With the release of Kingdom Hearts III, it’s time to jump back into one of gaming’s most confusing storylines. The Kingdom Hearts series is famous for its notoriously complicated timeline and a topsy turvy backstory which spans over 9 different games over a period of about 16 years. Moreover, since the games have been released out of order, with several subplots added in the later games, it’s very easy to get lost in its confusing lore. Fortunately, this guide will help you navigate the immensely complex narrative that is the Kingdom Hearts story. So without further ado, let’s jump into it.
First, here are some basic things that you need to know about this world in order for you to fully appreciate the story. In the world of Kingdom Hearts, a person’s heart is equated to their soul. When you lose your heart, you become a Heartless (a creature of darkness) and your empty body becomes a shell that is called a Nobody. However, if your heart is strong enough, the Nobody that you create is special; it gains the ability to talk and have emotions, as opposed to being an unthinking monster. There are also some items in the world that you need to know about in order to follow the story:
Keyblades: They are weapons extracted from the heart of a warrior. The stronger the heart, the stronger the Keyblade.They can be used as weapons and as a means of locking and unlocking anything, be it doors, chests, or links to other worlds. They also have the ability to choose their masters, depending on their willpower and courage. The strongest of them all is the X (pronounced ‘chi’)-blade, the only tool capable of accessing Kingdom Hearts.
Kingdom Hearts: It is a repository of all the hearts of beings and worlds and whoever controls Kingdom Hearts has unlimited power and knowledge.H
Now that all that’s out of the way, we can get started with the actual story. Below is a photo of the timeline of the games in chronological order of story (not release). This part covers until the beginning of Kingdom Hearts II.
Long ago, the world was at peace and harmony. There existed a prophet named the Master of Masters who taught apprentices. They were bestowed a Book of Prophecies and a Keyblade of their own. These five became known as the Foretellers, who protected the source of all light in the universe: Kingdom Hearts, which existed in a symbiotic relationship with the legendary weapon, the X-blade. After a prophecy that warned of a cataclysmic event, the Master of Masters vanished and left his apprentices to form Unions, with their own Keyblade, and distinct tasks to perform which were meant to protect the world. He also left them with a mysterious black box. However, some members of the Foretellers begin to suspect that one among them intended to betray the order. The group splintered and soon a war between them erupted, which triggered the cataclysmic event they were supposed to prevent. The war between the Foretellers became known as the Keyblade War, and it resulted in the deaths of nearly all the Keyblade wielders, and the X-blade was shattered into 20 pieces: seven pieces of pure light and thirteen of pure darkness. Without the X-blade to protect it, Kingdom Hearts disappeared.
Hundereds of years later, a man named Xehanort, a resident of Destiny Islands (one of the main places of the universe) sets off on his own to become a Keyblade Master. He meets a mysterious man called Ansem on his home island, and it is revealed that he is in fact, a version of Xehanort from another timeline. He gives present Xehanort the power to travel through time to gather other vessels like himself in order to reawaken the X-blade and along with it, Kingdom Hearts. To this end, Xehanort carries the desire to reawaken the legendary power, and so, he seeks to train along with his friend, named Eraqus. However, eventually, they differ when it comes to how the darkness should be used, with Xehanort believing that it can be controlled, while Eraqus thinking it should be eliminated. Xehanort takes on a pupil, named Ventus, to use his body as a vessel. However, Ventus is too weak for this, and Xehanort creates a new being called Vanitas by extracting the darkness from Ventus’ heart. Xehanort wants to combine Vanitas’ heart of darkness with a heart of light to manifest the X-blade to control Kingdom Hearts. Ventus is almost killed by Xehanort on Destiny Islands, but in a shocking twist, his heart comes to rest inside a young boy named Sora (another resident of the island – we’ll get back to him later) , which allows Ventus to survive. He is then trained along with Eraqus’ other pupils, Terra and Aqua.
When the three take the Mark of Mastery exam (to officate them as Keyblade masters), Aqua passes and Terra fails, slowly being tempted by Master Xehanort to use dark powers. Terra and Aqua briefly travel to Destiny Islands, where they meet the much younger versions of Riku and Kairi respectively, inadvertently giving them the power to wield Keyblades in the future by performing a ceremony after judging them worthy. When they return, they find themselves fighting Eraqus, who has attempted to kill Ventus to prevent Xehanort from possessing him. A climatic battle takes place, through which the X-Blade is formed (due to Vanitas merging with Ventus) and Kingdom Hearts is revelaed once more. However, Vanitas is defeated by Aqua (along with another apprentice, Mickey Mouse (yes, the Mickey Mouse) and the X-Blade shatters, closing Kingdom Hearts.
Xehanort transfers his consciousness into Terra (becoming Terra-Xehanort) and Ventus is put into a coma due to the battle. Mickey and Aqua meet Yen Sid, a retired Keyblade Master who is training Mickey. Aqua enters the Land of Departure (another reality, if you will) with Ventus’ body, and creates a place called Castle Oblivion to hold him until he wakes up (remember this – its important) She later confronts Terra-Xehanort in the Realm of Darkness, who escapes (leaving Aqua in the realm) but loses his memory because of Terra’s heart resisting Xehanort. He becomes the apprentice to Ansem the Wise (a different Ansem than the one who came to Xehanort previously), a scientist who studies Heartless. After slowly regaining his memories over the course of a year, Xehanort and another apprentice of Ansem’s create a group called Organization XIII to use darkness for their own purposes. They banish Ansem to the Realm of Darkness and extract the darkness out of each of their bodies, giving birth to both Heartless and Nobodies. Xehanort’s Heartless takes Ansem’s name, and sets about trying to create an artifical Kingdrom Hearts, while the Nobody of Xehanort, named Xemnas, manages the Organization. Ansem escapes the Realm of Darkness and disguises himself as a wizard named DiZ to conceal his identity, taking refuge in a mansion and researching an attempt to stop Xehanort.
Got all that? Good, because now we’re getting into the main story.
In the beginning of Kingdom Hearts, we see three lifelong friends Sora, Riku and Kairi spending their days playing on Destiny Islands. One eventful night, the island is overrun by Heartless and Riku becomes engulfed in darkness, leaving the island. Kairi also disappears, with her heart taking refuge in Sora (this is important), and her physical body is lost. Sora receives a Keyblade (due to him wanting to pull Riku out of the darkness, the Keyblade turned to him from Riku), and he finds himself in Traverse Town. Here, he encounters Donald and Goofy, who were ordered by King Mickey (now a Keyblade Master) to find “the Key.” Assuming that he meant Sora, they journey together to find Sora’s friends and King Mickey.
They travel to different Disney worlds, reparing the damage caused by the Heartless and sealing the worlds from being overrun by darkness. Eventually, they learn that Riku is being controlled by Maleficent to open a door to the Realm of Darkness, on the promise that Maleficent would give him back Kairi. However, on defeating Maleficent, it is revealed in a twist of fate that ‘Ansem’ (Xehanort’s Heartless) was the true puppet-master. He had possessed Riku to carry out his evil deeds to gain access to an artificial Kingdom Hearts.
Sora defeats ‘Ansem’, but is unable to seal the world they’re in due to Kairi’s heart being inside his body. He then unlocks his and Kairi’s heart, turning him into a Heartless. Kairi, being restored due to her heart merging with her physical self, brings him back. Sora pursues Ansem, and defeats him for good. However, before he dies, he opens the door to his artificial Kingdom Hearts. Riku and Mickey are trapped on the other side (in the Realm of Darkness), and just before they are overrun by heartless, Aqua sacrifices herself and stops them from dying. Riku and Mickey close the door, and Sora seals the door from the other side, promising to get them back out eventually. Kairi is sent back to Destiny Islands, and Sora promises to come back to her with Riku one day. Sora, Donald and Goofy begin a quest to find the door to light to pull back both Mickey and Riku.
Now for the second part of the story. When Sora unlocked his heart, he created two Nobodies – one for himself, and one for Kairi (due to Kairi’s heart being inside him). The two Nobodies are named Roxas and Naminé. Naminé was captured by the Organisation and kept in Castle Oblivion (the place where Aqua kept Ventus’ body) and Roxas is found by Xemnas and recruited into the Organization. Roxas and another member, Axel, are patterned up and the two grow close. Due to Roxas being the Nobody of Sora, he is able to wield a Keyblade. Soon after Roxas joins, a new member named Xion appears, who is also also a Keyblade wielder, and someone who has the unconscious power to alter her appearance based on the preceptor’s relationship with her. Roxas and her become closer as well. While this is happening, Sora, Donald and Goofy come across Castle Oblivion, and travel through its floors. However, they lose their memories as they ascend to the top, due to Naminé rewriting them and replacing them with fake ones, at the instruction of the Organization. Along the way, they fight various members of the Organizationa and defeat them, freeing Naminé. In order for Sora and co. to regain their memories, Naminé places Sora in a pod so he can sleep and regain all that he’s lost.
When Sora goes under, Roxas falls into a deep slumber due to him being his Nobody. When he wakes up, he finds that everyone is dead, except for Xion and Axel. He accepts this and starts to spend time with Xiong and Axel, growing closer to the both of them. However, Roxas begins to relive Sora’s memories as they are being returned to his physical body, and naturally, knowing nothing of who Sora is, wonders what is going on. Xion also starts to regain Sora’s memories, and it is revealed by Xemnas that she is in fact a replica of Sora that was created in case Roxas rebelled against the Organization, but with the memories that Naminé stole from Sora during his time in Castle Oblivion. Xemnas reprograms her, however, and commands her to attack Roxas in order to stop Sora from regaining his memories. However, Roxas defeats her, and with her dying breath, Xion tells him to merge with Sora in order to make him whole again, and to stop Xemnas’s evil plan.
Roxas tries to take on Xemnas in The World that Never Was (the main base for the Organization) but is stopped by Riku. The two clash, and Roxas loses. DiZ appears and inserts Roxas into a virtual world where the Organization can’t find him. Time passes peaceful and Roxas lives out a seemingly endless summer vacation, having no memory of his life. However, Axel appears inside the digital stimulation, having been sent by the Organization to get Roxas. DiZ intervenes and sends Axel back to the real world, after which Naminé (who’s with DiZ) tells Roxas who he is (Sora’s Nobody) and that he has to merge with Sora. Axel confronts Roxas one more time, and Roxas, due to regaining his memories after conversing with Naminé takes him on. He finally defeats Axel, who retreats, and although Roxas is sad to see his friend beaten, he expresses the desire to meet him again. Axel sadly remarks that only one of them have another life as he goes back to The World That Never Was. Roxas finally finds Sora’s body (still in the pod, regaining all his memories) and merges with him. Sora finally wakes up, along with Donald and Goofy, and is ready to restart his quest to stop the Organization.