A wholly inaccurate Kingdom Hearts recap for the lazy, busy, or just plain apathetic
So Kingdom Hearts 3 is coming out and you want to experience the latest fever dream to come out of Tetsuya Nomura’s brain, but you just don’t have enough time to play through two mainline games, a bunch of mobile spinoffs, a phone/browser game, and watch a bunch of movies with dubious English translations? You’d watch a summary video but even those can go on for hours. Isn’t there a way to quickly catch up with the plot without devoting a huge chunk of your life to the lore?
Why yes! There is! But you are gonna have to work with me here. I’ll happily break down the entirety of the Kingdom Hearts story up until this point, with a few stipulations.
- I won’t cover every single detail, just the most important stuff. Kingdom Hearts fans are going to inevitably stop in here and tell me that I missed some important minutiae. Ignore them, they are lying to you from hype oversaturation. (I should know, I am one.)
- I won’t promise that all of this will make sense because, frankly Kingdom Hearts doesn’t make a whole lot of sense unless you do a lot of retconning gymnastics.
- I won’t promise that everything here will be 100 percent accurate, and I fully intend to embellish the truth for the sake of humor.
We good? We good. On with the show!
Alright so let’s start by talking about the heart. Unlike every other world where the heart is this pumpy muscle mass that circulates blood throughout your body, in Kingdom Hearts the heart is kind of like your soul and your emotions and your memories all kind of rolled up into one. If you fall into a deep enough despair, your heart will break and rip itself from your body, turning into a monster called a Heartless. This really sucks for artists, recent college graduates, and game journalists.
Now that that’s out of the way, we join a group of three kids, Sora, Kairi, and Riku, on a small island called Destiny Island.
Sora is like “wouldn’t it be great to get off this island?”
And Kairi is like “yeah I’d love to see the world!”
And Riku is like “all that you know and love will be drowned in the darkness of the final night…”
And Sora is like “what?”
And Riku is like “nothing!”
Oh no! The Heartless attack Destiny Island and Riku gets swallowed by the darkness. Luckily, Sora turns out to be the destined Keyblade wielder, a hero who can use a magical key to open or close any lock, including the locks on hearts, including locks on hearts on worlds which keeps the Heartless from attacking for some reason.
So Sora gets swept away to Traverse Town where he meets a bunch of Final Fantasy characters, decides it’s too extra for him, and parties up with Donald and Goofy instead, totally unaware that Donald will never heal him, ever, no matter how much he asks.
Then 20 assorted hours of random Disney BS happens as Sora hops from world to world being a genuinely good person.
The plot picks up again when some evil dude tries to collect the hearts of seven Disney princesses to blah blah blah darkness open up the door to Kingdom Hearts, the source of all hearts, or something. It turns out that Riku IS that extra and is using the power of darkness because Maleficent is just a fantastic life coach. He’s also supposed to be the true wielder of the keyblade, so there might be a little bit of jealousy involved.
The seventh Disney princess turns out to be Kairi whose heart was hiding out in Sora’s chest, so Sora stabs himself and turns into a heartless to let her free. Then he comes back due to white screen Disney magic and we won’t talk about this again until Kingdom Hearts 2.
He faces off against the bad guy who is revealed to be this dude called “Ansem” in the final hour, who was performing experiments on the Heartless in his secret basement lab.
He turns into a giant ship.
You beat the ship to death.
The he ends up able to open the door to Kingdom Hearts anyway which bombards him with light and kills him which means you could have done absolutely nothing and reached the same conclusion.
Oh, and Riku and Mickey get stuck in the world of darkness. Boo.
Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories
Sora, Donald, and Goofy receive a mysterious letter from Pluto that says “Hey, come to this bitchin castle and find your buddies. It’s totally not a trap.”
So they go to this castle which is made up of rooms that reflect Sora’s memories, all conveniently pieced together from re-used assets from Kingdom Hearts 1.
Also everything is a card game now.
The deeper Sora goes into the castle the more he loses his current memories but remembers another girl named Namine who he used to be friends with. He fights against Organization XIII, a bunch of anime stereotypes in black leather robes, and eventually finds out that Namine was just screwing with him the whole time, and now his memories are all borked.
On the flipside, literally, Riku learns how to control the darkness, meets a guy covered in belts called Diz, and kills a clone of himself.
At the end of this game, Sora is locked in a rejuvenation pod, Riku looks like Ansem for some reason, and half the Organization members are dead. It’s a happy ending.
Kingdom Hearts II
A kid named Roxas is living out the last days of his summer vacation doing menial labor. Then he gets a keyblade and figures out he’s in the matrix.
Let’s forget about that for a while and instead focus on Organization XIII who are beings called Nobodies….
OK… So when you turn into a Heartless, if you are particularly powerful, your body is left behind and continues living as a Nobody. This means that Heartless are nothing but hearts and Nobodies are nothing but bodies, and I am now the 3,734,492nd person to make that joke.
Anyway, Xemnas, the Nobody of that guy we killed in Kingdom Hearts 1, wants to use the Nobodies to kill a bunch of Heartless. Sounds good, except he’s not killing them with a keyblade so he gets to keep all the hearts to himself to create his own version of Kingdom Hearts, a giant heart shaped space moon.
Oh yeah, and Kairi gets kidnapped by Axel.
This is Axel.
So when Sora became a heartless he too created a Nobody and this turns out to be Roxas. Also Kairi’s heart was inside him at the time so she created a Nobody, Namine… just don’t ask questions. Anyway, Roxas and Sora are fused back together now, Axel dies in a badass hero moment, and…
Ok buckle in for this one…
Ansem turns out not to be Ansem at all but a man named Xehanort who was Ansem’s apprentice. Meanwhile Diz was the real Ansem and he tries to download the moon.
He blows up.
Piracy is bad, kids.
Anyway Sora kills all the Organization members, fully reintegrates with his nobody, and saves the day. This actually would have been a great place to end the series…. Buuuuuuuuuuut-
Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days
I’m sure everyone was dying to know what happened to Roxas between Kingdom Hearts 1 and Kingdom Hearts 2! What? You weren’t? Well too bad.
Xemnas picks up Roxas like the little lost boy he is and teaches him how to murder. Then he creates a clone of Roxas/Sora called Xion, the fourteenth member of Organization XIII.
Yes, this means that Organization XIII never actually had thirteen members.
Anyway, the stronger Xion gets the weaker Roxas (and Sora) gets, and that’s a bad thing, so before she could totally eat Roxas’s soul, Axel, Roxas, and Xion defect from Organization XIII, and Roxas stabs Xion until everyone forgets about her.
And that’s all that happened between Kingdom Hearts 1 and 2.
Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep
I’m sure everyone was dying to know what happened ten years before Kingdom Hearts 1. What? You weren’t? Too bad!
Three friends Terra, Aqua, and Ventus are training under master Eraqus in the land of departure to be keyblade masters. Also there is an old guy named Xehanort who is watching over their exam, and that name should tip you off to how evil he is, if the bald head, yellow eyes, white goatee, hunched over appearance, and belt filled final boss clothing didn’t already.
Aqua passes her keyblade master exam but Terra fails because he can’t control the darkness inside him. Terra then proceeds to listen to the advice of every Disney villain in existence because he has poor problem solving skills.
Blah blah blah Disney worlds, and then it turns out that Xehanort was manipulating them all along! Ventus was the result of an experiment to split someone’s heart in half and have the two sides fight against each other in the hopes of forming the χ-blade, the key that can unlock Kingdom Hearts.
Oh it turns out the Kingdom Hearts from Kingdom Hearts 1 was a fake.
So he splits Ventus into his light half and his dark half, Vanitas, and this nearly kills him. Didn’t see that coming. Then Ven survives and Xehanort decides to resume with his evil plan anyway. This is evil plan #1.
Evil plan #2 is to possess Terra’s body because his is so old.
Long story short, both evil plans work, but Aqua throws a wrench shaped keyblade into the mix when she beats up the recombined Ven/Vanitas and the possessed Terra beats up… himself. Now Aqua is lost in the world of darkness, Terra/Xehanort has amnesia and Ven is asleep in the closet of Castle Oblivion, the setting for Chain of Memories.
Also plot contrivance allows Terra to bequeath his keyblade to a young Riku, Aqua to bequeath her keyblade to a young Kairi, and Sora to touch the shattered Ven’s heart which explains why Roxas looks exactly like Ven…. I guess.
Kingdom Hearts Coded
I’m sure everyone was dying to know what happened to Jiminy Cricket’s journal! What? You weren’t? Well we have to make money on this franchise somehow.
Anyway, the journal is blank so we convert it into a computer simulation made out of conveniently re-used assets. Eventually we learn that Sora has “The Power of Waking” a super protagonist power to tie everyone to his heart and that now that the Nobody and Heartless of Xehanort have been defeated, they will recombine into the true Xehanort.
That’s really all that happened… well that and this hilarious meme pic.
Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance
Now that we know the big bad is coming back, Sora and Riku need to go through a mark of mastery exam to fully unlock their cool keyblade powers. They are sent into “sleeping” worlds that weren’t fully revived after they were consumed by darkness, in order to wake them up.
Then it’s revealed that Xehanort has time travel powers. His old self traveled back in time to his young self to convince him to be evil and now his young self is traveling through time in order to collect thirteen other Xehanorts. Why? Because if thirteen Xehanorts, whose heart is made of pure darkness, war against seven warriors of pure light, then it will reform the χ-blade and then he can blah blah blah Kingdom Hearts.
So some of the Xehanorts are made up of former final bosses while other Xehanorts are made up of rejects from the original Organization XIII, and this dude is already half Xehanort, whatever that means.
Young Xehanort’s big plan is to crush Sora’s heart and make him the thirteenth Xehanort, so he interrupts his mark of mastery exam and sucks him into darkness. Meanwhile Riku was apparently actually inside Sora the whole time. He figures out that Ansem the Wise, Ventus, Xion, and Roxas are all still inside Sora’s heart, while Sora himself is eventually rescued by Lea, the recombined version of Axel.
Sora fails the exam while Riku passes (cause that worked out so well in Birth by Sleep) and then Sora sets out on a new journey while Kairi and Lea decide to train up their keyblade skills offscreen.
Kingdom Hearts 0.2: Birth by Sleep – A Fragmentary Passage
Boy you’d think that this would transition directly into Kingdom Hearts III but you’d be wrong. Instead we need to join Aqua in her travels throughout the darkness. She goes through some trippy shit, meets up with King Mickey who loses his shirt, helps Mickey and Riku escape the darkness, and according to the latest Kingdom Hearts III trailers, turns into an evil Xehanort herself.
And if all these prequels weren’t enough…
Kingdom Hearts Union χ
Kingdom Hearts Union χ is a browser game turned mobile game turned another mobile game that takes place 100 years before the events of Kingdom Hearts, and screw you its events are absolutely canon.
So long before the world of Kingdom Hearts as we know it, all the worlds were one, but a great keyblade war brought darkness into the world and shattered the world apart. At first it appears as if you are playing through the events that lead up to the keyblade war, but it turns out that you are actually only replaying a simulation of the events of the keyblade war in a simulated world that refugees from the war called “dandelions” are hiding out in.
There is a lot of drama concerning a lot of characters that, trust me, will not show up in Kingdom Hearts III. The only thing you really need to know is that some of the Organization members and Ventus were alive 100 years ago, for some reason. Perhaps Kingdom Hearts III will give us that answer
Kingdom Hearts χ Back Cover
Finally we have the prequel of prequels starring the Master of Masters, a goofy guy in a black robe who comes to town 100 years in the past carrying a cool keyblade and a book that tells the future. He gives his apprentices a copy of the book and special secret jobs, except for one, Luxu, who he doesn’t give the book to and instead gives him a mysterious box and his cool keyblade which will see the future for him and relate the events to the past.
Once again there’s a whole lot of interesting theory bait here what with the apprentices all being named after deadly sins, but really all you need to know is that the Master of Masters disappears, the apprentices get paranoid and fight each other starting the keyblade war, and Maleficent is now searching for the box. Feel free to post all your Se7en memes now.
And that’s it. That’s the quickest rundown of the Kingdom Hearts plot I can give you. Did I cover everything? Not really. Honestly the best way to experience the Kingdom Hearts plot is to play it, and since you can get the whole series on the PS4, there’s really no excuse. But if all you wanted was a quick primer to jump into Kingdom Hearts III this should do you fine.
What’s gonna happen in Kingdom Hearts III? Well Sora is going to try and save all the people who are connected to his heart, including Tera, Aqua, Ven, Xion, Roxas, and a host of others. He’s also going to go up against all the bosses from past games and all the little unresolved plotholes are going to get filled in. How? I don’t know, maybe everyone has convenient clones or something.
Anyway, ready your tin-foil hats because I assure you, Kingdom Hearts III will only bring up more questions that will require even more speculation and I’ll see you again for another wholly inaccurate recap when Kingdom Hearts IV comes out in 2045.