The Kingdom Hearts Games, Ranked From Worst To Best

The Kingdom Hearts Games, Ranked From Worst To Best

The Kingdom Hearts franchise is finally coming to Steam next month (most of it is, at least), and now people who don’t like the Epic Games Store will be able to see Sora, Donald, and Goofy’s story from start to finish. But like any long-running franchise, the series has had its high points and low points. With a bunch of new players and old fans alike about to jump into the Disney x Final Fantasy crossover, we thought we’d pit 11 bad bitches against each other and rank the series from worst to best. Grab your keyblades and your closest anthropomorphic animal friend, it’s time to start a keyblade war.

Kingdom Hearts χ


Square Enix / Roboloidx

Kingdom Hearts χ is one of the most divisive things Square Enix has ever done with the Disney RPG series, as it presents one of the most pivotal, foundational pieces of storytelling the franchise has had up to this point in a mobile gacha game. The events of χ are hinted at throughout the Kingdom Hearts franchise, but you’re mostly operating in the aftermath of what is set in motion by this game. It has some neat ideas, such as letting you create your own character within the Kingdom Hearts universe, and while getting to it is a time sink, the story is pretty compelling for long-time fans. But it’s a baffling example of how cumbersome Square’s handling of Kingdom Hearts’ worldbuilding has been over the past 20 years.

Kingdom Hearts Coded


Square Enix / Gamer’s Little Playground

Kingdom Hearts Coded, while mostly fine to play, is one of the more contrived entries in the series. The mobile game and its DS remake ooze “made just to put a Kingdom Hearts game on the platform,” and its place in the series’ ongoing plot is so flimsy that it doesn’t have much reason to exist. It largely was made to reuse old Disney worlds by digitizing records of Sora’s past adventures into a virtual world as a roundabout way of explaining a message Sora receives from Mickey at the end of Kingdom Hearts II, though there are some more substantial scenes at the end of the Re:coded DS remake. Ultimately, it’s the definition of a filler game in a series that doesn’t usually have those.

Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep: A Fragmentary Passage


Square Enix / ShadoKurosu

Kingdom Hearts III had a whole lot of storylines and character arcs to wrap up by the time it was finally released in 2019, including the story of Aqua, one of the heroes of Birth by Sleep. Rather than bloat the game further with those details, Square Enix cut a slice of Kingdom Hearts III out to release it in the 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue package and call it Birth by Sleep: A Fragmentary Passage. The prelude is a short, sweet taste of what would come in Kingdom Hearts III, and gave fans a chance to reacquaint themselves with Aqua, who had been hidden away in the Kingdom Hearts equivalent of purgatory since the events of Birth by Sleep. The most important thing it does, though, is explain why Mickey wasn’t wearing a shirt at the end of the original Kingdom Hearts. Priorities.

Kingdom Hearts Melody of Memory


Square Enix / LongplayArchive

Perhaps the most universally adored part of Kingdom Hearts is composer Yoko Shimomura’s incredible score. It perfectly marries tributes to the Disney source material with an emotional earnestness that has perfectly punctuated every world and moment. Melody of Memory, the latest game in the series, is a rhythm game that pays tribute to Shimomura’s work. Because this is a Kingdom Hearts game, it still has to tie into the story and have some big narrative reveal at the eleventh hour, but even with the contrived framing of searching through Kairi’s memories to facilitate a rhythm track, Melody of Memory is a delight to play and a reminder that Kingdom Hearts’ soundtrack is a stunning collection of compositions.

Kingdom Hearts III


Square Enix / RabidRetrospectGames

Part of me wants to be sympathetic to Kingdom Hearts III because after over a decade of fans waiting for another numbered entry, there was no game that could have reasonably met the lofty expectations Square Enix set itself up for by releasing spin-off after spin-off, building up both the series’ lore and the anticipation for a climactic conclusion. Sora, Donald, and Goofy’s latest Disney world-trotting adventure has some really standout moments. The Toy Story and Monsters Inc. worlds made great use of Pixar stories, and the Tangled chapter is a pretty lovingly crafted retelling of a modern classic. But there are some duds here, too. The Frozen world feels especially beholden to corporate chains that likely prevented the studio from riffing on the original story, and the Big Hero 6 world starts out strong but ends up completely contradicting core themes of the source material. Meanwhile, some of the returning worlds like Olympus and the Caribbean squander the opportunity to offer more exciting detours.

But overall, it feels like Kingdom Hearts falls victim to the unmanageable weight of expectations. Its attempts to wrap up every storyline the series had been setting up for nearly 20 years feel rushed in the eleventh hour; the floaty, button-mashy gameplay feels like it hadn’t learned much from the last decade of action RPGs; and its inclusion of the reliance on theme-park-based ride attacks becomes a burdensome bore. When Kingdom Hearts III hits, it really fucking hits. But too often, it can’t seem to get out of its own way.

Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days


Square Enix / Gamer’s Little Playground

Looking back, it’s kind of wild how well Kingdom Hearts II manages to introduce characters like Roxas and Axel without giving you the full rundown on their whole deal. But luckily, fans wouldn’t have to wait very long for them to get their own prequel game in 2009’s 358/2 Days. The DS game tells the story of Roxas coming up in the villainous Organization XIII, and introduces another fan favorite in Xion. Even for a DS game, 358/2 Days does a pretty solid job at recreating the Kingdom Hearts series’ action, and lets you play as multiple characters from across the series, each with distinct playstyles. It’s sadly not playable in modern remasters, as the 1.5 Remix compilation only includes its cutscenes so newcomers can familiarize themselves with its story. But at the time, it was a solid effort to bring the series to the DS, and proved, like Chain of Memories before it, that the non-numbered Kingdom Hearts games could have substance and be vital pieces of the overarching puzzle.

Kingdom Hearts Dream Drop Distance


Square Enix / SevuhnElevuhn

2012’s Dream Drop Distance was the final setup game before Kingdom Hearts III, and it manages to spin a lot of meaningful character development into weighty lore dumps, though the latter sure takes some time to show up. Unlike a lot of other spin-offs, Dream Drop Distance isn’t as reliant on old worlds, is one of the best versions of Kingdom Hearts’ combat on a handheld, and properly sets Sora on a path to personal growth in Kingdom Hearts III. It took several years for Square Enix to follow up on its world-shattering cliffhangers buried after a lot of filler, but Dream Drop Distance was a reminder that when Kingdom Hearts has intention, the team can cook. It also gave us the iconic scene of Mickey getting choked out by Xemnas. Your fave could never.

Kingdom Hearts Chain of Memories


Square Enix / LongplayArchive

This will probably be one of the more controversial placements on this list, but this is my party and I’ll stan Chain of Memories if I want to. Chain of Memories, the Game Boy Advance deck-building game, set the standard for what Kingdom Hearts would become. Sora’s trek through Castle Oblivion is the first spin-off and establishes that every Kingdom Hearts game would matter in the long run. Kingdom Hearts II’s opening hours make zero sense if you haven’t played Chain of Memories, and even after it’s made its own introductions, so much of the sequel (and the franchise at large) is building off of it nearly 20 years later. The Riku route you unlock after beating the game? A cultural reset.

On top of setting the tone for the rest of the franchise, Chain of Memories is an incredibly underrated deck builder. The cards you have inform your combos, abilities, and strategies within an action game framework that was pretty impressive for the GBA. Its sprite work is still gorgeous to this day, and god, I wish the original was more readily available. Chain of Memories was remade for the PlayStation 2 as Re: Chain of Memories, which does away with the 2D style for something that resembles the original game on console. That’s the version that has been ported to every system under the sun, and it is, in my opinion, far inferior. Sure, it’s got voice acting and some mechanical tweaks, but it’s not the same, dammit.

Kingdom Hearts


Square Enix / RabidRetrospectGames

I don’t believe the “Kingdom Hearts is too complicated” meme, but looking back at the series’ twists, turns, and retcons, there’s something refreshing about how straightforward that original PlayStation 2 game was. Sora’s debut has issues. It’s a poster child for finicky cameras of the era and the Gummi Ship mini-game is dreadfully dull, but man, remember what it felt like hearing “Simple and Clean” for the first time? That ending was the first time a video game made me cry, and the waterworks have not stopped since.

The original Kingdom Hearts is still one of the best deliveries on the Disney crossover concept. As the series has gone on, the Disney worlds have started to feel like an afterthought as Square Enix has prioritized the series’ own lore. But Sora and concepts like the Heartless and Keyblade were so well integrated into those stories that seeing the childlike wonder of that first game fall to the background makes the original game feel like the calm before the storm. Kingdom Hearts IV seems to be expanding this universe even further, so it’s unlikely we’ll ever see something this pure out of the series again.

Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep


Square Enix / goodgamez

Birth by Sleep on the PlayStation Portable was a paradigm shift for the Kingdom Hearts franchise. The prequel completely recontextualizes everything we know about the universe, all while introducing three new, beloved heroes in Terra, Aqua, and Ventus. Birth by Sleep is a dense, tragic setup for what would come in the years between it and Kingdom Hearts III, and somehow managed to introduce characters fans have come to love as much as its original trio.

Even on the PlayStation Portable, Birth by Sleep is a solid recreation of Kingdom Hearts’ spectacle with some interesting accommodations for the handheld’s lack of buttons. It’s also home to some of the best mini-games in the series, which has been fraught territory for Kingdom Hearts over the years. The best parts of it shine even brighter on consoles in the 2.5 HD Remix collection.

Kingdom Hearts II


Square Enix / goodgamez

You ever feel like you’re still in search of a high a game made you feel as a child? Kingdom Hearts II is one of those games. To this day, Kingdom Hearts II is the full package of the best parts of the franchise. Soundtrack? 10/10. The action-based combat’s blend of style and substance? Unmatched. The compelling melodrama mixing Final Fantasy, Disney, and the original characters? Imprinted on my soul.

Kingdom Hearts II remains the series’ highest high. It successfully knocks down every pin the first game and Chain of Memories sets up, has memorable Disney worlds like Mulan, Tron, and The Lion King (Sora’s lion transformation is iconic), and also features some incredible action set pieces like the final boss run in which Sora and Riku take down Xemnas. If you grew up with this game like I did, tell me you weren’t thinking of that fight as you were playing the final fight of Final Fantasy VII Rebirth. That shit was unforgettable. But also unforgettable was the debrief between Sora and Riku that follows, in which the series’ two leads finally reach an understanding after three games of being rivals. God, it’s perfect, and leads into a similarly perfect ending.

There’s probably a universe in which Kingdom Hearts ended after II and was largely remembered as a near-universally beloved action RPG series that escalated into darker, more complex territory in the sequel. Even as it introduces new concepts and characters, Kingdom Hearts II is pretty reasonable as a sequel before every spin-off that followed built Kingdom Hearts III into an Avengers-level crossover event. Kingdom Hearts II is the pinnacle of what the series could have been, and while I’m not mad that it’s continued, I do feel like as the series has gone on, it has gotten less succinct in its themes, mechanics, and the worlds it’s explored. Now that Kingdom Hearts III has concluded one story, I guess we’ll see if the series can peel back those layers and scale back to something this pure. But even if it doesn’t, Kingdom Hearts II is a summation of the best things the franchise has ever done.

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