Playing Kingdom Hearts – The Correct Order and How They Rank

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By Chris Penwell on August 23rd, 2021

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The Kingdom Hearts series is loved by many, but for those who haven’t played the games from the beginning, the series can be quite a challenge to wrap your head around. It has a long-standing history in the gaming industry since Kingdom Hearts was released on the PS2 in 2002 as a tentpole of the action RPG genre. Mostly every game has an intricate story that is engaging and fascinating to figure out along the way. With the Kingdom Key in hand, let’s dive into this wonderful Disney and Final Fantasy crossover and explain the correct order of this almost twenty year old cherished series.

The best way to play the kingdom Hearts series

All of the games can be played on the PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and PC through the HD remasters that Square Enix has released. The All-in-One collection provides everything you need, except the rhythm game Melody of Memory and the Kingdom Hearts 3 DLC ReMind. We highly recommend these remasters as they bring in new content from the Japanese versions, remastered soundtracks, and resolutions up to 4K at 60 frames per second. This is the best way to play these games; don’t bother getting multiple systems to play through the franchise. In this list, we have skipped the unnecessary parts of the series so you can jump right in.

Kingdom hearts – 2002 – 9/10

Image via Square Enix and Disney

The first Kingdom Hearts presents the grand universe of the franchise. It ushers in classic Disney worlds and stories and blends them with a Final Fantasy aesthetic. Sora along with his pals Donald and Goofy scour the likes of Wonderland, Neverland, and Tarzan’s Deep Jungle in search of Kairi, Riku, and King Mickey. Meanwhile, Sora as a keyblade wielder must lock the keyholes of each world to save it from the dark heartless that plague its citizens. The game has an enchanting story with twists and turns along the way.

Diehard Disney fans would love the original Kingdom Hearts as the main villains from multiple films like Maleficent, Oogie Boogie, Captain Hook, and others get together to form an alliance. Final Fantasy characters heavily affect the storyline of the game with Cloud, Leon, Yuffie, Aerith, and many other characters from the franchise help Sora on his quest. The first KH does show its age, however. The camera isn’t as helpful as you’d like at points, and the clumsy platforming sections can lead to frustration. However, you’ll find a fun action RPG that blends the strategic nature of a Final Fantasy with the action of a game like Devil May Cry.

Kingdom Hearts: Chain of memories – 2004 – 6/10

Image via Square Enix and Disney

Chain of Memories is one of the most controversial games in the series to fans. The game has a card-based combat system alongside its action-RPG mechanics that can be hit and miss for some. Basically, you form a deck of cards that have a different number attached to them. The aim of the game is to have a higher number than your opponent by forming sleights, powerful moves that can be formed by blending cards together. It’s a cumbersome combat system that often frustrates fans, but some stand by it.

Without going into spoilers, Chain of Memories is an important entry in the series as it introduces us to the sinister Organization XIII. The game is set in Castle Oblivion, a building that erases Sora’s memories more and more as he goes up each floor. The story is fascinating, but it is somewhat of a drag as you have to explore the same worlds as you did in the first game with a few exceptions towards the end. This is a game that a lot of KH fans unwillingly play as it’s an important element of the story.

Kingdom Hearts 2 – 2006 – 10/10

Image via Disney and Square Enix

Arguably the best game in the series, Kingdom Hearts 2 is the perfect blend of a gripping story, exciting combat, incredible music, and great graphics that still hold up to this day. The world selection is top-notch with representation from Mulan, Beauty & The Beast, Tron, The Lion King, and Pirates of the Caribbean.

In this game, Sora meets his toughest opponents yet with the remaining Organization XIII members. As you play through Kingdom Hearts 2, you’ll uncover their plot, defeat powerful heartless, and save the worlds from chaos. You’ll also meet Roxas, a fan favorite from the series. The prologue featuring him is rather long and slow, but the emotional payoff is worth it.

The animations look incredible for the time as Sora and his pals are zipping through the air, attacking the heartless and the nobodies with bombastic abilities. The bosses also look flashy with the reaction command system. The graphics hold up too as the art style has been heightened in the sequel. You’ll discover all sorts of details from the Disney films in the worlds themselves. The original worlds are more imaginative too; honestly, one of my favorites from the entire KH franchise is Roxas’ home Twilight Town as it exudes nostalgia and a beautiful sunset. You can’t forget Yoko Shimomura’s amazing soundtrack too with “Roxas’ Theme,” “Lazy Afternoons,” and “The Encounter,” just to name a few.

Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days – 2009 – 7.5/10

Image via Disney & Square Enix

Available on both the Nintendo DS and consoles (as a movie), Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days is an underrated title with an engrossing story. Roxas, Axel, and a new character named Xion form a strong bond as they eliminate heartless on missions for Organization XIII. Without spoiling too much, the relationship begins to fracture as they reconsider their role within the group. You’ll be ugly crying by the end of it as you’ll get attached to Roxas, Axel, and Xion, the sea salt trio.

358/2 Days is an impressive graphical feat for the Nintendo DS. It manages to maintain the third-person action RPG gameplay on a significantly less powerful device. It’s also the first time Kingdom Hearts players were able to experience the game together with a separate mode, in which you can select any of the Organization XIII members.

Unfortunately on consoles, the game is neutered and is told in a movie format. Just the cutscenes and some text sections are included, but as the story is what fans enjoyed the most about 358/2 Days, it’s a compromise we’re willing to make.

Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep – 2010 – 9/10

Image via Disney & Square Enix

Originally on the PSP and available on consoles through the remastered collections, Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep tells the story of three keyblade wielders in training: Aqua, Terra, and Ventus. Most would assume that portable games aren’t necessary to play, but this isn’t the case. It’s very important as it introduces major characters to the story, including the main antagonist of Kingdom Hearts 3 Master Xehanort. Voiced by Star Trek’s Leonard Nimoy, Master Xehanort is a master manipulator that takes advantage of the three keyblade wielders. The drama and the excellent writing make for a compelling story.

Birth By Sleep mixes up the combat with the command deck system. You only have a certain amount of attacks you can use in a deck and as you use each move, you level them up. The hook comes in when you can blend them together to form stronger attacks. There is also the shotlock system that lets you target one or multiple enemies and send a devastating wave of projectiles. Birth By Sleep has the most intense fights in the series as well as you really have to think about your actions. It will punish you if you do something dumb, especially towards the latter half of the game against Xehanort and his apprentice Vanitas.

Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance – 2012 – 8/10

Image via Disney & Square Enix

The Kingdom Hearts series jumped from the DS to the PSP to the 3DS when Dream Drop Distance was released in 2012. It was expensive to be a fan of the series before the HD collections were released on PS3, PS4, Xbox One, and PC. Dream Drop Distance has Sora and Riku attempting to finish their Mark of Mastery exams as the return of Xehanort looms over. They’re exploring the realm of sleep as they venture into the worlds of Tron: Legacy, Pinocchio, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and more. The story isn’t as strong as the other games as it acts as a prologue to Kingdom Hearts 3, but the ending will leave you excited for the future of the series from here on in.

The gameplay is frenetic as you can now bounce off walls and swing on lampposts with the new “Flowmotion” mechanic. The combat is more fluid, and you’ll gain the help of new beings called Dream Eaters. Like Pokemon, you can collect them and train them up with better abilities and stats. These dream eaters act as your party members, so you’ll sadly be without Donald and Goofy once again. One of the issues from the game is how the game can switch to either Sora or Riku in an instant as you only have a limited time with each. Make sure you keep your drop gauge up to avoid boss battles getting interrupted.

Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep: A Fragmentary Passage – 2017 – 8/10

Image via Disney & Square Enix

Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep – A Fragmentary Passage continues where the secret ending of the first Birth By Sleep entry left us off. To avoid spoilers, Aqua finds herself trapped and is desperately looking for a way to escape. She struggles with the darkness and throughout the events of this short 3-4 hour experience, she repels it from her heart. You can play this in the Kingdom Hearts 2.8 HD: Final Chapter Prologue collection on PS4, Xbox One, and PC.

This small entry in the storyline was a brief teaser into what Kingdom Hearts 3 would play like and cleverly fills in some plot holes that have been unexplained in the narrative. It also has an amazing boss fight at the end that feels epic in scale.

Kingdom Hearts 3 – 2019 – 8.5/10

Kingdom Hearts 3 had a lot to live up to with over a decade of the series being on portable platforms. There were a lot of loose ends to tie up, and many characters to feature in the game from 358/2 Days and Birth By Sleep. This is the first time Pixar characters and locations were implemented into a Kingdom Hearts game. Toy Story and Monster’s Inc are full worlds. Even Remy from Ratatouille makes an appearance as a chef in Twilight Town. The graphical capabilities of the game are very impressive and look just like the CG films the worlds are based on.

The combat blends all the good elements from the portable games into a fun system that will hook you from start to finish. Birth By Sleep’s shotlocks are available and the frenetic rush of Dream Drop Distance’s flowmotion makes combat exciting. Flowmotion also helps give each world a sense of scale. For example, you can run up the platforms of Mount Olympus as you prepare to fight the titans.

Unfortunately, Kingdom Hearts 3 didn’t nail the conclusion of the Dark Seeker saga (Master Xehanort’s story). All of the major plot points fly at you at a quickening pace, and the game doesn’t let these long-awaited moments shine. It also includes elements of time travel that complicate the Kingdom Hearts narrative to an unnecessary degree. The boss fights towards the end of the game also don’t match the likes of Kingdom Hearts 2 as they are less challenging and feel like a breeze. With a powerful antagonist like Master Xehanort, the final fight pales in comparison to Birth By Sleep‘s tactical gameplay design. Still, the overall journey is well-designed with great battles here and there. Also, the writing does have its moments, especially in the Disney worlds like the Kingdom of Corona (Tangled) and Olympus (Hercules).

Make sure you play the ReMind DLC as well when playing Kingdom Hearts 3. It gives players vital story elements that will be important later down the line.

If you don’t want to skip anything

If you do not want to skip a single entry in the series and want to stay completely in tune with Sora’s adventures, this is the full order of the games from the beginning to 2021.

  1. Kingdom Hearts
  2. Kingdom Hearts Chain of Memories
  3. Kingdom Hearts 2
  4. Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days
  5. Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep
  6. Kingdom Hearts Re: Coded
  7. Kingdom Hearts Dream Drop Distance
  8. Kingdom Hearts Unchained X/Union X (the mobile game)
  9. Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep – A Fragmentary Passage
  10. Kingdom Hearts 3
  11. Kingdom Hearts: Dark Road (a spinoff of the mobile game)
  12. Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory (the music rhythm game)

The British “Canadian” Chris Penwell has been a video game journalist since 2013 and now has a Bachelor’s degree in Communications from MacEwan University. He loves to play JRPGs and games with a narrative. You can check out his podcasts Active Quest every Tuesday and Go Beyond: A My Hero Academia Podcast on Wednesdays.

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