If someone asks you a question about Kingdom Hearts, it’s probably something about the complicated story or how stupid the whole thing is in the first place (for reference, the answers to those questions are “not actually that complicated” and “extremely stupid”). But without a doubt, you’re going to get asked if you really need to play all the games. For a series that only has three numbered titles, there sure are a lot of these things. And the important story stuff? They’re not in the ones you think!
So buckle up your Gummi Ship, cause we’re about to rank these suckers from best to worst. We’ll tell you which are worth your time and which should be locked in the Disney Vault forever next to Song of the South and the Epcot show where Martin Short teaches you about sperm.
But can we tell you if you SHOULD play these games? When you think about it, you don’t NEED to play any video game. You’ll probably have a more productive life if you stay away from this shit. You could use that brain space to cure cancer, or solve climate change, or write the great American Novel, instead of learning about how Ansem, Seeker of Darkness was actually a man named Xehanort who was the apprentice of Ansem the Wise and gave himself willingly to the Darkness, turning himself into a Heartless but also creating a Nobody named Xemnas…
Sorry about that. Went into a fugue state for a moment. Anyway, you gotta decide for yourself if you’re gonna play these games or not. We’ll tell you where you can play them, and which ones suck ass, but we bear no responsibility for what happens to you if you walk this road.
Editor’s note: if I get any of these pictures wrong, I don’t want to fucking hear it. I don’t care. These games are stupid. – Jeremy
#12 — Kingdom Hearts X/Unchained X/Union Cross/Dark Road
If there’s one thing Japanese video companies love, it’s gacha mobile games! I’m dumping these together because they’re the exact same game. You’re a Keyblade Wielder way before the rest of the series begins, and you bop around and learn the secret lore behind the whole series and how the main villain became evil. You have to collect these badges to fight, and you can barely progress without spending real money. And I know what you’re thinking, “I’ll just ignore these games, they’re not going to put anything important in the mobile game.” WRONG. The lore revealed in these games is what’s driving the series forward in the next game. And a ton of it isn’t even online anymore! Go look up a plot summary on YouTube and save yourself from this shit.
WHERE TO PLAY: Check your phone’s app store if you must. There’s also a movie called Kingdom Hearts Unchained X Back Cover in the Kingdom Hearts 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue collection. It is not an adaptation of the game. I don’t want to talk about this anymore.
#11 — Kingdom Hearts Re:Coded
Tetsuya Nomura, the creative mind behind Kingdom Hearts, has no idea how a computer works. This DS game is a remake of a Japanese mobile phone game and has you playing as a “Data-Sora” who is in a “Dataspace” made from the journal of Jiminy Cricket, and you have to fight computer viruses. It is the least essential game in the entire series. There is nothing of note that happens story-wise. The gameplay is a rehash of the first game, and if you want to play that, there are other options on this list. The Olympus level does turn into an old-school Final Fantasy turn-based RPG which is fun. You can look at a screenshot and get the idea.
WHERE TO PLAY: You can find the DS cart lying around most used game stores. They turned it into a 3 hour long cutscene in the Kingdom Hearts 2.5 HD Remix collection. Don’t watch it.
#10 — Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days
I know, I know. The name is funny. But if you play this game and learn why it’s called that, you’ll understand that it’s extremely devastating AND really funny. This is a game about how going to work sucks. You play as Roxas, a keyblade wielder with a MYSTERIOUS connection to Sora, and you have to do menial labor for the bad guys until you lose your mind and quit mid-shift. I’m being glib, but this game’s story is maybe the most effective one in the entire series. There’s one cutscene that brings me to tears every time. Unfortunately, the gameplay in this one is busy work, an attempt to bring the combat of the other games to the Nintendo DS that just feels off. They turned this one into a movie too, but the story doesn’t hit as hard without spending all that time playing. Nomura, remake this game and make it fun, and I’ll send it up to the top of the list.
WHERE TO PLAY: This one is also trapped on the Nintendo DS. You can watch the movie version in the Kingdom Hearts 1.5 HD Remix Collection.
#9 — Kingdom Hearts 0.2 Birth by Sleep -A fragmentary passage-
People give 358/2 shit for having an insane name, but this one really takes the cake. If you’re a connoisseur of tech demos, you’ll love this one. You have to understand. When this game came out, we hadn’t gotten a new Kingdom Hearts game on a home console in 11 years. 11 years! We needed this! It’s a two-hour-long showcase for what Kingdom Hearts III was going to be like, and we only had to wait *checks notes* two more years after this for that.
WHERE TO PLAY: This game is playable in Kingdom Hearts 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue (GET IT????).
#8 — Kingdom Hearts Dream Drop Distance
Rounding out the “deranged names” part of the list (except for the other ones), we have the series’ 3DS entry. You know it came out earlier in the system’s life cycle because it’s being all clever with the 3 D’s. A real “two steps forward, one step back” kind of game. It finally pushed the series’ storyline forward after several prequels and gives the action RPG combat a sense of speed and verticality the PSP and DS entries couldn’t. But the game forces you to switch between its two protagonists without your control, it’s very easy to abuse the “flowmotion” movement system to trivialize exploration, and you unlock new abilities by engaging in sub-Pokemon virtual pet minigames. The world selection in this game is A+, though. You get to hang out with Jeff Bridges AND Horrifying De-Aged Jeff Bridges from Tron: Legacy!
HOW TO PLAY: It’s in Kingdom Hearts 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue, or you can track down the 3DS cart.
#7 — Kingdom Hearts Re:Chain of Memories
Where to start here? A PS2 remake of a GBA game that is an interquel between the first and second games and uses models from Kingdom Hearts 1 but all the voice actors sound like they’re in Kingdom Hearts II. Try saying that three times fast, or at all! The series’ action RPG gameplay is translated into a collectible card game. You can stack three Goofy cards to make a more powerful Goofy attack at the expense of losing one of your Goofy cards. It’s surprisingly deep, and you can spend a lot of time building decks. Unfortunately, the story just sends you through an abbreviated version of the first game. But Kingdom Hearts II expects you’ve played this and will not do anything to help you catch up. The rot was here at the beginning, folks!
WHERE TO PLAY: This one is found in Kingdom Hearts 1.5 HD Remix. There was also a small print run on PS2 if you’re a retro person.
#6 — Kingdom Hearts Chain Of Memories
The GBA version is better.
WHERE TO PLAY: Only on Game Boy AdvanceTM
#5 — Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep
I didn’t have a PSP as a kid, and you better believe I poured over the magazine previews and online articles just imagining what this prequel might contain. Would it tell me what the deal was with the Keyblade Graveyard seen at the end of Kingdom Hearts II? Or how Mickey became a Keyblade Master? Or why Stitch was in these games at all? When I finally got my hands on it, I discovered those answers were “no, kinda” and “I guess?” The game does fill in a lot of gaps in the story, but this is really the game where the lore starts to buckle under its own weight. It makes you play the cramped, lifeless levels three times. The best way to unlock abilities is to play Mario Party (which to be fair, is way better than the virtual pet shit). And yet, the game is still really fun. Aqua and Ventus are engaging characters, and Terra is also there. A solid entry that outstays its welcome.
WHERE TO PLAY: Find this one in Kingdom Hearts 2.5 HD Remix or pop that UMD into your PSP.
#4 — Kingdom Hearts Melody of Memory
Even the most snobby among you have to admit the music in the Kingdom Hearts series rips. Yoko Shimomura’s sweeping orchestral score evokes the feeling of being in a Disney movie, creating memorable original tracks when it would have been so easy to just play the hits (give or take a This is Halloween in The Nightmare Before Christmas level). So it was very exciting to get a rhythm game celebrating the series’ great soundtrack, and it’s…pretty good. It doesn’t have as many tracks as you want, and Normal difficulty is too easy while Hard is way too hard. The worst thing about it is that it does Kairi, the series’ #1 damsel in distress, the dirtiest it’s ever done. And that’s saying something!
WHERE TO PLAY: Available on PS4, Xbox, PC, and Switch. The Switch version will unlock the best version of Dearly Beloved, the series main title theme, in Smash Bros.
#3 — Kingdom Hearts III
Is it even possible to be objective about this game? I don’t know, man. All I know is that I have rarely felt the kind of joy I felt when I put this game into my PS4. The graphics in this game are absolutely gorgeous. The Toy Story world looks better than most of those movies! The combat is streamlined from the handheld spin-offs, taking the best elements like Shotlocks and Formchanges but letting you button mash without worrying about cooldown meters. But the game is held back by how disconnected it all feels. Nothing you do in the Disney worlds matters to the plot, making the whole game feel like busy work. And the cutscenes hit Kojima levels of bloat. But this game exists. I can hold it in my hand. That’s enough.
WHERE TO PLAY: Available on PS4, Xbox, PC. I heard rumors you can play it on Switch via the cloud, but that would be crazy.
#2 — Kingdom Hearts
This is a capital-V-capital-G-ass Video Game. Not yet overcome with an overly complicated plot and over-the-top action, the first game in this series is indisputably a game released for the PlayStation 2. You’ve got a miserable camera, awful platforming, and lots of fetch quests. And yet, there’s stuff in this game that I wish the series would return to. Combat is much slower, often pitting you against three or four enemies as opposed to the mobs of the sequel. You can parry enemy attacks to get extra XP, encouraging you to play smarter rather than just button mash. All the elements, good and bad, are here in this first game. Just be prepared to scream because you have to jump across these FUCKING HIPPOS again and again.
WHERE TO PLAY: Find it in Kingdom Hearts 1.5 HD Remix.
#1 — Kingdom Hearts II
I’ve been having some fun with this series for this entire article. But enough is enough. This game rocks. Have you seen the combat in this game? Some of the secret bosses in this game ask for Devil May Cry levels of precision. The attacks and animations just feel good. I particularly love the Limit attacks, cinematic team ups with your Disney party members that clear the screen at the cost of your magic meter (and potentially your ability to heal). There’s a cost and reward to every decision you make in combat, and you’re making those decisions constantly. The story builds out the universe without tripping itself up over the lore. And the Steamboat Willie world? Are you kidding me? If I were to tell you to play one of these games, it’d be this one. But as much as I want to, I cannot be held responsible for your decisions. You have to choose now, reader. You have to choose.
WHERE TO PLAY: This one’s the star attraction in Kingdom Hearts 2.5 HD Remix.