Square Enix’s Kingdom Hearts franchise has managed to evolve into an international JPRG sensation since its debut in 2002. Celebrated Disney characters like Mickey Mouse, Donald, and Goofy are included in every iteration alongside imaginable stages based on properties like The Nightmare Before Christmas, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Little Mermaid, and many more.
Self-proclaimed Keyblade Wielders have passionately followed Sora, Kairi, and Riku for nearly two decades on their quest against the Darkness. This storyline, known as the Dark Seeker Saga, is set to conclude soon with the release of Kingdom Hearts 3 on January 29. If you’ve yet to experience what this series has to offer or are looking into which titles are worth playing a second time, check out our ranking of every game in the franchise below. Keep in mind that remasters, re-releases, and collections are not included.
9. Kingdom Hearts Re:coded
Kingdom Hearts Re:coded focuses on Sora’s quest to eliminate all the rogue data invading Jiminy’s journals. It doesn’t add anything of consequence to the overall plot of the franchise, as it merely recounts all the events of the first game. The most significant detail arrives at the end of the title when its revealed that Mickey wrote to players at the end of Kingdom Hearts II. This revelation seems hardly worth the effort of playing through the original game a second time.
8. Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days
Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days is a step above Re:coded in that it explores the relationship between Roxas and Axel, two important characters introduced in the series’ second main iteration. This wholly original tale also marks Xion’s debut, but ultimately ends in tragedy for the new heroine. Though its story is impressive thanks to these new elements, 358/2 Days suffers from repetitive gameplay mechanics that are perhaps due to the 3DS’ hardware limitations. Chopping away at enemies and using the same spells over and over again gets old fast.
7. Kingdom Hearts 0.2 Birth by Sleep – A Fragmentary Passage
Kingdom Hearts 0.2 Birth by Sleep – A Fragmentary Passage does a good job of introducing new mechanics to the franchise. It also manages to successfully connect the Birth by Sleep prequel to Sora, Kairi, and Riku’s quest in the present day. That’s not to mention the title’s beautiful visuals, which give fans a snippet of what’s to come in Kingdom Hearts 3. As great as all these aspects are, A Fragmentary Passage is an experience that can be completed in only a couple of hours. It’s a great tease, but leaves a lot to be desired in terms of content.
6. Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories
Like Re:Coded, Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories recounts a lot of events that occur in the franchise’s first game. It mixes up the formula a bit more drastically, however, by introducing fans to some of the series’ most important characters like Namine and Organization XIII. Castle Oblivion is also a sight to behold, especially in the HD version of this title.
The card-based battle system of Chain of Memories takes some time to get used to, but can be fun with the right amount of patience. It’s definitely not for every fan of the series, as it’s a significant departure from the series’ traditional mechanics.
5. Kingdom Hearts Unchained X
Though Kingdom Hearts Unchained X is a mobile game filled with lots of troublesome microtransactions, it’s a must-play for fans who are still wondering what this mysterious glowing heart in the sky is all about. It’s the first title in the franchise that allows users to create their own character, plus it constantly updates with new Disney film properties. Gameplay is simple but does get more challenging as players progress further. Ultimately, Unchained X is certainly worth downloading if fans are looking to learn more about the series’ lore before Kingdom Hearts III releases.
4. Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance
Like A Fragmentary Passage, Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance serves to bridge the gap between the series’ second main iteration and its upcoming sequel. It tasks Sora and Riku with embarking on quests to each become Keyblade Masters as the war with Xehanort draws closer. Many worlds are completely new and based on properties like Fantasia, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and The Three Musketeers. The game also introduces a new race of enemies called Dream Eaters which can be recruited to fight alongside players later on.
The most annoying aspect of Dream Drop Distance comes in the form of the Drop Gauge system that forces players to alternate between Sora and Riku after a certain amount of time. It’s true that each protagonist needs the experience, but the mechanic is a bit frustrating in the midst of a heated battle.
3. Kingdom Hearts
It’s not hard to see how the first Kingdom Hearts gave birth to a gaming phenomenon. It offers the right balance of Disney and Final Fantasy, crafting a charming crossover with its own identity. Though Sora feels stiff for most of the title, the game makes up for it by giving fans expansive worlds to explore, each with its own hidden areas. It’s surprising that subsequent entries feature more linear level designs, though this may change when Kingdom Hearts 3 arrives.
2. Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep
Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep is perhaps the series’ most varied entry. It revolves around Ventus, Terra, and Aqua, three friends on the hunt for the missing Master Xehanort. Each character plays completely differently from the other and specializes in either speed, magic, or physical attacks, thus giving users a lot of gameplay options to choose from. The Command Deck mechanic is introduced here too, allowing players to equip each Keyblade Wielder with whatever abilities they see fit. Birth by Sleep‘s one glaring flaw lies in how some abilities feel overpowered, though fans can always ignore those if they want a challenge.
1. Kingdom Hearts 2
There’s a good reason why fans consider Kingdom Hearts 2 to be the best entry in the franchise. The Disney properties introduced here, including The Lion King and Mulan, are compelling in how well they shake up the series’ staple action gameplay while not completely diverging from what fans know and love. Drive Forms are a ton of fun to experiment with, especially with Sora’s improved fluidity, and boss fights test players on every mechanic the game has to offer. The title’s story is a bit hard to follow, but it’s gameplay will keep users hooked well past the credits.
Here’s hoping that Kingdom Hearts 3 surpasses fan expectations when it arrives in a few days. If Square Enix delivers on the promise of worlds based on Toy Story, Big Hero 6, Frozen, and more, it may warrant itself the top position on this list. If not, at least there’ll be sea salt ice cream.