Excitement is at an all-time high for Kingdom Hearts III. In the past few months Square Enix has given us two meaty trailers, shown off a Toy Story world created with direct input from Pixar, and announced a 2018 release date. The developers have been trickling out information for four years, but now the game is finally starting to feel tangible.
I’m a huge fan of the series, but there was something I realized as I watched the trailer: I’d mostly forgotten the story setup for this new game. Kingdom Hearts is known for having a needlessly complicated story, and I managed to forget most of the nitty-gritty details even though I had played all of the games. In the time since Kingdom Hearts II launched, Square Enix has put out six new game entries and one animated film, all of which lead up to Kingdom Hearts III.
I’ve taken a deep dive back into Kingdom Hearts lore and have emerged to bring back a primer for Kingdom Hearts III. Here’s everything you need to know about what has transpired between the second game and now – the new story beats, the new faces, and a little bit of theory to get you caught up before the trilogy concludes.
Spoilers from the entire Kingdom Hearts series lie ahead! Turn back now if you want to experience all of the twists and turns for yourself.
First up, a quick recap of the events most people have played: The first Kingdom Hearts was about defeating Ansem, Seeker of Darkness, who sought the power and knowledge of the titular Kingdom Hearts, “The heart of all worlds.” To do this, he kidnapped seven princesses of heart, but Sora stopped him and saved the day.
In Kingdom Hearts II, a new group of baddies, Organization XIII, took center stage. This is where things began to get complicated. When someone becomes a Heartless, their body gets left behind in the form of a Nobody. Near the end of the story, you learn that there was once a group of scientists who had been performing experiments on people’s hearts. They created many Heartless and ended up becoming Heartless themselves; then their Nobodies started the Organization. Their goal was to destroy a bunch of Heartless to create a new Kingdom Hearts, but Sora stops them.
The pupils who became the Organization were originally led by Ansem the Wise (yeah, he has the same name as the bad guy from the first game. Isn’t it a fun plot twist?), a scientist who studied the heart to protect people from darkness. When he tried to stop their secret experiments, they banished him to a realm of darkness, and a new leader took over – Xehanort. Like the rest of the pupils, Xehanort was split into a Heartless and a Nobody. The former took on the name Ansem, Seeker of Darkness, and the latter became known as Xemnas. Xehanort was the source of the antagonists from the first two games, and he also happens to be the antagonist in Kingdom Hearts III.
What We Know About Kingdom Hearts III
Here’s the story outline that was given at E3 2013:
"Believing light and darkness must remain in balance, Master Xehanort seeks to spark war against the ‘tyranny of light’ to restore equilibrium.
“In an effort to undermine Xehanort’s plot, Sora, Donald and Goofy search for seven guardians of light and the ‘Key to Return Hearts,’ while King Mickey and Riku search for previous Keyblade wielders."
At its most basic level, Kingdom Hearts III will be a classic battle between the forces of light and dark. Xehanort is finding people to join his cause, Sora and his pals are doing the same, and inevitably both sides are going to clash.
The Bad Guy(s)
Xehanort grew up long ago on Destiny Islands and yearned to explore other worlds. Eventually, he found a way to leave his world and was trained as a Keyblade Master. He came to believe that light and dark must exist in balance, and thought the current world had too much light in it. In order to “fix” the world, he would need to obtain the power of Kingdom Hearts.
In Birth by Sleep, he realized that to access Kingdom Hearts he must make equal forces of light and darkness clash in a Keyblade War. Only then would the special χ-blade (still pronounced Keyblade) be forged to open the door. His plan fails, but he does succeed in possessing the body of a young Keyblade wielder. In this new body, he becomes the apprentice of Ansem the Wise, and from there the events we’re familiar with take place.
It just so happens that defeating both someone’s Heartless and Nobody makes their heart and body reunite, so the events of Kingdom Hearts I and II resulted in the evil old Xehanort being resurrected. Now he’s back and ready to start a Keyblade War, forge the χ-blade, and restore equilibrium.
To forge the blade, seven lights must clash with thirteen darknesses, so Xehanort set off to find thirteen bodies to act as vessels for pieces of his own heart. The way he goes about it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but he essentially gathers versions of himself throughout time (“You know what this story needs?” “To make some more sen-” “Time travel!”) to join a new Organization XIII. When he’s thwarted once again in Dream Drop Distance, the versions of him return to their appropriate times, but he says he’ll be back. In Kingdom Hearts III, his goal is to re-collect thirteen dark vessels to clash with seven lights.
The Good Guys And Gals
The seven lights Xehanort needs to make his χ-blade can either be the princesses of heart or the Keyblade wielders who protect them. The good guys realize that this means the Keyblade War is inevitable, so they decide to gather seven defenders of light to fight the darkness.
Three of the Guardians of Light are easily recognizable if you’ve played the numbered Kingdom Hearts entries. Sora, Riku, and Mickey are all part of the seven. The latter two are now both Keyblade Masters, but Sora managed to lose most of his power in Dream Drop Distance (now you can conveniently start the next game at level one) and must regain his strength before the battle with Xehanort. Finding the remaining four will be a big part of Kingdom Hearts III.
Three of these guardians of light come from Birth by Sleep; and each of them needs saving. Aqua, Terra, and Ventus are close friends who trained under a Keyblade Master named Eraqus. They were the ones who foiled Xehanort’s first attempt to forge the χ-blade, but in the process they all ended up in various states of defeat.
At the end of Kingdom Hearts 0.2, Mickey and Riku set out to find Aqua, a modest and selfless Keyblade master who became trapped in the Realm of Darkness following her battle with Xehanort. At the end of Kingdom Hearts Re:coded, Mickey and Yen Sid reveal that they also know where the second of these three, Ventus, is located. At the end of Birth by Sleep, he fell into a deep slumber because his heart was mostly shattered in the encounter with Xehanort. Before she was trapped in darkness, Aqua hid him away deep inside Castle Oblivion. Part of Ventus lives on in Sora’s heart, which is the reason Sora’s Nobody, Roxas, looks exactly like him.
The third of the Birth by Sleep crew has still not been found, and saving him may prove to be more difficult. Terra is a strong-willed Keyblade wielder who failed to become a Master because of the darkness in his heart. In a manner that would have made Palpatine proud, Xehanort tricked him into embracing that darkness, and at the end of Birth by Sleep, Xehanort was able to possess him. Terra’s spirit persists, but it’s unclear in what form and how he will be saved.
There hasn’t been an explicit mention of who the seventh guardian of light is, but at the end of Dream Drop Distance, it’s strongly implied that it will be Kairi, who has just been discovered to have the power to wield a Keyblade. At the end of Kingdom Hearts 0.2, she goes to train with Merlin to prepare for the battle ahead.
Other Important Cast Members
The guardians of light aren’t the only people Sora needs to save in Kingdom Hearts III. In the E3 2017 trailer, Sora makes it clear that he wishes to try and bring his Nobody, Roxas, back into existence, which would require him to use the darkness. Over the course of the games, Sora has had many hearts connected to his, and if he’s trying to give form to Roxas, he may also try to do the same for Xion.
Xion isn’t an actual person, but a Replica – an imperfect clone of Roxas created from Sora’s memories. Organization XIII created her in 358/2 Days (the game, not the fraction) to be a puppet for its cause, but she retained free will and was able to create memories of her own with her two best friends, Roxas and Axel. Tragically, she had to be destroyed to repair Sora’s memories that were damaged in Chain of Memories. In Re:coded, she’s shown as one of the people that still lives on in Sora’s heart, so it’s likely that he will try to save her as well.
Another interesting side character is Lea, the Somebody to the red-headed Axel’s Nobody. In the same way that Xehanort was revived by the death of his Nobody, so was Lea. In Dream Drop Distance, he helps Riku save Sora from becoming a vessel for Xehanort and discovers that he can wield a Keyblade. In Kingdom Hearts III, he’ll train under Merlin with Kairi.
The Distant Past
Long ago, in the “age of fairytales,” before the first Keyblade War, there was a mysterious hooded figure named the Master of Masters, who named six other Keyblade masters and gave them each tasks. Five of them received Books of Prophecy that foretold the first Keyblade War, and in their effort to prevent it, they actually initiated it.
A few elements from this story (found in Kingdom Hearts χ Back Cover) may play a role in Kingdom Hearts III. The sixth apprentice, Luxu, was told to stay out of things and just observe as future events unfolded. He was also given two things to take care of; a Keyblade called No Name and a mysterious black box. No Name contains the eye of the Master of Masters, and is the reason he can see the future. This Keyblade is now in Xehanort’s hands, and it’s currently unclear how he got ahold of it. The black box also appears in the Kingdom Hearts III; in the E3 2017 trailer Maleficent mentions that she’s looking for it.
The Master of Masters is an interesting character whose motivations are unknown. All of the tasks he gave to his apprentices indirectly laid the groundwork for the first Keyblade War, so he may have started it on purpose. Some fans have noticed that the six apprentices are named after the seven sins, and the box is engraved with the name of the seventh. Could this mean that the box somehow contains the Master of Masters? I guess we’ll have to wait and find out.
Got It Memorized?
So there you have it, a rundown of the main characters and conflict going into Kingdom Hearts III. This summary certainly isn’t without its complications, but there are some even more convoluted details that I’ve had to leave out. If you’re a purist, the best way to prepare for Kingdom Hearts III would be to go ahead and play all of the games, and thankfully, we have a handy guide for how you should digest all of those side stories. We still have a long time to wait for this 15-year-old trilogy to conclude, but at least the end is in sight.
For more on Kingdom Hearts III, you can check out our roundup of all the new weapons, locations, and special attacks that we’ve seen since the game was first announced. You can also read our recent interviews with series director Tetsuya Nomura about the gummi ship, summons, and the new Toy Story world.