If you’re not sure what all the hype is about, or want to try it out for yourself but have no idea how to start, look no further!

The announcement of Kingdom Hearts 3 alongside its fantastic E3 trailer, had fans all across the world aflutter with talk about the popular franchise. Being a fan myself I also screamed at cheered at my screen, having finally been given confirmation that the game is coming out after all! However, with the recent announcement of Kingdom Hearts 2.8, an important part of the franchise that will be coming out before 3 (and possibly pushing back its release date) I began to wonder a lot of things. Do I need to play 2.8 at all if I want to understand and enjoy 3? And what about all the other releases leading up to 3 that I didn’t play? What exactly am I supposed to buy and play to be totally ready?! Someone out there has to figure this out, and since I’m really impatient I decided to make a post myself straightening out just what is going on with all the Kingdom Hearts craziness. There just seem to be too many games and too much weirdness with the naming to have a firm handle on what’s happening. As an added bonus, though, I’m aiming this post towards the people who may be interested in starting to play, but don’t know where to begin. It’s only fair to say that if I’m confused you guys must be totally lost. So let’s do this thing!!

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For those of you who want to get into Kingdom Hearts, but don’t know if it’s for you, I believe there are a few things you need to ask yourself. Are you a person who finds story important to your gaming experience, and are you able to deal with crazy Japanese anime-like plot development? Do you get enjoyment out of a free-form, fast-paced fighting system?  Is a good soundtrack to a game usually a strong selling point for you? I ask these questions because those are all the best parts of the Kingdom Hearts series that may strongly appeal to you. Kingdom Hearts is known for its action based combat, beautifully created original soundtrack, and its deep, dark, complex story line. “Deep, dark, complex story line? From a Disney game?!” Okay, so the game has Disney characters but it’s not a Disney game. Not in the slightest.

The original Kingdom Hearts was a game that got a lot of attention back when it was released because of its unusual cast of characters. The game almost looked like some kind of bad fan-fiction where Disney characters where put in the same universe alongside Final Fantasy characters. How can a game with a motley crew like that even function? It seemed like it was set to fail from the get go, except for the fact that it succeeded. It was incredibly successful, in fact. Fast-forward several years later, where there are almost twenty different iterations of the Kingdom Hearts title and the series is still going strong. So, if you’re concerned at all at how weird it would be to play a game alongside Donald and Goofy, my advice is to stop worrying. You actually get used to all of the Disney stuff pretty quickly and easily. That was definitely not the hardest part of the game to wrap your head around. The hardest part is the plot.

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The plot of the Kingdom Hearts games is genius bordering on convoluted insanity. It’s also what the fanbase loves to talk about and speculate on with one another. It’s actually become somewhat of a staple of the series, spawning several memes of players’ frustration at just how complicated the story line becomes. A few people have even started their YouTube careers out of making timeline and plot explanation videos just trying to explain their points of view on what the story is trying to do. By mixing weird names (Ex. Larxene, Xemnas, Ansem, etc.) with alter ego-like personalities and stacking several different plot lines and character stories on top of one another, many people (myself included) often wonder whether we’re all being lead on a wild goose chase or if the story will eventually make sense in the end. It also doesn’t help that there were many plot explanations and hints given to Japanese players only. The story is a mystery of the franchise that will hopefully be solved before I die, but that’s not the important topic of this article.

The meat of this post is the explanation on what exactly is going on with the games. “What do all their names mean? Which ones are necessary to play? How many consoles do I have to own to personally experience the whole series?” I hope to answer all those questions by listing out the games in order of release date, and then listing them in plot line order at the the end. I’ll also be adding in a small opinion and facts on each game in case it helps you decide which ones are worth your time. So with that said, let’s list all the games we know of so far:

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  1. Kingdom Hearts, released in 2002 for the PlayStation 2.
    • As the original, and some would argue the best, game in the series Kingdom Hearts is a must play. It’s cartoony in the best way, super action packed, features great characters and environments, and it just plain rocks.
  2. Kingdom Hearts Final Mix, released in 2002 for the Playstation 2 in Japan only.
    • Here is part of the frustration fans have with the Kingdom Hearts series. Japanese gaming companies have a habit of being very exclusive with their games or added content to anyone but fellow Japanese players for several reasons we won’t get into here. Kingdom Hearts was not an exception to this practice. For some reason the North American release of the game featured boss fights that weren’t in the original Japanese version. Almost as some sort of retaliation, a Japanese only version of the game called Final Mix was released sporting cool bonuses, harder difficulties, new enemies, extra story line cut-scenes, the bosses featured in the NA version, extra boss fights, and songs not featured in the other releases of the game. Europe and North America pretty much had to deal with the fact that they would never be able to play the Final Mix game, and this made us pretty damn bitter for a while. Especially since for some odd reason this trend continued with some of the other games, and to top it off all the Final Mix games feature English voice acting only, but with Japanese subtitles. Lolwut? I don’t even know…
  3. Kingdom Hearts Chain of Memories, released in 2004 on the Game Boy Advance.
    • Full disclosure, I hated this game. It was important for the plot, but the battle system was changed into a weird card-system mixed with an action style game. Add that to going from PS2 graphics to GBA graphics and the transition was jarring. It was just not enjoyable for me, but I trudged through it for the story. This is around the time when the plot started getting really weird, too.
  4. Kingdom Hearts 2, released in 2006 on the PlayStation 2.
    • My favorite of the Kingdom Hearts games so far. It was everything KH1 had, but better. Don’t listen to those KH1 naysayers who think 2 was worse. They are WRONG!!Promotional_Artwork_KHIIFM
  5. Kingdom Hearts 2 Final Mix +, released in 2007 on the Playstation 2 in Japan only.
    • Same story here with the first Final Mix. Japan gets all the cool stuff.
  6. Kingdom Hearts Coded, released in 2008 for Japan on mobile phones, and 2011 for everywhere else on Nintendo DS.
    • I never played this game, but apparently it’s different from the others in that it’s an episodic puzzle game. Sounds pretty fun. It got bad reviews, though. While the story line originally wasn’t considered to be canon, it is now.
  7. Kingdom Hearts Mobile, released in 2008 for Japan only.
    • It was a social networking game that ended in 2013. Apparently, it was really cute and fun, but since none of it mattered to the actual story line, it’s almost not worth mentioning. It’s nice to know it was a thing, though.
  8. Kingdom Hearts Re:Chain of Memories, released in 2008 for the PlayStation 2.
    • This was a remake of the original Chain of Memories game to be playable on the PS2 with graphics reminiscent of KH1. There were also lots of quality-of-life changes made to certain boss fights, and cutscene tweaks that included voice acting. Despite the obvious graphical overhaul it wasn’t enough to get me to like the game. I just couldn’t get over how restrictive the card battle system felt.
  9. Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days, released in 2009 for the Nintendo DS.
    • This was really when the weirdness of the Kingdom Hearts universe started to hit me. The whole game was enjoyable, but surprisingly dark and somewhat lonely. While I don’t regret playing it, I find it hard to recommend. For those wondering what’s up with the title of the game, it’s actually somewhat of a spoiler. So if you don’t want spoilers, don’t keep reading. Essentially, the character you play as in the game, Roxas, is considered an alter-ego or other half of the series’s main protagonist, Sora. This game chronicles what lead up to Roxas appearing at the beginning of Kingdom Hearts 2. Since the beginning of KH2 with Roxas lasts a week, subtract the week from how long a year is and you get 358 days. That’s how long the game goes plot-wise since it takes place right before KH2. There’s also a separate character named Xion who is in a similar situation with Roxas throughout the game and her story becomes just as important as Roxas’s. So the “/2” comes from the idea that the game was experienced through the eyes of two people. The actual explanation for what Roxas and Xion are would take too long to explain, so either play the game yourselves or read the wikis if you’re curious!kingdom_hearts_birth_by_sleep_by_scorpius02
  10. Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep, released in 2010.
    • The hardest game in the series, in my opinion. I spent hours bashing my head against a wall trying to beat the in-game bosses in normal. Maybe I’m just bad at the game, though… The story is also darker than the others, more confusing, and frustrating. However it was totally worth the buy. The name comes from the series director, Tetsuya Nomura, wanting to use the words “by” and “sleep” in a title while still having the initials stand for “BBS” (I’m not lying, he said it in an interview). BBS stands for”Bulletin Board System” which is a software that allows users to connect with one another, tying in to the aspect of the games that the main characters are somehow connected to Sora somehow.
  11. Kingdom Hearts Re:coded, released in 2010 for Japan and 2011 everywhere else for the Nintendo DS.
    • As the title suggests, it’s a remake of the “coded” game.
  12. Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep Final Mix, released in 2011 for Japan only on the PSP.
  13. Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance, released in 2012 for the Nintendo 3DS.
    • I heard lots of great things about this game. People were also really happy to play as Sora and Riku again, after what had seemed like ages. The story also decided to get infinitely more complex, and yet amazing, in this game as it started to tie practically everything together. This being another whacky name comes from director Nomura being abstract as always. “Dream” comes from the fact that Sora and Riku are actually asleep through the whole game; “Drop” from the phrase “drop off to sleep,” which also serves as the name for the system that allows players to switch control between Sora and Riku; “Distance” to express the gulf between the two characters. That’s it. Also it was a clever way to get 3D in the title, to further push that it has 3D functionality on the 3DS.
  14. Kingdom Hearts X, released in 2013 for Japan only as a PC browser game  
    • The game wouldn’t be worth mentioning if it wasn’t…kind of canonical as it takes place during the First Keyblade War. I wouldn’t get too angry at the fact that the game is Japan only, though, as it’s not a true sequel or addition to the series. It looks cute and fun, though!
  15. Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix, released in 2013 on the PlayStation 3.
    • Featuring an HD remaster of Kingdom Hearts Final Mix and Re:Chain of Memories, along with having a full collection of up-scaled HD cutscenes from 358/2 Days in a single package, this is the game fans have been crying for. FINALLY the US gets the Final Mix game. And it also makes having to play 358/2 Days unnecessary since all of the plot is played out as a movie. A pure genius and much needed move by Square Enix, in my opinion. This is where you need to start your adventure, if you’re going to.
  16. Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 Remix, released in 2014 on the PlayStation 3.
    • Same story as the 1.5 Remix! This package features HD remasters of Kingdom Hearts 2 Final Mix and Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep Final Mix. You get two HD versions of the final mixes, plus HD cut-scenes from the Re:coded game so that you don’t have to play the game to keep up with the plot!! Both this and the 1.5 Remix are enough to make owning a PS3 worth it, in my opinion.
  17. Kingdom Hearts Unchained X, released in 2015 for Japan only on iOS and Android.
    • The exciting part about this X remake is that it’s coming to North America soon. Now people here won’t have to feel so left out! Woo-hoo!Kingdom-Hearts-2.8_KH0
  18. Kingdom Hearts 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue, soon to be released (possibly in 2016) for the PlayStation 4.
    • This was…a surprise, to say the least. Just when fans were getting comfortable with the idea of getting to play 3, SE announces that they’re actually releasing another in-between game… Yay? Actually, yeah, celebrate! Not only will it serve as the successor to 2.5 Remix by offering an HD remaster of Dream Drop Distance, but it will also feature two new additions to the KH series. The first is one called Kingdom Hearts X Back Cover which will add some extra stuff for the KHX fans to enjoy. The second part is more important, though, which is called Kingdom Hearts 0.2 Birth by Sleep-A Fragmentary Passage which is a completely new game that takes place after the events of Birth by Sleep, through Aqua’s perspective. It’ll be true plot advancement to get us ready for Kingdom Hearts 3!
  19. Kingdom Hearts 3, release date unknown. Coming out for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
    • You saw that right! Xbox One. It’ll be the first Kingdom Hearts game released on a Microsoft console. Woo! That’s about all that we know, though. A release date would be nice…

And so, for those that just skimmed through the list, here is the second list providing only the games you need in order to dive into the series.

  1. Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix, released in 2013 on the PlayStation 3.
  2. Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 Remix, released in 2014 on the PlayStation 3.
  3. Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance, released in 2012 for the Nintendo 3DS.
    • Or wait for KH 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue, where an HD Remaster of this game will be featured on the PS4.

So, depending on how you want to go about things you really only need a PS3 and a 3DS, or a PS3 and PS4 to play through the whole series and see what you’ve been missing out on! It’s lucky that the 1.5 and 2.5 remixes hold enough content to keep you busy for a few months. It’ll give you plenty of time to decide whether or not you’ll want to invest in 2.8 when it releases, and then eventually Kingdom Hearts 3. Hopefully this article was enough to at least help you decide whether or not you are willing to give the game a try. Kingdom Hearts is really an awesome gaming series and it’s always fun to have new people to geek out over it with.

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