Kingdom Hearts 3 comes out this month. That’s a sentence in my twenty-two years of living I never could see myself getting to say. It’s been an extremely long wait, one that has taken place over the course of 13 exhausting years of my short life. But the ride has been an exhilarating one, to say the least. The journey has never felt overwhelmingly bleak as Square Enix has continuously indulged my thirst for Kingdom Hearts titles during the time between Kingdom Hearts 2 and 3. Now as Kingdom Hearts 3 is upon us, I thought I would look back on all 8 mainline Kingdom Hearts titles and rank them in one list to rule them all.
There is a little bit of confusion that I want to address before diving into this list. There have been many iterations and remakes of Kingdom Hearts titles so for a sake of clarity I will only be ranking the following entries:
- Kingdom Hearts Final Mix
- Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories
- Kingdom Hearts 2 Final Mix
- Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days
- Kingdom Hearts Re: Coded
- Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep
- Kingdom Hearts Dream Drop Distance
- Kingdom Hearts 0.2: Birth by Sleep- A Fragmentary Passage
Games like the GBA version of Chain of Memories and the phone version of Coded have been left out of contention as they are arguably the obsolete versions of their respective titles. The mobile game Kingdom Hearts X is being excluded because I don’t view it as a main entry in the franchise, whereas all the above titles are necessary for understanding the story of Kingdom Hearts. I could also see the case for leaving A Fragmentary Passage off of the list, but I personally believe it should be left on as it is substantial in getting fans used to Kingdom Hearts 3’s combat system before release and features a solid bridge between two major timelines taking place in the series.
I will be ranking each game based solely on my own subjective opinions. This list does not take into account the importance of the game to the overall series or how popular the game is for hardcore Kingdom Hearts fans. I will be focusing on how much I personally enjoy the game from a gameplay, and story standpoint, though those two factors are multifaceted. Without further adieu, let’s jump into the number 8 spot!
WARNING: THIS LIST CONTAINS SOME LIGHT SPOILERS. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
8. Kingdom Hearts Re: Coded
Kingdom Hearts Re: Coded is not a bad game. There I said it. It’s an extremely misunderstood game that gets railed for being extremely inconsequential to the overall Kingdom Hearts lore, but it by no means commits any grave sins that make it an egregious time to play. In a series as fabled as Kingdom Hearts and with one that has as many entries as it does, it is not surprising that one title is going to be almost unanimously considered the weakest entry. But the fact that Re: Coded is that for the Kingdom Hearts series does say a great deal about the strength of the franchise.
Kingdom Hearts Re: Coded takes many of the lessons from previous titles, like the command deck battle system and adds a myriad of different gameplay types on top of it to make Re: Coded actually a pretty interesting play through. Where the game falls extremely short is in its story. Kingdom Hearts side games have always done a great job of building out the world and adding meaningful characters and story bits. But, Re: Coded is clearly lacking in that department. As someone who mainly enjoys Kingdom Hearts for the story, Re: Coded is the only title I think is easily skippable thus far, which is the main reason why it lands at the bottom of the list.
7. Kingdom Hearts 0.2: Birth by Sleep- A Fragmentary Passage
Kingdom Hearts 0.2: Birth by Sleep- A Fragmentary Passage (pauses to catch breath) is a great little tease but nothing more. After not having a Kingdom Hearts game since 2012, I remember salivating at the mouth for literally anything to do with the series. A Fragmentary Passage hit all the right notes to appease that hunger, for the time being, offering up a bite-sized story and flashy next-gen gameplay. It also focused on one of my favorite characters in the series, Aqua, which made it all the more enjoyable.
When it comes to gameplay, Kingdom Hearts: 0.2: Birth by Sleep- A Fragmentary Passage restored a bit of faith in the series for me. As I will discuss later, some of the more recent titles have made questionable gameplay changes that don’t exactly sit well with me. With those in mind, I feared that Kingdom Hearts 3 would carry over these changes making for a worse experience. With A Fragmentary Passage featuring gameplay that was said to be very similar to what could be expected in Kingdom Hearts 3, I was pleasantly surprised to find a ton of potential. It was flashy, simplistic but not basic, and challenging. It still played a little bit floaty, but it seems like even that has been addressed for Kingdom Hearts 3, so I will give it a pass since Square Enix has clearly learned from that mistake.
The main reason it ranks so low on this list is because of its brevity and lack of meaningful story. A Fragmentary Passage adequately links Birth By Sleep and Kingdom Hearts 1 together but does little in the way of changing what we know going into Kingdom Hearts 3. We already knew Aqua was stuck in the realm of darkness, and that didn’t change here. We’ve honestly gotten more information on her status from Kingdom Hearts 3 trailers than we did in the entirety of A Fragmentary Passage. For that reason, it ranks towards the bottom of the list, even though I do greatly appreciate the time I had with this game and how it kept me sane during the wait for Kingdom Hearts 3.
6. Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance
Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance, or 3D for the OG fans, is the first game on this list that I would put in the “great” category. From here on out I can honestly say I love every game on this list. Dream Drop Distance falls this low on the list because it goes against what I said earlier about the story being my favorite part of Kingdom Hearts games. The gameplay is what truly shines in Dream Drop Distance, making it stand out as one of the more memorable entries in the franchise.
In Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance, the gameplay goes a million miles a minute. The addition of Flow Motion, allowing Sora and Riku to fly off of walls to traverse the world and slam into enemies in combat encounters. It’s immediately novel, but never really gets old throughout the play through. Add the command deck and the Dream Eater party abilities to the already frantic gameplay, and you’ve got what I consider to be a system that is rather easy to master and enjoy while remaining engaging.
The one gripe I have with the gameplay comes from the infamous Drop system. Forcing you to change from Sora to Riku on a time system seems like an idea that needed a little more time in the oven, but was kept in anyway. It likely was put in to force players to not favor one character over the other but ended up only causing confusion and frustration. There was nothing worse than being dropped in the middle of a boss fight. Nothing.
The story in Dream Drop Distance is one that I wish I could erase. It was the first game with substantial story information taking place in the timeline after Kingdom Hearts 2 so I couldn’t have been more excited. What I got was an absolute mess that set an unstable platform for Kingdom Hearts 3 to work off of. The Mark of Mastery exam for Sora and Riku was an amazing idea that that was ruined and overshadowed by the addition of time travel to the series, changing all the rules of the universe as we knew it. I have never thought of Kingdom Hearts’ story as confusing, but time travel doesn’t do much to help the case that it isn’t. I still don’t think it does enough to tank the game overall, but I do think it has one of the more lackluster stories in the series. Which makes it land at the number 6 spot on this list
5. Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep
I can already feel the potential hate that I am going to receive for this radiating through my computer screen. Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep often ranks in the top 2 or 3 for many Kingdom Hearts fans, which is something I completely understand. As I said before, everything from here on out is a great or better game. That is especially true about Birth by Sleep. I credit Birth by Sleep for having one of the best stories in the franchise and for introducing some of my favorite characters. Aqua, Terra, and Ven along with Master Eraqus stand toe to toe with the original cast, which is no easy task. All of the main crew are complex individuals with rich stories and defining quirks. In a game where you play as 3 different protagonists, I never felt like one stood solely above the rest as Birth By Sleep made me fall in love with each one of these wonderful people. That made it all the more gut-wrenching to see their lives torn apart by the end.
Going into Birth by Sleep. With the information I knew from the other games, it was obvious that it wasn’t going to end well for Aqua, Terra, and Ven. But I didn’t expect it to be as frankly brutal as it was. As credits rolled, I was shaken by how bleak the story leaves off, making the wait for Kingdom Hearts 3 to find out how their conflict is resolved all the more painful.
From a gameplay standpoint, Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep falters in a big way. It added a ton of ideas that would remain a staple of the series for all of its future entries that I’m not exactly a fan of. The command deck is something that I’ve come to terms with and forced myself to enjoy, but I still believe the series would be better off without its inclusion as the combat in Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts 2 is much better. This stems from the idea that the command deck makes the game far too easy to exploit, making many combat encounters too easy. Along with a few other unnecessary changes, like the D-Link system (which no one used) and the Shotlock commands that feel like an afterthought, it feels like all the gameplay systems in Birth by Sleep were a mad experiment gone awry. I for one am ecstatic that it seems that Square Enix has learned from this and is only taking the bits that work into Kingdom Hearts 3.
My last bit of criticism comes from the lack of meaningful and empty worlds. One of my favorite aspects of Kingdom Hearts is getting to explore the Disney worlds, but somehow the offerings in Birth By Sleep are some of the worst in the series. Each world feels so lifeless and empty that even standouts like Lilo and Stitch feel extremely lackluster. This is only worsened by the fact that you have to go to each one 3 times, making the issue stand out further. I know that this stems from the fact that the PSP was not suited for robust worlds, but if you play it today on PS4, this issue is made all the more noticeable.
It may seem like since I have a lot of criticisms about Birth by Sleep and that I dislike it, but I want to state one more time that I still adore this game. I think it’s a testament to how good the story is that even with all my criticisms about the gameplay and worlds, that I still adore Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep, and that is why it lands at the number 5 spot on my list.
4. Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories
What can I say? I’m a sucker for card-based combat systems! Okay, it’s not just that I love about Chain of Memories, but it is one of the main reasons. From here on out, I truly believe that we are in close to perfect territory. Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories has one of my favorite Kingdom Hearts stories, and some of the deepest combat in the franchise.
Let’s start with the story. Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories is often overlooked by fans as an unnecessary side story that can easily be skipped. Those fans are absolutely wrong. Chain of Memories tells an extremely gripping story that should not be skipped by anyone, especially if you want to understand Kingdom Hearts 2. Focusing on Sora in Castle Oblivion as he slowly loses his memories but doesn’t care because he needs to help Namine gives us one of the best looks at how pure Sora’s heart is and the lengths he is willing to go to save anyone. As his mind crumbles we are introduced to many of the best members of Organization XIII, which is still the best addition to the series to date. Seeing characters like Marluxia, Vexen, and Larxene for the first time and watching Sora take them down one by one as his mind crumbles is not only captivating but perfectly sets up Kingdom Hearts 2.
Oh, and did I mention that Chain of Memories has two main stories! After completing Sora’s story, which is a fully featured and lengthy Kingdom Hearts entry, the game opens up Riku’s path to play through. Riku’s story is just as necessary to the overall plot and remains one of my favorite childhood surprises. Getting to the end of Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories and finding a whole second characters’ shoes to step into was a shock and something that remains a treat to this day.
Not many people contest that Chain of Memories story is at least good, but the main source of contention comes from the card combat system. Instead of the typical hack and slash gameplay we had been used to up to this point, we had a hybrid between action RPG and a card game which left many Kingdom Hearts fans scratching their heads (including myself). This made me completely write the game off at first, only to discover a few years down the line that it was genius. Customizing your deck to your liking was so addicting and rewarding that I likely spent more than half of the game in the menus changing things up to better suit the current situation I was in. Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories doesn’t really feel all that different from what had come before. The cards just added another level of depth to the gameplay, which I’ve always appreciated. Mixing the stellar combat system and the engrossing story together make Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories land so high up on this list.
3. Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days
I’ve been dreading getting to this part of the list out of fear of backlash. This is going to be the hottest take, but I swear I’m not just putting 358 this high to be contentious. I just absolutely adore this game and I think it’s a standout among this legendary franchise.
How can a DS game that is widely considered one of the most unnecessary entries in the franchise rank this astronomically high on a list? Well, I love Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days for many of the same reasons I’ve stated for loving the other Kingdom Heart games but I think this entry does a lot of them better.
When it comes to story, Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days has the tall task of making us care about Roxas. Roxas is a character gets a lot of crap for being the character you play as for two long hours at the opening of Kingdom Hearts 2. He is widely resented because of this, and I find that to be absolutely tragic. Roxas is my favorite character in the Kingdom Hearts series, and his arc is so exceptionally powerful that he single-handedly propels 358 to the number 3 spot on my list. His relationship with Axel and Xion is the most fleshed out character bond we get in the series. We spend ample time just enjoying their company and growing together, making it all the more painful as it all falls apart. I mentioned this with Chain of Memories, but 358 also does a great job of making Kingdom Hearts 2 more meaningful. The opening sequence that almost everyone hated becomes the most powerful story bit in the series because of the growth we see for Roxas in this game. His time in the Organization is fascinating, melancholic, and gut-wrenching to the end.
Not only is the story fantastic, but the gameplay is perfectly suited for this style of game. The best way to enjoy 358/2 Days is to just live with the game. Don’t rush through it. Play it at a slow pace and savor each day. Doing a few missions at a time on the way to school or on your morning bus commute makes the game so perfectly digestible, and the developers clearly had that in mind. As each day is broken up by individual missions, it never demands that you devote too much time to a single play session. When you do sit down and crank out a few missions, you’ll find much of the same Kingdom Hearts gameplay but with the same customization twist that I mentioned for Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories. Here you customize Roxas by filling in a panel board of different magic attacks and healing items. Getting these things to fit in the Tetris like board was so addicting and fun that it made each mission all the more satisfying when I got the right combo to work. So yeah, I love 358/2. I know a lot of fans don’t, but I nevertheless think it deserves this spot on this list.
2. Kingdom Hearts 2
Kingdom Hearts 2 changed my life. I was finally maturing into an actual human when I got Kingdom Hearts 2, so I could finally fully understand stories and their power. Games had always just been a fun thing I did with my friends in my free time. But when I played Kingdom Hearts 2, my eyes were opened to how enraptured I could become with a game and its world. I had never beaten Kingdom Hearts when I first played the second entry as a child, but I became addicted anyways. From the day of putting this game into my PS2, I was hooked and there was no turning back.
Kingdom Hearts 2 is undeniably in the top tier of Kingdom Hearts games, even ignoring my nostalgia for the title. It takes a gigantic step in pushing boundaries of the story that the Kingdom Hearts universe was looking to develop while maintaining all of the heart (!!!) of the first entry. It explained the broad scale of the conflict that Sora was facing, pushed our protagonists further apart before finally bringing them back together, and gave us the most memorable Disney worlds to date. The intro with Roxas stands as the most tragic moment in the series. Getting the payoff of Riku and Sora finally reuniting after what felt like of an eternity of searching along with seeing Sora just break down crying remains a gut-punch even after seeing it a million times. And the final scene of Sora finally making it back home and keeping his promise of giving Kairi back her lucky charm gives me tingles all over my body to this day when I even think about it. This is all coupled with some of the tightest action RPG gameplay that the genre has to offer. Nailing combos while sprinkling in the addition of reaction commands makes Kingdom Hearts 2’s gameplay a marvel to just watch, let alone control. Kingdom Hearts 2 is as close to perfect as they come…well, there is one game that gets a bit closer.
1. Kingdom Hearts
Kingdom Hearts is still perfect. A game that should have never happened. Mixing Disney with Final Fantasy? Who’s bright idea was that. It still sounds like a silly idea to this day even in the context of how it turned out. I put Kingdom Hearts in the number 1 spot because it is the purest example of the franchise. A heartfelt, straightforward story with all the magic of Disney and Square mixed with rock solid gameplay.
For as much as I love how over the top Kingdom Hearts’ story has become, I can’t deny that Kingdom Hearts simplistic first outing tells the most immediately enjoyable and engrossing story in the franchise. A tale of a young boy thrust into great power taking on an evil dark force is a tale as old as time, but Kingdom Hearts presents it in such a unique and interesting way that I can’t help but think about how risky this game is. In a time where Square Enix was on the rocks and needed to knock it out of the park, they released a mature (and often times scary) story. A narrative that involves losing your home, the ones you love, being consumed by darkness and coming out the other side stronger. Kingdom Hearts taught me and many young kids that light can never be stomped out, a message that still resonates with me today. I play Kingdom Hearts at least once a year and am continuously blown away by how much it still captivates me with its story.
As an aside, Hollow Bastion and End of World are by far the best worlds in the Kingdom Hearts franchise by a mile. Come to mention it, all the worlds in the original Kingdom Hearts are so phenomenally well done that I have no complaints with the world list. It’s my favorite in the series, only adding to the reason why I think this game is the best in the series. And yes, that includes Atlantica. It’s not that bad guys.
Finally, the combat. Kingdom Hearts is not exactly an easy game. Sure you can button mash your way through a lot of encounters, but as the game progresses, boss fights become extremely difficult. Moving Sora in the right way, managing MP to maximize magic and healing, and praying that Donald will heal you at the right time makes the gameplay come to life. As the franchise has moved into more complex territory, I still find myself enjoying the simplistic yet challenging nature of the original’s gameplay. For these reasons, Kingdom Hearts is my favorite entry in the franchise and one that I think everyone should experience at least once!
Well, there you have it! Every Kingdom Hearts game ranked from worst to best. I’m sure you have a lot to say, so be sure to leave a comment below telling me what you think!