With every Kingdom Hearts console entry making its way to PC next week on March 30, there are bound to be a slew of prospective players who need aid on how to tackle this series. While the contrived nature of the series approachability has definitely been massively overblown online, Kingdom Hearts does require some preemptive knowledge to know how to tackle.
With that being said, here is the order I recommend tackling the Kingdom Hearts in:
The first game purchase prospective players should make is Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 + 2.5 ReMIX. Not only does this package of games include the most bang for your buck, but it also contains all of the titles new fans should know. Let’s briefly discuss these titles one by one and go through the specified recommended play order.
Kingdom Hearts Final Mix
Kingdom Hearts Final Mix is a remake of the first title in the series, which was released back on the PlayStation 2 exclusively in Japan in 2002. This is the first game every player should go through as it includes the fundamentals that the franchise builds off in every subsequent entry. Very pivotal aspects of the narrative and key characters are introduced, making it the ideal beginner game.
It is usually best to tackle these games in their release order as a rule of thumb, save for a few exceptions.
For those curious about what this remake did to the franchise’s first entry, it added a whole slew of gameplay features such as new abilities, new equipment, new optional bosses, and more. It is a drastic overhaul, making it the definitive version of the first game. While progression in this title has been criticized for being needlessly obtuse, it is certainly the entry that requires the most exploration and thought to move forward. It arguably handles some of the series’ staple elements better than later ones. Despite this game merely being the initiator, it does a far more than adequate job of investing players into this universe.
Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories
Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories is a remake of the second title in the series, Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories. The original title released on the Gameboy Advance back in 2004 and the remake it received on the PlayStation 2 in 2007 served to make it more approachable for fans on the then-modern console. This remake added full voice acting for the main story sequences, new combat capabilities, and a full 3D playing field.
This title takes place directly after Kingdom Hearts Final Mix’s events, but its gameplay is entirely different. The combat in this entry is utilized by an active card-based battle system, with deck building at its forefront. Additionally, progression throughout the worlds is also based on cards that forge the rooms depending on which cards you use, making the title a customizable dungeon crawler.
To be blunt, this title is not everyone’s cup of tea for the combat alone. While I personally found the combat incredibly addicting to execute after learning how it worked, not everyone finds it conceptually engaging, which is fair. The nature of progression is repetitive as well, which can be an understandable turn-off. I do implore all players to at least try out this title, seeing as it is included in Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 + 2.5 ReMIX.
For those who can not get into it, though, you can easily find the cutscenes on Youtube. This is a vital entry of the franchise since it introduces one of the series’ main set of antagonists, Organization XIII. Namine, another key character, is introduced here, which helps fill in some gaps leading into Kingdom Hearts II.
Some find this title better tackled after Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix since that title’s main story can still be understood without this, but I personally find the added context to provide a better overall experience.
Also, personally speaking, this title tells one of the more emotionally impactful narratives the series has to offer. Though to be frank, I consider every title emotionally moving in their own ways.
Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix
This is the title most fans in the series consider their favorite, and for fair reasons. While the title’s world design is rather half-baked, its combat is intuitive with varied layers of intriguing depth that make it an addicting pleasure to master. The game provides several challenges that require players to really sink their teeth into the nitty-gritty of combat potential.
This is also the entry where the narrative gets noticeably more involved and layered when compared to the past 2 entries. Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories can be considered a story appetizer compared to what this game tackles.
Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days
Here is where the chronological placements of the games will start jumping around. Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days takes place concurrently to Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories and a while after that title’s conclusion. Some proponents would say this title is best experienced before Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix for that reason. That is certainly a fair assessment considering the timeline. Still, I personally find this title’s story to be far more emotionally impactful when already having completed Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix.
This title focuses on Roxas, a key character who was initially introduced in Kingdom Hearts II. Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 + 2.5 ReMIX only includes HD cinematics retelling this game’s story, however, and not a remake of the game itself. That is because the title was only playable back on the DS in 2009. Personally speaking, I find the DS version of the title to be the preferred gateway to experience this story since its pacing attaches the player to the cast in a far more meaningful and intended way. Many interactions are not included in the HD cinematics too.
The HD cinematics do the bare minimum of regaling what players have to know about the main narrative. I consider it a last resort for those unable to play the DS version of the title, though. This is arguably one of the more emotionally heavy titles of the franchise, and the HD cinematics do not do an ample job of delivering that emotional weight. The real highlight of Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days is the character interaction and banter shown in all its glory in the DS release.
How, and when you choose to experience this title is ultimately up to you, be it just before Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix or directly after, but it should definitely be experienced before moving on to the next entry on this list.
Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep Final Mix
Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep Final Mix is a prequel to the series, taking place roughly 10 years before the events of Kingdom Hearts Final Mix. Players take control of 3 new protagonists with their own perspectives on the story at large. It helps answer long-prevailing questions and provide new ones in typical Kingdom Hearts fashion.
This title is a remake of the original Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep that released on PSP and launched exclusively in Japan in 2011. Like the other Final Mixes we have discussed so far, this Final Mix added some new gameplay features such as new bosses and combat capabilities. It also added a brand new Secret Episode after where the original game’s finale left off.
This game has received many critiques in recent years for its gameplay design, but it is still beloved by many fans for its touching story and characterization. This is the first title to have the command deck battle system, which consists of tying a limited number of skills to a character with their own cooldowns. Think of it as a fusion between the standard Kingdom Hearts combat and Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories’ card combat.
Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep Final Mix acts as one of the building blocks for the series thanks to its cast and narrative and should definitely be experienced by all players.
Kingdom Hearts Re: Coded
Kingdom Hearts Re: Coded originally released on the DS in 2010 and is one of the two entries in the franchise that most fans recommend skipping entirely. This title takes place directly after Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix and is considered filler by many, and I don’t entirely disagree. A few vital scenes are worth seeing while the rest of the game is just not all that important, though the elements it has introduced regarding data worlds are being explored more in the series’ recent developments.
Like Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days, Kingdom Hearts Re: Coded only has HD cinematics retelling the game’s narrative in Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 + 2.5 ReMIX. Similar to Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days, I highly advise experiencing this game on the DS. The filler nature of the game’s story is still present but believe it or not, the combat in this title is some of the series best. It contains the command deck system introduced in Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep Final Mix and is arguably the best implementation of it. Not to mention the sphere-grid-like leveling system, customizable difficulty, and gameplay variety across each of the worlds.
If you are solely looking to get this title over with as swiftly as possible, the HD cinematics are there for you. And in fact, the HD cinematics have a bonus epilogue scene not included in the original DS release, making it a serviceable conduit for experiencing the entry.
And, those are all of the titles included in Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 + 2.5 ReMIX. As you can see, there is a ton for new players to adventure through here with 6 stories to experience. After completing all of the titles in that collection, the other collection is what new players should experience next; Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue.
This collection only includes 3 titles and is admittedly the hardest sell, especially with its price point being higher than that of Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 + 2.5 ReMIX. Still, each of these 3 entries are pretty important, so let’s go through each of them. And in fact, we are going to be having a slight detour in the midst of this.
Kingdom Hearts Dream Drop Distance
Kingdom Hearts Dream Drop Distance originally released on the 3DS in 2012. This title takes place after Kingdom Hearts Re: Coded and is the most controversial title in the series, next to Kingdom Hearts III. Its controversial nature mainly lies with its writing decisions, which have had a wildly varied reception amongst fans.
This is the series’ final title to use the command deck battle system alongside introducing flowmotion, a parkour-esque type of navigation that thrives on verticality and speed. Players will switch between Sora and Riku, who explore the same worlds while both having their own slew of unique areas in said worlds.
This title should be taken slow and steady since the story elements it introduces are overwhelming in scope and speed. I personally have a soft spot for its title, but its critiques are understandable, and your own reception will likely be a prelude to how you feel about the upcoming entries.
This is the only full game included in Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue, making the collection a hard sell, especially when considering that Kingdom Hearts Dream Drop Distance is one of the shorter mainline entries. This is one of the most pivotal entries in the franchise, though, and should not be skipped.
Now we will go on a bit of a detour, straying from Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue. This detour is because some entries are not included in these collections, which can be undeniably confusing, so I’ll try my best to congest this information.
Kingdom Hearts χ [Chi], Kingdom Hearts Unchained χ [Chi] and Kingdom Hearts Union χ [Cross]
These 3 titles are prequels to the franchise at large, taking place hundreds of years before Kingdom Hearts Final Mix. They tell canon stories that are directly influencing the future of this franchise as well.
Kingdom Hearts χ [Chi] was a browser game in Japan that launched in 2013 and has since shut down.
Kingdom Hearts Unchained χ [Chi] was a mobile game that initially launched in 2015. This title takes place after the events of Kingdom Hearts χ [Chi]. It got renamed to Kingdom Hearts Union χ [Cross] later in its lifetime. This title’s story is actually concluding soon, with its services ending in May. There will be an offline version of the app to experience the story cutscenes too.
There is also Kingdom Hearts Dark Road, which is another mobile title. However, I will talk about that game at the end of this piece. Do not worry about it if you are following this order.
To be blunt, the best way to experience the narrative these 3 titles tell is to watch summaries online. Due to these being mobile games, not everyone wants to deal with the intended way of experiencing them, even in an offline mode. The format and platform are considered by many to be a subpar avenue to experience the story, which I readily agree with.
Thankfully, some impressively dedicated YouTubers have done an absolutely stellar job of chronicling the games’ story, making it far more digestible than how it would ordinarily be.
One Youtuber known as damo279 has dedicated the bulk of his channel to delivering and explaining the overarching story between these 3 games. This video is the perfect starting point for diving into this subsection of Kingdom Hearts. He has also uploaded subsequent videos covering later updates events, and he intends to do so up to Kingdom Hearts Union χ [Cross]’ conclusion in May.
By this point, if you have enjoyed the past Kingdom Hearts games, you’re in for the long haul. I can not defend having a canonical story in a mobile title; in fact, I despise it, but with its conclusion nearing, I can do little but be relieved. These titles are not necessary for understanding Kingdom Hearts III, but they will help comprehend subtext and context quite a bit.
Aside from that, the narrative being told here is legitimately great. Though, the sporadic pacing of story updates has made it more of a war of attrition than anything else for dedicated fans. In that sense, newcomers have the least frustrating and most cohesive way of viewing each of these games’ key events due to the upcoming conclusion.
One last point; you do not have to experience the entirety of this story before the next entry. After all, Kingdom Hearts Union χ [Cross] is not even done yet, but it helps to at least know all of Kingdom Hearts χ [Chi] before moving on for better context.
With all that being said, let’s dive back into Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue.
Kingdom Hearts χ Back Cover
Kingdom Hearts χ Back Cover is a roughly hour-long set of HD cinematics that tells the events of Kingdom Hearts χ [Chi] from other perspectives. Due to how short this experience is, I wholeheartedly advise watching it, especially if you know the story of Kingdom Hearts χ [Chi]. The new perspectives it shows offer a whole new glimmer of fascination into these events and humanize the Foretellers who have largely been enigmas in both Kingdom Hearts χ [Chi] and the mobile entries.
Kingdom Hearts 0.2 Birth by Sleep – A fragmentary passage
This title should be played directly before Kingdom Hearts III, as it acts as a sort of tech demo of what to expect from that title’s combat. The story is told from the characters’ perspective after Kingdom Hearts Dream Drop Distance, while the events proper take place concurrently with Kingdom Hearts Final Mix. Think of the game as an extended flashback of sorts.
This title is exceedingly short, clocking in at roughly 3-4 hours for solely the main story. There are side objectives to complete, though, and even a post-game with a new superboss. This game offers a different perspective on the ending of Kingdom Hearts Final Mix while also acting as the bridge directly leading to Kingdom Hearts III, which is next.
Now with Kingdom Hearts HD, 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue done, let’s dive into the next numbered entry.
Kingdom Hearts III + Re Mind
This title takes place after Kingdom Hearts 0.2 Birth by Sleep – A fragmentary passage and acts as the conclusion to the Dark Seeker saga, which the entire series has tackled up this point.
If you have enjoyed all or at least most of the franchise’s prior titles, you will certainly derive some enjoyment from Kingdom Hearts III. This is the first fully-fledged console title for the series ever since Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix was released way back on the PlayStation 2 and is an impressive technical upgrade.
Combat plays in a similar vein to Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix, especially with the added Re Mind DLC that adds new abilities. Even if you do not find yourself enjoying this conclusion’s story beats whatsoever, there is still a good deal of content to enjoy when it comes to combat.
Thankfully, the Epic Games Store purchase of this title includes the Re Mind DLC, a vital recipe for fully enjoying this game. Alongside adding new cutscenes and scenarios to flesh out aspects of the narrative and offering several foreshadowing elements, a plethora of challenging boss fights have been added. The new gameplay abilities and difficulty modifiers make this title approachable to both fans solely focused on the story and those who derive great enjoyment from combat. The Re Mind DLC is akin to the Final Mix entries from some of the past titles.
This title is the most controversial in the series, which is no surprise given the anticipation and attention its eventual release garnered over the years. However, I do think it is a legitimately fun game, my personal critiques aside. If you have experienced everything in Kingdom Hearts up to this point, playing Kingdom Hearts III is a no-brainer.
This game takes place after Kingdom Hearts III and is a well-deserved victory lap for the franchise as it is a rhythm title doing a lite recap of the series thus far. There is no new story save for the very end, which can be easily watched online. So if you are not into rhythm games, you can simply view those vital story scenes elsewhere. This is one of the two games that fans advise skipping if the gameplay does not click for you.
While there are some questionable faults with the online mode implementation, this is a truly stellar and unique rhythm title. Kingdom Hearts is well-known for its music, and if you have considered the soundtracks to be any degree of good, you may very well enjoy what this title offers. There are over 140 tracks to play here, unheard of for a fully priced rhythm game at launch, with no DLC I should add. There are some tracks sadly missing, but Kingdom Hearts Melody of Memory has way more than enough gameplay elements to keep you occupied.
Kingdom Hearts Dark Road
Kingdom Hearts Dark Road is a title tethered to the Kingdom Hearts Union χ [Cross] app. It tells the story of Young Xehanort and how he ended up becoming a Seeker of Darkness. Like Kingdom Hearts Union χ [Cross], the title is ending this year, rather prematurely, I might add. It only began last year, but likely due to lack of meaningful profits, its life is cut short.
When Kingdom Hearts Union χ [Cross] concludes its services in May, Kingdom Hearts Dark Road will be unavailable to access until September. When it comes back, the game will only be available in an offline form, and the rest of its story will be available to experience.
According to the creators, this game is more of a self-contained venture, though there are clearly some story elements making their way from Kingdom Hearts Union χ [Cross]. The narrative being told here is legitimately engaging, but its pacing across its sporadic updates has really killed its early momentum. I would not worry about experiencing this story until you have caught up with Kingdom Hearts Melody of Memory.
And that is my recommended play order for the entire Kingdom Hearts series thus far. This was a monumental task to write out, but I hope this piece helps someone get into the series in some way.
Kingdom Hearts is my favorite gaming franchise, and aiding in its approachability is always something I try to enhance by ridding the needless cynicism the internet stigmatizes it with. These games making their way to PC is honestly something I never expected. Here’s hoping these ports perform well and future titles simultaneously launch on this platform.
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