How to play the Kingdom Hearts games in chronological order

It’s complicated.

Image via Square Enix

Anyone who tells you that Kingdom Hearts’ story is simple is lying. Square Enix has created a rich, complex narrative that spans 20 years and nearly as many games — more if you count all the re-releases and special collections that have been packaged together over the last two decades. We’re not here to tell you the whole story, but if you want a generally spoiler-free breakdown of all the games in chronological order, we’ve got you covered.

Related: How to play the Assassin’s Creed games in order

Kingdom Hearts χ Back Cover

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This isn’t actually a game, but the feature-length animation is required viewing if you want the entire story of the series. It tells the tale of the oldest Keyblade wielders in the timeline, known as Foretellers. These include Ava, Ira, and Gula.

Kingdom Hearts χ

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The events of Back Cover lead into χ (pronounced “chi,” like the Greek letter), a browser game that sees multiple Keyblade factions battling the Heartless. Players can create their own Keyblade wielder and choose which faction of Foretellers to join.

Kingdom Hearts Union χ Dark Road

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This game has been rebranded a few times, but it’s essentially the mobile version of χ, continuing the events of that game and explaining how Xehanort became the big bad of the franchise. It’s also the first appearance of Master Eraqus.

Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep

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Speaking of Eraqus, Birth by Sleep is a story split across his three apprentices: Aqua, Terra, and Ventus. The three of them have parallel quests in various Disney worlds as they seek to become Keyblade masters themselves. Xehanort and his apprentice Vanitas are also there to cause trouble.

Kingdom Hearts

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The fifth game on this list was the first one to release in the real world. This is the introduction of the series’ central hero Sora, the antihero Riku and their companion Kairi. It’s where Sora first teamed up with Goofy and Donald and learned about the existence of other worlds under threat.

Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days

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That isn’t the number you’d expect to come after one, but that’s because this game and Chain of Memories both take place before Kingdom Hearts 2 kicks off. In this case, the focus is on Roxas, who spends one week shy of a year (hence the name) going on missions with Organization XIII.

Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories

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On Sora’s side, our leading lad spent that near-year lying dormant, having his memories scrambled. Chain of Memories is a scattered retelling of the first game mixed with an adventure inside Organization XIII’s home base, Castle Oblivion. Importantly, it also introduced the card-based battle system that was tweaked in some later games.

Kingdom Hearts II

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Kingdom Hearts 2 begins with that remaining week after 358/2 Days and Chain of Memories, starting with Roxas before players resume control of Sora. What follows is another series of adventures through Disney worlds, battling members of Organization XIII along the way.

Kingdom Hearts: Coded

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Kingdom Hearts Coded was the first time the series dabbled in mobile games, providing more puzzle elements than the regular battle system. This glitched-out retelling of the first game is a side effect of Sora’s memory scramble from Chain of Memories, but it also serves to create more of a link between 358/2 Days’ and Birth by Sleep’s characters.

Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance

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Just as the Birth by Sleep trio had to pass their final exams to become Keyblade masters, so Master Yen Sid puts Sora and Riku through similar trials. This game tells two sides of that story, as both heroes visit alternate versions of all-new worlds on their quest to prepare for the battles ahead.

Kingdom Hearts 0.2 Birth by Sleep -A Fragmentary Passage-

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This bonus chapter was first included in Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue, serving as a prologue to Kingdom Hearts 3. In it, Aqua goes through abbreviated versions of the Birth by Sleep worlds before finding herself in the Realm of Darkness, where she meets Mickey.

Kingdom Hearts III

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Sora failed his Mark of Mastery exam at the height of Kingdom Hearts 3D, setting up the events of 3. He starts a new journey at Olympus Coliseum, meeting with Hercules, a hero who also once lost his powers. As Sora visits further worlds to regain what he’s lost, Master Yen Sid begins gathering seven Keyblade warriors to fight the coming darkness; this squad includes the aforementioned Aqua. The climax of the game starts looping in characters first introduced during the Foreteller era as well.

Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory

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This rhythm-game spinoff is yet another retelling of the events thus far, as Sora, Goofy, and Donald parade through previous worlds and battle along to various music tracks. It’s narrated by Kairi, during the time when she’s undergoing Keyblade training herself.

Kingdom Hearts: Missing Link

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At this stage, Kingdom Hearts: Missing link is the most mysterious entry in the series — we’re still waiting for a final release date. We know that it’s set in Scala ad Caelum, the climactic world from Kingdom Hearts 3, presumably leading into the beginning of 4. It is set in the Foreteller era, but this still feels like the best place in the chronology, to put it for now.

Kingdom Hearts IV

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Finally, we arrive at Kingdom Hearts 4. We know so little about this title: its release date is completely up in the air, and we don’t expect to hear anything concrete for a while. At the very least, we know it’ll feature the world of Quadratum.