Which Kingdom Hearts Game To Play First
Which Kingdom Hearts game to play first is a question not so easily answered. Kingdom Hearts is a series notorious for its convoluted storyline, with games playable on every console under the sun.
Depending on your gaming preferences with regards to narrative direction, gameplay, or handheld compatibility, the first Kingdom Hearts game you play will change drastically.
That being said, Kingdom Hearts II is probably the best place to start. This may sound strange recommending new players to start with a sequel. Granted, if you are really interested in the lore of Kingdom Hearts, starting with the first game should be a no-brainer.
However, if you want the smoothest gameplay experience and the least frustration while playing, start with the second game. You can always return to the first one at a later date.
We’re here today to break down some of the best Kingdom Hearts games for newcomers to the series. We’ll be covering why these games are great for unfamiliar players and why certain other games might turn new players away.
So, without further ado, let’s get started.
Kingdom Hearts is the first game in the series, so you would think it the perfect place to start your adventure into the world of Disney fantasy. However, that may not be the case, as we will soon find out.
That being said, if you want to attempt at least to follow the Kingdom Hearts storyline, you don’t have a choice but to start with this game. Kingdom Hearts kicks off the future adventures with our main trio of Sora, Riku, and Kairi.
Alone on an island, the three dream of traveling to far-off worlds. However, once they are each swept away by a dark vortex, it is up to Sora to track down his friends while saving each world he visits along the way.
The original Kingdom Hearts did a great job at blending the Disney worlds with Sora’s adventures. Later games shoehorn in the Disney worlds, cutting and pasting key elements from the movies and slapping our protagonist in the middle of the conflict.
Kingdom Hearts instead chooses to build original storylines that take elements from the Disney movies while not becoming carbon copies.
The storyline here is also super easy to follow. Thankfully so, considering this is the first game in the franchise.
However, if there is one element where Kingdom Hearts is lacking, it would be the gameplay. Sora by no means controls horribly in this game. But the gameplay of the first game is a stone’s throw from what later entries would have in store.
Platforming challenges can become very frustrating, very quickly, as you desperately try to navigate Sora’s size fifteen feet around a precarious platform.
Complaints aside, Kingdom Hearts one expertly blended Disney fantasy with RPG elements and even threw in some Final Fantasy fanservice along the way.
The game is by no means perfect but touched the hearts of enough people to kickstart the entire franchise. Starting your journey with the first game in the series will never be a bad choice, and the original Kingdom Hearts is no exception.
Kingdom Hearts II
To many, Kingdom Hearts II is where this game franchise’s formula was perfected. The story here is starting to become more complicated, but when it comes to the overall best gameplay experience, Kingdom Hearts II excels in a way no other game in the series has been able to match.
Kicking things off with the story, tons of new elements are at play here, some of which you will only understand if you played Chain of Memories days beforehand. Organization 13, Nobodies, and Xehanort are all going to be vying for space in your brain as you try to keep track of what is going on.
The story is really the least interesting part of Kingdom Hearts II. Furthermore, the game does itself no favors in investing new players in this narrative as it traps you in a tutorial for the first hour or so of the game. It definitely has one of the longest tutorials of any Kingdom Hearts game.
Luckily, when you finally get to ditch Roxas and start playing as Sora, things pick up really quickly. Sora has tons of new moves and abilities this time around, but none encapsulate the wild, chaotic combat of Kingdom Hearts better than drive forms.
Drive forms are a way for you to maximize combo potential and damage output while playing to your preferred style. If you love melee combat, Valor form gives you a second keyblade and lots of up close and personal skills.
However, if you prefer to use magic, Wisdom form lets you dance across the battlefield while firing off magic projectiles at all enemies.
Kingdom Hearts II’s combat, bosses, and gameplay are where this game shines. All of the bosses (minus Demyx) are enjoyable and brutally difficult on the harder game modes. Sephiroth is a great secret boss for those looking to test their strength as well.
Overall, if the gameplay is what matters to you the most when playing a new game, Kingdom Hearts II is the best place to start. Sure, you won’t understand what is going on in the story, but that will just put you on the same level as the rest of the fanbase!
Kingdom Hearts III
Despite the mixed reviews Kingdom Hearts III has received since its release, the game is still fully functional and has a lot of fun moments.
Unfortunately, if you enjoy engaging narratives in video games, Kingdom Hearts III is peak RPG confusion. With this being the latest entry in the series, it has the difficult job of connecting all the dots of the previous games, while still keeping things light enough so that new players don’t feel overwhelmed.
Does Kingdom Hearts III manage to pull this off effectively? No.
However, we would argue that it doesn’t matter. Kingdom Hearts has become notorious for its convoluted storylines by this point and hardcore lore enthusiasts are free to read reams of exposition on the internet at their leisure.
The main draw nowadays for Kingdom Hearts fans are the new Disney worlds we will get to explore, the tricky boss battles we’ll have to face, alongside the new combat options for Sora and his friends.
Kingdom Hearts III simplifies the combat a lot when compared to Kingdom Hearts II. Drive forms are gone and are replaced with team attacks that can be activated by pressing a button after fighting with a group of enemies.
These range from bumper carts to a huge boat that will annihilate all enemies on the screen with just a few button presses.
For some, this is less than desirable. Kingdom Hearts II was all about maximizing your uptime and chaining together as many abilities as you could before you hit the ground or your combo ended. Now, the game does all of that for you just by spamming a single button for a few seconds.
That being said, this is far more welcoming to new players who don’t want to spend ages perfectly allocating skill points in the main menu.
Where Kingdom Hearts III truly shines is with its graphics and spectacle. Never before has a Kingdom Hearts game had so many jaw-dropping moments. Right from the get-go as you play through Olympus, scaling the mountain to take on the titans will have you gripped to the edge of your seat.
What Kingdom Hearts III lacks in a cohesive narrative and challenging gameplay, it makes up for in great atmosphere and beautiful set pieces. Exploring each Disney world in Kingdom Hearts III is truly a magical experience and having old faces updated in HD graphics is wonderful to see.
Kingdom Hearts III was at least supposed to be designed around an influx of new players. Games like Kingdom Hearts III have the tricky job of balancing satisfying old fans while also being accessible to newer players. Whether it succeeds at this or not is up to you, but don’t feel put off just because it’s the latest entry in an already long-running series of games.
If you love games with a little bit of spectacle, Kingdom Hearts III is a great place to start.
Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep
When it comes to the handheld Kingdom Hearts games, none are really talked about in the same breath as Birth By Sleep.
While games like Dream Drop Distance, 358/2 Days, and Chain of Memories all have their good points, Birth By Sleep is the only game that feels like a must-play to understand the overarching narrative of the Kingdom Hearts universe.
This isn’t to say that the amazing story of Birth By Sleep is the only reason to pick up the game by any means. The gameplay here gets back to its roots with very few gimmicks (instead, choosing to polish the already established mechanics).
However, one of the biggest selling points for checking out Birth By Sleep is the actually decent story this time around. Yes, things can still get pretty complicated, as all Kingdom Hearts games do.
However, the game pushes the slightly sickly notions of friendship and love to the side for this installment.
Instead, the game focuses on a new trio of characters, all of which have unique personalities and different motivations.
The way these characters interact with one another is a stark contrast to the generic and sometimes boring interactions between Sora, Donald, and Goofy (or even Sora, Kairi, and Riku to some extent).
If you want a more self-contained story that can actually tug on your heartstrings at times, Birth By Sleep is the game for you.
Hopefully, Kingdom Hearts IV will incorporate the simpler storyline of the first game, the great combat of the second, the grand spectacle of the third, and the better character interactions of Birth By Sleep. If it manages that, it will undoubtedly become one of the best JRPGs on PS5.