How to play the Kingdom Hearts games in order before Kingdom Hearts 4

How to play Kingdom Hearts in order is a question you may have asked yourself recently, now that Kingdom Hearts 4 is officially on the way. Truth be told, there’s never been a better time to catch up with the rest of the Final Fantasy-meets-Disney series. But it isn’t quite as simple as starting at number 1 and making your way to number 3, as there’s actually a whopping 13 games in Kingdom Hearts in total, with Square Enix showing no sign of slowing down any time soon.

There’s always a debate about whether you actually need to play all 13 games in the series before playing any of the new Kingdom Hearts games – which will be especially true in the run up to Kingdom Hearts 4. But my verdict is: if you want to make the most out of your playthrough, I highly suggest at least learning the story of all 13 games. If you do end up skipping one or two, you’ll probably still enjoy the rest of the series, but you might confuse yourself more than is necessary along the way. 

To make it easier for new fans to catch up, Square Enix has re-released all of the games in the form of the 1.5, 2.5, and 2.8 collections, with each collection containing three different – and very important – games. Everything you need to properly understand the story so far is contained in these collections, as well as Kingdom Hearts 3, Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory, and the free-to-play mobile game Kingdom Hearts X/Dark Road.

So, whether you’re a Kingdom Hearts beginner or a veteran looking for a refresher, here’s a brief overview of each of the games in the series, what order you should play them in, and why they’re all integral to understanding the plot of Kingdom Hearts 4.

Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 + 2.5 Remix collection

Kingdom Hearts 1.5 ReMix

(Image credit: Square Enix)

Game: Kingdom Hearts
Available in:
Collection 1.5 

Our journey begins with Sora, Donald, and Goofy who, after a chance encounter in Traverse Town, have decided to work together to find Sora’s friends Riku and Kairi, and King Mickey (yes, THE mouse) by exploring various Disney-themed worlds. The reason it’s best to start with the first Kingdom Hearts game is because it establishes the basic lore of the series; who Sora is, what a keyblade is, why darkness is so bad, etc. 

Game: Kingdom Hearts: Re: Chain of Memories
Year: 2004
Available in:
Collection 1.5 

Originally released on the GameBoy Advance, Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories was upgraded from a 2D pixel game to a more fleshed out 3D game (in the form of Re: Chain of Memories) but both versions contain the same story and gameplay style. The story of Kingdom Hearts: Re: Chain of Memories follows on directly from the ending of the first Kingdom Hearts game and will set you up well for Kingdom Hearts 2. 

Game: Kingdom Hearts 2
Year: 2005
Available in: Collection 2.5

Set a year after the events of Chain of Memories, in Kingdom Hearts 2 we are introduced to new playable character Roxas, who has a strange connection to Sora. You only get to play as Roxas for the first few hours of the game but he’s actually an incredibly important character in the grand scheme of things. Plus, Kingdom Hearts 2 is also a big fan favourite, so that alone makes it worth playing. 

Kingdom Hearts 1.5 ReMix cutscene

(Image credit: Square Enix)

Game: Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days
Year: 2009
Available in: Collection 1.5

Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days fleshes out Roxas’ backstory and fills in what happened between Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories and Kingdom Hearts 2. The 1.5 version of 358/2 Days is actually a close-to-three-hour movie that recalls the events in the original Nintendo DS game. Don’t let that put you off, though, as 358/2 Days not only answers several burning questions but also contains more important characters and some of the best storylines in the whole series. 

Game: Kingdom Hearts: Recoded
Available in: Collection 2.5

Just like 358/2 Days, Re:Coded can only be experienced in movie form – that is unless you can get your hands on the Nintendo DS copy. The plot of this game doesn’t really bring much else to the table as Sora just revisits data versions of his memories to decipher a small clue found in Jiminy’s journal (stay with me on this). It’s probably the weakest of the 13 games all told, but if you’ve got this far, you might as well give it a go. 

Game: Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep
Year: 2010
Available in: Collection 2.5

Things pick up again in Birth by Sleep as we are introduced to three brand new and playable characters – Aqua, Ventus, and Terra – who all play a bigger role in the series down the line. Set 10 years prior to Kingdom Hearts 1, it would make sense to play Birth by Sleep early on but it’s more important to set the foundation of the series before playing its prequel.

Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue collection

Kingdom Hearts 2.8

(Image credit: Square-Enix)

Game: Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance HD
Year: 2012
Available in: Collection 2.8

Technically taking place after the events of Re:Coded, Dream Drop Distance has players taking on the role of both Sora and Riku as they explore dream worlds in order to pass their Mark of Mastery exam. Originally released on Nintendo 3DS, this remake stayed true to the original (with the addition of some technical upgrades), and gives us more story which helps inform Kingdom Hearts 3. 

Game: Kingdom Hearts 0.2: Birth by Sleep – A Fragmentary Passage
Year: 2017
Available in: Collection 2.8

Acting as a mini-sequel to the other Birth by Sleep, A Fragmentary Passage reveals what happened to Aqua, Terra, and Ventus between the events of Birth by Sleep and Kingdom Hearts 3. Unlike last time where you played as all three keyblade wielders, this time you only play as Aqua as she explores a [Birth by Sleep spoiler location] and revisits fragmented versions of some of the worlds she visited in the original game.

Game: Kingdom Hearts X Back Cover
Year: 2017
Available in: Collection 2.8

Heavily linked to the mobile game Kingdom Hearts X, Back Cover is another cinematic film set during the events of  X, but told through the Foretellers’ perspectives (which are introduced in the mobile game) instead of the player’s. This is where things might get a bit more confusing as new characters and timelines are introduced, but it’s important not to skip this one as it seems like it’ll play a vital role in Kingdom Hearts 4 when it does eventually release. 

Other (still important) Kingdom Hearts games

Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory

(Image credit: Square Enix)

Game(s): Kingdom Hearts Unchained/Union X; Kingdom Hearts Dark Road
Year(s): 2013; 2020

Originally starting life as Kingdom Hearts X – before being renamed with each chapter – the Kingdom Hearts mobile game actually has a lot going for it in terms of story. In fact, one of the main characters we see in the Kingdom Hearts 4 trailer, Strelitzia, was originally introduced in Kingdom Hearts Union X. Set way before the events of the first Kingdom Hearts game and its prequel Birth by Sleep, Kingdom Hearts X provides a lot more context for Kingdom Hearts 3 and seems like it’ll play a big part in Kingdom Hearts 4. 

Game: Kingdom Hearts 3
Year: 2019

All of the games recapped so far have essentially been building up to Kingdom Hearts 3. Important in so many ways – and not just because 3 comes before 4 – this game marked the end of the ‘Dark Seeker Saga’ storyline which had been slowly unravelling throughout all of the nine games that came before it. Kingdom Hearts 3 tied up so many loose ends and introduced a few new ones that will definitely carry into Kingdom Hearts 4. 

Game: Kingdom Hearts 3 Re: Mind DLC
Year: 2020

Following directly on from the end of Kingdom Hearts 3, its DLC Re: Mind continues Sora’s story following KH3’s ending. Usually, you’d be right in thinking that optional DLC could be skipped over, but this is a Kingdom Hearts game and so there are a lot of very important story elements here that, we reckon, will be vital to understanding Kingdom Hearts 4. 

Game: Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory

Following on immediately from Kingdom Hearts Re: Mind, Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory is a rhythm action game. Now, we know what you’re thinking: “a rhythm game can’t possibly hold important lore that I need to know for Kingdom Hearts 4.” But it does. Yes, the majority of the game is made up of fun rhythm puzzles, but scattered throughout are some important cutscenes that will once again flesh out the entire Kingdom Hearts story. 

And so in conclusion…

Kingdom Hearts 4 screenshot

(Image credit: Square Enix)

Listen, there’s no way of knowing what series creator Tetsuya Nomura has in store for us in Kingdom Hearts 4 but by catching up on all of the games listed above, you’ve got a pretty good chance of understanding it when it does eventually release. 

That being said, there’s also a chance you’ll come out the other side just as confused as when you went. But, let’s be totally honest, that’s part of the fun of being a Kingdom Hearts fan!

There’s nothing quite like Kingdom Hearts, but the best JRPGs take us to similarly fantastical worlds.  

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