Kingdom Hearts 3
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One
The story of the entire Kingdom Hearts series, just in time for Kingdom Hearts 3!
Kingdom Hearts started out in 2002 as an ambitious crossover of Final Fantasy and Disney properties, aiming to blend a colourful and endearing cast of characters with Square Enix’s brand of engaging storytelling and RPG mechanics. In the years since then, those ambitions have become progressively loftier, and the series has continued to grow- and grow- and grow. It has been over a decade since Kingdom Hearts 2, and though we have been patiently waiting for the story to be resolved with the conclusion to this grand and winding saga, Square Enix have continued to add to the series’ narrative with spinoff entries and additional stories.
We’re now at a point where the end is clearly in sight, with the highly anticipated Kingdom Hearts 3’s release looming large on the horizon. The excitement is palpable, and as we gear up for the final chapter in this saga, it seems like the perfect time to look back on everything that has happened in this franchise up until now. After all, few franchises have caused confusion in their fanbases with befuddling twists and turns the way Kingdom Hearts has. Making sense of its long and winding tale will be no easy task, and though we’re going to do our best, as we always do in our Story So Far features, we’ll be looking at your comments as well, to make sure we haven’t missed out on any major details or plot threads. If there’s anything we do miss, let us know!
Without further ado then, in chronological order, here is the entire story of Kingdom Hearts.
Before we dive into the thick of things, it’s important, as always, to talk about the lore and setup of the entire series a little bit, things that we will be calling back to throughout this recap. Kingdom Hearts, as you probably know, is a crossover of Disney properties, with some Final Fantasy characters peppered in here and there, with all of this taking place in a universe where several largely distinct and varied worlds co-exist, but are more or less completely separate from each other. The series uses this frame as a way to take players to different locations and to introduce different characters, with each of these worlds usually being based off of a single Disney property in particular.
And while it’s a clever way of having so many different narrative and gameplay elements in a single experience without sacrificing coherence, within the Kingdom Hearts lore, there is a narrative explanation for this as well- this is where the Keyblade War, one of the most important events in the entire series, comes in. The story of the Keyblade War and the events leading up to it is told in Kingdom Hearts χ, which is technically the eighth instalment in the franchise, but takes place over a century before all the other Kingdom Hearts games, with its events chronicling how the world of the series that we’re all so familiar with even came into being.
Long ago, in a time that is now known as the age of fairytales, the world was a singular, cohesive whole, a world filled with light. Not literal light- the light of hearts (not that there wasn’t literal light). The source of this light was a giant heart in the sky, which was known as Kingdom Hearts, considered to be the source of all light, and hence, all life. Kingdom Hearts, and the light within, was protected by a special weapon known as the x-blade, a Keyblade shaped, well, like an x (so really, a weapon shaped like a key, but also shaped like an x- hang on to your butts. We’re just getting started).
But you know how it goes- where there is light, there is shadow. No heart in the world is devoid of sadness or darkness, and though the world was one of light, it was also one where darkness festered. The world was looked over and protected by a number of Keyblade masters, elite soldiers and upholders of the law, all of whom served under the tutelage of Master of Masters. Each of these Keyblade masters was in charge of a Union, which were factions of sorts, and consisted of children and young apprentices under the tutelage of each of these Keyblade masters.
The Master of Masters, however, was a mysterious man with incredible powers, as we’ve already mentioned, and one of his powers was being able to see into the future. Armed with his powers, he wrote something known as the Book of Prophecies, and though it’s name doesn’t explain what it was all about, it was a book that contained prophecies. The prophecies in this book foretold an oncoming war, one between light and darkness. This war, according to the book, would end with the darkness devouring the light, and the eventual destruction of the world. The Master gave a copy each to five of his apprentices, who collectively came to be known as the Foretellers, and soon, he mysteriously vanished.
The Foretellers, obviously enough, were shocked to learn about what the future had in store for them and their world, but were even further crippled when The Master disappeared. They had been wholly dependent on his wisdom and his all-knowing nature for far too long, and without him, they were lost. To make sure that the prophecies within the Book didn’t come to pass, the Foretellers decided to rally the forces of light, to strengthen themselves, and to make sure that darkness doesn’t prevail. Together, they fought against the forces of darkness, which were manifested as creatures know as the Heartless. The Heartless are beings that are born from the darkness in peoples’ hearts, a manifestation of all things bad and evil, and as such, the Foretellers’ primary enemies. In their attempts to offset the coming of darkness, though, the Foretellers actually ended up bringing it on themselves.
Slowly but surely, each of the five Foretellers grew increasingly more mistrustful of each other. Mistrust led to antagonism, antagonist led to darkness, and this darkness was exactly what the Book of Prophecies talked about. The five Foretellers, backed by each of their Unions, fought against each other in a huge conflict known as the Keyblade War. Countless lives were lost, the Foretellers all died, and sure enough, darkness engulfed the land. With this aggressive growth of darkness, Kingdom Hearts was trapped in the deepest reaches of a realm of darkness. The χ–blade, meanwhile, was shattered into twenty pieces, seven of which were pieces of light, and thirteen of darkness.
But though the world was plunged into darkness, it managed to come through it- not perfectly, but at least to some extent. Through the lights in the hearts of the children of the world – because really, if there’s light to be found anywhere even in the aftermath of a devastating war, it’s in a child’s heart – the world’s light was partially restored. But things didn’t go exactly to the way they once were. The world was instead split into various separate individual worlds. These worlds, as you may have guessed, are the different realms we visit throughout the course of all the Kingdom Hearts game that follow χ in the timeline.
The story picks up again over a century later, by which time the events of the Keyblade War and the more or less literal breaking of the world have passed not into history, but legend. Few remain who know of the fateful events well, and even fewer who believe them to be accurate, believing instead that they’re mere pieces of fiction and fairy tales. As we pick up the story again, we shift our focus to two apprentice Keyblade masters in a place known as the Land of Departure, whose names are Xehanort and Eraqus. The two young apprentices don’t see eye to eye on all things, but both of them, after rigorous training, pass the exam known as the Mark of Mastery, and become Keyblade masters.
Xehanort is a figure who, as any Kingdom Hearts fan would tell you, is incredibly important to the series’ story, and one of the most prominently featured figures across all nine games (so far). He’s one of the few remaining people who knows of the events that transpired during the Keyblade War- these events have always intrigued him, and his obsession with them is, in many ways, what gives rise to most of what happens in following games. You see, Xehanort wants to free Kingdom Hearts from the perpetual darkness it is trapped in.
Why exactly does he want to do that, though? He wants to do this to be able recreate the world, and recreate it in a manner he sees fit. A world of balance, a world of light and darkness and equilibrium. To do so, to free Kingdom Hearts, he needs the χ-blade. The χ-blade, however, was shattered into twenty pieces during the events of the Keyblade War, as you might remember. Xehanort, though, believes that it can be recreated if he can recreate the Keyblade War by pitting two forces, one each of extreme light and dark, against each other. In the next game in the series’ timeline, that being Birth by Sleep, this is what Xehanort’s plans basically boil down to.
And what exactly do to put these plans in motion? The first thing he does is recruit a young man named Ventus, taking him under his wing. By the time Birth by Sleep’s proper story kicks off, Xehanort has become an old, old man. His body is failing, and Xehanort decides that he will use Ventus as a vessel for his own heart, to replace his old and ailing body. He soon realizes, however, that that won’t be possible. Why? Because Ventus, as it turns out, is too pure of heart. So pure, in fact, that there is no room in him for Xehanort’s dark heart. Xehanort, then, decides to make use of Ventus in other ways.
Since, according to his plan, he needs to pit two equally great forces of light and darkness against each other to recreate the Keyblade War, Xehanort extracts the the little darkness that does exist in Ventus’ heart, and uses it to create an entirely new being. A being born purely of darkness, known as Vanitus, who goes on to become one of Xehanort’s top soldiers. Ventus’ heart is damaged in the process, and he falls unconscious, but somehow, miraculously, he survives. How? Well, the heart of a newborn child named Sora elsewhere in the world senses that of Ventus’, and the two briefly connect, saving Ventus’ life.
Meanwhile, Xehanort takes Ventus to his fellow Keyblade master Eraqus, where he knows Ventus will be trained in the ways of light. When Xehanort does bring Ventus to Eraqus, though, he runs into two more young apprentices of his colleague- Aqua and Terra, both of whom are apprentices of Master Eraqus (who, by the way, is as staunchly a defender of light as Xehanort is a purveyor of dark).
As soon as Xehanort sees Terra, he senses a tinge of darkness in his heart, and immediately realizes the young boy’s incredible potential for greatness. Xehanort decides that it will be Terra, after all, and not Ventus, that he will use as a vessel for himself. But not just yet. All of this is, really, setup for Birth by Sleep. By the time Birth by Sleep begins, Ventus, Terra, and Aqua have all three been in training under Master Eraqus for several years, and Aqua and Terra, in fact, are almost finished with their training. The two take the test known as the Mark of Mastery- but through Xehanort’s manipulations, it comes to pass that Terra fails, while Aqua passes and becomes a Keyblade master. Terra, who (along with Aqua) has had a lifelong dream of one day becoming a Keyblade master, is obviously none too pleased about this, and as a result of this failure, the darkness in his heart grows ever so slightly.
Soon after, though, things of much larger score quickly escalate- Master Xehanort mysteriously disappears without a trace, and dark monsters of unknown origins called the Unversed begin surfacing in and attacking various other worlds. Master Eraqus sends Terra out into the worlds to investigate, to to fight back against the Unversed, and to relocate and bring back Master Xehanort. At the same time, Ventus is tricked and manipulated by Vanitus, whose true origins are unknown to mostly everyone at this point, into following Terra- predictably enough, Ventus falls for this, and against the wishes of Eraqus, ventures forth to stand by Terra’s side.
Meanwhile, Eraqus is afraid of the growing darkness in Terra’s heart. He tasks Aqua, the newest Keyblade master, with following Terra and Ventus, and commands her to make sure that Terra doesn’t succumb to the darkness within him, and that Ventus is brought back safe and sound to the Land of Departure. And so it happens that Ventus, Terra, and Aqua, the three main protagonists of Birth by Sleep, all set out on a journey that starts out deceptively small, but devolves into conflicts and events far greater than they could have imagined.
As the game progresses from this point forth, Ventus, Terra, and Aqua travel to various Disney worlds, and on their journey, Terra is manipulated by Xehanort, who’s constantly pulling the strings behind the scenes, in various ways. Terra colludes with various Disney villains in the worlds he goes to, thinking that he’s only doing so to further his own mission, while actually, Xehanort is orchestrating everything to feed the darkness in the young boy’s heart. It’s an Anakin Skywalker-Darth Sidious situation to an extent.
Several momentous things happen along the way. The darkness inside Terra keeps growing steadily, and when Ventus and Aqua try to, their words fall on deaf ears. Eventually, Ventus and Eraqus meet once again, which sees the Keyblade Master attempting to destroy Ventus to foil Xehanort’s plans. Ventus, however, is saved by Terra, who goes on to fight against Eraqus. This ends with Eraqus being defeated, and ultimately killed by Xehanort. Things come to a head, and everything culminates in all the major players – Ventus, Terra, Aqua, Xehanort, and Vanitus – re-uniting at the Keyblade Graveyard, the location where the fateful Keyblade War took place over a century ago.
It is here that Xehanort reveals his plans to recreate the War. A raging battle ensues between all present, but Terra, sadly succumbs to the darkness around him. His heart is swallowed by the darkness of the raging battle, which sees Xehanort successfully possessing his body, replacing his frail old one with that of Terra’s, and getting one step closer to fulfilling his plan. He isn’t a hundred per cent successful, though. As it turns out, even though Xehanort manages to take over Terra’s body, a piece of Terra’s consciousness lingers on in his suit of armour. In this form, Terra manages to cling on to some form of existence, and his suit of armour manages to fight and defeat Xehanort.
But wait, that’s not the only major thing going down in all of this. Ventus and Aqua have been keeping busy too, locked in a furious battle with Vanitus. Things aren’t so going so well for them, though, and as they continue to take a turn for the worse, Vanitus manages to fuse with Ventus and create the χ-Blade, successfully doing what Xehanort had meant for him from the beginning. Now possessed by Vanitus, Ventus and Aqua engage in a deadly duel, while within the reaches of his own mind, he’s locked in a metaphysical struggle with Vanitus.
Aqua manages to successfully hold the possessed Ventus off, while Ventus himself manages to defeat Vanitus. The χ-Blade is destroyed and shattered (once again)- but the cost turns out to be too high. The fateful events take their toll on Ventus’ heart, which has become so damaged by everything that’s happened, that it leaves Ventus’ body to seek refuge elsewhere, which means that his body is left behind as a lifeless husk. His heart, meanwhile, finds a new home in the body of a child named Sora, just as it had when Vanitus was first extracted from him- this will have more bearing later on, so don’t forget this detail.
In the aftermath of the battle, Aqua vows to keep Ventus’ lifeless body safe in a place called Castle Oblivion as she looks for a way to restore him back to life and undo the damage that was done to him, before she sets out to seek out Terra. She finds him in Radiant Garden, still possessed by Xehanort- as it turns out, though, the events of the battle did some damage to the Keyblade Master as well, and he seems to have lost his memory. Terra, meanwhile – or his consciousness, at any rate – is trapped inside Terra’s body, in a deep, dark place known as the realm of darkness.
In an attempt to rescue him, Aqua ventures into the realm of darkness herself, where she sacrifices herself to save Terra. Aqua now remains trapped in the realm of darkness, and as it turns out, Terra wasn’t fully recovered either. He’s regained some control of his body, but he still shares it with the amnesiac Xehanort, who, it seems, is still more or less fully in control. Terra struggles against his control, but that’s all it is for now- a struggle. The amnesiac Xehanort, meanwhile, is brought to the man known as Ansem the Wise, the ruler of Radiant Garden. Ansem taken Xehanort in as his apprentice, where eventually, alongside Braig, another apprentice of Ansem’s, he starts conducting experiments with the darkness inside the hearts of people. This sets in motion the events of the next game in the chronology, that being Kingdom Hearts 1.
Before we get into the story of Kingdom Hearts 1, let’s stay with Xehanort for a while, because there’s a lot that needs to be explained here as well. Xehanort slowly begins regaining his memories under the tutelage of Ansem, while he continues his experiments with the darkness in people’s hearts alongside Braig. Ansem, however, discovers what his apprentices are doing, and decides to put an end to their nefarious experiments. His apprentices, as you might expect, don’t allow that to happen. Led by Xehanort, with Braig by his side, Ansem the Wise’s apprentices banish him to the realm of darkness. Together, the apprentices form an organization known as Organization XIII, which will become quite important as we move forward with the story, so keep this in the back of your mind.
Xehanort then proceeds to split his own self into two separate entities- a Heartless, which, as we discussed earlier, is born out of the darkness in one’s heart, and a Nobody, which is what remains of a body after a Heartless is extracted from it, and if that body is strong enough to survive that extraction. Xehanort’s Nobody is called Xemnas, who now leads Organization XIII, and will come into play later on down the line. Meanwhile, Xehanort’s Heartless gives himself the name Ansem, stealing the identity of his former master, who now remains trapped in the realm of darkness, because, you know, why the hell not?
Meanwhile, the other six apprentices of Ansem the Wise, including Braig, are also split into Heartless and Nobodies, thanks to Xehanort’s exploits, with Braig’s Nobody being called Xigbar. Other than Xigbar, the other apprentices remain unaware of Xehanort’s deeds, and believe that the event that split them into Heartless and Nobodies was actually an accident. Led by Xemnas (Xehanort’s Nobody), the Nobodies of the apprentice form the leadership of Organization XIII. Xemnas spends the next few years looking for more Nobodies to join the Organization, to bring the total number up from seven to thirteen. Organization XIII also wants access to Kingdom Hearts, because they believe it to be the only way they can once again become complete entities, and not just remain Nobodies. But again, we’ll get back to this later.
Meanwhile, Ansem the Wise (the real Ansem) manages to escape the realm of darkness, and takes refuge in an abandoned mansion in Twilight Town. Hiding his existence and his identity under a new name, DiZ, he dedicates his time to researching Heartless and Nobodies. Meanwhile, the other Ansem, Xehanort’s Heartless, proceeds to unleash an army of Heartless (brought about by his earlier experiments) upon the various worlds of the universe- and this is where we finally move into the very first Kingdom Hearts.
Nine years have passed. As Kingdom Hearts 1 begins, King Mickey (as in Mickey Mouse), has left his own world to investigate the growing attacks by the Heartless everywhere, and has tasked his two most trusted followers, the mage Donald Duck and the knight Goofy, to find the “key” to dealing with the increasing darkness. Kingdom Hearts begins, as so many other JRPGs do, in an idyllic, peaceful location- an isolated island called Destiny Island, where a young boy named Sora lives with his two friends, Riku and Kairi. The three young kids dream of leaving their peaceful life behind, for a life of adventure, to set out into the unknown and find new worlds. Well, they find new worlds all right, but not how they would have imagined. Because a story that begins in a peaceful, idyllic location, goes hand in hand with an early disaster. Riku, it seems, has been mingling with the ideas of darkness, and believes it to be the best way of leaving their life behind for one of adventure.
A devastating attack ravages Destiny Island, and in the attack, under curious circumstances, Sora receives a mysterious weapon shaped like a key, which, by this point, we all know is a Keyblade. Riku disappears into a void of darkness, but Sora has other things on his mind. He sets out to find and rescue Kairi- which he does, but things don’t exactly go well. The island is caught in a literal explosion of darkness, with both Sora and Kairi being blasted into space and far, far away from each other, while Destiny Island itself is destroyed.
When Sora comes to, he finds himself in a different world, in a place called Traverse Town, which also seems to be under attack by the Heartless. Paths collide, and here Sora runs into Donald and Goofy, who realize that the “key” they were instructed to find by King Mickey is most likely the Keyblade that Sora possesses, since it seems to be the only weapon that can be used to defeat the Heartless. Together, Donald, Goofy, and Sora team up to fight back against the Heartless attacking Traverse Town, following which they decide to travel together across various Disney worlds (using Donald and Goofy’s Gummi Ship), with Donald and Goofy looking for King Mickey, and Sora looking for Kairi and Riku.
Soon, they learn that the Keyblade Sora possesses is even more important than they had initially imagined. Not only is it extremely effective in dealing with the Heartless, it also seems to be the only way to lock Keyholes. What are Keyholes? Keyholes are what you put a key in, you dum-dum. But what are Keyholes in the world of Kingdom Hearts? Keyholes are passages that can be found in all worlds, and it is through these passages that the Heartless come forth to engulf the hearts of those entire worlds in darkness. Using the Keyblade, Sora can lock these Keyholes across all words, and make sure that the Heartless have no means of coming through.
While Sora, Donald, and Goofy are travelling together on the Gummi Ship to various worlds, a group of Disney villains, led by the evil fairy Maleficent, who’s being manipulated by Ansem (Xehanort’s Heartless Ansem, not the Wise, real Ansem), is leading attacks with the Heartless everywhere. Their purpose? To find and gather the seven Princesses of Heart, who, it seems, are collectively the key that can open the Keyhole that leads to Kingdom Hearts, the source of all hearts. Maleficent wants access to Kingdom Hearts’ vast repository of knowledge and power, while Ansem, who is controlling her, wants access to Kingdom Hearts because he believes it to be the source of all the darkness from all the hearts in the world.
The group being led by Maleficent, as it turns out, also includes Riku, who has been manipulated by the evil fairy into the ways of darkness. Riku has been promised by Maleficent that she will help him find Kairi, while he’s also been manipulated by her into believing that he was abandoned by Sora, who instead chose his new friends and his Keyblade over him. What also doesn’t help is that Riku finds Kairi, but in essence, all he finds is her body, a husk whose heart is missing. As such, the resentment and antagonism towards Sora in Riku’s heart has been growing steadily. Things come to a head as the paths of Riku and Sora collide once again when Sora, Donald, and Goofy arrive in Hollow Bastion, the headquarters of Maleficent.
When Riku crosses paths with Sora, things quickly take a dramatic turn. Riku takes the Keyblade from Sora, claiming that he’s the actual intended wielder of the weapon, and that Sora, who he says is little more than a “delivery boy”, only got his hands on it in Riku’s absence. Donald and Goofy face a tough choice at their juncture, but choose to put their orders from King Mickey over their friendship with Sora- since they were told by Mickey to follow the “key”, they reluctantly leave Sora, and join Riku, who now wields the Keyblade, instead.
But Sora isn’t one to back down so easily. In spite of having been stripped of the Keyblade, Sora forges on anyway, and enters Hollow Bastion. There, he meets Riku once again, and challenges him. He tells Riku that the strength he has, he gets from his friends- you know, the “power of friendship”, the thing all JRPGs seem so adamant to beat us over the head with. Roused by Sora’s words, his friends Donald and Mickey return to him, and conveniently enough, so does the Keyblade. Riku, understandably enough, feels shamed and defeated, and flees from the scene. Soon after, though, he runs into a cloaked and hooded figure, who tempts Riku with the power of darkness, Darth Sidious style- no prizes for guessing who this person is. Yeah, it’s Ansem the Evil (he’s not actually called Ansem the Evil, it’s just easier to keep track of this way. Why the hell would you do this, Kingdom Hearts writers?).
Meanwhile, Sora, Goofy, and Donald carry onward in Hollow Bastion, where they ultimately run into Maleficent, and destroy her in battle. If that seems abrupt to you, that’s because the game’s telling you that Maleficent wasn’t their final hurdle. Because then they come across Riku once again, who’s looking quite strange and behaving even stranger. Riku is possessing a keyblade of his own this time. He takes the three of them to Kairi’s lifeless body, where he reveals that he’s Riku only in name. Ansem the Evil has taken over and possessed Riku’s body. Ansem reveals to Sora and his friends that the Keyblade possessed by Riku, called the Keyblade of Heart, is made of the hearts of six of the seven Princesses of Heart. This Keyblade, he tells them, also has the ability to unlock a person’s hearts, and set free everything inside of it, including all its darkness.
Ansem also tells them that Kairi is a Princess of Heart, the last of the seven that he needs to open they Keyhole to Kingdom Hearts. But he can’t do so, since her heart is not in her body. And where is her heart? It’s inside of Sora- when Destiny Island was caught in an explosion of darkness and Sora and Kairi were blown into space, her heart escaped her body and took refuge inside of Sora, where it has been trapped ever since. Sora soon engages Evil Ansem in battle, and manages to defeat him. He cannot, however, close the Keyhole of Bastion Hollow, because with Kairi’s heart still inside of him, the keyhole remains incomplete.
And so, Sora takes Riku’s Keyblade, the Keyblade of Heart, and impales himself with it. The Keyblade unlocks not only Sora’s heart, but Kairi’s heart as well. This turns Sora into a Heartless, while Kairi’s heart finds its way back to her body. Kairi is revived, following which she uses her powers as a Princess of Heart to revive Sora. Ansem takes this time to flee from the scene- he retreats to a place called the End of the World, which is a place that is comprised of the remaining fragments of all the worlds that have been destroyed by the Heartless. Sora, Kairi, Donald, and Goofy, however, decide to pursue him.
The finale of Kingdom Hearts 1, then, takes place in the End of the World. The group meets Ansem, and after he gives a short speech that all villains are bound by law to give before their climactic battle with the protagonist, he and Sora engage in a furious duel. The battle is long and hard, and Ansem proves to be an incredibly powerful foe, at one point even merging with his battleship to take on an even more threatening and imposing form- but Sora manages to prevail, and beats Ansem. As a last-ditched, desperate attempt at victory, Ansem reaches out to Kingdom Hearts, begging it to be opened and fuel him with the power of darkness. And when Sora released Kairi’s heart from his body, he inadvertently allowed Ansem to be able to do just that, with Kairi’s heart as the seventh Princess of Heart being the final piece in the puzzle.
And so, Kingdom Hearts opens up. But the power of darkness is not what Ansem finds inside. Because where Ansem thought that Kingdom Hearts is the source of all darkness, it is actually the source of all light. A stunned Ansem is obliterated – literally vaporized – by this light. When Sora and his friends look toward Kingdom Hearts’ gateway, they’re shocked to see that beyond the door stand King Mickey and Riku, who, it seems, has regained control of his body. The reunion of everyone involved is cut short, though- all of them decide to close Kingdom Hearts once again, since there are countless Heartless beyond it. Since Kingdom Hearts has been trapped in the deepest abyss of the realm of darkness since the events of the Keyblade War, it makes sense that it would also be teeming with Heartless. And if the gateway isn’t shut, they’ll all manage to find a way through.
To close Kingdom Hearts, though, Mickey and Riku must stay on the other side. With extreme reluctance, everyone agrees that this is what has to happen, and Sora and King Mickey use their respective Keyblades to lock the Kingdom Hearts Keyhole from both sides. So now, Mickey and Riku are also trapped inside the realm of darkness, where, as you might remember, Aqua has been stuck all this time as well (yeah, remember her?). These events cause all the worlds that have been destroyed by the Heartless to be reformed, and among the worlds being reconstructed is Destiny Island. As the Island is reformed, Kairi is pulled away toward it, but before she departs, Sora promises her that one day, they will meet again. Sora, Donald, and Goofy then resolve to find a way to Riku and Mickey. As luck would have it, they soon receive their first lead, as Pluto, King Mickey’s loyal pet dog and messenger, finds them, clutching in his mouth a message from King Mickey himself.
And now, we move to the next game in the chronology- the Game Boy Advance title, Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, which picks up pretty much where Kingdom Hearts 1 left off. But before we get into it, we’re going to have to go back to a pivotal moment in the previous game that goes on to inform much of what happens next. When Sora stabs himself with Riku’s Keyblade to unlock both his heart and that of Kairi’s, he ends up inadvertently creating two Nobodies. At that point where the hearts leave his body, Sora becomes a Heartless, which creates a Nobody named Roxas- we’ll get to him in a bit.
The other Nobody, the one that we’re more concerned with right now, is Namine, who is actually the Nobody of Kairi, who at that point was also, technically, a Heartless. But since Kairi is a Princess of Heart and has no darkness inside of her, Namine was born under unusual circumstances- from Kairi’s heart, yes, but through Sora’s own body and soul. As such, being Kairi’s Nobody, she has all her memories, but due to her connection with Sora, she also has a very unusual power- which we’ll get to in just a bit. For now, let’s get back to Sora, Donald, and Goofy.
The trio is on a quest to save King Mickey and Riku from the realm of darkness. As they’re following a long and winded path that seems to lead nowhere, they meet a hooded man dressed completely in black, who redirects them to a different path. This path leads them to Castle Oblivion- if that name sounds familiar to you, it’s because this is the very same place where Aqua kept Ventus’ empty shell of a body when she vowed to find a way to save him. But that’s not important- for now at least. For now, we remain focused on Sora and his friends.
Castle Oblivion, it seems, is having a strange affect on the three of them. The Castle, as it turns out, is now occupied by Organization XIII, the organization of Nobodies that was led by Xemnas, the Nobody of Xehanort. Namine, as it turns out, is also part of Organization XIII, and she’s being forced by Marluxia, another member of the organization, to tamper with the memories of Sora, Donald, and Goofy. Marluxia, it seems, has plans for Sora- he wants to use him in some manner to overthrow the rest of the Organization members, and take over it entirely. As a result of his plans, and due to Namine being forced to do his bidding, as Sora, Goofy, and Donald spend more time in Castle Oblivion, Sora realizes that essentially all his memories from before they entered the castle are being wiped clean.
After that- well, a great deal happens after that, and honestly, if we get into the nitty gritties, it’ll just make this already-confusing saga even more of a mess. So… let’s not, okay? Instead, let’s stick with the main, core points. After a long and trying journey through Castle Oblivion, Sora comes face to face with Marluxia, and after taking him on in battle, manages to defeat the Organization member. At this point, Namine tells Sora that she can repair Sora’s memories, but doing so will mean that he forgets everything that happened to him in Castle Oblivion. For his memories to be restored, Sora must go to sleep in a pod for what eventually ends up being roughly a year. And so, into the pod Sora goes.
While all of this is going on, there’s some other important stuff going on with Riku as well. He manages to find a way out of the realm of darkness, and he, too, finds himself in Castle Oblivion. And though his path doesn’t intersect with that of Sora’s for the entirety of Chain of Memories, their tales are still linked with each other. Evil Ansem, it seems, is still looking for ways to possess Riku’s body yet again and turn him into his host (yeah, he didn’t really die), but Riku, thanks to aid provided by King Mickey, manages to hold Ansem at bay. Riku ultimately runs into DiZ- remember him? DiZ is the fellow with bandages all around his face- he’s also Ansem. The real Ansem. Ansem the Wise- whose apprentice, Xehanort (or, well, Xehanort’s Heartless, at any rate), stole his identity all those years ago.
DiZ and Riku together decide that they’re going to fight against Organization XIII and try to put a stop to their plans. For this purpose, of course, they need Sora. As such, DiZ tells Riku to look for Namine, and help her repair all of Sora’s memories. When he finds Namine, she tells him about what state Sora’s in, who is now resting inside the memory pod, waiting for his memories to be restored. Afterward, Namine also tells Riku that Ansem the Evil is still resting inside of Riku’s heart- or a part of him, anyway, and that that part of Ansem is always going to try and take over Riku’s body. She offers to manipulate Riku’s memories to lock Ansem away, but Riku, instead, decides that he’s going to face his problem head on. DiZ uses his own powers to extract Ansem, following which Ansem and Riku engage in battle, where Riku manages to defeat him. Riku then decides that he’s going to use the powers of both light and darkness residing within him as he moves forward with his plans to repair Sora’s memories.
And now we move to the Nintendo DS title, Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days, which runs parallel to Chain of Memories, and focuses on Roxas, the Nobody that Sora inadvertently creates when he unlocks his heart close to the end of Kingdom Hearts 1. Very close to his “birth”, Roxas is found in Twilight Town by Xemnas, the leader of Organization XIII, and is inducted as a member, following which he is placed under the tutelage of Axel, another member of the organization. As Roxas is sent out on missions for the organization with Axel, the two develop a friendship, and start spending more and more time with each other even while they’re not on missions for the organization.
Meanwhile, not long after Roxas’ induction, the organization welcomes another new member into its ranks, name Xion, a mysterious girl who can also wield a keyblade, and curiously enough, has a different appearance to each person depending on what her relationship is like with them. Soon afterward, several Organization XIII members are assigned to Castle Oblivion right as the events of Chain of Memories kick off, with Axel being one of them, and Roxas and Xion, who’re not among those members, are paired together in Twilight Town. The two also grow closer, developing a friendship, and slowly but surely, Xion opening up to Roxas, also revealing that she bears a physical resemblance to Kairi.
A few weeks pass as the pair’s friendship grows deeper, but soon afterward, Roxas falls into a coma under mysterious circumstances- this happens because of what’s happening with Sora in Castle Oblivion at the same time. Sora, having lost his memories after the events of Chain of Memories, has been put into a pod for their restoration, and Roxas, being Sora’s Nobody, has been affected by this as well, which causes him to fall into a coma. By the time he wakes up, he finds that weird things are happening to him, as he begins seeing memories that are Sora’s, and do not belong to him. By this time, Axel has also returned from Castle Oblivion, being the only survivor of the Organization XIII members who were sent there. Over the course of the following days and weeks, Roxas, Axel, and Xion start spending time together, and develop a bond with each other.
While all of this has been going on, Namine, Riku, and DiZ have moved the still unconscious Sora from Castle Oblivion, and taken him to to Twilight Town, where Riku is dispatched by DiZ to retrieve Roxas and Xion for the purpose of the restoration of Sora’s memories. Riku and Xion, as such, eventually come face to face, where Riku plants the seed in Xion’s mind that her true identity and her origins are being kept a secret by the Organization, and perhaps she’d be better served if she defected. Following this, doubt begins creeping into Xion’s mind, and she begins wondering if there is any truth to Riku’s words, while at the same time, Roxas, too, has been having troubled thoughts about his own origins and existence, prompted by the memories of Sora that he keeps on seeing that he has no recollections of himself.
Soon, it turns out that Xion’s own misgivings about Organization XIII were well founded (but we already knew that, didn’t we?), as she finds out just where exactly she came from. As it turns out, Xion is a copy of Sora created by Xemnas, who used Sora’s leaking memories to create her as a failsafe for his machinations in case his plans for Sora don’t succeed. The only reason she looks like Kairi is because of Sora’s strong memories and feelings of her. Upon learning the truth, Xion is understandably confused, and wanting to shed her existence as nothing more than a clone and desiring to become her own person, she leaves Organization XII and sets out on her own.
When Roxas learns of Xion’s true identity, he, too, begins to question the motives of Organization XIII, and for many similar reasons, he defects as well, which causes him to having a falling out with Axel. During the same time, Xion is recaptured by Organization XIII, and Xemnas reprograms her, and commands her to absorb Roxas entirely, thus becoming the perfect replica of Sora. Things soon come to a head as Roxas and the reprogrammed Xion come face to face in Twilight Town- the two engage in a battle, and Roxas is ultimately able to defeat his former friend. After she loses, Xion’s body starts crystallizing, and with her final breaths, she pleads with Roxas to put a stop to Xemnas’ plans. With that, her body dissipates completely, and merges back with the still unconscious Sora, leaving behind nothing but her own Keyblade, which Roxas goes on to wield himself, as such becoming a wielder of not one, but two Keyblades.
During this time, Riku has been dispatched by DiZ to capture Roxas, so that he can be merged back with Sora in order to complete the restoration of his memories. In 358/2’s climactic battle, Roxas and Riku square off against each other, and just as Riku is about to lose to Roxas, he taps into the darkness of his heart, true to his vow to use both sides of his powers at the end of Chain of Memories, and temporarily takes on the form of Bad-Ansem, who still resides within Riku’s heart. Riku is thus able to defeat Roxas, following which he brings him to DiZ. And what does DiZ do with Roxas? He digitizes him, alters his memories so that he has no recollection of Organization XII or ever having been a part of it, and places him into a virtual simulation of Twilight Town, so that he can live out his life there before he’s merged back with Sora.
And now, we move on to Kingdom Hearts 2.
Kingdom Hearts 2 begins pretty much exactly where 358/2 Days ends. Sora is in his memory pod, while Roxas is obliviously living out his life in the digital simulation of Twilight Town, without any memories of the events of the Nintendo DS title. As Kingdom Hearts 2 begins, the digital recreation of Twilight Town is invaded by a group of Organization XIII members, led by Axel, who want to retrieve Roxas. In the simulation, Roxas has no memories of Axel, as we already discussed, and using his Keyblade, he manages to fend them off, believing them to be a threat to Twilight Town.
Roxas then encounters Namine, who takes him to the basement of an abandoned mansion, where he meets DiZ, and sees the unconscious Sora. Roxas finally merges with Sora, and after about a year of being unconscious, Sora awakens, reuniting with his friends Donald and Goofy. True to what Namine told them before Sora went into the pod though, they have no recollection of what happened in Castle Oblivion during the events of Chain of Memories. Soon, Sora, Donald, and Goofy resume their journey once again, and after meetings with with King Mickey and Yen Sid (a powerful sorcerer and a retired Keyblade Master who also trained King Mickey long ago), they learn about their next objective.
As always, they have to travel to various worlds, where they must, as always, fight against the Heartless and make sure they don’t destroy those worlds, while they also have to put a stop to Organization XIII, who’ve become much more active and have been causing an increasing amount of trouble across a number of worlds. Much of the game following that sees the trio travelling to a number of new worlds and running into many Disney characters, while Sora also grows increasingly confident of the fact that Riku is still out there somewhere. Along their journey, they learn many things. For starters, the truth about Evil Ansem being a Heartless of Xehanort, and Xemnas being his Nobody, on top of the fact that Xehanort himself used to be an apprentice of the real Ansem a long time ago.
More importantly, they also learn about the ultimate aim of Organization XIII- the group of Nobodies, as it turns out, wants to create a new Kingdom Hearts, which it can then use to restore their hearts and become complete, entire entities, rather than just being Nobodies. Throughout the game, Sora, Donald, and Goofy run into many members of Organization XIII, and one by one, all of them are defeated, until by the very end, Xemnas is left as the last remaining member of the Organization. In order to put an end to the Organization and Xemnas’ machinations once and for all, Sora, Goofy, and Donald travel to a place called the World With No Name, which is where the Organization’s headquarters are situated.
Here, several paths collide. Sora, Donald, and Goofy run into Mickey, DiZ, and Xemnas, where it is finally revealed that DiZ is the real Ansem, whose identity was stolen by Xehanort’s Heartless years ago- but we’ll just keep calling him DiZ for now for convenience’s sake. It is also revealed that Xemnas’ true aim was to use the efforts of Organization XIII to use the power of Kingdom Hearts to reshape the world in his own image, much like what Xehanort had intended years ago- he is, after all, his Nobody. Riku, who is also at the Organization’s headquarters, seems to have fully taken on the form of Ansem the Evil.
DiZ, the real Ansem, then reveals what he intends to do about the new Kingdom Hearts created by Xemnas. He plans on using a device known as the Kingdom Hearts Encoder to dissipate the power of Kingdom Hearts- and he almost succeeds. Midway through the process, the Encoder overloads and explodes. DiZ is caught in the explosion, believed to be dead, while the explosion also causes Riku to return to his true, original form. And here, the final, climactic battle against Xemnas begins. Sora, with the help of Riku and his other friends, fights against Xemnas, who uses the power of his Kingdom Hearts to take on various powerful forms, but ultimately, Sora and Riku manage to defeat him once and for all.
After a convoluted series of world hopping and whatnot, Sora and Riku are returned to Destiny Island, where they finally reunite with Kairi, for the first time since the final events of Kingdom Hearts 1. And though things seem to have finally calmed down, as you may have imagined, that’s not really the case. Some time later, Sora, Riku, and Kairi receive a letter from King Mickey, summoning them for a purpose that leads directly into Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance.
By the time Dream Drop Distance begins, DiZ is stuck in the Realm of Darkness with Aqua, where he found himself after the explosion from the Encoder- this is probably going to be very important information come Kingdom Hearts 3, so keep it in mind. For now, though, let’s move forward.
Given the fact that by now, Ansem has been defeated, and Xemnas has been defeated, and Organization XIII has been defeated, that should mean that the worst is over, right? You’d think, but no- because as it turns out, now that Xehanort’s Heartless, Ansem, and his Nobody, Xemnas, have both been defeated, that now means that Xehanort himself can be revived. That, as you can imagine, would be a threat greater than any other our heroes have faced so far, and Yen Sid knows that perfectly well. Him and Mickey realize that Xehanort’s return is a very real possibility, and would be disastrous for everyone, and as such, they need to start preparing for it.
And how do they plan to do that? They are going to do that by adding more Keyblade Masters to their ranks, something that they don’t have nearly enough of to counter forthcoming threats. Though Sora and Riku have accomplished a great deal since their departure from Destiny Islands, they’re still not officially Keyblade Masters. As such, they’re both summoned by Yen Sid, who declares that the two of them must each undertake the Mark of Mastery to become proper Keyblade Masters. The two are separated from each other for their exams, and told that as part of their test, they must travel to several worlds that were previously destroyed by Heartless, but have since been restored following the defeat of the evil Ansem. These worlds now rest in a state of deep sleep, and it is up to Riku and Sora to unlock their Keyholes and return them to the Realm of Light and complete their restoration.
Several monumental things come to light during Sora and Riku’s exam. Throughout their exams, the two of them repeatedly encounter the resurrected Ansem and Xemnas, who are accompanied by a mysterious youth- that mysterious figure is eventually revealed to be a younger version of Xehanort himself, who, as it turns out, can time travel. Much like what happened with the Mark of Mastery for Terra back during the events of Birth by Sleep, Sora’s exam is also manipulated by outside forces, as Xehanort, in several ways, tries to sway him to the dark side and make him embrace whatever little darkness he has inside of him. When all the worlds have been restored to the Realm of Light, that culminates in Sora finding himself being transported to the World That Never Was, where the full extent of Xehanort’s machinations is revealed.
As it turns out, Xehanort’s intention for creation Organization XIII is much, much more devious than just creating a second Kingdom Hearts. His intention was to imbue every one of the Organization’s members with a piece of himself, essentially creating several clones of himself- he would then use the thirteen members of the Organization and pit them against seven warriors of light, and thus recreate the events of the Keyblade War and recreate the χ-blade. Due to a few members of the Organization, such as Roxas and Axel, unpredictably showing more independence than Xehanort had anticipated, that plan was thwarted- but only temporarily so. Now, with Ansem, Xemnas, Xigbar, and the young version of Xehanort, that plan is now closer to fruition than ever, and Xehanort intends to make Sora the thirteenth and final member of the Organization.
Sora is, as you might expect, opposed to that idea- a battle between himself and Xemnas ensues, and though Sora manages to win, after many trials and tribulations faced in the World That Never Was, and the battle with Xemnas itself, his heart is damaged, and he falls into a comatose state. The Young Xehanort takes unconscious Sora to the castle in the World That Never Was, but to protect his heart from being completely swallowed by darkness, it is enveloped by the Keyblade Armour of Ventus, whose heart, as you might remember, found refuge within a young Sora after the events of Birth By Sleep.
It then falls to Riku to find and rescue Sora. After squaring off and successfully defeating Ansem once again, he manages to make his way to the throne room of the castle where the comatose Sora is being held, where Riku then engages in a duel with the young Xehanort. Though Riku manages to win, it turns out that by the time the battle is over, Xehanort himself has been successfully revived, much to the dread of everyone. Xehanort prepares to place a piece of his heart within Sora and turn him into a clone of himself, as per his plan, but Sora is rescued, at the last minute, by Lea. Who the hell is Lea- he is the human form of the Nobody we all know as Axel, and also, by the way, is a Keyblade Wielder.
Another dramatic battle occurs between the two opposing sides, but after a gruelling fight, Xehanort is – at least temporarily – defeated, and his plans stopped from coming to fruition. Xehanort declares that this is only a temporary setback, and that he will have his revenge, following which he and the rest of the members of the reformed Organization XIII retreat. Riku brings back Sora’s comatose body to Yen Sid’s tower, where it falls to Riku, once again, to bring Sora back, fighting and defeating Sora within Ventus’ Armour.
After defeating Sora successfully, through a convoluted series of events which we don’t really need to go into too much detail about, Riku finds himself in a version of Destiny Islands within Sora himself- what exactly is this? This, as it turns out, is important data hidden inside of Sora. And who hid it? None other than Ansem – the real Ansem – himself, while Sora’s memories were being restored after Chain of Memories. Here, Riku learns that Sora’s ability to connect with the hearts of several key characters, such as Roxas and Ventus, is the key to bringing back those who have been lost. As you might have guessed, rescuing the likes of Ventus and Aqua is also going to be a vital task for the good guys. A digital recreation of Ansem the Wise also gives Riku a bottle with important data stored inside of it, telling him that that, too, is going to be important going forward.
Once Riku comes back to the real world and Sora awakens, Yen Sid informs them that though both of them performed admirably in their Marks of Mastery, only Riku has been made a Keyblade Master, and that Sora, due to almost having fallen into complete darkness, failed his test. As a result of the events, Sora has also lost a fair bit of his strength and powers. Unshaken by his failure, Sora vows to regain his strengths, and to train himself to be better able to use his abilities. In other interesting development, Lea also reveals that he will be taking the Mark of Mastery exam as well. Yen Sid and Mickey also decide that the seven princesses of light need to be protected against the fight to come against Organization XIII, and for that, they need to train more Keyblade Masters, with Dream Drop Distance revealing in its closing minutes that Kairi, too, will be taking the test, as she can also wield a Keyblade.
And that’s it! That’s the story of the Kingdom Hearts series, from start to end- well, not the end, but up until Kingdom Hearts 3 anyway. Given the long-winded and convoluted nature of the series, there is obviously a lot that we haven’t discussed, or might have missed out on or skipped over- if you feel there was anything important that we should have talked about but didn’t, tell us in your comments below.