We now live in a world where Kingdom Hearts III has been released to the masses. After a fourteen-year-long wait after Kingdom Hearts II, fans all over the world were able to get their hands on the fabled Kingdom Hearts III. However, despite the numbering, Kingdom Hearts III is not the third installment in the series. There were several titles release in between Kingdom Hearts II and III. Most of these games are generally quality games, but there are some mediocre entries as well.
Of all the games though, which one’s the best?
Best Kingdom Hearts Games Ranked
Of course, every fan has their own opinion; this piece will be all about my preferred ranking of the Kingdom Hearts games. I do love the franchise, yet it doesn’t mean I need to enjoy everything about it.
Before I properly start my list, here are some honorable mentions. Kingdom Hearts χ, which would later become Unchained χ and Union χ, is a mobile game that takes place before and after the ancient Keyblade war. Players create their Keyblade wielder and join one of five unions. Each set of chapters has you traverse the many Disney Worlds.
For a mobile game, it is entirely serviceable, if not reasonably repetitive. The game only has a small selection of Disney worlds to travel in, with tiny areas to explore in these Disney worlds. The main story stuff is also spread out very thin throughout the game’s hundreds of chapters. The story is really interesting, if not complicated. It adds in new lore for the franchise, while at the same time making it even more confusing.
You will need to play through dozens of chapters to get to an important story cutscene. With that said, it’s still a mobile game. The story may be engaging and more thought out than most mobile games; it is still a mobile game nonetheless. I decided not to include it on the official ranking since it isn’t a game. It’s a mobile game, and I think that is all the information you need to understand it.
Another honorable mention goes to Kingdom Hearts 0.2: Birth by Sleep – A Fragmentary Passage. A brief “episode” that was released in the Kingdom Hearts 2.8 collection, Fragmentary Passage is more of a demo for Kingdom Hearts III rather than its own game. You can finish it in an hour or two.
However, it is beautiful and polished hour or two of gameplay. As a sneak peeks to Kingdom Hearts III, Fragmentary Passage was able to show off the upgraded graphics and gameplay mechanics that III would have. It looks and plays great. You also get to play as Aqua from Birth by Sleep, and that’s always a plus in my book. Sadly though the game is nothing more than a glorified demo; it isn’t a full game, and I don’t think it deserves to be on this ranking.
Before Kingdom Hearts χ was a thing, there was Kingdom Hearts Coded. Coded was another mobile title in the franchise. The game would be redeveloped and ported onto the DS as Kingdom Hearts Re:coded. Re:coded uses similar graphics as seen in 358/2, and it looks pretty impressive for the time.
However, the gameplay is very slow and boring. Data-Sora, a data version of our beloved hero, moves so sluggishly, and battles aren’t fast or exciting. The enemy and boss variety is limited, and there are only a handful of worlds to travel in.
The story of Re:coded is also not very good. While the story of Kingdom Hearts, in general, is a make it or break it kind of thing among players, I’ve always been engaged by the series’ narrative. Re:coded’s story is the only one that I feel is entirely pointless, and it isn’t as entertaining as the others.
To be fair to Re:coded, there are some highlights within the game. The game does end with Data-Sora fighting against a pissed off Data-Roxas, and that was pretty cool. Ultimately, the game is not necessary. Future titles will make references to the events of Re:coded, making it confusing for gamers who haven’t experience the story of Re:coded. Despite that, nothing of importance was established in the game, which is odd considering how the entire franchise prides itself with having every game be a vital piece in understanding the bigger picture.
Re:coded is a completely skippable entry in a series that shouldn’t have any skippable games.
7. Chain of Memories/Re: Chain of Memories
The first sequel in the series, Chain of Memories was released on the Gameboy Advance a mere two years after the first game. The main appeal for the game was that it allowed Gameboy Advance owners to play Kingdom Hearts I essentially. If you didn’t have a PlayStation 2 as I did, this allowed you to play all the same Disney worlds that the first game had.
Except Chain of Memories had its own original story, and the gameplay was very different. Rather than be a standard hack and slash RPG, you’re given a deck of cards. Each card is an action, and once you run out of cards, you need to reload your deck. There are other complexities within the game’s mechanics, which includes having to open new rooms with cards that have the right amount of numbers.
The gameplay is tough to get into, and it isn’t very rewarding. The game isn’t necessarily super hard. However, the hard moments are challenging and frustrating. Bosses are always better than you no matter how much you grind.
The main plot centers on Sora traveling the different floors in the mysterious Castle Oblivion. The stories dealing with Disney Worlds is painfully dull. It is pretty much a rehash of Kingdom Hearts I story, except more boring.
With that said, the original stuff at Castle Oblivion is pretty fascinating. The idea that our emotions and hearts are tied to our memories is genuinely compelling, in its own Kingdom Hearts way. The game also introduces important characters like Namine and Organization XIII. The Organization would be significant antagonists in the franchise and are some of the best aspects in the entire series.
The gameplay in Chain of Memories is still a big hurdle to overcome for some people, and the story that deals with the Disney worlds are not interesting at all. The PS2 remake, Re: Chain of Memories, makes the game more accessible, but it doesn’t make it an overall better experience. When it comes to Chain of Memories, I often suggest to people to watch the cutscenes online.
6. 358/2 Days
The story of Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days is a tragedy. There is no other way to describe it; from Roxas induction to Organization XIII to him waking up in Twilight Town with false memories, the game is about the tragic nature of Roxas.
The game details the events that surround the character Roxas, during the year between Kingdom Hearts I and II. While a member in Organization XIII, Roxas bonds with his fellow members Axel, and the mysterious fourteenth member Xion. Most of the game is about the trio bonding while carrying out missions for the Organization until it reaches its inevitably tragic conclusion.
The game does a great job making you care about Roxas, Axel, and Xion. You genuinely grow to like them, which makes their inevitable schism all the more dreadful. The game ends where Kingdom Hearts II begins, but with a new perspective. We now know what Roxas lost, which makes his situation in II all the more depressing.
The story is without a doubt the best thing about 358/2. The actual gameplay in the game feels like a chore. It isn’t as fast or deep as Kingdom Hearts II gameplay, and there are a lot of repetitive missions/chapters. You end up mostly just destroying Heartless in different Disney Worlds, and you never really do much outside of that.
Even though I didn’t like the gameplay that much in 358/2, I still finished it when I was young. I needed to know the outcome of my favorite characters, and I end up weepy. The game is worth playing for the story alone.
5. Dream Drop Distance
Release early in the 3DS life spam; Kingdom Hearts Dream Drop Distance show off the impressive hardware that the 3DS was capable of achieving. The graphics for a handheld is impressive, and the Disney worlds in Dream Drop Distance were huge.
The game also introduced flowmotion, which allowed you to interact with the world to help traverse it more quickly and help deal more damage to enemies. With flowmotion, you can jump on walls, and bounce your way through an entire Disney world.
Dream Drop Distance is all about Sora and Riku taking the marks of Mastery exam to become Keyblade masters. They need to awaken a few “sleeping” worlds in the land of dreams. During their travels, they encounter old enemies and get involved in a bigger conspiracy.
Ultimately the game is just a lead-in to Kingdom Hearts III. It introduces and re-introduces characters that would be major players in the final part of the self-titled Xehanort trilogy. A lot of the dialogue of Dream Drop Distance is pretty obtuse. A great deal of the dialogue is so ludicrous it is at times hard to understand what is going on. Eventually, you do understand the story by the end of it, though honestly I still don’t know if I like it or not.
The Disney worlds are mostly solid choices. I always love seeing Tron in Kingdom Hearts, and it is great to see a childhood favorite like Hunchback of Notre Dame in this game. They even have The Three Musketeers, and that was a direct-to-DVD movie.
However, the worlds are empty and big. There isn’t much to do in them, and they take forever to walk around in. It makes the game feel a little annoying, if not just slightly tepid. The game also has a weird mechanic where you need to switch between Sora and Riku at certain time frames.
Overall Dream Drop Distance is a mostly solid game in the franchise. It may not be as great as the franchise’s best, but it is a lot better than some of the other titles.
Oh, I forgot to mention that you can collect creatures called Dream Eaters in Dream Drop Distance. It is just like Pokémon, and they become a part of your party and fight for you. That’s pretty rad.
4. Birth By Sleep
Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep is a prequel game release on the PSP, and it takes place ten years before the events of Kingdom Hearts I. Birth by Sleep is often lauded by fans as having some of the best gameplay in the franchise, and I tend to agree.
The gameplay is different enough from the mainline games that it makes Birth by Sleep unique. You have a deck of commands that allow you to do a specific action. You can still swing at your opponents with your Keyblade, while the commands are more complex actions and magic.
You also get three different campaigns in this game, starring three entirely new characters. You travel through the same set of Disney worlds. However, each character has a different perspective. Certain areas in the Disney worlds are also exclusive to each main character, making each campaign feel different.
For a PSP game, the game looks terrific. Some the backgrounds may look bland, yet the character models and enemy variety are impressive to see on a handheld.
The game loses me when it comes to the story, particularly when it comes to the main characters. Whereas Aqua is the MVP of the game, Terra and Ventus are a lot blander. Terra’s descent into darkness is compelling on paper, but his English voice acting leaves much to desire. Ventus, who looks exactly like Roxas for no good reason*, has a strange backstory with an even stranger main storyline.
The Disney worlds in the game are also some of the weakest in the entire series. They are not that fun to travel in, and the storylines in the Disney worlds are pretty shallow.
The main villains in the game are great though. Vanitas is the edgelord character we all dreamt of during our high school days, yet somehow still works as a cool antagonist. The late, great Leonard Nimoy plays Master Xehanort with an elegance that is often not seen in the franchise. He cherishes playing the villain, and it shows.
Birth by Sleep is an excellent game in the franchise, and I recommend it to every fan in the series, don’t overthink about the plot.
*Yes I know there’s a reason why they look the same, I think it’s dumb and not necessary.
3. Kingdom Hearts
There are a lot of things that don’t hold up with the original Kingdom Hearts game. Many fans now find the camera to be unbearable, though personally when I replayed the game, I have none of those issues.
Some of the graphics are little clunky now, yet I would argue that the game doesn’t look bad at all. The Disney worlds look like they are rift directly out of the movies. The character models are on point, and the settings look good.
The game also has what I believe is the best Kingdom Hearts story. You are introduced to Sora, and his friends Riku and Kairi. Sora gets separated from his friends and needs to travel through the many different Disney worlds to find them.
You are introduced to all the main characters, and none of it feels overwhelming. You find out what a Keyblade is, what are heartless, and why the different Disney worlds are separated. Everything in this game was so clean and straightforward, and later entries would muddle the whole thing with their complexities and convolution.
While the story of Kingdom Hearts is pretty straightforward and is aimed towards younger fans, there is enough pathos within the narrative to make the story pretty engaging. It isn’t as dark or mature as Kingdom Hearts II or 358/2 Days, but it doesn’t need to be. It is excellent for what it is.
It is also the only Kingdom Hearts game where the Disney worlds matter in the plot. The different Disney villains served as the main villains for most of the game. For future titles in the series, the Disney worlds will essentially become nothing more than filler in terms of story development.
The actual gameplay of the first Kingdom Hearts game is also simple, almost to a fault. Even though there can be a lot of depth within the combat, most of it comes down to you merely swinging your Keyblade at your opponents. The game also feels a little sluggish compared to later entries in the franchise, which makes it somewhat frustrating to come back to. Some of the bosses are also unnecessarily hard, especially the dragon Maleficent fight.
Despite all the faults and how outdated it can be, the first Kingdom Hearts game is still a magical experience.
When it comes to gameplay and graphics, Kingdom Hearts III is the clear winner in my mind. The most recent entry on this list, III was a highly anticipated game for almost a decade and a half. Fans around the world were waiting to get their hands on III ever since II was released in 2005.
Was the wait worth it? In my heart, most definitely yes!
The game is so, very, polished. It runs smoothly and looks so very beautifully. The combat is fast and fluid, unlike the sluggishness as seen in other entries on this list. There may have been only seven Disney worlds to explore in this time, but they are all filled with so much content. All the worlds are vast and are full of mini-games and collectibles. The worlds at times feel a little bit too big, but they are so many details in the backgrounds and character models that it is hard to complain.
Everything about the game on a technical standpoint is impressive, I highly recommend people to play it. The main issue with the game comes from the content that doesn’t involve the Disney worlds, which includes the story.
By the time III was released, there were several games in the series building up to the inevitable conflict between Sora and Master Xehanort. III is the end of the Xehanort saga and is meant to deliver an epic finale that has been in the making for almost two decades. Sadly though, the ending falls a little flat.
Whereas Kingdom Hearts I and II went all out with their final worlds and bosses, Kingdom Hearts III the last section is relatively weak. You fight a giant ship, and a dragon in the previous Kingdom Hearts games and the final worlds in those games have the gravitas that you would want in a game’s climax.
The final world in III is not impressive at all, and the final conflict with the villains is somewhat lacking. It is also doesn’t help that the story has some serious pacing issues, which includes having most of the major plot points happen at the very end. The story also felt more fan fiction-y; I got the impression that the writers decided to adopt a “Screw it, we’re bringing back everybody” mentality during the writing process. One particular character is suddenly brought back to the story at the end, and I never been as exasperated with anything in a game than that character being back.
This is not to say I dislike the story or felt disappointed by it like some fans have expressed. It’s satisfying to see a lot of plot elements get resolve, and there are still a lot of emotional moments in the game. I also really like how they set up future installments with new mysteries and lore.
The game is super easy, even on the hardest difficulty, which is excellent for those that don’t want to have a challenge in a game. However, it sucks for anyone who does want challenges in their games. There’s also not a lot of post-game content, which is unusual since the franchise is known for having a lot of post-game content.
Again, on a technical level, Kingdom Hearts III is phenomenal. It is the best game in the franchise in terms of playing it, and visually. The story may lack the ambition that Kingdom Hearts II has, yet it still has plenty of therapeutic moments for fans who’ve been waiting for years to see the Xehanort saga end.
1. Kingdom Hearts II
In a lot of ways, the only thing that I was genuinely disappointed with Kingdom Hearts III is that it wasn’t able to surpass Kingdom Hearts II. However, Kingdom Hearts II has set a drastically high bar that I can’t imagine can be exceeded by anytime soon.
Kingdom Hearts II takes everything from the first game and makes it better. The combat is better, the graphics are better, and the story is more engaging. While II was when the franchise started becoming more contrived, the plot was also darker and more ambition.
The game forces you to play as a new character named Roxas at the beginning, which makes you question where Sora is. Then Roxas disappears, and you are left wondering where Roxas is for the rest of the game. It is a strong narrative hook, and it mostly succeeds thanks to Roxas’ likability.
There are some genuinely good plot twists as well, with Organization XIII being great new villains. Each member of the Organization is interesting, and their boss fights are some of the best in the franchise. The robes that the members wear have become one of the series of icons.
The game ultimately climaxes with one of the best original worlds in the game and an epic confrontation with the remaining Organization members. The ending has you destroying tall buildings, and fighting against a dragon. It is all over-the-top and awesome!
The combat in the game is a more fluid and polish version of Kingdom Hearts I, with added depths. Not only is the fighting faster, but there’s also action commands that allow you to strike certain enemies in a particular way. Magic casting is more refined in this game, and the Gummi Ship sections do not make you want to pull your eyes out, unlike in the first game.
Most importantly, Kingdom Hearts II has a lot of amazing moments. From Roxas sadly confessing his summer vacation is over, to the battle against a thousand Heartless, to the final battle with the final boss. This game has so many awesome moments. My personal favorite is the scene where the Final Fantasy characters help Sora fight through the army of Heartless in Hollow Bastion.
Everything in this game works on so many levels, at least for me it does. The gameplay feels so solid to me, even after all these years. I know there are a lot of things to make fun of the story in Kingdom Hearts II. Nonetheless, the pathos gets to me. Even after all the sequels, I still believe Kingdom Hearts II is the best in the franchise.