kingdom hearts plot

It’s been 13 years since Kingdom Hearts 2 came out, which means you’re going to need to do more than blow on a dusty cartridge to revive those memories of the video game franchise. Kingdom Hearts 3 drops you right in the middle of 10 years worth of story which, somewhat counterintuitively, has been going strong in other spin-off games in that long absence. In-between Kingdom Hearts 2 and Kingdom Hearts 3, there were five (!) games that were released on the Playstation Portable, Nintendo 3DS, PC, and mobile phones, each of them essential to the increasingly convoluted Kingdom Hearts plot line.

Sound daunting? Don’t worry I’ve got you covered. I’m here to try to condense 10 years worth of story for you — 17 years if you’re totally new. Because everyone deserves to not be horribly confused about this inexplicable combination of Japanese RPG and Disney.

What is Kingdom Hearts?

Kingdom Hearts is a role-playing video game series about a boy named Sora who is sent on a quest to save the Seven Princesses of Heart after his world is destroyed by dark creatures called “Heartless.” An evil being named Ansem wants to use the princesses’ hearts of pure light to open the Door to Darkness and gain the power to reign over all worlds. Also, those seven princesses are all Disney princesses, and Sora is accompanied by Donald and Goofy on his world-hopping mission. And he fights Cloud from Final Fantasy 7 at one point.

There are Disney characters and Final Fantasy characters? Together? How does that work?

Envisioned as a crossover game between Disney Interactive and Square Enix, the first Kingdom Hearts game, released in 2002, followed main character Sora as he traveled through different worlds that each represented a different Disney (and later Pixar) property — there was Wonderland from Alice in Wonderland, Agrabah from Aladdin, the Olympus Coliseum from Hercules, and so on. Along the way, Sora saved the worlds from collapsing into the darkness brought on by the invasion of Heartless creatures, a mission granted to him by the Final Fantasy characters whose own world had been destroyed. They appeared as guides of sorts, showing up every now and then to spout exposition and work out their angst. Sora is joined in his quest by Donald and Goofy, who were sent by their King Mickey to find the chosen wielder of the Keyblade, a mystical weapon that has the ability to open any lock.

That sounds like a nice and simple story.

It was! The first game was originally conceived to appeal to Disney’s target age range. Series director Tetsuya Nomura even intended Mickey Mouse to be the protagonist of the series, but Disney put a strict restriction on using Mickey in the game — hence Sora’s outfit resembling the iconic mouse’s white gloves, over-large red shorts and giant yellow shoes. But the series has made up for it with some Disney Legend talent coming in to voice their beloved characters, including James Wood as Hades in Hercules, Idina Menzel as Elsa from Frozen, Zachary Levi as Flynn Rider in Tangled, and more.

But since the first game, Kingdom Hearts has grown into its own beast. The Final Fantasy characters have all but stopped appearing, as the game’s original characters start to grow in number and in confusing (and weirdly tragic) backstories.

Do I want to know?

Do you have five hours?

What? No!

All right. In the beginning of time…

Are you serious?

Not really. But kind of. Long before Sora was chosen to wield the Keyblade, there was a Keyblade War between thousands of warriors who fought over dominion of the light. In the process, the x-blade, the legendary weapon that protected Kingdom Hearts and was the basis for all Keyblades, was shattered into 20 pieces: seven fragments of pure light, which eventually become the seven princesses’ hearts, and thirteen shards of darkness.

This war passed down in legend until it became a fairy tale and caught the interest of Xehanort, a Keyblade Master who sought to create a new x-blade and summon Kingdom Hearts. His wild ideas put him at odds with fellow Keyblade Master Eraqus, and the two would part ways to train their own apprentices. For those who have already started Kingdom Hearts 3, a young Xehanort and Eraqus are the two men playing chess while discussing the nature of light and dark. We’ll keep coming back to them.

The apprentices of Xehanort and Eraqus are the protagonists of the Kingdom Hearts prequel game, Birth By Sleep, and are a major driving force in Kingdom Hearts 3. Terra and Aqua are Eraqus’ apprentices, while Ventus is Xehanort’s former apprentice who was nearly killed when Xehanort attempted to jumpstart a x-blade by splitting Ventus’ heart into its light and dark halves. But Ventus was saved when his heart took refuge with — guess who — baby Sora! Later on, after the three Keyblade apprentices are manipulated into tragic circumstances by Xehanort, Ventus will end up taking up refuge in Sora’s heart again. So by the time the first Kingdom Hearts has started, Ventus’ heart is dormant inside of Sora’s, Aqua is trapped in the realm of darkness, and Terra has been possessed by Xehanort and later takes on the name…Ansem.

What? Okay… That’s all I need to know to play Kingdom Hearts 3, right?

Not even close!

Oh my god.

You know all about Heartless, now learn about…Nobodies.

I’m tired.

Nobodies were the monsters introduced in Kingdom Hearts 2, and they’re the shells left behind when a person is made into a Heartless. But Nobodies have become intelligent. The most intelligent Nobodies have formed a group called Organization 13, in which they wear emo cloaks and do shady things. Sora first encounters Organization 13 in Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, which takes place between Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts 2. They lead him through a mysterious castle in which he finds that the further he goes, the more memories he loses. By the end, he’s forgotten the love of his life, Kairi, and is convinced he must save a girl named Namine, a Nobody who was working with the Organization all along. But once Sora defeats the Organization members there, Namine decides to help restore his memories with the help of Sora’s reformed friend Riku, who had just gone through his own redemptive journey in the castle in which he atoned for turning to the dark side and trying to kill his friend. I think he defeats his clone too.

Wait, how many clones are there?

I don’t even know, man.

And so?

Right. Sora has a Nobody too, and it’s the best character in the series: Roxas. He has a whole tragic arc that we won’t get into, but trust me it’s super sad. Roxas also happens to look like Ventus, since Ventus’ heart is still sleeping in Sora’s heart. Roxas is the character we start Kingdom Hearts 2 off with, and who is constantly battling for actualization throughout the game. He’s the reason that Organization 13 keeps trying to recapture Sora because — dun dun dun — the leader of this sinister group is Xehanort’s Nobody, Xemnas!

There are three versions of Xehanort now?

All right, here’s where it gets complicated. There are four versions of Xehanort: Original Xehanort, Terra-Xehanort, Ansem (who it turns out, his Xehanort’s Heartless), and Xemnas. And through some time travel shenanigans (that’s right, there’s time travel now, baby!), they all exist side-by-side. Why? To pull off Xehanort’s original plan all along: the creation of the x-blade. The legendary blade was made of seven pieces of light and 13 pieces of darkness, remember? Xehanort is determined to bring together 13 pieces of darkness through his incarnations and by turning others to the dark side with him through Organization 13. And in their clash against the seven wielders of light — Sora and co. — the x-blade would be created and Kingdom Hearts would be opened.

But what really is Kingdom Hearts? Like in the game?

It’s, um, a heart-shaped moon that is the hub of all light but it’s also the friends we made along the way? I have no idea, just think of it as one big Dragon Ball.

Anything else?

Um… Sora still isn’t a Keyblade Master despite saving the world multiple times, because he failed to pass some dumb test in the last chronological game, Dream Drop Distance. Kingdom Hearts 3 picks up right after Sora has failed the Mark of Mastery and Riku has passed to become a full-fledged Keyblade Master.

All right… Can I finally play Kingdom Hearts 3 now?

Go! Play! You don’t need to know all this to meet Rapunzel or hang out with Mike Wazowski. This is just in case you’re confused as to why there’s still an evil clone of Riku running around. Truthfully, I don’t know why either.

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