What The Hell Is Kingdom Hearts? A Beginner's Guide To Square Enix's RPG SeriesS

There's a new Kingdom Hearts game out tomorrow. It's called Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance and it's the seventh game in a series that now has 250% more spinoffs than main installments.

To some of you a new Kingdom Hearts might be reason to celebrate. To others it might just be confusing. What is Kingdom Hearts? Why should you care? Why does Mickey look like he's about to steal your car?

We're here to explain.

So what the hell is "Kingdom Hearts"? It sounds like gibberish.

It is gibberish. The name, at least. It's also the title of a series of action-RPGs by Square Enix that blends Final Fantasy's narrative style with Disney's cartoon worlds, drip-feeding you a steady dose of hack-and-slash combat along the way. You'll get to visit the settings from movies like The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, and Pirates of the Caribbean and you'll get to enlist the help of Simba, Beast, Jack Sparrow, and many other Disney creations.

Sounds lame.

It's not. In fact, visiting Disney worlds is actually a blast. Haven't you always wanted to explore worlds like Agrabah and Halloween Town, hunting down treasure and fighting bosses like Jafar and Oogie Boogie? Even better: you're often accompanied by Donald Duck and Goofy, who are hilarious partners and surprisingly great at helping you kill things. Even if they don't get keyblades.

What's a keyblade?

It's sort of like a sword except it's also a giant key. Just roll with it.

Right. So you're a guy with a giant key.

To be specific, you're a guy named Sora with a giant key. Sometimes you're also a guy named Riku—Sora's childhood best friend—and sometimes you play as one of various other characters throughout the series. As might be expected from a Square Enix game, all of these characters are linked in twisty and unexpected ways.

Who's the coolest one?

Mickey.

Mickey? As in, Mickey Mouse?

That's King Mickey Mouse to you, peasant. In Kingdom Hearts he's less bashful rodent and more glorious warrior, the type of fighter who could even take Sephiroth one-on-one in man-on-mouse combat. Your job in the first game is to hunt him down. He makes some clutch appearances later. You even get to (briefly) play as him.

Ooookay. This must be some story.

You don't want to know.

What do you mean?

Look. To dig into the story of Kingdom Hearts is to wander into a tangled jungle of plot twists, body swaps, betrayals, memory loss, clones, hearts, kingdoms, and general convoluted bullshit. It's just not worth your time. If you've played every game in the series multiple times and you've read enough Wikipedia to understand exactly what's happening, you might get some sort of emotional resonance out of Sora and Riku's journey, but for most of us life is just too short to bother.

Can you sum it up in one sentence?

Sora and Riku set off to rescue Mickey Mouse but are instead caught in an epic struggle in which they must save a whole bunch of worlds from an evil force of heartless creatures (called Heartless) while battling a black-cloaked organization (called the Organization) with ambiguous motivations, all whilst learning the truth about keyblades and the wars surrounding them (called the Keyblade Wars) so they can destroy evil and all that jazz before they succumb to shadow and allow the nasty Xehanort to claim victory.

Sounds confusing.

You don't know the half of it.

So why do the characters have such glorious hair?

The Kingdom Hearts series is the brainchild of Tetsuya Nomura, the man who designed many of the characters in Square Enix's more modern games, like Final Fantasy XIII and Final Fantasy X. He has a thing for hair. Also goggles.

Is there a dumber name for a video game than Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance?

Yes. Yes there is.

Touche. Well is Dream Drop Distance any good?

Well... yes and no. I'll have a full review up on Kotaku tomorrow. Stay tuned.

If I've never played a game in the series before, is Dream Drop Distance a good place to start?

Again: yes and no. If you don't care about the story and you just want to go hacking and slashing, you'll have a tough time finding combat more sublime on the 3DS. But if you enjoy understanding what's going on in the video games you play, you'll want to start with one of the first two Kingdom Hearts games on PlayStation 2.

Just how many games are there?

Seven. Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II, both for PlayStation 2, are your main series entries. But then there are five spinoffs: Chain of Memories (GBA), 358/2 Days (DS), Birth by Sleep (PSP), coded (Mobile phones, but later released on DS as RE:coded), and now Dream Drop Distance (3DS).

Why are these names so silly?

Because Square Enix.

So what's next?

Nomura has hinted that Kingdom Hearts III will be announced for consoles in the near future. Hopefully it will have worlds from Pixar movies like Toy Story and Wall-E. And hopefully it will be awesome.

Will it be confusing and mawkish and often ridiculous but endearing nonetheless?

Yep.