Kingdom Hearts is a fantasy action-roleplaying series for consoles and handheld devices. Collaborations between Square Enix and Disney, the games tell the story of a young boy named Sora who is trying to save the world from darkness—with the help of familiar Disney characters like Donald Duck and Goofy.
In later games different protagonists are introduced, but Sora is always the center of the series.
Violence: Kingdom Hearts features cartoon violence that will be familiar to anyone who has seen an animated show. Sora bashes enemies with a giant key called a Keyblade. His enemies explode into gems or smoke; there is no gore to speak of, but in Kingdom Hearts II there is minor blood in Port Royal, in a scene based on the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie. The rating was therefore changed from “Everyone” to “Everyone 10+.”
Scary Imagery: The player fights against shadowy monsters called “Heartless” and classic Disney villains that kids will be familiar with from movies.
Strong Language: The Kingdom Hearts games are intended for a young audience and do not feature strong language. In Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days, for the DS, a character uses the word “damn.”
Substance Use: In Kingdom Hearts II, some of the pirates are seen drinking.
There are save points in each level where players can go to save the game, as long as they are not in battle.
The story of Kingdom Hearts is spread out over many different devices and can be hard to follow. That said, the world of Kingdom Hearts is rich, complex, and fascinating to all ages.
The first Kingdom Hearts game (available for PlayStation2 and PlayStation3) begins with the story of Sora, a young boy living in the aptly named Destiny Islands with his best friends, Riku and Kairi. One night there is a terrible storm, and the three friends are separated as shadowy creatures attack the islands.
Sora lands on a world called Traverse Town, where he meets up with Donald Duck and Goofy. Donald and Goofy are also on a quest assigned by King Mickey. As it turns out, Sora is just the person they’re looking for, since he is the chosen wielder of the Keyblade. The three set out on a journey across the worlds to seal keyholes and find King Mickey.
They travel to familiar locations from Disney movies, including Neverland, Agrabah (from Aladdin), and Halloween Town. They even get swallowed by Monstro, the whale from Pinocchio. At the end of the game they must fight Maleficent and a new villain called Ansem who has possessed Riku and is using him for evil.
Ansem is eventually defeated, the lost worlds are rebuilt, and Riku gets restored after a long battle—but Sora becomes a Heartless and all the friends are once again separated.
The story continues in Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories (Gameboy Advanced, PlayStation 2, and PlayStation 3).
Chain of Memories
In Chain of Memories, Sora, Donald and Goofy have their first direct conflict with Organization XIII, and they begin to lose their memories in the process. Meanwhile, Riku goes through a similar struggle as he tries to defeat Organization XIII members as well as the darkness that he has inside himself. This game introduces a different battle system than the fully mobile Kingdom Hearts. Players build decks of virtual cards and play them in attacks, as well as to open doors and travel to new locations.
Chain of Memories ends with Sora, Donald, and Goofy asleep in pods as their memories are reconstructed.
Kingdom Hearts II
Kingdom Hearts II (available for PlayStation 2 and PlayStation 3) opens with a new protagonist and a new location. Roxas is a teenage boy in Twilight Town. He and his friends spend the beginning of the game trying to earn enough money to go to the beach—but Roxas keeps seeing a man named Axel who claims to know him. He also realizes he has a Keyblade and must use it to battle the Heartless that attack him.
Eventually it is revealed that Roxas is the Nobody that was created when Sora lost his heart. He is a former member of Organization XIII who has lost his memories. He is being manipulated so that he will merge with Sora. Seeing no other choice, Roxas merges with Sora and ceases to exist. Sora, Donald, and Goofy wake up with no memory of Roxas and continue their adventures.
The action is similar to the first Kingdom Hearts—they must visit a series of worlds and seal them up to stop the Heartless from devouring them. This time Maleficent has united with Organization XIII, as well as Pete, another Disney villain (from the Mickey Mouse cartoons). After battling the remaining Organization XIII villains (who weren’t defeated in Chain of Memories), Sora reunites with Riku and Kairi at last. They defeat Xemnas, the leader of Organization XIII, and return to their home in the Destiny Islands.
Kingdom Hearts Re:coded is a remake of Kingdom Hearts Coded, which was only available on cell phones in Japan. Re:coded is for the Nintendo DS. In Re:coded, King Mickey sends a virtual Sora back to a virtual reality of the Destiny Islands, while Mickey, Goofy, and Donald defend Hollow Bastion from the Heartless. The game takes place directly after Kingdom Hearts II.
358/2 Days (pronounced “three-five-eight over two days,” yes, I’m serious), explores what happened to Roxas before he lost his memories. This game is available for the Nintendo DS. In this game, Roxas joins Organization XIII members in their quest to regain their hearts—until Sora’s memories begin to make him question what his real identity is. The game explores Roxas’ friendship with Axel and a mysterious girl named Xion, who also has connection to Sora.
This game ends where Kingdom Hearts II begins: with Roxas trapped in Twilight Town and no memory of his time with Organization XIII.
Birth By Sleep
Birth By Sleep (PlayStation Portable) is a prequel to the series, featuring three new characters named Terra, Aqua, and Ventus, who are training to become Keyblade masters. This game reveals how Ansem became a villain, and how darkness started encroaching on the worlds.
Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance
Dream Drop Distance is a 3DS game that takes place after all the previous events of the Kingdom Hearts series. In it, the Nobodies who were members of Organization XIII reawaken as their old selves. Meanwhile, Sora and Riku are training to become Keyblade masters, by awakening the Sleeping Worlds that had been in hibernation as a defense against the Darkness. They encounter old villains, and Riku must fight to save Sora from becoming a Nobody again.
The Kingdom Hearts games all feature strong friendships and teamwork between people. The characters explore their identities and try against all odds to stick together even as darkness is taking over their worlds.
It might seem strange that familiar Disney characters are matched up with Final Fantasy characters and new characters, but both Disney and Square Enix have a history of stories of deep friendship and perseverance in the face of darkness. Characters fight to stay true to themselves and to do what is right for the good of all the worlds.
The games also feature appealing morally grey characters, like Riku and Axel, who both make bad decisions but are ultimately loyal friends who just lost their way. For this reason, the Kingdom Hearts series resonates with older players as well as younger ones. The series has been criticized for its sprawling story (which must be followed on multiple platforms, not just PlayStation), but it remains popular among its core fans.
Kingdom Hearts is a fun amalgamation of American and Japanese pop culture. The games take a darker, more complex look at popular Disney characters and add new dimension to the Disney stories we’re familiar with.
- Does the inclusion of Disney characters give you an emotional connection to the game? Do you feel as attached to the original characters as you do to the Disney characters?
- How does the story appeal to older players, even though it uses characters from kids’ movies?
- Characters in Kingdom Hearts lose their memories often and forget who their friends are. How do you feel when it happens? Is it cathartic when characters finally reunite with their friends after a long time apart?
- Characters like Roxas sacrifice themselves to save the world. Is it sad that Roxas gave himself up for Sora, or do you think a part of him lives on in Sora?
- What characters would you like to see appear in the next Kingdom Hearts game?
The Kingdom Hearts fan community is very active online creating fanart and writing fanfiction.
Gummi Ship: A ship made of Gummi blocks, which allows Sora and his companions to travel between worlds.
Heart: One of three things that makes up a living thing, along with body and soul. If a world’s heart is devoured by Heartless, the world will cease to exist.
Heartless: Heartless are formed when a heart is overtaken by darkness. They are the main minions that players will fight in Kingdom Hearts games. Most Heartless are shadowy black shapes with glowing eyes, but they come in a few different forms. All of them are minions that only want to devour hearts.
Keyblade: A magical key that can seal the worlds; there are a few Keyblades out there, but only certain people can wield them.
Keyholes: A hole that leads to the heart of a world.
Kingdom Hearts: An entity that is essentially the soul of all the worlds. Organization XIII is trying to create their own Kingdom Hearts by consuming the hearts of others.
Nobodies: A Nobody is a person whose heart has been lost. These people still have body and soul (of the three attributes that make up a person), but they have no hearts. They are often seeking their lost hearts.
Organization XIII: An organization of 13 (later 14) Nobodies who are seeking their hearts and trying to form their own Kingdom Hearts—not from the hearts of worlds, but from the stolen hearts of people.