one of the few games to potentially provide more answers than it does questions.
- The game starts with Jiminy Cricket, who is also a part of the Kingdom Hearts canon, going through his journals of the first two games, and finding a line he didn’t write: “Their hurting will be mended only when you return to end it.” Rather than writing it off as the musings of a too-reflective teenager, he decides to investigate where it came from.
- You play as Data-Sora, a virtual version of Sora created by King Mickey to access the journals and… you know what, a lot of this actually isn’t relevant to the canon and is needlessly complicated. Basically you end up finding that Namine inserted the line into the journal to be a reminder of all the hearts that are linked to Sora’s heart – herself, Roxas, Axel, Xion, Terra, Aqua, Ventus – and it is Sora’s duty to save these people.
In order to preserve how confusing this is to even a regular player of the game, this game came out on mobile devices and the conclusion of the game introduces us to four completely new but incredibly plot-relevant characters who would be explored over the next few games.
There’s also a secret ending, but explaining that here would make things more complicated, so I’ll explain it down the road.
Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days
Ludicrously, this is pronounced ‘Three hundred and fifty eight over two days’. It came out for the Nintendo DS in 2009, and is told from the perspective of Roxas, before he got shoved into a computer somewhere to incubate Sora’s memories or powers or whatever. It occurs roughly at the same time, chronologically, as Chain of Memories.
This game is… actually probably more important than you might think it is. Please, please remember that the definition of important for the duration of this article is scaled to however important you think the canon of the Kingdom Hearts series is. And the correct importance is of course, no importance. The polar bears are melting and the Sahara Desert has dropped below absolute zero, you guys.
In saying that! Three hundred and fifty eight over two, let’s go:
- Roxas, a newly born Nobody, is discovered by Xemnas and inducted into Organization XIII as their 13th member. Why they were called Organization XIII before having 13 members, we’ll never know. (We actually will know, and it’s dumb.) However, unlike other Nobodies, who retain memories of their older selves, Roxas has neither memories nor a personality. Also unlike other Nobodies, Roxas can wield the Keyblade, so he is tasked with destroying Heartless across various worlds and releasing stolen hearts. You’ll remember that one of the goals of the Organization is to access Kingdom Hearts.
- Soon after Roxas joins the Organization, Xion joins too. They do not rename it ‘Organization XIV’. Roxas makes friends with Axel and Xion, who is similar to Roxas in that she has no memories and can wield the Keyblade. A core part of their relationship is eating sea-salt ice cream.
- Roxas falls into a coma at some point.
- Xion finds out that she was created as a fail-safe for Roxas, and she’s a replica of Sora – Xemnas created her so she could merge with Roxas and be a complete replica of Sora. As you do if you’re a maniacal villain. Oh, also, her existence is preventing Sora from getting his memories back while he hangs out and sleeps in a big ol’ sleeping pod because… I actually don’t know why Sora having his memories is a big deal, but I guess someone not having memories is a pretty big handicap. Anyway, Xion is torn between allowing herself to merge with Sora and you know, wanting to continue to exist. This is a pretty big dilemma for a game series that started off as hanging out with some of the Disney heroes, but go off.
- Roxas finds out what Xion is, and leaves the Organization. He runs into Xion, whom Xemnas has messed with mentally. They fight, Roxas wins, and Xion completely disappears and merges with Sora, meaning that all memory of her existence vanishes. Which is pretty depressing, and also annoying from a canonical perspective.
- Roxas runs into Riku, who releases the darkness with himself to defeat Roxas, and puts Roxas inside a computer, where he can incubate and… become part of Sora again. DiZ (Darkness in Zero, still stupid) also wipes Roxas’ memory of the Organization, which was totally always an intentional part of this canon and not a total ass-pull by whoever is in charge of writing these nightmares.
Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep
Released on the PSP in 2010, Birth by Sleep is… a prequel. Yup. It’s a prequel. It answers maybe one question, and creates so, so, so many more complications in this series. It’s set ten years before the first game, and maybe has the best and most interesting story thus far.
It still doesn’t make any sense though, as you’ll see:
- Terra, Aqua and Ventus are three Keyblade apprentices under the tutelage of Master Eraqus, which is an anagram of Square, and he’s voiced by Mark Hamill (yes, that Mark Hamill). Terra and Aqua take the Mark of Mastery exam in order to become Keyblade Masters, but Xehanort, who is apparently allowed to hang around despite clearly being evil, rigs the exam so Terra fails and Aqua passes. Aqua becomes a Keyblade Master, while Terra loses control of the darkness in his heart, which you’ll remember is a very literal thing in Kingdom Hearts and not, at all, a metaphor.
- Xehanort suddenly disappears, and a bunch of Unversed (grey monster things) appear across the worlds, so Eraqus entrusts Terra and Aqua to go kill the Unversed and find Xehanort, who is still absolutely clearly evil. Things go pear-shaped when Ventus, the youngest of our Keybladers, is convinced by Vanitas (a clearly evil companion of Xehanorts) to follow Terra, and Eraqus quietly asks Aqua to monitor the darkness in his heart, which is still not a metaphor.
- Terra gets convinced to do evil things by various Disney villains, including the mother from Cinderella and Hook from Peter Pan, which Aqua takes as proof that he is succumbing to the literal darkness in his heart and not that he’s just a gullible idiot. This drives a wedge between them, which is exactly what the clearly evil Xehanort wants, as he takes Terra under his wing as an apprentice and asks him to destroy Vanitas, even though Vanitas is ostensibly friends with Xehanort, despite being a faceless black armoured humanoid.
- Ventus runs into Xehanort, who explains his scheme is to recombine Ventus’ and Vanitas’ hearts to create a super Keyblade called the χ-blade, which is pronounced exactly the same as ‘Keyblade’. For some reason, Ventus goes and confronts Eraqus about this. Eraqus tries to kill Ventus to stop this happening, but Terra interrupts him, and then Eraqus, believing that Terra has succumbed to the non-metaphorical darkness in his heart, tries to kill Terra. Xehanort shows up and kills Eraqus, and tells everybody to go to the Keyblade Graveyard.
- Terra, Aqua and Ventus show up at the Keyblade Graveyard, where Xehanort and Vanitas are revealed to be in cahoots (a much under-utilised word) in a plan to use the χ-blade (still pronounced exactly the same as Keyblade) to unlock Kingdom Hearts and start a Keyblade War, which almost destroyed the entire universe in the past.
- While this is going on, Terra’s heart is swallowed by literal darkness, and Xehanort uses his powers to take over his body to replace his old, clearly evil, dying one. This is an incredibly key plot point that is very easy to look over, but Xehanort has the ability to split his consciousness and desire over multiple bodies. Like the Harry Potter Horcruxes, but dumb. Unbeknownst to Xehanort, Terra’s mind remains within his discarded suit of armour, for some reason, somehow, and he comes to life and defeats the old Xehanort.
- While that’s happening, Ventus is forced to fuse with Vanitas, creating the χ-blade. Aqua and Mickey (look, there he is again, Mickey bloody Mouse) fight with this new being to destroy the χ-blade, while within Ventus’/Vanitas’ mind, there’s a metaphysical battle that Ventus technically wins, but loses his own heart and falls into a coma as a result. I’m an award-winning writer, you guys. I just wrote all those words, mostly from memory. I had aspirations, I had dreams. What’s happening to the planet.
- At the start of this entry, I said this game had the most interesting story, when what I should’ve said is that this game has the most story. Anyway, Aqua finds the comatose/heartless (not to be confused with Heartless) to their school, and she uses her powers to turn it into Castle Oblivion, which you’ll remember as the place where Sora hung out in way back in Chains of Memories. She keeps Ventus’ body here. Oh, also, Ventus looks exactly like Roxas, which you think would mean something, but it really doesn’t.
- Aqua gets into a fight with Terra, who has been posessed by Xehanort. While Terra is still fighting for control over himself, Xehanort, who is posssessing him, impales himself with his own Keyblade and dives into the Realm of Darkness. She rescues Terra, who is possessed by Xehanort, but becomes trapped in the Realm of Darkness herself! Sorry, Aqua! Later, Ansem the Wise, who would later disguise himself as DiZ (Darkness in Zero, still dumb) finds Terra-Xehanort, who has lost all his memories, and makes him his apprentice. Terra-Xehanort would later pretend to be Ansem the Wise, complicating everything unnecessarily.
- Ventus’ heart, which is a literal thing, now rests inside the heart of a young Sora, setting him up to be the hero of Kingdom Hearts, the first game.
- Also, at some point in this game, Minnie Mouse, who is technically the Queen of the Universe, banishes Pete to an interdimensional prison cell, proving if nothing else, that Minnie Mouse is a ruthless monarch in this world.
Kingdom Hearts Dream Drop Distance
We’re almost there, y’all. Dream Drop Distance came out for the 3DS, and if you’ve been paying attention, though god knows why you would, you’ll realise that nearly every game in this series has been on a completely different console – which means that not only is this game impossible to follow narratively, if you want to actually follow it, you’ll have to own about six different consoles. It’s almost like gaming is an industry or something!
Dream Drop Distance introduces the worlds of The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Paris), Tron: Legacy (a computer), Pinnochio (technically Monstro was a world in Kingdom Hearts but this is the non-whale-stomach part of Pinnochio), The Three Musketeers (Country of the Musketeers, which I think is France) and Fantasia (I have no idea where Fantasia is set).
Oh, it also introduces fucking time travel to the canon. Because you know what cleans up an already convoluted and flying-by-the-seat-of-a-thousand-pants narrative? Time travel.
(Self-editor’s note: I realised that time travel was a minor plot point in Kingdom Hearts II, where Pete travelled back in time to Steamboat Willie world in order to put Heartless in Disney castle. Does anybody care? No! Time marches onwards, or backwards, or whatever.)
Anyway, this game is set after Kingdom Hearts II. Let’s go:
- After the events of that game, where everybody is pretty much reunited and you actually could’ve ended the series there, Yen Sid decides to put Sora and Riku through a Mark of Mastery exam, like the three protagonists in Birth by Sleep, in order to declare them as official Keyblade Masters. Even though Sora has already saved the entire known universe twice and should not need it, but whatever. What do I know? I’m the dude writing about this series, not a character living in the fictional world of this series.
- The exam is vastly more complicated than it was in Birth by Sleep, because of course it is. Yen Sid sends the pair to worlds that remain trapped into a ‘sleeping’ state after being destroyed by the Heartless, in these worlds they must unlock seven keyholes, using their Keyblades, in order to restore them to the realm of light. There’s also a kind of Pokemon-like mechanic that is fun, but utterly irrelevant to the canon at large, so I will ignore it.
- In order to do all this, Yen Sid sends Sora and Riku back in time, which feels like an incredibly in-hindsight use of that ability, so they can get into the sleeping worlds. The two get separated at the start of the test, and they keep on running into a gray-haired youth, who they don’t recognise as being evil despite every grey-haired person in the Kingdom Hearts universe being evil up until this point.
- Sora and Riku complete the exam and they end up in The World That Never Was, the ending world of Kingdom Hearts 2, instead of the realm of light, where they want to end up. This gray-haired youth, being obviously evil, has lured them into a trap, and the youth puts Sora to sleep, which happens a fair bit in this series, but it’s all good because Sora defeats Xemnas, the villain from Kingdom Hearts 2, in his dreams. But! Sora’s heart got swallowed by the darkness. But again! It’s fine because Ventus, the doomed youth from Birth by Sleep, has some armour that protects his heart. The people who wrote this game got paid good money to do so, you guys. Good, genuine money. This wasn’t even the first draft.
- Anyway, Ansem (the fake Ansem from Kingdom Hearts, not DiZ) reveals that Riku has actually spent the exam travelling through Sora’s dreams… I’m so very tired. This series has been running for 17 years. I can’t wait for it to finish, and even though they’ve promised that Kingdom Hearts 3 will wrap up the series, I know it won’t. It can’t. There’s too much.
- Anyway, Riku defeats Ansem and it’s revealed – this game is all reveals – that the youth is a young Xehanort who is tasked by present day Xehanort, who you will remember possessed Terra about ten years prior to this happening, is tasked with assembling a brand new Organization XIII, which is composed of 13 incarnations of Xehanort (fake Ansem, Xemnas and so on) from across time, including the hosts of his fragmented heart (Terra-Xehanort). So there is a reason why they’re called Organization XIII, y’all.
- A revived Master Xehanort, the actual old one from Birth by Sleep, shows up and tries to turn Sora into his 13th host, because then he can pit his 13 hosts against seven ‘guardians of light’ (remember back to the Princesses of the Heart from Kingdom Hearts? Yeah, it’s them plus one). This is so he can recreate the χ-blade, still pronounced the same as Keyblade. He fails this time when Lea, who is the human, non-Nobody form, of Axel from Kingdom Hearts 2, rescues him – and for some reason everybody goes back to their respective times, thus setting up Kingdom Hearts 3.
- Oh, also, if you kill a person’s Nobody and their Heartless, the original person comes back. I forget what game this comes up in, but it’s important information and a key part of Xehanort’s plan. I know Xehanort better than I know my own father – sometimes jokes come from pain, you guys.
- Anyway, Riku gets out of Sora’s dreams and releases his heart from Poor Boy Ventus’ armour, and saves his life. Then, sigh, he goes to some computer simulation of the Destiny Islands – because in a series that has time travel, interdimensional travel, people pretending to be other people, and copies of people, why wouldn’t you include your own version of The Matrix? Anyway, he meets a virtual copy of Ansem, the real Ansem who would later call himself Darkness in Zero like some circa-2004 Evanescence fan, and he gives Riku some research date he had hidden away in Sora’s heart – like, actually, how do you do that? How does this physically work? I know this is a weird place to draw the line, but come on. Come on. Anyway, the data is meant to help Sora save those who are connected to his heart – Namine, Roxas, Terra, Aqua, Ventus and Xion. Riku comes out of The Matrix to the realm of light, wakes up Sora, and then Riku’s a Keyblade Master, but Sora fails the exam, presumably because he spent most of the game asleep.
- For some reason, Lea is a Keyblade wielder. There’s a huge yaoi (google it away from work) fanbase for this series, and the fact that he’s a bishonen (google away from work) probably has something to do with the fact that he’s still in this series. He wants to be a Keyblade master.
- Yen Sid and Mickey – remember when this game used to be a Disney property? – discuss Xehanort’s plan, and Yen Sid announces his plan to gather seven keyblade wielders in order to thwart the plan. La-di-da.
Kingdom Hearts χ
Okay, no. Absolutely not. How dare you. How dare you.
How dare you put a plot relevant game as a browser and mobile only game and then set that game one hundred years before the first game? What are you doing? Who raised you? How dare you? What’s wrong with you? Who do you think you are.
Fine, whatever, you won’t make a liar out of me, Kingdom Hearts. I promised the definitive guide, and I will make it the definitive guide.
Anyway, this game takes place during the Keyblade War – an event that Xehanort is trying to recreate, or was trying to recreate, but that plan might’ve been a ghost plan in order to Horcrux himself, or whatever – and features none of the characters from the rest of the games, but it does set up what I believe to be a crucial plot point in Kingdom Hearts 3.
That plot point is:
- There was a dude called the Master of Masters who bestows a Book of Prophecies to five of his six apprentices, appropriately and forebodingly called the Foretellers. The book has the ability to predict, manifest objects and people from the future, and they discover a prophecy that foretells of the world’s destruction. I suspect that this will be a plot point in Kingdom Hearts 3, which is supremely unhelpful, given that a lot of Kingdom Hearts players wouldn’t have even heard of this game, but who cares! You get to play with Elsa from Frozen.
- Oh, also Maleficent time-travelled to this era after she was defeated by Riku in the very first Kingdom Hearts game, but she actually time-travelled to a Matrix version of this era, and then it’s revealed that a Mystery Person™ had actually planned both her defeat and her choice to time travel after it, and that Mystery Person™ created this Matrix version of the era so she couldn’t time travel to the real version. Mystery Person™ then forces her to return to her original timeline, just in time for her resurrection in Kingdom Hearts II. This is hugely irrelevant, except it means that she knows about the Book of Prophecies and therefore might be crucial to the overall Shakespearean canon of the series, and equally as non-crucial to the life of me, you, or any other living creature on this burning heap of rock we call Planet Earth.
- But seriously, there are no characters from the other games in this one. The game’s only shared characters are Maleficent and a very young Ventus, and other than being an unnecessarily Genesis-style tale about the Kingdom Hearts universe, it has no value to me or you other than the above bullet points. I have a Bachelor’s degree from a real-life university.
Kingdom Hearts 0.2: Birth by Sleep – A Fragmentary Passage
Yeah, I’m not shitting you. This is an actual game title. It’s a short game, and only available in a recently released compilation, but it’s still fairly crucial to the canon, so it’s here.
KH0.2BBSAFP, as I will abbreviate it, is set shortly after the events of Birth by Sleep and focuses on Aqua, who was stuck in the Realm of Darkness after being the only remotely competent protagonist in that game.
- While wandering and hanging out in the Realm of Darkness, Aqua explores the remnants of the Castle of Dreams (the world of Cinderella, and not Sleeping Beauty, for stupid reasons) and she starts to see weird illusions of Terra and Ventus. Aqua also finds herself in the remains of the Dwarf Woodlands, the world from Snow White, and runs into Terra and Ventus again–
- Suddenly, Terra is overtaken by Terra-Xehanort, and Aqua learns that Xehanort is trying to find the Chamber of Waking, the room that holds the sleeping Ventus. At some point during this conversation Terra fights back and admits that Xehanort is a part of him now, in case the name Terra-Xehanort didn’t tip you off.
- Aqua is pulled deeper into darkness, which I need to remind you is literal and not metaphorical. She’s found by King Mickey (there that rascal is again, still being relevant to the plot). She and Mickey team up to help Sora and Riku close the Door to Darkness to save worlds from the Heartless.
- Aqua sacrifices herself, and vows to act as a Wayfinder, a title which means literally what it says: if anybody falls to the literal darkness, she will help them. Somehow, she ends up on the Destiny Islands – or the Realm of Darkness version of them – and ends up meeting Ansem the Wise, who is also known as Darkness in Zero, who appears to be happily hanging out in the Realm of Darkness like an absolute psycho.
- Riku and Sora depart to find Aqua, and return her to the Realm of Light. At the same time, Kairi (remember Kairi? From the first game and briefly the second game) is training under the wizard Merlin, yeah, Merlin’s in this game just go with it, so she can become a Keyblade wielder. Go you, Kairi.
- Yen Sid sends Sora, Donald and Goofy (remember them?) to Olympus (yes, the Hercules one) so they can regain their strength in time for…
Kingdom Hearts 3
We made it, y’all. A billion games, 17 years, countless hours spent trying to make sense of all of it, but we made it.
And just to recap on where all the key characters are at when we start Kingdom Hearts 3 on January 29:
Sora: Olympus, wanting to rescue all the people connected to his heart – Namine, Roxas, Xion, Terra, Aqua and Ventus.
Riku: Wanting to rescue Aqua, screw those other guys.
Roxas: Somewhere in Sora’s heart.
Xion: Nobody remembers her existence.
Kairi: Training to be a Keyblade wielder.
Riku Replica: This guy is wandering around somewhere, and looks to be pretty key to the canon despite not being around since Chain of Memories.
Xehanort/Terra-Xehanort/Xemnas/Ansem (not real Ansem): Plotting to Horcrux himself.
Ventus: Sleeping somewhere, sans Heart™.
Terra: See Terra-Xehanort.
Aqua: Wandering the Realm of Darkness, potentially posessed by Xehanort if a trailer is to be believed.
Donald and Goofy: Hanging out with Sora, being unimportant to the plot.
Mickey Mouse: Simultaneously everywhere and nowhere.
Maleficent: Knowing something potentially plot crucial about the Book of Prophecies.
Princesses of Heart: Chilling in their respective worlds.
Literally every other Disney character: Not important to the plot at all, and therefore unaccounted for.
Literally every Final Fantasy character who has ever been in a Kingdom Hearts game: Never relevant to the plot.
Organization XIII: Potentially serving as hosts for Xehanort, still surprisingly unimportant to the overarching plot.
Utada Hikaru: Still stuck doing songs for this.
Skrillex: Did you know ‘Skrillex’ gets his name from the very same naming convention that Nobodies have? Which is basically an acronym of their original human name with an x in it? Hence why Axel is Lea, Xemnas is Ansem (even though Ansem is not Ansem but pretending to be Ansem). So, Skrillex is an acronym of ‘killers’. Also, he’s doing a song for the third game with Utada Hikaru. Also, I now know more about Skrillex than I thought I ever would.
Tetsuya Nomura: A brilliant charlatan.
Sam Brooks, writer of this article: Braindead, send help, don’t let me buy this game, it has ruined my life and will ruin it even more.
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.