Kingdom Hearts 3 is nearly here (it’s out on Jan. 29, 2019, to be specific). And unless you’ve kept up with the long-running series from the beginning, you might be a little lost. The story and timeline tends to bounce around a lot, after all.
The original release order is, in my opinion, the best way to play (or otherwise “experience” each game. The series tends to set up mysteries and questions that are satisfied in later titles. Playing or watching everything in a “story linear” order does away with some of the mystique by answering questions that haven’t been posed yet. Playing out of sequence is like the world’s worst game of Jeopardy.
But worry not dear reader! I am still here to guide you. Let’s take a look through the entire chronology of the Kingdom Hearts franchise from beginning to end. Oh, and there will be spoilers…
Kingdom Hearts (PlayStation 2)
The first game released in the series tells the story of three friends — Sora, Riku, and Kairi — from Destiny Islands. They get swept away from their home when a mysterious darkness overtakes it. You play as Sora as he parties up with Donald and Goofy to explore and protect different worlds.
You lock Keyholes, thereby sealing the various worlds away from the darkness, and defeat villains. The big bads turn out to be a guy called Ansem and Maleficent (of Sleeping Beauty fame).
Kingdom Hearts was later remastered for the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4 in the Kingdom Hearts 1.5 ReMIX collection.
Story Order: 5
Should You Play It: Yes
Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories (Game Boy Advance)
Originally released on the Game Boy Advance, this is a card-based action-RPG that takes place directly after the first game. Sora traverses a place called Castle Oblivion, climbing higher and higher, and doing battle with mysterious hooded figures.
This is our first introduction to the main group of villains in the series: Organization XIII. Chain of Memories also has a second story involving Riku and his battle against his own inner darkness. It was remade for the PlayStation 2 as Kingdom Hearts Re:Chain of Memories, bringing it into a 3D space. That version was also later ported to the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4 in the ReMIX collection.
Story Order: 6
Should You Play It: No, watch a cutscene compilation on YouTube.
Kingdom Hearts II (PlayStation 2)
The second numbered Kingdom Hearts is another Sora-centric story. This time, however, he directly battles Organization XIII to stop them from creating an artificial “Kingdom Hearts” — a franchise McGuffin that bestows ultimate power. In the process, however, it would also steal everyone’s “hearts” (sort of the glue that holds souls and bodies together) from all the various worlds.
Kingdom Hearts 2 explains more about the series’ namesake, what the Heartless and a Nobodies are, what Sora’s signature weapon (the Keyblade) is, and Sora’s place in the universe. It was re-released with extra content in a Final Mix version for the PlayStation 2. It turns out that wasn’t so final, however. It was remastered for the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4 as part of the Kingdom Hearts 2.5 ReMIX collection.
Story Order: 7
Should You Play It: Yes, both of the numbered entries push the big plot forward.
Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days (Nintendo DS)
Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days takes place at the same time as Chain of Memories. However, it focuses more on Organization XIII and the group’s plans. The centerpiece of the story is Roxas — Sora’s “Nobody” created from the protagonist’s body and soul when he lost his heart in Kingdom Hearts — who initially appears in the opening of Kingdom Hearts 2.
Roxas struggles to understand who he is and is helped along the way by two new friends: Axel and Xion. The cutscenes were remade with voice acting for a movie in the 1.5 ReMIX collection.
Story order: 6 (again)
Should You Play It: No, it’s easier to just watch the movie.
Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep (PlayStation Portable)
The first-ever Kingdom Hearts prequel, Birth By Sleep centers around three Keyblade wielders: Aqua, Terra, and Ventus. There’s a new evil in the world, the Unversed, that they must find while dealing with their own interpersonal issues. Meanwhile, they unravel just what exactly Master Xehanort is up to…
The game was remastered for the 2.5 ReMIX collection with extra content. It was subsequently renamed Birth By Sleep Final Mix.
Story order: 3
Should You Play It: Yes, this is actually one of the best games in the series and sets up a lot of the overarching story.
Kingdom Hearts: Coded (Mobile)
Kingdom Hearts coded (yes, with a lowercase “c”) was released only in Japan. It was an episodic puzzle game for a Panasonic mobile phone and takes place just before the epilogue of Kingdom Hearts II. It focuses on King Mickey, Donald, and Goofy uncovering the mysteries of Jiminy Cricket’s journal.
The game was later remade for the Nintendo DS as Kingdom Hearts Re:Coded. Then the cutscenes were remastered and added to the 2.5 ReMIX collection for PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4.
Story order: 8
Should You Play It: No. Maybe even skip the movie. Read a plot synopsis instead!
Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance (Nintendo 3DS)
Dream Drop Distance is the first game to take place after Kingdom Hearts II. It revolves around Sora and Riku taking a “Mark of Mastery” exam to become Keyblade Masters. They need to awaken Sleeping Keyholes — worlds that fell to darkness but were never fully awakened — and are accompanied by monster companions called Dream Eaters.
Dream Drop Distance also marks the appearance of some non-Disney, non-Final Fantasy characters. You get to play around with the crew from The World Ends With You!
It was remastered and released on PlayStation 4 in the Kingdom Hearts II.8 Final Chapter Prologue collection.
Story order: 9
Should You Play It: Yes, it’s a pretty traditional Kingdom Hearts game with some cool twists.
Kingdom Hearts χ (Browser)
Pronounced [chi], or key, this is technically the earliest point in the Kingdom Hearts series. It covers the lead-up to the fabled Keyblade Wars referred to in previous games in the series.
The game itself was a 2D, sidescrolling multiplayer game where you made your own avatar and join one of five “Unions.” Then you’d battle Heartless across various worlds. And while the game is no longer available on browsers, the story was made into a CG movie for Kingdom Hearts II.8, called Kingdom Hearts χ Back Cover.
Story order: 1
Should You Play It: You can’t! It’s impossible. Although the Back Cover “movie” goes over all the important bits.
Kingdom Hearts 0.2 Birth By Sleep -A Fragmentary Passage- (PlayStation 4)
-A Fragmentary Passage- is the closest thing to Kingdom Hearts 3 that we’ve gotten so far. It centers on Aqua, from the original Birth By Sleep, and her decade in the Realm of Darkness (a weird purgatory. It takes place concurrent with the end of the first Kingdom Hearts — albeit in a completely different location than the main game. It is in the II.8 collection.
Story order: 4
Should You Play It: Yes. It’s very short, but very pretty and cool.
Kingdom Hearts Union χ (Mobile)
This is the sequel to Kingdom Hearts χ. It’s a mobile game with an ongoing story and the same setup. Except this time, it takes place after the Keyblade Wars.
Should You Play It: Yes and no. It’s a decent time-waster, but deeply repetitive. It’s much better to watch the first parts of “KINGDOM HEARTS TIMELINE,” a series of videos by YouTube creator Everglow.
Story order: 2
Kingdom Hearts III (Playstation 4, Xbox One)
I can’t give you any information because I haven’t played it! It sure looks like things get wild, though.
Should You Play It: If you’re reading this list, then probably.
Story order: 10
And that’s every Kingdom Hearts game in the order they were released. Hopefully, this will give you a better idea of how and where to fill the gaps in your knowledge. Maybe you can even get caught up before the release of Kingdom Hearts 3! Whatever you do, good luck and have fun.