Spoiler alert: This article contains spoilers for the Kingdom Hearts series.
If you're a Kingdom Hearts fan, then you know we've had it surprisingly well as of late. Between Sora making it into Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and the series' upcoming 20th anniversary event, the 13-year wait for Kingdom Hearts III seems like a distant memory.
Then, of course, there's the re-release of the whole series on the Nintendo Switch.
This is far from the first time the series has been made available on different platforms, but its upcoming arrival on the Nintendo Switch means that you can experience (or re-experience) the entire series of games on the go.
For newcomers, the chronological order of the games can seem very confusing. Heck, even as a fan from childhood, I can get super bamboozled trying to explain the series. But in honor of one of my favorite franchises, here's how to play the Kingdom Hearts series in order.
Kingdom Hearts Unchained χ
The series actually begins with the events of a mobile game. This title depicts Keyblade wielders from several decades in the past who are divided into different Unions. Through a conspiracy orchestrated by the mysterious Master of Masters, the Unions begin to fight each other in a Keyblade War that nearly eliminates every wielder in existence.
A small group of wielders left behind after the war seeks to rebuild in the aftermath, but darkness still looms over them.
Though the servers for this mobile are no longer active, fans can still experience the story as a standalone prequel. Key events from the series are also depicted in the animated film, Kingdom Hearts χ Back Cover, which shows the Union Masters as the looming conspiracy leads to paranoia and conflict.
Kingdom Hearts Dark Road
This spinoff from the mobile game depicts primary Kingdom Hearts antagonist Xehanort in his early days as a Keyblade apprentice. This title explores the relationship with his friendly rival Eraqus, and why Xehanort eventually began his decades-long quest to cover all worlds in darkness.
Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep
This game follows Terra, Aqua, and Ventus, three youths under the tutelage of Master Eraqus in their quest to become Keyblade Masters. Birth by Sleep is a story in three parts. Terra tries to shake the darkness in his heart after failing his Mark of Mastery exam, Aqua takes on the responsibilities of becoming a full-fledged Master, and Ventus attempts to regain his missing memories and uncover the truth of his existence.
Kingdom Hearts: A Fragmentary Passage
Taking place just before (and almost concurrently with) the first Kingdom Hearts, this demo finds Aqua trapped in the Realm of Darkness after the events of Birth by Sleep. As Aqua struggles to find a way out, she aims to discover why Disney worlds she had once saved are ending up trapped in the same dark world as she is.
The first 'Kingdom Hearts' title
At last, we reach the first game in this confusing timeline. After his home of Destiny Islands is consumed by darkness, Sora must use his newly found Keyblade powers to travel across various Disney worlds in search of his missing friends, Kairi and Riku.
Along the way, he joins Donald and Goofy on their quest to eliminate the evil Heartless and prevent other worlds from being lost to the dark. The classic Disney characters are also searching for their missing king, Mickey Mouse.
Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories/Re:Chain of Memories
While trying to find his way back home to Destiny Islands, Sora (along with Donald and Goofy) enters the mysterious Castle Oblivion. Sora and his friends are forced to advance upwards in the castle, but Sora begins to lose his memories in the process. As he struggles to remember why he fights, he encounters a nefarious group known as Organization XIII, who have their own goals in mind.
Meanwhile, Riku awakens in the basement of the castle, and must fight his way up toward the entrance in order to escape while fighting the darkness in his heart.
Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days
A piece of Sora has taken a form of his own as Roxas, the newest member of Organization XIII. As he begins to make friends and form his own identity separate from Sora, he struggles to retain his sense of self as the Organization works behind the scenes for its own ends.
Kingdom Hearts II
Having regained his true memories, Sora awakens from a deep sleep to discover that more Disney worlds are in peril. He must once again travel to protect each world and chase down the remaining members of Organization XIII to try and put an end to their plans.
Kingdom Hearts Coded/Re:Coded
Just as things finally begin to settle for Sora and his friends, King Mickey Mouse discovers a strange but urgent message in Jiminy Cricket's logs of Sora's adventures that no one can seem to remember. Mickey then re-creates Jiminy's journal as its own set of worlds and asks a data replica of Sora to explore them in order to decipher the meaning behind the strange message.
Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance
After learning that Organization XIII is being formed once again by Xehanort, Sora and Riku undergo their own Mark of Mastery exams to become strong enough to defeat them once and for all. But as the two of them travel through dream worlds to become stronger, Sora learns that he's been closer to the darkness than he thought.
Kingdom Hearts III
With no time left to spare, Sora and his friends must travel through Disney worlds one more time in search of a way to rescue the lost Keyblade wielders (Terra, Aqua, and Ventus) in order to take on Xehanort and Organization XIII one last time. Meanwhile, Kairi and a reformed member of the Organization also learn how to wield Keyblades to join the fight.
Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory
This rhythm game provides a bridge to the unknown future of Kingdom Hearts.
In the aftermath of the fight against Xehanort, Sora vanishes without a trace. With all of his friends turning every stone in search of him, Kairi begins to traverse a musical dreamscape of her own memories in order to find a clue as to Sora's whereabouts.
The Kingdom Hearts series is available on all current-gen platforms. It is expected to release on the Nintendo Switch some time in 2022.