Kingdom Hearts DEcoded: Episode I

It’s been almost fifteen years since the first Kingdom Hearts was released, and in that time eight games and countless remakes, remasters, and “Final Mix” revisions have been released on six different platforms. The series’ storyline is famously convoluted, so much so that it not only bounces from past, present, future, and back at any given moment, but it also splits its characters up into halves, and sometimes quarters, to the point that it’s hard to make sense of what’s happened, what’s happening, and where the series is even going.

Over the past four years, however, Square Enix and Disney Interactive Studios (the dream team behind the madness) has been working hard to clear up the confusion. They’ve delivered all of the games—or, in some cases, the cutscenes from the games—on one unified platform, the PS4, in three HD remastered collections called 1.5 + 2.5 ReMIX, and 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue respectively. The aim of these collections is to bring us all back to center, and while they’ve done a pretty good job at doing just that, understanding and following the story is still a massive undertaking.

With all of these games, stories, characters, and timelines to sift through, it’s almost impossible for any fan of the series to claim that they really, truly understand what’s going; but at this point that seems to be a big part of what it means to belong to the Kingdom Hearts fandom.

I’ve played all of the games myself, and there are still things I don’t fully understand. But now that Kingdom Hearts IIIseems to finally be on the horizon—never minding that there are smaller games being rumored still (2.9? Really?)—I’ve decided to put together a three-part concise-as-possible decoding of the Kingdom Hearts saga.

There will be three episodes in total, and we’ll be covering the story in the order of its timeline, not physical release, so we’ll jump from game to game to try and give as chronological a summary as possible. In case it doesn’t go without saying, there are massive spoilers ahead.

Kingdom Hearts X

Kingdom Hearts X

(AKA Unchained X, and its dramatization, Unchained X Back Cover)

Long ago, in a world called Daybreak Town in “the time of fairy tales,” seven Keyblade Masters serve as the protectors of light. One day, a mysterious hooded man called the Master of Masters discovers a prediction in the Book of Prophecies of a devastating Keyblade War that has the potential to end the world. In the hopes of informing his apprentices of this impending event, he gifts them all a copy of the Book, assigns each of them a specific role in preparation for the conflict, and instructs each of them to form Unions of skilled Keyblade wielders.

Master of Masters

Shortly after the apprentices form their Unions, the Master of Masters and one of the apprentices named Luxu disappears, and the apprentices that were left behind start to turn on one other, effectively ensuring that the devastating conflict foretold in the Book of Prophecies will happen anyways. One apprentice, Ava, was instructed by the Master of Masters to build a secret Union of Keyblade Wielders separate from the others, called the Dandelions, who leave the world for the realm of light just before the Keyblade War occurs.


The story cuts off just before the climax, which we can only assume is the Keyblade War of legend, but is teased only by a final image of Luxu (the apprentice that disappeared at the same time as the Master of Masters) standing in the Keyblade Graveyard (where the Keyblade War is said to have occurred) with his master’s Keyblade, the “No Name,” and a mysterious box with “X Super” written on the front. He remains hooded the whole time, and his identity is never revealed, just like the Master of Masters.

We know little else about the Master of Masters, or Luxu, but the main antagonist of the series, Xehanort/Xemnas/Ansem, wields this very same “No Name” Keyblade. It’s widely speculated that this story connects to Xehanort/Xemnas/Ansem in some way, but all we have at the moment is conjecture.

Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep

Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep

A hundred years (or more) later, in a world called the Land of Departure, young adults Terra and Aqua participate in their Mark of Mastery exam as their young friend, Ventus, looks on. The ceremony is performed in front of their Keyblade Master Eraqus and his friend, Master Xehanort. It’s supposed to confirm both Terra and Aqua as Keyblade Masters, but at some point during the exam, Master Xehanort (unbeknownst to anyone but us) manipulates the test in an effort to reveal if either of them has an affinity with darkness. Terra, it turns out, struggles with darkness far more than any of them knew, and Aqua is the only one of them confirmed as Keyblade Master.

Master Xehanort

Shortly after the test’s conclusion, Master Xehanort disappears and hordes of mysterious creatures called the Unversed begin appearing all across the worlds. Master Eraqus is troubled by the apparent connection between these two events, and so gives each of his apprentices specific orders: Terra is to go out into the worlds on a mission to find Master Xehanort and stop the Unversed, a mission that Terra sees as an opportunity to redeem himself; Ventus is to stay put, but is almost immediately convinced to do the opposite by a mysterious boy named Vanitas; and Aqua is to go after them, in the hopes of bringing Ventus home, and keeping an eye on Terra.


Terra chases whispers about Master Xehanort’s whereabouts all across the countless worlds, but along the way he unwittingly accepts help from several different villains. They promise information in exchange for assistance, but only further Terra’s affinity for darkness. At one point, earlier on in his journey, he stumbles upon two young boys in a world called Destiny Islands, named Sora and Riku, and he chooses the latter as the one who will inherit the power of his Keyblade.


Aqua witnesses the consequences of Terra’s actions herself as she follows her friends through the worlds. She tries many times to warn Terra about how the darkness is changing him, but he won’t listen, and Ventus keeps slipping out of her grasp


Ventus travels the worlds in pursuit of Vanitas, who appears to somehow be the only link he has to his mysterious past. Eventually, it’s revealed that Ventus used to be the apprentice of Master Xehanort, but when Ventus showed unwillingness to embrace darkness, Master Xehanort extracted the darkness from his heart and split him in two, thus creating the mysterious boy named Vanitas. Master Xehanort’s ultimate plan is to make the two boys fight, which will cause them to fuse hearts and create the most powerful Keyblade of all: the X-blade. When Ventus discovers this, he finally understands why Master Eraqus wanted him to stay put, and decides to finally return to the Land of Departure. Terra, on the other hand, is told a different version of this story, one that points to Master Eraqus as avillain who wants to vanquish Ventus once and for all. Still, Terra is doubtful that Master Eraqus could be capable of doing any harm to Ventus, but when he arrives at the Land of Departure, and witnesses an attempt by Master Eraqus’s to imprison Ventus for himself, Terra’s doubts turn to belief, and he attacks and defeats his own master.


When the battle is over, Master Xehanort appears, vanquishing Eraqus once and for all, and plunging the Land of Departure in darkness. Terra, who is both stunned and horrified by his actions, flees at Master Xehanort’s request to a world known as the Keyblade Graveyard. Ventus is told to do the same by Vanitas, as is Aqua by Master Yen Sid, who is the one who tells her about Master Eraqus’s demise.

The trio arrives at the Keyblade Graveyard, along with King Mickey, and an epic battle commences. In it, Xehanort and Vanitas reveal that their ultimate plan in creating the X-blade is to unlock Kingdom Hearts and start a second Keyblade War, which is referred to as an event that almost destroyed the world in the past (as you’ll no doubt recall from Kingdom Hearts X).

Xehanort (Terra + Master Xehanort)

Terra’s heart succumbs to darkness during the battle, and in turn allows Master Xehanort to absorb himself into his body. Terra’s suit of armor, however, which remains in tact and still contains his mind, attacks and defeats his possessed self in battle, but at the very last moment, Master Xehanort plunges his keyblade (the “No Name”) into his own heart, and banishes both the suit of armor and Terra to the realm of darkness.

Master Yen Sid

Meanwhile, Ventus and Vanitas fight, thus fusing together and forming the X-blade. Aqua and King Mickey struggle to fight Vanitas, who wields the X-blade, while at the same time a war against Ventus continues to rage inside his mind. Eventually, Aqua destroys the X-blade, just as Ventus defeats Vanitas, but Ventus is so weak and his body so ravaged after the battle that he falls into a deep, unwakable sleep.

King Mickey

Aqua takes Ventus’s catatonic body to Master Yen Sid, who tells her that his heart has left his body and sought refuge inside a young boy that Aqua crossed paths with earlier on in her journey: a boy named Sora, who lives in a world called Destiny Islands. Aqua decides to take Ventus’s body back to the Land of Departure, and make good on a promise she once made to Master Eraqus: that she would lock the world away, if anything were to ever happened to him. When she does, the Land of Departure transforms into a new world called Castle Oblivion, thus allowing her to leave Ventus’s body in a room called the Chamber of Waking, where she is confident that he will neither be found nor disturbed.

Aqua then turns her attention to Terra, who seems to be in Radiant Garden. When she sees him, though, she realizes that he has been consumed by darkness, and tries one last time to get him to come back to the light. She fails, of course, but is so determined and so desperate to save her friend that she dives into the realm of darkness after him. But Aqua is unfamiliar with the darkness, and only ends up getting trapped there herself.


(As revealed in Kingdom Hearts II)

After Master Xehanort absorbed himself into Terra’s body—essentially restoring his youthfulness, like villains do—he went on to live in the world called Radiant Garden. Here, he apprentices under a mentor named Ansem the Wise. The two study hearts together, but eventually have a huge disagreement that results in Xehanort banishing Ansem the Wise to the realm of darkness and stealing his name, his identity, and all of the credit for his work.


Xehanort, as “Ansem,” learns how to create and control two kinds of creatures, which feature prominently throughout the entire series. The first are called Heartless, which are powerful beings of pure darkness born from the darkness in people’s hearts who seek to steal other people’s hearts in order to create more beings like it. The second are called Nobodies, which are living shell, of sorts, that are created whenever a strong-willed person is turned into a Heartless, some of which even take on human forms with their own identities and personalities, while still retaining the memories of their former selves.

Xehanort, as “Ansem,” ultimately finishes his work by opening his heart to complete and total darkness, which splits him into two: a human-shaped Heartless, which calls itself Ansem, Seeker of Darkness, and a Nobody called Xemnas.

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