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The entire Kingdom Hearts series explained

The Kingdom Hearts franchise made a name for itself as an action RPG set in the wondrous worlds of Disney. Many fans remember the series for a variety of reasons. Some fondly look back on the frantically fun combat system, while others still jam to the poppy tunes courtesy of Utada Hikaru. Whatever it is that keeps players coming back, the series stands as one of the more exciting crossovers in all of media. It fuses an eclectic mix of Disney properties and Final Fantasy characters, all of which revolves around a central cast of original heroes and villains. At the end of the day, though, Kingdom Hearts tells a story about light versus dark, good versus evil.

However, Kingdom Hearts goes far deeper than this simple premise implies. The franchise weaves one of the most convoluted tales in gaming history, told across eleven games and one feature-length movie. The timeline is a mess, which isn't aided by a release schedule that ignores chronological order. Long story short, it can be difficult to catch up with the story leading up to Kingdom Hearts III.

To make it easier for you, we've compiled a quick crash course through the complex story of Kingdom Hearts, all in chronological order.

Kingdom Hearts χ: The Keyblade War

Kingdom Hearts χ (pronounced "key") started as a browser-only game in Japan, but it received a mobile port under the name Kingdom Hearts Unchained χ. Beginning more than 100 years before the events of the first Kingdom Hearts game, it tells the story of the Master of Masters, a mysterious being who could see the future. He has gathered six apprentices and given five of them copies of the Book of Prophecies. The book predicts an impending Keyblade War that would destroy all light in the universe, leaving darkness to prevail.

These five apprentices, called Foretellers, create their own armies of Keyblade wielders, named Unions. These Unions try to gather Lux, or fragments of light, to prepare for the looming darkness. Meanwhile, the Master gives the sixth apprentice, Luxu, a lost page from the Book of Prophecies, which reveals that the five Unions would turn on each other. This event would set the Keyblade War in motion.

Luxu is tasked with manipulating the five other apprentices into doubting each other in order to fulfill the prophecy. Foreteller Ava and one of her warriors, Ephemer, learn about Luxu's intentions. To prevent darkness from taking over, Ava sends Ephemer and many other children, called the Dandelions, to the other worlds, hoping that their scattered light will keep the darkness at bay. The Keyblade War happens at the climax of Kingdom Hearts χ, but in the aftermath, the Player wakes up believing it was a dream.

Kingdom Hearts Union χ: The New World

Kingdom Hearts Union χ is a major update to Kingdom Hearts Unchained χ, adding more story elements while rebranding the "χ" to be pronounced as "cross." As is already becoming clear, this franchise is nothing if not convoluted.

Before Foreteller Ava scattered the Dandelions to other worlds, the Master gave her a list of five Keyblade wielders who should lead the new Unions. These five were meant to help maintain order in a world after the Keyblade War. However, almost all the Keyblade warriors who survived the war lost their memories of the conflict. The only ones who remember it are the five new Union leaders. One of these leaders, Strelitzia, is assassinated, and her rulebook is stolen. This means that one of the five new leaders isn't meant to be there.

The five leaders — Ephemer, Skuld, Ventus, Brain, and Lauriam — celebrate their leadership and the new world by forming what they call a Union X (cross). The cross represents their willpower to never let a major conflict lead to war again. The mobile game is still ongoing at the time of this writing, but in the most recent story arc, Ephemer and Skuld start looking into a darkness that's brewing in the new world.

It's worth noting that the feature-length movie, Kingdom Hearts χ Back Cover, supplements this plotline. It provides a deeper understanding as to how the Keyblade War broke out among the five original Unions.

Birth by Sleep: The X-blade

Birth by Sleep was the earliest entry in the Kingdom Hearts chronology before the mobile games came out. The game follows Keyblade apprentices Ventus, Terra, and Aqua while introducing the franchise's main villain, Xehanort. These events take place ten years before the first Kingdom Hearts.

Xehanort's goal is to forge the legendary X-blade, which is pronounced "key-blade," and not to be confused with normal Keyblades. He wants to use the X-blade to unlock the door to Kingdom Hearts, which is essentially the heart of all worlds. He believes that obtaining this power will spark a new Keyblade War, which he wants to witness.

To forge the X-blade, Xehanort needed a clash of light and dark at the Keyblade Graveyard, the battleground of the legendary Keyblade War. Four years before Birth by Sleep, he extracted all the darkness from the heart of Ventus, who was apprenticing under him at the time. This created a new entity, Vanitas, who became a ruthless killer and hated Ventus for being a weaker version of himself.

In a final battle at the Keyblade Graveyard, Ventus and Vanitas merge together, albeit imperfectly. This creates a weaker version of the X-blade, but King Mickey (of Disney fame) and Aqua defeat the fused being and destroy the blade. Meanwhile, Ventus fights Vanitas in his mind, vanquishing the darkness at the cost of fracturing his heart. Ventus' heart now recuperates within the heart of Sora, the series' main protagonist.

Birth by Sleep: The Birth of Terra-Nort

Terra and Aqua don't fare much better in Birth by Sleep. The two work under Master Eraqus, hoping to one day become Keyblade masters. They undergo the Mark of Mastery exam, which Terra fails because of the abundant darkness in his heart. The elderly Xehanort, being a Keyblade master himself, encourages Terra to embrace the darkness.

Terra, Aqua, and Ventus travel through the Disney worlds to fight creatures called the Unversed, which represent the identity crisis Vanitas first had when he separated from Ventus. Vanitas controls these creatures and sends them out to prey on negativity. While the three journey to defeat the Unversed, Terra seeks Xehanort, doing favors for Disney villains in exchange for hints to the dark master's whereabouts.

The three main characters find their way to the Keyblade Graveyard, where they see Xehanort and Vanitas. Before Ventus and Vanitas merge, Xehanort manipulates Terra, using the darkness in his heart, and takes over his younger body. Terra's mind, however, takes over his Keyblade Armor, which defeats Terra-Xehanort.

Terra-Xehanort escapes, but Aqua confronts him once again. Surprisingly, he has started losing his memories. Upon losing them completely, he faints and starts sinking into the Realm of Darkness. Aqua sacrifices herself to the dark realm, saving Terra's body. Terra-Xehanort becomes an apprentice to Ansem the Wise, who studies people's hearts. Terra-Xehanort eventually becomes evil, releasing his heart to create a Heartless confusingly named Ansem, Seeker of Darkness.

Kingdom Hearts: Sora versus Riku

Kingdom Hearts introduces Sora, Riku, and Kairi as their home world is destroyed by darkness. Riku embraces the darkness, Sora lands in another world, and Kairi disappears entirely. Sora meets Donald Duck and Goofy, Disney characters who have taken on magic and knighthood, respectively. The three join forces to become the iconic heroes of the franchise. They vow to find Sora's friends and stop the Heartless (creatures made from the darkness in people's hearts) from destroying the hearts of worlds.

Meanwhile, Maleficent (from Sleeping Beauty) leads a group on the hunt for the seven Princesses of Heart. These seven, comprised mostly of classic Disney princesses, have hearts made of pure light. By gathering them, Maleficent hopes to unlock the Door to Darkness, where Kingdom Hearts resides. She convinces Riku to join her search, promising him they'll also find Kairi. Along the way, Maleficent cunningly nudges Riku toward resenting Sora. Eventually, Riku does find Kairi, but she is comatose without a heart.

Sora, Donald, and Goofy reach Maleficent's headquarters, where Riku confronts them. He claims that Sora is too weak to hold the Keyblade and takes it for himself, but Sora reclaims it immediately. In shame, Riku succumbs to evil and obtains a Keyblade that unlocks the darkness in others' hearts. In this moment, Ansem, Seeker of Darkness, possesses Riku's body, but Sora defeats them.

Kingdom Hearts: Taking Down Ansem

Upon defeating Riku, Sora learns that Kairi is the last Princess of Heart. Her comatose state comes from the fact that her heart is trapped within Sora's. As long as that's the case, Sora can't seal the Keyhole to this world, leaving it vulnerable to Heartless. Using Riku's dark Keyblade, Sora frees Kairi's heart at the cost of freeing his own, turning him into a Heartless. The pure light of Kairi's heart, however, restores him. These actions complete the Keyhole, connecting this world to others. Ansem uses that moment to travel to the End of the World, a place that lies between the Realms of Light and Darkness.

Sora, Donald, and Goofy chase after the villain, who stands in front of the Door to Darkness. The world hearts that have been destroyed by the Heartless have gathered in the dark realm to form Kingdom Hearts. Ansem opens the door in an attempt to embrace the darkness, but Kingdom Hearts attacks him with pure light. This light destroys the antagonist, and large amounts of darkness start seeping into the Realm of Light.

Sora, with the help of King Mickey and Riku, re-seal the Door to Darkness, but the latter two remain trapped on the wrong side of the door. They promise Sora that they'll find the Door to Light and meet once again. Sora, Donald, and Goofy set off on a new adventure to find Riku and Mickey.

Chain of Memories: The Long Sleep

Sora and co. stumble upon Castle Oblivion, one of the headquarters of Organization XIII. This evil group is made up of Nobodies, strong-willed people who retained their bodies and souls after losing their hearts. These Nobodies want to create their own Kingdom Hearts to reclaim the hearts that were once theirs.

While travelling through the castle, the protagonists' memories get rearranged by a Nobody named Naminé. She was created when Kairi's heart was freed from Sora's body, but she retained memories of neither person. This allowed her to alter the memories of Sora and his friends. Sora defeats all the Organization members who were plotting to manipulate him. Naminé, who was taken hostage by the Organization, agrees to fix the protagonists' memories, leading them to fall into deep sleeps.

Meanwhile, Riku escapes the Realm of Darkness with the help of Ansem the Wise, now named DiZ. Riku enters Castle Oblivion, where Organization XIII attempts to lull him back to the dark side. He triumphantly fends them off with the help of King Mickey, but Ansem, Seeker of Darkness, still resides somewhere in Riku's heart. To aid Riku, DiZ gives him a card that manifests his evil. Using this card, Riku summons Ansem and defeats him, taming the dark side of his heart. As Riku leaves Castle Oblivion, DiZ asks him if he'll now walk the road to light or darkness. Riku responds with neither, choosing to walk the path between: the road to dawn.

358/2 Days: Roxas Enters the Fray

When Sora freed Kairi from his heart, he also freed his own, spawning another Nobody named Roxas. Xemnas, the leader of Organization XIII, recruits Roxas, making him the 13th member. To obtain Kingdom Hearts, Xemnas sends Roxas on missions to eradicate Heartless. Roxas' Keyblade, which he can access as Sora's Nobody, releases the captive hearts inside the Heartless that are used to build Kingdom Hearts.

While with the team of Nobodies, Roxas meets Axel and Xion, and they become fast friends. As their missions continue, Roxas gets flashes of his memories as Sora, wondering what they're about. Meanwhile, Xion learns she's a copy of Roxas, created by one of the Organization members. Her existence is based on Sora's memories, inherently stopping Naminé from fixing his own memories.

Xemnas convinces Xion to absorb Roxas and become whole, but Roxas defeats her. Before she dies in his arms, she asks Roxas to set Kingdom Hearts free and ruin the Organization's plan. Roxas picks up her Keyblade, using both his and hers as he begins to assault Organization XIII. He is approached by Riku, who tries to capture him. They proceed to duel, and when Roxas gains the upper hand, Riku taps into the dark power within him to claim victory. As a consequence, he now looks like Ansem, Seeker of Darkness. Riku delivers Roxas to DiZ and Naminé, who both wipe Roxas' memories and place him in a simulated world.

Kingdom Hearts 2: On the Road Again

Kingdom Hearts 2 begins by putting players in the role of Roxas, who wakes up in (a simulated) Twilight Town. He and his friends try to save up some money to go on a trip during their summer vacation. While doing part-time work, he is approached by some Nobody minions, and he quickly unravels the simulation around him. Roxas discovers a mansion that houses a secret lab, where DiZ and Naminé are working on Sora's memories. The last piece of the puzzle is merging Roxas and Sora, which Roxas eventually accepts.

Sora, Donald, and Goofy awaken with no memories of their adventure in Castle Oblivion, and after Sora gets some new threads, the group sets off to find Riku and Mickey. Jiminy Cricket, who has been chronicling Sora's journey, remarks that his notebook is now empty except for the phrase, "Thank Naminé." Fantasia sorcerer Yen Sid, who taught Mickey how to use the Keyblade, explains to Sora about the Nobody army, which is ravaging worlds alongside the Heartless. These two armies are being used to harvest hearts for Organization XIII.

At the same time, Kairi gets kidnapped by Axel, and the Organization keeps her hostage to goad Sora. Kairi tries escaping with the help of Naminé, but both get caught. Just before they are attacked, a hooded figure saves them, revealing himself to be Riku, who still looks like Ansem thanks to the events of 358/2 Days.

Kingdom Hearts 2: Revelations

During Sora's encounters with the Organization, he learns the truth behind Roxas and Naminé, understanding that he created them. Additionally, he locates Ansem the Wise's study, where learns that Ansem, Seeker of Darkness, was Xehanort's Heartless. Furthermore, he reaches the conclusion that Xehanort also had a Nobody, who he now knows is Xemnas, leader of Organization XIII. It's in this study that Mickey also reveals that Xehanort studied under Ansem the Wise, who went missing.

Sora and co. travel to the World That Never Was, the home of Organization XIII. He intends to settle the score and defeat the evil group. While making his way through their lair, he meets with Riku (who at first startles Sora because of his appearance) and Kairi. They in turn run into Mickey and DiZ, and DiZ reveals himself to be Ansem the Wise.

Kingdom Hearts has become massive, courtesy of Sora killing Heartless and unwittingly freeing their hearts. Thus, Ansem the Wise uses a machine to convert Kingdom Hearts into data, rendering it harmless. Unfortunately, the machine explodes, sending Ansem the Wise to the Realm of Darkness without memories. On the bright side, the explosion restores Riku's appearance. Riku teams up with Sora and defeats Xemnas, the last Organization member. Sora, Riku, and Kairi return to live happily on Destiny Islands … until a mysterious letter from Mickey arrives.

coded: Hacking the Lore

Back at Disney Castle, home of King Mickey, Jiminy Cricket attempts to find out what happened to his journal, which was suddenly wiped in Kingdom Hearts II. While reviewing it, he stumbles upon a line he doesn't remember writing: "Their hurting will be mended when you return to end it." With the help of Donald, Goofy, and Mickey, the team converts Jiminy's Journal into data, only to see that it's riddled with bugs. The journal also spawns a data version of Sora, who is referred to as Data-Sora and resembles Sora as he appeared in Kingdom Hearts. Mickey and Data-Sora work together to purge the journal of bugs in order to find out what happened to it.

The journey brings Data-Sora to a climactic clash with a data version of Roxas. Data-Roxas warns Data-Sora to not get consumed by the sadness of having forgotten people who are important to him. Upon defeating Data-Roxas, Data-Sora meets with Naminé, who reveals two important pieces of information. Firstly, she says that Sora is the "key that connects everything." Secondly, the ones who are in torment, per the new line in Jiminy's Journal, are Terra, Ventus, and Aqua (from Birth by Sleep). King Mickey gathers this information and sends it to Sora, who is spending his time with Kairi and Riku on Destiny Islands. This is the letter that had mysteriously appeared at the end of Kingdom Hearts II.

3D - Dream Drop Distance: A Close Call

The deaths of Xemnas and Ansem, Seeker of Darkness, revived Xehanort, who poses a new threat to the Realm of Light. Yen Sid gathers Riku and Sora to put them through Mark of Mastery exams, preparing them for Xehanort. These exams send both Keyblade wielders to the dream worlds, or worlds that have been destroyed by the Heartless. This puts them both in a deep sleep.

During Sora's exam, he runs into Xemnas, Ansem, and a younger Xehanort from an alternate timeline. All three have time-traveled to capture Sora, meddling with his exam to put him in a coma. They surround his heart in darkness, but Ventus' Keyblade Armor protects it.

Riku awakens and goes to save Sora. When he arrives, the young Xehanort reveals that this timeline's Xehanort was indeed revived, and he has gathered 11 vessels, with Sora intended as the 12th. These bodies will house parts of Xehanort's heart to become the new Organization XIII, who will fight seven Keyblade wielders to create the new X-blade. Sora is eventually saved by Riku with the help of Mickey, Donald, Goofy, and Lea (the revived form of Axel, the Nobody who befriended Roxas).

After bringing Sora's body to Yen Sid's tower, Riku frees Sora's heart from the Darkness. When these events come to a close, Yen Sid declares that Riku is the only one who passed the Mark of Mastery exam. Sora eagerly bounces back with vigor, and he sets off.

Kingdom Hearts 3: The Power of Waking

Starting their journey at Olympus Coliseum, Sora travels across various Disney and Pixar worlds in the hopes that he can learn the Power of Waking. The power lets him awaken sleeping hearts and reconnect them to a body, which is crucial because Sora has the hearts of Roxas, Xion, and Ventus inside him. While helping the many Disney protagonists with their problems, he runs into the members of Organization XIII, who continue to experiment with others' hearts.

Meanwhile, Maleficent travels through the same worlds, searching for a black box that was once owned by the Master of Masters. Kairi and Lea continue to train as Keyblade wielders in another world, hoping to become guardians of light. Additionally, Riku and Mickey travel through the Realm of Darkness, searching for Aqua.

When they find her, they learn her heart had been taken over by Xehanort. She fights Riku and Mickey, gaining the upper hand, but Sora arrives in the nick of time to fight Aqua and free her heart. Aqua and Sora go the Land of Departure, where she hid Ventus' body, so they can awaken him. Vanitas, the darkness of Ventus, reappears and interferes, but Aqua tries to stop him. When he's about to kill her, Sora suddenly learns the Power of Waking and reconnects Ventus' heart to his body. Ventus heroically saves Aqua, and the three Keyblade wielders scare off Vanitas.

Kingdom Hearts 3: The Final Battle

Sora, Riku, Mickey, Aqua, Ventus, Lea, and Kairi gather for the final battle, representing the seven guardians of light. They meet Organization XIII at the Keyblade Graveyard, destined to start the new Keyblade War that forges the Χ-blade. The seven guardians fight a grueling battle with the 13 beings of darkness, and in the process, more Keyblade wielders appear. Terra finally frees himself from Xehanort's clutches with the help of Sora, reuniting with his old friends Aqua and Ventus. After defeating most of the Organization, Axel reunites with his old friends Xion and Roxas, who rejoin the side of light thanks to Sora's Power of Waking.

However, throughout the process, Kairi gets kidnapped once again. The war culminates with Sora, Riku, and Mickey facing Master Xehanort, the final Organization member. Xehanort attacks Kairi with his Keyblade, and she disintegrates. In anger, Sora clashes with him, forging the X-blade. Xehanort gains control over Kingdom Hearts, but Sora defeats him after a climactic encounter.

While everyone is happily reunited after the war, Sora goes on another journey to find Kairi. Meanwhile, Xigbar, a surviving member of Organization XIII, reveals he is Luxu and reclaims Xehanort's Keyblade, which was originally his own. He uses the power of waking to revive the other Foretellers, and he stands over the Master of Masters' black box as Maleficent watches over in the distance. In another world, Sora and Riku awaken, unsure of where they are.