In Part 1, we recapped the Kingdom Hearts lore that takes place even before the first main game of the franchise, 2002’s Kingdom Hearts. Now we’re going into the original Kingdom Hearts game and two spinoffs that take place around the same time chronologically.
4) Kingdom Hearts
The story in the original Kingdom Hearts picks up 10 years after the end of Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep and its ending runs concurrently with the events in Kingdom Hearts 0.2 Birth By Sleep A Fragmentary Passage. We already met the younger versions of Sora, Riku, and Kairi in Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep, and now they’re best friends living on Destiny Islands.
All three of them have long dreamt of leaving Destiny Islands for the sake of adventure. One day, a mysterious hooded figure appears, followed by the black monsters called Heartless. Sora unexpectedly summons the Keyblade and just as their word is being destroyed, the darkness pulls them away to the great unknown.
Sora wakes up and finds himself in a place called Traver Town, where he later meets Donald and Goofy. Both Donald and Goofy have been tasked by King Mickey to find the chosen one of the Keyblade, who turns out to be none other than Sora. The three then becomes friends and visits Disney-themed worlds in a Gummi ship to vanquish the Heartless.
Before we continue, the Heartless are creatures born out of the darkness of people’s hearts. They are generally mindless, and whose main goal is to simply consume everything and turn everyone/everything into Heartless as well. However, there are certain exceptions, which I’ll get back to in a bit.
As Sora, Donald, and Goofy travel and seal (or lock) the worlds from the darkness using the Keyblade, there’s a group of Disney villains led by the darkest Disney villain of them all: Sleeping Beauty’s Maleficent. She’s trying to kidnap the seven Princess of Hearts to open the door to Kingdom Hearts. Riku has been with Maleficent all along because she promised him that they’ll find Kairi (and also because he believes that Sora has abandoned him for other friends).
Things escalate when everyone reaches Hollow Bastion/Radiant Garden (yes, the same one from Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep) where Sora, Donald, and Goofy confronts Maleficent and defeats her (she even becomes a dragon). Sora then finds Kairi but discovers that she is now in a comatose state (similar to Ventus’ condition in Birth By Sleep) as she is without a heart.
The mysterious figure that appeared at the beginning of the story reappears and tells Riku to fully embrace the darkness in order to save Kairi. It then turns out that he’s Ansem, the main antagonist, who proceeds to corrupt Riku’s heart and possess his body (just like Xehanort did with Terra in Birth by Sleep).
Ansem (in Riku’s body) tells Sora that Kairi is actually the seventh Princess of Hearts required to open the door to Kingdom Hearts and that her heart has actually been hidden in Sora’s body all along. After defeating Ansem, Sora stabs himself with his own Keyblade to release Kairi’s heart from his body. However, in doing so, it also releases Sora’s heart.
Because of this, Sora turns into a Heartless himself. After Kairi reawakens, she, fortunately, manages to recognize Sora even in his Heartless form. The light in Kairi’s heart (remember Aqua’s blessing in Birth by Sleep) restores Sora’s heart, returning him to normal.
After that, Sora, Donald, and Goofy go to The End of All Worlds to confront Ansem and defeat him once and for all. Ansem manages to open the door to Kingdom Hearts, which opens with a blinding burst of light that seemingly destroys him. That same light restores the worlds engulfed by darkness, including Destiny Islands. However, Kairi is forcefully transported back to the restored Destiny Islands, leaving Sora behind.
Riku offered to stay behind and close the door to Kingdom Hearts (which is also the door to the Realm of Darkness because it’s not the true Kingdom Hearts, all will be explained soon enough). With the help of King Mickey and Aqua (remember Kingdom Hearts 0.2 Birth by Sleep A Fragmentary Passage?), the door closes with Riku and Mickey still on the other side. In the epilogue, Sora, Donald, and Goofy embark on a journey to find King Mickey and Riku.
5) Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories
Directly after the events of the original Kingdom Hearts, Sora, Donald, and Goofy’s journey to find King Mickey and Riku lead them to a place called Castle Oblivion (or previously the Land of Departure in Birth By Sleep, and also the place where Ventus secretly lies asleep).
A mysterious hooded figure lets them in and basically tells them that Castle Oblivion holds the answers that Sora seeks but in order to find them, he must forget. Sora will lose more memories as he goes in deeper.
Throughout their journey in Castle Oblivion, they meet several members of the mysterious Organization XIII. The reason why Sora loses his memories in Castle Oblivion is because the organization has a young girl named Namine who has the power to rewrite memories (and even create fake ones). In truth, she’s actually the Nobody of Kairi created when Sora stabbed himself in the original Kingdom Hearts to release Kairi’s heart from his body.
In fact, the members of Organization XIII are all Nobodies. Nobodies are created when people lose their hearts, so they’re basically individuals without hearts. Unlike Heartless, they are not born from the Realm of Darkness but the Realm Between, which means they are not accepted by both light or darkness. The main goal of Organization XIII (at this point in time) is to recover their hearts and become whole again.
Things get complicated when it turns out that the members of the Organization XII in Castle Oblivion are actually a splinter group who seeks to gain control of Sora. One of them, Axel (who becomes important in the franchise’s lore later on) is tasked with stopping these traitors.
Sora, Donald, and Goofy meets who they think is Riku several times in Castle Oblivion, but that’s actually a cloned Replica created by Vexen, a member of Organization XIII. In his mission to destroy the traitors, Axel lets Namine go free. Namine then goes to Sora and tells him the truth, as well as the identity of the main antagonist and leader of the splinter group, Marluxia.
Sora defeats Marluxia, and Namine offers to help him by giving him a choice, whether to reclaim his old memories and lose the memories of what happened in Castle Oblivion, or lose his old memories but keep his memories of what happened in Castle Oblivion. Sora chooses the former, and Namine tells him that it will take at least one year. Sora, Donald, and Goofy are put into a chamber for this purpose, while Jiminy Cricket (Sora’s companion who chronicles their journey) writes in his journal to ‘thank Namine’ (since they’ll be losing their memories of her in the process of reclaiming their old memories).
While all of this was happening, the real Riku was actually in Castle Oblivion all along, albeit waking up in the very lowest basement level. He’s still trying to overcome the darkness inside him, after being possessed by Ansem in the original Kingdom Hearts.
Fighting his way up Castle Oblivion, Riku encounters several members of Organization XIII. In fact, the reason why Vexen was able to create a cloned Replica of Riku is because he already met the real Riku before meeting Sora. Throughout his journey, a disembodied voice keeps speaking to him, which later turns out to be a man named DiZ.
Riku later meets Namine too, who makes him realize that the darkness inside him is as much a part of him as the light, which means that he can learn to control it, and not the other way around. Riku defeats the clone Replica, and later the remnant of Ansem still in his heart.
In the epilogue, Riku reunites with King Mickey and sets on another journey to learn how to use both the light and the darkness within him. In his words, to “walk the road to dawn.”
6) Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days
In the entire Kingdom Hearts franchise, there are three trios whose relationships form the backbone and integral to the context of almost everything that happens:
- Sora, Riku, and Kairi
- Ventus, Terra, and Aqua
- Roxas, Axel, and Xion
Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days focuses on Organization XIII, and specificallyRoxas, who is the Nobody of Sora, created at the same time as Namine did when Sora stabbed himself in the original Kingdom Hearts to release Kairi’s heart from his body. When Sora turned into a Heartless momentarily back then, his physical body, devoid of a heart, became a Nobody.
The members of Organization XIII are all Nobodies with memories of their human selves, besides Roxas and Xion. They are the latest to join the Organization, designated the numbers 13 and 14, respectively.
Xemnas, the leader of Organization XIII, tasks Roxas with hunting Heartless as he is the only one capable of wielding a Keyblade. He pairs up with many of the other members in the organization but becomes especially close friends with Axel. After missions, they would often meet up on top of a clocktower in Twilight Town and eat sea-salt ice creams.
At one point, Axel is tasked on another mission, unknown to Roxas (but we know he’s going to Castle Oblivion as per the events in Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories). Due to Axel’s absence, Roxas has to pair up with the mysterious 14th member, Xion. It’s during these missions that they become friends, especially since they have one thing in common: Both of them are Keyblade wielders.
Since they’re both Keyblade wielders, they are tasked with defeating Heartless so that the freed hearts will return to Kingdom Hearts and make it whole again, which will allow all members of Organization XIII to reclaim their hearts.
Soon thereafter, Roxas falls into a coma due to the ending (reconstruction of Sora’s memories by Namine) of Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories. He only reawakens after Axel returns from Castle Oblivion. From there, Roxas introduces Xion to Axel and they hang out after missions, eating sea-salt ice cream on top of the clock tower.
Things escalate when Xion encounters Riku, and he tells her that both her Keyblade and herself are fakes. She later runs away from the Organization XIII after experiencing dizzy spells and weird blackouts, which is when she meets Riku again. This time Riku tells her the truth, that she is a Replica Nobody of Sora created by Organization XIII to take Roxas’ place and that she is absorbing Sora’s memories, thus delaying his awakening.
Since Roxas is also a Nobody of Sora (a true Nobody, not a Replica), both he and Xion are actually preventing Sora from reconstructing his memories (by absorbing them), as they are actually part of Sora’s heart and not individual beings. Xion’s face was also initially blank, and it only took the form of Kairi’s face earlier on because Kairi was the strongest memory in Sora’s heart.
Axel finds Xion and forces her to return to the organization. Meanwhile, Roxas is getting weaker as Xion gets stronger and seeks to form an identity/personality of her own. Xion discovers this and runs away again, but this time Axel lets her go once he knows how Xion is affecting Roxas.
Axel’s actions in letting Xion go and refusing to tell him the truth angers Roxas, causing him to leave the organization himself to search for Xion. It turns out that Xion has gone looking for Namine for answers, who warns her that if she lets go of all the memories of Sora, she will blink out of existence and everyone’s memories, including that of her friends, Roxas and Axel.
When Roxas does find Xion, her entire appearance now looks like Sora’s. Xion forces Roxas to fight, in which Roxas emerges as the victor. In one of the most tragic scenes in the franchise, Xion slowly disappears while Roxas starts to forget who Xion is. She asks Roxas for one last favor: to stop Xemnas from obtaining Kingdom Hearts, thanking both him and Axel for their friendship.
Here’s the most tragic scene in Kingdom Hearts history, folks.
Roxas, now with the ability to wield two Keyblades at one time (due to Xion disappearing, giving him his full powers again), he sets off to destroy Kingdom Hearts and free all the hearts collected so far. Along the way, he is ambushed by Riku, who wants to bring Roxas in to complete Sora’s reawakening. Roxas puts up a good fight but ultimately loses when Riku is forced to unleash the full power of the darkness within him (which changes his appearance to look like Ansem).
Riku picks up Roxas and brings him to DiZ, who has created an artificial world for Roxas to live in while he completes the reconstruction of Sora’s memories. The ending of Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days marks the very beginning of Kingdom Hearts 2.
That marks the end of the second part of our Kingdom Hearts three-parter story recap. Each part recaps the story of three Kingdom Hearts titles, with the next (third and final) part slated to cover Kingdom Hearts 2 (my personal favourite of the franchise), Kingdom Hearts Re: Coded, and Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance.
In the meantime, check out this awesome violin cover of the iconic Kingdom Hearts Roxas Theme. Listen and weep.