It's likely that, with the release of Kingdom Hearts III planned for this year, it's crossed your mind to start the franchise. But where to begin? Can we skip the previous titles and play only the most recent one? And above all, is there any right order in which we should play them? Don't be fooled by the lighthearted style of the saga, since its director, Tetsuya Nomura, could be the equivalent of David Lynch in the video game industry. Throughout the years he has woven a convoluted web where the worlds of Disney coexist with complex characters, impossible plot twists, and hidden stories as part of a labyrinthine storyline which is not only complex but also satisfying once you see yourself immersed in it.
We don't want anyone left out though, so we'll try to help you understand it. Whether you've played the series and need to refresh your memory or if you want to start the franchise ahead of the upcoming Kingdom Hearts III (the world needs brave people, after all), this article will be useful to you, so join us as we explore the series in depth.
Kingdom Hearts X - The origins of the fight between light and darkness
Every story has a beginning, and Kingdom Hearts - in contrast to what many may think - builds its storyline upon a mobile game that takes place a hundred years before the events of the first PlayStation 2 game. It has such an important role that, despite having not arrived in the West, Square Enix decided to include it in Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue, explaining the events of this original game. However, how did Kingdom Hearts X turn from a game initially conceived to be a title for browsers into a cornerstone of the plot?
In the dawn of time all the worlds formed a single kingdom known as Kingdom Hearts, which was protected by a weapon known as the X-Blade Keyblade, a weapon that not only opened this domain but also gave great power to its wielder. In the game we meet the Master of Keyblade Masters, someone who can see the future and wrote a record of everything he observed in the Book of Prophecies. Without being aware at the beginning, this teacher shares his knowledge to five disciples who acquire the name of Foretellers, and he gives each of them a copy of the Book of Prophecies along with two missions that must be carried out. The first one, common to the five, was to train the Keyblade apprentices to create an army that could be useful in the near future. As for the second, it's revealed to each of them separately, and we soon discover that the Master actually intends to promote a war by manipulating the Foretellers from the shadows to make them turn on each other. Since he is a prophet, he's aware that the battle between light and darkness will be inevitable and thinks that in this way he will at least be able to control the course of the conflict. To make sure the light never goes out completely, he entrusts one of the Foretellers - named Luxu - with the mission of escaping with a group of children who would later transmit their teachings to new apprentices, these being the origins of two important characters who will later have an essential role: Xehanort and Eraqus.
However, when the Master of Masters leaves and his apprentices discover that they have been used for his own warlike purposes, they seek to open the Kingdom Hearts to make him return and give them explanation about what happened. This becomes the germ of the so-called Keyblade War, because they begin to show their misgivings as they think that the real reason is not to talk to the Master, but to get the X-Blade and great power. What nobody could imagine is that these were the true intentions of the Master of Masters all along, to trigger a civil war that destroyed the X-Blade plunging it into the darkness.
This is how the Keyblade is divided into seven pieces of light and 13 fragments of darkness that are scattered throughout the universe. The light would stay in the heart of seven princesses (which must find Sora in the first numbered instalment), while the darkness is a stronghold of the real villain of the franchise: Xehanort. After these events and having prophesied a fateful future for the world, the Master of Masters assigns a Foreteller named Luxu with the task of going far away with a trunk and a strange Keyblade that has the eye of the Master himself to observe everything that happens.
Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep and 0.2 - A Fragmentary Passage -
The Legacy of a Never-ending War
Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep is deservedly one of the key titles to understand the complex plot that Tetsuya Nomura has built around the franchise. Taking place 10 years before the events of the first Kingdom Hearts, it shows what happened after the bloody Keyblade War. There are only two masters left (although later we discover a third, Yen Sid) who are Xehanort and Eraqus, disciples of those survivors who managed to escape the brawl.
At the beginning of the game we're introduced to the three apprentices that Eraqus is training: Aqua, Terra, and Ventus. These will not just be the protagonists of the adventure, but their lives will mark, in one way or another, everything that happens later. Terra is a young Keyblade apprentice that, in his journey to become more powerful, decides to embrace the darkness without losing control over himself. On the other hand, Aqua is the only one that achieves the rank of Master of the Keyblade, while Ventus at the beginning is a real enigma who ends up revealing himself as an apprentice of Xehanort. At this point it's necessary to clarify the role played by this villain because, like all villains, he craves power, and in order to achieve it he seeks to take over the Kingdom Hearts, the heart of all worlds. This is how he designs a plot to extract the darkness from the interior of Ventus to create his counterpart and antagonist, Vanitas.
In this way Xehanort begins to execute his trick by manipulating the Keyblade wielders without Ventus being aware of anything that happened, since he has lost his memories during the creation of Vanitas. It should be mentioned that in Japan the pronunciation of the letter X is similar to 'key', which not only gives a new nuance to the names that appear in the series, but if it's taken out from Xehanort itself we discover that it's an anagram of 'no heart'. As a heartless being, one of his motivations is to find a new body to be able to incarnate, so he focuses on Terra not only for him being strong and powerful but also because he has darkness inside him. To achieve his goals, he tricks the three students into turning on each other, thus he would not only possess Terra but would also kill Eraqus and get Vanitas and Ventus to fight with the idea of creating an artificial X-Blade that could be the origin of a new war that serves his interests.
Although he almost achieves his purpose, Aqua manages to save Ventus by plunging him into an eternal dream in the Chamber of Waking so that he can recover there. Xehanort, more powerful than ever now that he controls Terra's body, confronts Aqua and King Mickey in a battle that ends with the destruction of the X-Blade and the sacrifice of Aqua herself, who is prey to darkness (this is explained more in the episode A Fragmentary Passage included in KH HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue). While that seemed to be the end of Terra-Xehanort, he survives without memories, and is still alive in some part of the universe. This is how an amnesiac Xehanort ends up in a world called Radiant Garden where he meets Ansem the wise, a person who has dedicated his life to the study of the heart and the eternal conflict between light and darkness. Who would say that this fortuitous encounter would end up causing the birth of the heartless...