The Kingdom Hearts series is genuinely a blast—zipping around with your pals Donald and Goofy while dipping into different Disney-themed levels works a lot better than it sounds like it should. But for a game that's largely a wacky Disney/Final Fantasy crossover episode, Kingdom Hearts is incredibly dense with lore. Every single game is canon for some reason, and there are an awful lot of them.
With the entire series heading over to PC on March 30, it can be overwhelming knowing where to start. As PC Gamer's resident Kingdom Hearts nerd, I've whipped up a list of the games you should definitely play, the ones you can play, and the ones you can easily give a miss. I can't guarantee you'll understand the story even after playing through these games, but hopefully, it'll give you a damn good shot.
It's best to experience these games roughly where they released rather than where they lie chronologically on the often bonkers Kingdom Hearts timeline. A lot of the games rely on context from the ones that came before them, even if it's a prequel.
While this may seem largely obvious, I've made a point of calling it out because while Kingdom Hearts was the first game to release, it's not the first game chronologically. Birth By Sleep takes that title, but don't be tempted to dive into the prequel straight away. BBS relies on a lot of prior knowledge and context for the game's settings that aren't all that friendly for new players.
Kingdom Hearts, however, does a great job of setting the scene, giving you an idea of what's in store for the rest of the series. It's also a lot lighter on the convoluted narrative, things wouldn't really go loco until the sequels: so it's a more digestible experience for newcomers.
Kingdom Hearts 2
Widely regarded as one of the best Kingdom Hearts games, and my personal favourite, Kingdom Hearts 2 is where the crazy story really ramps up. There are more characters, more sub-stories and it's generally a lot more to take in than the previous mainline game.
Almost every spin-off game from here on out branches off from Kingdom Hearts 2 to some extent, and you'd be missing out on a mighty chunk of the story if you passed over this to head straight to Kingdom Hearts 3.
Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep
Birth By Sleep is easily one of the most important games you should be playing—for Kingdom Hearts 3 especially. Birth By Sleep takes place before the events of the original Kingdom Hearts, and every character from this game ends up taking on pretty big roles further down the line. Birth By Sleep is absolutely paramount to understanding what the hell is going on, and it helps that it's an absolute blast to play.
Ideally, play this after 358/2 days, but anytime between Kingdom Hearts 2 and Kingdom Hearts 3 should suffice.
Kingdom Hearts 3
The conclusion to the bloated story, Kingdom Hearts 3 goes out with a bang. It goes without saying that if you've made it through all the other games, you'd be daft to not see out its conclusion.
Kingdom Hearts 3 is one of the weaker games in my opinion, both for story and gameplay. But it does a half-decent job of tying up loose ends and finally bringing an end to Sora's story.
Don't think I have to say it, but just in case: play this one last.
Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories
Look: I don't name these things.
Re: Chain of Memories bridges the gap between Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts 2. A lot happens here, and you might be a bit confused by the beginning of Kingdom Hearts 2 if you don't dive into this game.
The gameplay is a far cry from the rest of the series though, with the usual hack-and-slash action being replaced with cards and deck-building, and can be a bit of a roadblock if it's not your style. Kingdom Hearts 2 provides some context to the events of this game, but it's worth a playthrough for a full understanding.
Play this one right after Kingdom Hearts.
Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days
This is less of a 'maybe play' and more of a 'maybe watch' seeing as 358/2 Days has been gutted of its gameplay, instead being a collection of text and cutscenes from the original DS game. It takes place roughly around the same time Re: Chain of Memories does, between the first two mainline games.
Its main characters do have a decent level of importance in Kingdom Hearts 3, so if you've got a couple of hours to spare it's worth plowing through the cutscenes just to get a basic understanding of the cast. But it's also easy enough to do a bit of light reading online.
Watch this after playing Kingdom Hearts 2.
Kingdom Hearts Dream Drop Distance
Taking place just before the events of Kingdom Hearts 3, Dream Drop Distance is one of those games that feels mighty important but you can also quickly get the jist of from a quick Google search.
Where Dream Drop Distance mucks up is its insistence on throwing time travel into the story. It makes the game a bit of a headache, and while the gameplay is relatively fun, a quick recap on the story before you dive into Kingdom Hearts 3 is also just as acceptable.
If you play this, slot it in sometime before Kingdom Hearts 3, ideally before playing 0.2 Birth By Sleep.
Can give a miss
Kingdom Hearts Re:Coded
Another cutscene compilation here, and one of the dullest and most unnecessary games in the series. While the other games can be argued as important, this one gets a big fat miss from me.
It gives some explanation for the final cutscene of Kingdom Hearts 2, but it's not worth sitting through roughly 2-3 hours of cinematics for it. You can have a quick read-up on the story, but even that isn't really needed.
If you do want to watch it, do it any time after Kingdom Hearts 2.
Kingdom Hearts 0.2 Birth By Sleep – A fragmentary passage –
Second to Kingdom Hearts' confusing narrative is its equally confusing naming conventions for some spinoffs. The awfully wordy 0.2 Birth By Sleep – A Fragmentary Passage – takes place immediately after the events of Birth By Sleep, and doesn't really do much except for a bit of character-building.
This is one of the most skippable, but it does only take a few hours to complete, so it's your choice really. I'd personally recommend skipping it though, and instead devoting that time to diving straight into Kingdom Hearts 3.
If you do end up playing this, it's best to do it right before playing Kingdom Hearts 3.
Kingdom Hearts χ Back Cover
Honestly, I had forgotten this even existed before writing this. Once again we have a pile of cutscenes plucked from a mobile game, and there's actually some pretty important history and lore here. I personally didn't play the mobile game or watch the movie, so a quick wiki read or Google search will serve you just fine.
Watch this one sometime between Dream Drop Distance and Kingdom Hearts 3.
Kingdom Hearts Melody of Memory
More of a recap than a new story, Melody of Memory is actually a rhythm game that takes you through all the worlds from each game, playing through the series' various tracks.
There's a small cutscene at the end which is brand new and canon to the storyline, but apart from that, there's not much else. If you enjoy rhythm games and want a more digestible version of the story, go for it. But it's not vital to understanding the behemoth of Kingdom Hearts lore.
Play this whenever you feel like it, though ideally avoid the final cutscene if you haven't finished Kingdom Hearts 3.