The Kingdom Hearts series is infamous for having a long and confusing storyline. That reputation is amplified by the series’ bizarre naming scheme, which misleads many players into assuming they can play Kingdom Hearts, then Kingdom Hearts II, then Kingdom Hearts III, never realizing that they’ve skipped half a dozen important games in the middle. Now, though, all the games have received remixes, Kingdom Hearts III is so close we can taste it, and I’m here to try and explain the plot of the series up until this point.
My goal isn’t to go into every single nitty gritty detail, but to provide an overview that will help new players—or those who haven’t touched the series since Kingdom Hearts II—get a good idea of what’s actually going on. As such, parts of this write-up are intentionally simplified.
Begin reading part four below, covering the remainder of Kingdom Hearts II, Kingdom Hearts Re:coded, and Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance. And if you missed part one, part two, or part three, be sure to read those first.
Back and better than ever
Last we left Sora, he had just been reformed into a whole person, having his memories restored by Naminé and both Xion and Roxas properly rejoined with him. Due to Naminé’s meddling, Sora doesn’t remember anything since defeating Ansem, Xehanort’s Heartless. Last he recalls, Riku was locked away in the realm of darkness, and Kairi was thrown back to Destiny Islands, so Sora’s first priority is to find his friends.
He emerges into Twilight Town, the real version of the virtual world where Roxas spent his “summer vacation.” There, he runs into Roxas’s friends, who find him strangely familiar, despite never having really met him or Roxas at all. (Seemingly another upcoming plot point in Kingdom Hearts III). He also finds Mickey Mouse, who brings him back to his master, Yen Sid, in a cute nod to the Fantasia short where Mickey plays the Sorcerer’s Apprentice.
Yen Sid explains that Xemnas and the remaining half of Organization XIII are still out there, and sends Sora out there to stop them. Along his journey, Riku helps by dropping cryptic clues and hints, though since Riku is still stuck in the form of Xehanort’s Heartless, Ansem, Riku doesn’t want to reveal himself.
The not-so-final fight
Xemnas is clever, however, and sets up a gambit, helped by some of the Disney villains spreading Heartless again. Sora is stuck in a lose-lose situation: let the Heartless swarm and consume more worlds, or defeat the Heartless and send their unlocked hearts to fill Xemnas’s artificial Kingdom Hearts. Sora determines to go to the source and kill Xemnas himself to solve this problem.
Sora fights his way to The World That Never Was, where the Nobodies reside. Axel, now working on his own, isn’t happy with Sora, seeing him as someone who took away his best friend Roxas, but soon recognizes familiar aspects of Roxas in Sora that make him feel more alive and like he has a heart. During Sora’s final push towards The World That Never Was, Axel sacrifices himself in a massive explosion that kills tons of Nobodies and clears the way for Sora. While Axel intends to die, he unknowingly saves himself. His Heartless form had died somewhere, perhaps one of the multitude that Sora killed before. Now, with his Nobody form also defeated, Axel reawakens as a whole person on his original world, back in his true form of Lea.
Meanwhile, another Nobody, Saix, has captured Kairi. Naminé helps her escape. Riku, still looking like Ansem, appears to assist. Despite his appearance, Kairi recognizes him. She reveals she also has the ability to wield a Keyblade, as was granted to her by Aqua all those years ago, and the two fight their way out. They reunite with Sora, fighting his way in. Sora gives Kairi, his love interest, an awkward little hug, and then promptly falls down on his knees sobbing and crying over Riku and how much he’d missed him, instantly throwing fuel on the fire of hundreds of fandom shipping wars for the next decade to come.
Ansem the Wise and King Mickey catch up. Ansem has created a machine to try and stop the artificial Kingdom Hearts, but it proves too powerful, exploding and seemingly killing Ansem. The explosion of light reverts Riku back to his true form, however, and everyone charges forward. Sora defeats the rest of the Organization, sending some of them back to reawaken in their true forms, similar to Lea.
By working together, Sora and Riku manage to defeat Xemnas. The effort throws them back into the world of darkness, but a letter in a bottle from Kairi drifts to shore and opens a door to the light for them both to walk through.
Nothing happens in Re:Coded
The entire game of Re:Coded happens in a data world with no real impact on reality. Naminé digs in Sora’s memories and halfway reminds him that Aqua, Terra, and Ventus exist. Purists will say it’s still an important game. It’s really not important.
He ain’t dead yet
Xehanort’s Heartless, Ansem, was defeated at the end of Kingdom Hearts I. Now Xehanort’s Nobody, Xemnas, has been defeated at the end of Kingdom Hearts II. His plan to summon the seven guardians of light failed on one front, his plan to create 13 seekers of darkness failed on the other, and Kingdom Hearts proved to have a lot more light than he was expecting. Xehanort himself, though, is reborn back into his youthful Terra-Xehanort body, and is ready to have another go.
His plans weren’t total failures, either. Most of the Organization XIII members retained too much personality to become vessels of darkness, but at least two were willing to let Xehanort corrupt them: his old co-conspirator from way back in the Radiant Garden days, Braig, and Lea’s old friend and Kairi’s kidnapper, Isa.
Xehanort decides that to get the job done right, he’s going to do it himself. Entirely by himself. He begins assembling versions of himself from different points in time, deciding to have them all converge at one moment in time to become the 13 vessels of darkness. He conveys instructions back to the youngest version of himself, Young Xehanort (a young adult version of himself), with instructions for Old Master Xehanort, Ansem (his Heartless), Xemnas (his Nobody), Braig, Isa, and six other undetermined versions of himself from various points in time to all assemble at once, forming the 13 darknesses. (One of these Xehanorts is presumably the cloaked figure who kicked off the events on Destiny Island in Kingdom Hearts I.) Xehanort plans to make Sora his thirteenth vessel, stealing him from the light once and for all.
Despite everything, Sora still doesn’t really know how to use a keyblade
Yen Sid realizes that Xehanort will be back in his original body, and summons both Sora and Riku to undergo the Mark of Mastery exams that will make them true, qualified keyblade masters. To prove themselves, both are sent back to the worlds that had been consumed by Heartless in the original wave of Heartless attacks, with the goal of reawakening the worlds.
The two are separated, with Sora traveling through the worlds and Riku traveling through Sora’s dreams to guard him once again. As Sora travels, Xehanort tries to corrupt him. Sora draws on the strength of his friends, and is confronted by visions of all the people who have been linked to him in some way: Roxas, Xion, Naminé, Aqua, Terra, and Ventus. Sora refuses to become a vessel and battles hard against Xehanort, damaging his heart in the process and falling comatose. Young Xehanort drags him off to the where the various versions of Xehanort are assembling, intending to make him a vessel anyway.
Riku gives chase, and is confronted by Ansem, Xehanort’s Heartless and of the major sources of darkness he’s been fighting off and on for the entire series. Ansem tries to drag him down into darkness yet again, but at this point, Riku is thoroughly over the whole darkness thing, having been down that path and back half a dozen times. He arrives at the castle just in time to witness the rebirth of Old Master Xehanort and the meeting of all of Xehanort’s different versions from across time.
Thirteen darknesses and seven lights… again
King Mickey arrives to help Riku, but the two of them don’t have enough power to fight off all the different versions of Xehanort at once. Just as Master Xehanort is about to make a comatose Sora his final, 13 vessel, Lea joins the fight. Now a whole person again, Lea is learning how to use a keyblade and back on the side of good. With his help, and the additional appearance of Donald and Goofy, Xehanort is stalled long enough that his various time-traveled incarnations fade away back to their respective times, and his window of opportunity passes.
However, as Xehanort gleefully points out, his plan can still work. In taking up Keyblades and fighting against him, Sora, Riku, Mickey, Lea, and the rest can’t help but make themselves guardians of the light. As long as Xehanort continues to collect his 13 darknesses, they’ll oppose him, and their clash of light and darkness will start another keyblade war and reforge the χ-Blade.
Xehanort departs, but begins plotting his final moves to spark the next keyblade war once and for all.
Riku dives once again into a sleeping Sora’s mind, braving the darkness, and manages to restore Sora back to wakefulness. For his actions, bravery, and refusal to give into the darkness, Riku becomes a full keyblade master. Sora, though, still has a little ways to go.
As they celebrate Xehanort’s temporary defeat and Sora’s return to consciousness, somewhere, still sleeping in the sealed chamber in Castle Oblivion, Ventus’s body stirs slightly and smiles.
And there we have it
And thus we leave off, with Xehanort preparing for another keyblade war. On the side of light we have Aqua, lost somewhere in the darkness, Terra, still fighting for control within Xehanort’s heart, and Ventus, sleeping but perhaps awakening soon. Riku is a new keyblade master, with Mickey helping to guide him, and Kairi and Lea learning to wield their new keyblades as well. Then, of course, there’s Sora, with his ties to all the people who have been lost or harmed somehow: Roxas, Xion, Naminé, and more, including Roxas’s friends from his time in virtual Twilight Town.
On the side of darkness, we have old Master Xehanort, back and as crafty as ever, with Braig and Isa at his side. From the looks of some trailers, it seems he may have a number of other old Organization members from the schism turned to his side, as well as a returned Riku Replica. Both sides are gearing up for the final confrontation, and what may be exactly what Master Xehanort wants: the next keyblade war.
The story will continue, and conclude, in Kingdom Hearts III.