Kingdom Hearts is one of the longest-running franchises in games, spanning not just mainline entries but plenty of spinoffs, too (and yes, we know the spinoffs are pretty necessary to understand the series’ story). It combined two things that, on paper, should have never worked – Final Fantasy and similar RPG elements with Disney characters and worlds – but somehow, it clicked, and fans fell in love with this creative mix.
With 20 years of history behind it, beloved characters (both original and Disney’s), and more reminders of the importance of friendship and heart than in any other series, it’s hard to ignore the impact Kingdom Hearts has made in the gaming community. With that much history, though, comes plenty of highs and lows, and there are clear standouts as a result. The Game Informer staff took on a task more daunting than understanding the story of Kingdom Hearts: ranking its games.
Here’s our ranking of the mainline Kingdom Hearts games from worst to best. By that, we mean you won’t find the mobile games or Kingdom Hearts 0.2 Birth by Sleep: A Fragmentary Passage here. The mobile entries, while chock full of critical story beats, feel too different from the “main” games to fairly compare. A Fragmentary Passage is more of a short episode; comparing it to a full game didn’t make sense. We’d love to see where you’d rank them in your list, though, so let us know in the comments below!
Kingdom Hearts Re:coded is the Nintendo DS remake of Kingdom Hearts Coded, the mobile game first released in 2008. Released nearly three years after the original in the U.S., Re:coded was a significantly better version of the game it’s based on. However, it remained the same not-so-great game Coded was. The first entry to follow the exciting Kingdom Hearts II, Coded was in almost every way a major letdown. Its levels are repetitive and boring, its gameplay is spread across multiple genres, none of which it does particularly well, and its story is nigh impossible to understand or follow while playing.
Today, it’s hard to recommend Re:coded to anyone, and it’s one of the biggest offenders of making this series more convoluted than it needs to be, although diehards seeking to experience every ounce of the Kingdom Hearts story should check it out. | Our Review
From this point forward on this list, it’s fair to say the games are good. Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories was first released on the Game Boy Advance in 2004 before it was essentially remade and released on the PlayStation 2 in 2008. Today, it’s playable on modern consoles thanks to ports, but its best version might still be the original, due in part to the visual design and how well it works on Game Boy Advance. That’s mostly beside the point, though, because when discussing Chain of Memories, there’s one thing that stands out more than anything else: the card-based combat system. Ditching the real-time action RPG combat the series is best known for, Chain of Memories tasks players with paging through different cards that determine the move you’ll be using.
It’s a unique spin for sure, but it’s not one you hear many Kingdom Hearts fans asking to return, and that’s okay. Because Chain of Memories serves as a critical bridge to Kingdom Hearts 2 due to its introduction of Naminé, Axel’s big reveal, and the idea that memories can be manipulated in this world, though, it’s still a must-play in the series. | Our Review
Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days is arguably one of the most beloved games in the series, even if its combat and overall gameplay leave a lot to be desired. That’s because it gives us even more time with fan-favorite characters like Roxas, Axel, and newcomer Xion. 358/2 Days features one of the most touching Kingdom Hearts stories thanks to these characters and their relationships, and it immortalized the sea salt ice cream first introduced in Kingdom Hearts II as an iconic element of the franchise. Just thinking of that teal-blue ice cream makes our mouths water.
Still, in order to get this touching tale, you have to play through a game that gets repetitive fast. The shorter mission structure and focus on replaying levels made a bit of sense for brief, on-the-go gaming sessions but it made the campaign a slog to get through. But the touching story and surprising revelations of 358/2 Days make it a tale we hold a special place for in our hearts regardless. | Our Review
Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance came out at a difficult time in the Kingdom Hearts franchise, namely because it wasn’t Kingdom Hearts III. However, it bumps right up to the third game and does a commendable job setting the table for its events. Its visual style hasn’t aged well in the transition to HD – it looks best on the Nintendo 3DS, the handheld it originally released on – but its combat remains fast, fluid, and fun, thanks to the introduction of Flowmotion attacks.
It also brought a Pokémon-like collection system to the series in Dream Eaters, cute and colorful creatures that help you in combat to spice up battles. The minigames associated with them are hit or miss, and Dream Eaters don’t ever feel truly essential, but they make an otherwise textbook Kingdom Hearts game feel fresh. Plus, swapping between Sora and best friend Riku is always a good time, even if the timer mechanic that decides who you play as is frustrating at times. | Our Review
Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory is decidedly not a typical Kingdom Hearts RPG. It’s a rhythm game, and yes, we know you’re probably rolling your eyes that it’s this high on our ranking. Well, guess what: when you mix decent rhythm gameplay with beloved settings and some of the best music in all of video games, you get a really great experience. Sure, the story is light (although it does feature some essential lore), and the actual gameplay mechanics don’t come anywhere near the greats of this genre. But at the end of the day, Melody of Memory presents a great excuse to listen to nearly 10 hours of Kingdom Hearts music. That it includes multiple “playable” characters, an online versus mode, and a jazz rendition of Dearly Beloved makes it an even sweeter experience that’s hard not to recommend to even someone completely untuned to the series. Do they like good music? Do they like Disney? Then they’ll probably enjoy this game. | Our Review
Kingdom Hearts III finally concluded the nearly two-decade Dark Seeker Saga that began in the first title, answering many of the questions fans had regarding the story’s progression at that point. However, in classic Kingdom Hearts fashion, it presented even more mysteries that we’re now clamoring to learn answers to. It seems Kingdom Hearts IV, which is the start of a new storyline called the Lost Master Arc, is set on delivering those answers, but that remains to be seen.
Besides leaving additional questions on the table, Kingdom Hearts III also, yet again, failed Kairi as a character (although we know the ReMind DLC somewhat addressed that) and featured some of the most shoehorned Disney moments and worlds in the entire series. The movie worlds felt nonessential to the overall story of Kingdom Hearts III, and while some highlights are there – the semi-open world of the Pirates of the Caribbean world was a great time, for example – we were left wanting more. That said, Kingdom Hearts III is far and away the most fun entry to play, the most visually stunning, and boasts fun and exciting additions like cooking, attractions based on classic Disney rides, and more. That Kingdom Hearts III did all this and semi-successfully completed a storyline nearly 20 years in the making makes it one of the series’ strongest offerings to play through today. | Our Review
The one that started it all was initially met with apprehension and confusion. A new SquareSoft RPG? Cool. Final Fantasy characters? Cool. Wait, is that Mickey Mouse? We’re going to Disney worlds to save princesses? Where is the connection? After playing through Kingdom Hearts, we learned that, surprisingly, this unlikely combo not only worked; it was a blast.
It featured lovingly-recreated Disney worlds, a solid action RPG combat system, an intriguing mystery featuring beloved villains, and a score that’s one of the most memorable in all of games – Dearly Beloved and Simple and Clean alone made the world a better place. It’s hard to dismiss the impact Kingdom Hearts made right out of the gate. Today, it’s one of the best the series has to offer, especially due to the lack of more convoluted story elements that would later define/plague the series. If someone’s looking to jump into the franchise today in anticipation of Kingdom Hearts IV, the debut title is still a great start (just prepare for some aging mechanics and platforming). | Our Review
Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep is regarded by many as the best in the series, and on any given day, you could probably swap out Game Informer’s choice for Number 1 and Number 2, but today, Birth by Sleep is what we’d call the series’ second best game. First released on the PSP back in 2010, it’s now playable on modern consoles thanks to ports, and that’s a win for everyone because it is still absolutely worth your time. Straying from the present-day narrative of Kingdom Hearts, the game serves as a 10-year prequel to the first game starring new heroes in Terra, Aqua, and Ventus, characters who would grow to be series favorites (especially Aqua).
It features Disney worlds new to the series such as Cinderella and Lilo & Stitch, and an engaging and dramatic storyline that unfolds across three playthroughs with each central character. Its combat rarely grows stale thanks to new additions like Command Deck and Dimension Link, and its visuals surprisingly hold up well. Its biggest fault is that playing through the same worlds three times can get a bit old. Birth by Sleep fleshes out the history of the keyblade, its wielders, and series’ overarching threat to make it a vital chapter in the saga. | Our Review
When you think of Kingdom Hearts, there’s likely a game that comes to mind, and for us here at Game Informer, it’s Kingdom Hearts II. The second game succeeds because, simply, it takes everything the first Kingdom Hearts did and makes it exponentially better. Combat broadens the action RPG features with fun new mechanics like Reaction Commands, the Drive Gauge, an expanded Summons mechanic, and new forms for Sora. The roster of Disney worlds, such as Tron and Steamboat Willy, are more exciting, and the story ups the ante in terms of its stakes. Enjoyable new characters like Roxas quickly became favorites, and the game fixes many of the problems of its predecessor, like the lack of a map.
Kingdom Hearts II is an excellent sequel and a great game to play on its own if you’ve never touched the series (just don’t think too hard about the story). We’ll continue to return to it time and time again as a result. | Our Review
How does your ranking compare to ours? Leave your comments, complaints, and personal lists in the comments section!