Few game series carry such a reputation for obtuse and puzzling storylines as Kingdom Hearts. The series that began as an ambitious crossover project has produced a complex interwoven mythology. Compounding the difficulty is the series' tendency to add supplemental scenes out of sequence, and for several characters to appear in multiple distinct ways. There's also the sheer number of releases the series has seen--it's far more than the three that Kingdom Hearts 3's title would suggest.
To help you navigate the convoluted tangle that is the Kingdom Hearts story, we’ve compiled this simple primer that will get you up to speed; Kingdom Hearts 3 released on January 29. You can read about what to expect from that game in our Kingdom Hearts 3 review.
- Kingdom Hearts 3: The Basic Gist
- Chronological Story Summary
- Character Cheat Sheet
- Simple and Clean: The TL;DR Story of Kingdom Hearts
Kingdom Hearts 3: The Basic Gist
Right now you’re likely interested in the most important information you need to understand what’s happening when you begin playing Kingdom Hearts 3.
As of the start of Kingdom Hearts 3, the Keyblade Master Xehanort has been reconstituted and plans to start a war that will force the warriors of light and darkness against each other. He hopes that, in doing this, he will reforge the original Keyblade, which will give him power over Kingdom Hearts, the source of all light and darkness. He needs seven beings of light--people who are pure of heart--to clash with his own thirteen beings of darkness to make this prophetic war happen, and previously he’s attempted to do it by kidnapping seven Princesses of Heart--these are the recognizable Disney characters Alice, Snow White, Jasmine, Belle, Cinderella, and Aurora, along with Kairi, a princess created by Square Enix for the series. Now that the heroes have caught wise to Xehanort’s plans, however, it’s much more likely that they themselves will be the seven beings of light--presumably hoping that if this plan does result in a reforged Keyblade, they’ll be there to stop him from using it.
To that end, we probably already know the identities of the seven Guardians of Light: Sora, Riku, and Mickey Mouse from the numbered games, along with Ventus, Aqua, and Terra from the prequel games. Many of them are in different states of distress: Sora’s power is diminished, Aqua and Ventus are both hidden away, and Terra’s body was possessed by Xehanort, while his soul lives on. The heroes’ story in Kingdom Hearts 3 will very likely involve marshalling the forces of light. It has been strongly suggested that Kairi, Sora and Riku’s childhood friend, will be the seventh Guardian of Light.
While all this is happening, of course, Xehanort will be gathering his own forces. He needs all of his Organization XIII in place to serve as the agents of darkness for the battle to take place. His initial plan fell apart, and his new plan is to gather versions of himself from across time to fill the roles.
With that, you know all you absolutely need to in order to begin playing Kingdom Hearts. If you want more detail, to fully understand all the background and how the characters reached this point, read on.
Chronological Story Summary
In sum, the story of Kingdom Hearts can be confounding for a few reasons. One of the largest factors is that the story itself has been told wildly out of sequence, with games released representing various points in the timeline, and even extra story sequences in special editions adding other pieces of plot in a completely different time. Telling the entire story chronologically helps clear up this layer of the confusion.
The Prophecy and the Dandelions
In the earliest point of the timeline, the world was pure. In this time we only know of seven named characters: the original Keyblade wielders. These were a band of six apprentices following the tutelage of the Master of Masters. Together they protected the source of all light and wisdom in the universe, Kingdom Hearts. Kingdom Hearts existed in a symbiotic relationship with the legendary weapon, the original Keyblade (commonly referred to in the series as the χ-blade). All Keyblades in the series are modeled after this original weapon, but none of them can unlock Kingdom Hearts like it can.
After warning of a prophecy that a cataclysm would destroy the world, the Master of Masters vanished and left his apprentices to form Unions, with their own Keyblade pupils and distinct tasks to perform. These assignments were ostensibly meant to protect the world, but it actually sowed distrust and pitted them against each other. The resulting Keyblade War killed nearly all the Keyblade wielders, and in the process, shattered the χ-blade into 20 pieces: seven pieces of pure light and thirteen of pure darkness. Without the χ-blade to protect it, Kingdom Hearts disappeared.
All Keyblades in the series are modeled after the legendary original Keyblade, but none of them can unlock Kingdom Hearts like it can.
The site of the great battle became the Keyblade Graveyard, a sprawling area filled with the Keyblades of fallen warriors. But they weren’t entirely gone. One disciple named Ava had secretly assembled and trained a new team of Keyblade wielders, with explicit instructions to escape rather than take part in the battle. This group was called the Dandelions.
The intentions of the Master of Masters are left ambiguous in all of this. He appears to have intentionally engineered the Keyblade War, but he also instructed Ava on the plans to organize the Dandelions and escape. This new class of Keyblade Masters would be the only ones left to remember the perfect world as it was, and created Union χ to work together to protect the light.
As time passed and only a select few remembered the world as it was, the Keyblade War became the stuff of legends, and people began building their own Keyblades in an attempt to tap the legendary power of Kingdom Hearts.
TL;DR Summary: In ancient times, a group of guardians were manipulated into fighting among themselves, and in the process of the battle the original Keyblade was shattered and Kingdom Hearts vanished. But a few had secret instructions to escape the battle, and started anew.
The Rise of Xehanort
Xehanort was a resident of Destiny Islands, just like our eventual protagonists, and he set off on his own to become a Keyblade Master. In his research, he concluded that the war had left the world unbalanced in favor of light. In order to rebalance the world, he attempted to begin a new Keyblade War, so that light and darkness would clash and forge the χ-blade.
Meanwhile, three other Keyblade wielders were undergoing training of their own. Terra, Aqua, and Ventus were learning under Master Eraqus. In secret, Xehanort was already manipulating them. He encouraged Terra to embrace the darkness, and he likewise used the darkness in Ventus to create his own apprentice, Vanitas. Then Terra and Aqua, as the older trainees, took the Mark of Mastery exam together, and Terra was rejected due to the darkness in his heart.
When creatures called the Unversed started to attack various worlds, Master Xehanort vanished. Terra was sent to find him and to defeat the Unversed. Ventus had an encounter with his dark counterpart Vanitas, not realizing his origins, and was convinced to follow Terra as well. Eraqus sent Aqua to watch after both of them and to bring Ventus back safely.
While on his mission, Terra fell in with a dark crowd of Disney villains, who offered to trade information on Xehanort for helping them with their own schemes. Terra rationalized this as necessary to complete his mission, and tried to act as a double agent still on the side of good. He fed Aqua information about Xehanort’s plan to kidnap the seven Princesses of Heart, and tried (but failed) to help Aqua convince Ventus to go home.
During this sequence of events, the trio briefly met with the younger versions of the eventual protagonists of the numbered Kingdom Hearts games: first helping Kairi strengthen the light in her heart, and then seeing potential in Sora and Riku. At this point Sora created a strong bond with Ventus, which becomes important later in the story.
Ventus found Xehanort, and learned of his plans to use Ventus’s own heart to create the χ-blade. He claimed that Eraqus had known this all along, so Ventus went to confront his Master. Through a series of misunderstandings, Terra attacked Eraqus to protect Ventus, then realized his error too late. Xehanort killed Eraqus, and encouraged all three to go to the Keyblade Graveyard.
At that final confrontation, he explained his plan to the three and then badly injured Aqua and Ventus. The resulting rage from Terra opened his heart to darkness, allowing Xehanort to take control and use his body as a new vessel, referred to as Terra-Xehanort. Terra’s mind transferred to his suit of armor and battled against Terra-Xehanort, defeating him. But meanwhile, Vanitas merged with Ventus to create the χ-blade. Aqua destroyed the χ-blade while Ventus’ will did battle with Vanitas’ will in their body, and the resulting burst of energy sent all involved scattered to different locations.
The heroes became separated, with Ventus rendered unconscious and unable to wake up until his heart returns. Aqua made sure he was safe inside a special chamber for the time being. She then went to confront Terra-Xehanort again, but an attempt to unlock his heart erased his memories and drew him towards the Realm of Darkness. Aqua sacrificed herself to save Terra-Xehanort and fell into darkness herself. Ventus’ heart found its way to Sora and took refuge inside of him.
TL;DR Summary: Years later, the nature of Keyblades and Kingdom Hearts is the realm of scholars and researchers. A Keyblade Master and researcher named Xehanort had plans to reforge the χ-blade and use it to rebalance the world. In the process of enacting his plan, he took over the body of a young apprentice named Terra and in the process, Xehanort lost his memories. The apprentice’s friends, Aqua and Ventus, were left worse for wear: Aqua was lost in the Realm of Darkness, and Ventus was rendered unconscious after being separated from his heart. His heart found a new home in a young boy named Sora, who he had forged a bond with previously.
Xehanort and Organization XIII
In a new body and lacking his old memories, Xehanort was discovered by a benevolent ruler named Ansem the Wise, who was conducting research into the nature of darkness. Ansem took Xehanort under his wing while conducting his experiments, but as Xehanort slowly regained his memories, he began his own experiments in secret, and kept records of the research posing under the king’s name. Ansem ultimately shut down his research, deeming it too dangerous, but Xehanort led a rebellion of the other darkness-obsessed researchers and banished Ansem the Wise into the Realm of Darkness.
At this point in the story, the nature of Xehanort’s corporeal form becomes complicated. He had fully regained his memories, but he was still in the body of Terra. So he gave his own heart over to the darkness completely, creating two distinct identities: his Heartless form, called Ansem, and his Nobody form, called Xemnas. Ansem appeared as a dark form of the wise king, while Xemnas looked like a dark form of Terra.
It’s crucial to understand that a Heartless and Nobody are complimentary pieces of one whole being. A Heartless is a heart that has given itself over completely to the darkness, while a Nobody is a body that has lost its heart. Therefore, when someone gives their heart to the darkness, their heart becomes a Heartless, and their body becomes a Nobody. These often appear as monsters, but particularly strong-willed individuals can have their Heartless and Nobody forms develop their own distinct personalities, as in the case of Xehanort.
At this point in the story, the nature of Xehanort’s corporeal form becomes complicated. He created two distinct identities: Ansem and Xemnas.
These two distinct identities would later exercise their own unique plans to take control of Kingdom Hearts, which laid the groundwork for the two core games. Ansem struck an alliance with the villain Maleficent to gather hearts of pure light. Meanwhile, Xemnas founded Organization XIII and filled its membership with the Nobodies created when the other researchers gave their own hearts to darkness.
Xemnas intended for these members to hold pieces of his own dark heart, to serve as his thirteen agents of pure darkness. To complicate matters further, though, Ansem sensed that Xemnas’ new apprentices would develop their own personalities and wouldn’t be accessible as vessels. So, he traveled backward through time and taught a young Xehanort the secrets of time travel, so that he could use it to gather different incarnations of himself to fill any necessary spots in the XIII. The young Xehanort wasn’t left with specific memories of the encounter, but retained the skills.
TL;DR Summary: Xehanort split himself into two beings: Ansem, a Heartless modeled after the benevolent king who had helped him recover his memories; and Xemnas, his Nobody. Both personalities began undertaking their own actions, including the forming Organization XIII from the Nobodies of researchers who had lost their hearts--and learning the secret to time travel so that he could fill out the organization’s ranks with versions of himself from different time periods as a backup plan.
The Quests of Sora and King Mickey
Finally the story has reached the core numbered games, which introduced the main protagonists and plot threads that will be developed and resolved in Kingdom Hearts 3. And it all starts, simply enough, with a few friends living on Destiny Islands: Sora, Riku, and Kairi.
Sora, the primary protagonist of the Kingdom Hearts series, began experiencing strange events--first a disturbing dream, then an encounter with a hooded figure. When the island was attacked by Heartless, Sora lost his friends, who had been scattered to various lands. Meanwhile, King Mickey Mouse left his kingdom to look into the darkness that was encroaching on the world, and instructed Donald Duck and Goofy to find a special key. Sora, Donald, and Goofy all met in Traverse Town, and resolved to travel together to find their friends.
Maleficent and a cast of other recognizable Disney villains were seeking seven Princesses of Heart to unlock a door to Kingdom Hearts. She recruited Riku by promising to help him find Kairi, and turned him against Sora. When Riku eventually did find Kairi, her heart was gone. Sora eventually confronted Riku, and the two argued over who was the proper wielder of the Keyblade. Riku was chastened, but his shame over the ordeal only drove him further toward the darkness. He encountered the dark Ansem and allowed his heart to be possessed.
With this newfound power, the possessed Riku revealed important parts of his plan. He told Sora that Kairi was the final Princess of Heart, and that her catatonic state was rendered when her heart transferred inside Sora during the attack on their home. To save Kairi, Sora released his own heart with Kairi’s inside of it, and temporarily turned into a Heartless. When Kairi’s heart returned and she regained consciousness, she used the strength of her own heart to turn Sora back into a human.
In a dramatic final confrontation, Sora, Donald, and Goofy faced Ansem. He explained his master plan to claim the power of Kingdom Hearts. He believed Kingdom Hearts was a dark power, and so when he was defeated in battle, he attempted to tap into its power to help him defeat the heroes. But in a final irony, the door Ansem had worked so hard to open finally unlocked and revealed the power of Kingdom Hearts was actually light, and it destroyed the dark Ansem.
Inside the door, King Mickey and Riku emerged and began to help Sora close the door. But the area was becoming overrun with Heartless, so Mickey and Riku remained inside to help seal it. Mickey and Sora worked together with their Keyblades to seal the door. At this point, Riku and King Mickey were lost, and Kairi was transported back to Destiny Island. Sora, Donald, and Goofy set out on a quest to find their friends again, chasing after Mickey’s dog Pluto.
In a brief epilogue, Riku confronted a previously unseen character, later revealed to be Roxas from Kingdom Hearts 2.
TL;DR Summary: A young boy named Sora teamed up with Donald and Goofy from King Mickey’s kingdom and embarked on a shared quest to find their friends. In the process they learned about the nature of the Heartless--and Sora became one himself for a short time. They all banded together to save Sora’s friends Kairi and Riku, and eventually confronted and destroyed the dark Ansem. But they were separated in the ensuing chaos, and so the quest to reunite started anew.
The Bridge Between Hearts
Between the events of the first and second numbered Kingdom Hearts games, a supplemental story took place--partially overlapping with both. These events, as depicted in Chain of Memories and 358/2 Days are mostly table-setting for Kingdom Hearts 2, though they also start to establish important secondary characters.
Simultaneous to some of the events in the original Kingdom Hearts, we have the story of Roxas--the Nobody created when Sora briefly became a Heartless. Because of the piece of Ventus in Sora’s heart, Roxas looks identical to Ventus. Xemnas, the leader of Organization XIII, found Roxas and dubbed him the thirteenth member of the cabal. He apprenticed under Axel, and went on missions to defeat Heartless in hopes of eventually summoning Kingdom Hearts so they could become whole people. Shortly after, Organization XIII received a fourteenth member, named Xion, whose physical appearance was different for each member of the Organization, almost as if she had a shapeshifting qualities. Axel and several other members were assigned to oversee a mission at Castle Oblivion.
After following Pluto down a path, Sora, Donald, and Goofy found themselves in Castle Oblivion. This area had them relive distorted versions of their memories, while slowly erasing the original memories. As they progressed through the castle, they discovered Namine, a Nobody created from Kairi’s heart when Sora returned it to her body. Namine planned to take Kairi’s place in Sora’s heart by replacing his memories. All of this was being done at the direction of Organization XIII, which wanted to trick Sora into becoming loyal to them. In the process, Sora encountered several members of Organization XIII for the first time: Axel, Marluxia, Larxene, and Vexen.
Meanwhile, Riku was battling his own existential demons, fighting off the temptation to give in to the dark Ansem, who left a piece of himself inside Riku. Other members of Organization XIII were attempting to use Riku against Sora, as part of their group’s ongoing infighting. Riku also met the mysterious DiZ at this point--the benevolent King Ansem in disguise.
Finally, Sora defeated Marluxia and Namine offered to put him into a deep sleep to restore his memories--the process of which would erase all of his memories of Castle Oblivion.
While Axel and some of the other Organization XIII members were busy at Castle Oblivion, Roxas was partnered with Xion. The two grew close, but then Roxas fell into a coma when Sora was put to sleep in Castle Oblivion. When he woke, he learned that all of the XIII sent to Castle Oblivion were eliminated, aside from Axel. The three remaining--Roxas, Axel, and Xion--became friends, even as Roxas' growing memories of Sora’s life made him suspicious of the Organization’s true purpose.
Xion discovered that Xemnas had created her from Sora’s memories, as something of a backup plan if Sora resisted obeying the XIII. She left the Organization in a quest to become a true person, followed by Roxas, who also wanted to find himself. Xemnas intercepted Xion and turned her against Roxas. After defeating her, the two reconciled just before she died peacefully. The memories used to create Xion returned to Sora, and Roxas carried her Keyblade in her memory.
Roxas was suddenly confronted by Riku, who had been sent by DiZ to capture him and restore Sora’s memories. Riku was forced to tap into the darkness in his heart to defeat Roxas, proving the piece of Ansem was still lingering there. Riku brought Roxas’ unconscious body back to DiZ, who digitized Roxas and placed him in a virtual simulation. Finally, DiZ helped Riku draw out the memory of dark Ansem to defeat him and purify his heart, and he continued on his journey with King Mickey.
TL;DR Summary: Sora’s brief transformation into a Heartless created the Nobody Roxas, who was tricked into joining Organization XIII. The Organization had several schemes going at once, but many of their members were wiped out during a single mission against Sora and Riku. The kind King Ansem was still alive, having taken on a disguise as “DiZ.” He helped Riku conquer the darkness in his heart, and organized a mission to recover Roxas and place him in a simulated reality.
Sora vs Organization XIII
Inside his simulated world, Roxas began to question his reality. He acquired his own Keyblade and encountered Axel and then Namine, who explained that he was a Nobody. Soon after he met DiZ, who put him on the path to discovering digital versions of Sora and his friends Donald and Goofy sleeping. At this point Roxas understood his nature and merged with Sora, who was awoken.
Back in the real world, Sora and his friends briefly encountered Mickey Mouse, who rushed them onto a train. The train took them to the Mysterious Tower, and set them on a mission to stop the Heartless and Organization XIII. As Sora continued on his quest, he learned more about the nature of Roxas and heard that Riku could be alive. Meanwhile, Axel abducted Kairi.
After a massive battle against the Heartless, Sora learned the truth about Xehanort--that the Ansem he defeated was Xehanort’s Heartless, and Xemnas was his Nobody. He also learned at this point that the real King Ansem had been overthrown and was still missing. He caught wind of the Organization’s plan to create a new Kingdom Hearts in order to restore their own hearts and become full beings again.
This led to a series of internal struggles that revealed even more to Sora. He battled Roxas within his own heart, and then learned the nature of Roxas and Namine as his and Kairi’s Nobodies. He then fought through the Organization and reunited with Riku and Kairi. King Ansem’s machine, which he had been using to digitize data, became overloaded and Ansem sacrificed himself to save Sora and the others. Similarly, Maleficent and Pete allied themselves with Sora and held off the Heartless so that he could confront Xemnas.
Sora defeated a series of Organization XIII members, culminating in a fight against Xemnas. While he seemed incapacitated, Namine merged with Kairi, and Roxas with Sora. Xemnas got his strength back and Sora and Riku teamed up to defeat him and close his newly created Kingdom Hearts. The two found themselves reunited in Destiny Islands with all of their friends: Kairi, Donald, Goofy, and King Mickey. Meanwhile, Xehanort enacted a new plan to fill the new Organization with manifestations of himself from throughout time.
TL;DR Summary: Sora learned about the true nature and plans of Organization XIII, Ansem, and Xemnas. Roxas merged with Sora, making him whole. Sora and Riku teamed up to defeat Xemnas. The Organization was fractured and the newly reconstituted Xehanort was forced to use his backup plan: finding incarnations of himself from throughout time.
Preparing for Battle
Following the events of Kingdom Hearts 2, a few more supplemental story pieces have set the stage for the third installment.
The sorcerer Yen Sid gave Sora and Riku the Mark of Mastery exam, which included a mission to restore several more worlds from creatures called Dream Eaters. During this quest, Sora encountered a young Xehanort, who revealed that he had been visited by his older self and taught the secrets of time travel. With that knowledge, he has been hopping throughout time looking for various incarnations of himself to create a new Organization XIII. Sora fought Xemnas, one of the incarnations of Xehanort brought back through time, but the battle left him unconscious and Xemnas abducted him, with plans to place a piece of his own dark heart inside Sora’s body.
Meanwhile, several of the former Organization XIII members awoke in their own original bodies after the destruction of their Nobodies. Several more were missing, though, so Lea (the real form of Axel) went looking for them.
Riku attempted to save Sora, and was eventually flanked by several allies including Lea, Mickey, Donald, and Goofy. Riku brought Sora back to Yen Sid and helped revive him. Once Sora regained consciousness, Yen Sid named Riku a Keyblade Master--but not Sora. Sora left on his own quest, having lost most of his power from nearly becoming a vessel for Xehanort. Lea found he was able to summon his own Keyblade for the first time. Ventus, though still asleep, began to regain consciousness. Finally, Yen Sid asked for Kairi to come and undergo her own training.
TL;DR Summary: Xemnas abducted Sora with plans to turn him into a vessel for Xehanort, a process that left Sora severely weakened. Riku became a Keyblade Master. Lea, the real form of Axl, wielded his own Keyblade for the first time, and set off to find the real identities of several missing Organization members. Kairi has been summoned to undergo her own Keyblade training.
The Stage Is Set
All of this puts the pieces in place for Kingdom Hearts 3. Sora is on a quest to regain his power, Riku and King Mickey are both full-fledged Keyblade Masters, and Kairi is undergoing training. Aqua is still lost in darkness but fighting her way through, while Terra is battling his own darkness having served as a vessel for Xehanort. Ventus, meanwhile, is starting to regain consciousness. That makes seven potential Guardians of Light, though Lea’s newfound power to wield a Keyblade is bound to come in handy as well. Lea is also still searching for the other original forms of the displaced Organization XIII members, and any of them could become allies or adversaries.
Finally, Xehanort is gathering his power, preparing for the confrontation that will give him control over Kingdom Hearts to rebalance the world.
Character Cheat Sheet
A large part of the confusion over Kingdom Hearts is the multitude of distinct characters with Russian nesting doll connections to each other. Multiple characters reside in the hearts of others, or have had their bodies taken over. Others have embraced the darkness and a Heartless persona, which also creates a Nobody--a heart without a body, and a body without a heart. Making matters more confounding, these Heartless and Nobody characters often develop their own personalities. They may even look slightly differently than their source, or take on the appearance of someone they had some connection with.
To help untangle all of this, we’ve outlined all the notable multi-layered characters below.
The chief antagonist of the Kingdom Hearts series has the most forms and connections of any character, making him the most complex. First, he implanted his own heart into the body of Terra, one of the Keyblade wielders in Birth by Sleep. This body was struck down in battle and recovered by the good king Ansem the Wise. As a partial amnesiac, he became Ansem’s pupil and did research on the nature of darkness in hearts. Ansem the Wise later realized the danger of these experiments and ended them. Xehanort continued the experiments in secret as he recovered his memory, and eventually staged a coup with his fellow apprentices to banish Ansem the Wise. At this point he cast off his body and made a Heartless, which appeared as a dark form of Ansem. In the process this also created his Nobody, named Xemnas, who looked very similar to Terra. Each of these beings enacted their own distinct plans to recover Kingdom Hearts. After the defeat of the dark Ansem (KH1) and Xemnas (KH2) his body has reconstituted itself in its original form as an elderly man.
Terra was a Keyblade apprentice who battled against Xehanort, but in the process Xehanort forced his heart into Terra’s body. Terra’s own heart remained, battling with Xehanort’s heart for dominance over the body--in part because he has the memory of his Keyblade Master, Eraqus in his heart as well. When Terra’s body was used to create Xehanort’s Heartless and Nobody, the Nobody (Xemnas) took an appearance similar to Terra. His heart still exists, but it’s unclear whether he has any physical body to occupy.
As the main protagonist of the series, Sora’s various connections are nearly as complex as the antagonist, Xehanort. Sora is holding Ventus’ heart inside his own while he heals. Because Sora’s heart connected with Ventus’ when Xehanort was creating Vanitas, Vanitas appears very similar to Sora. When Sora was briefly made into a Heartless, a Nobody was created, named Roxas, who looks like Ventus due to Sora’s connection with him.
Ventus was one of the Keyblade wielders in Birth by Sleep. The darkness in his heart was used to create the villain Vanitas. His heart was severely damaged by this process, and later by an ensuing battle, so his heart has gone to rest inside Sora to recover. His body is currently unconscious and waiting to be rejoined with his heart.
Roxas was the Nobody created when Sora briefly became a Heartless. Since Ventus’ heart was residing in Sora when this happened, Roxas looked identical to Ventus. Eventually he realized his true nature and merged with Sora to restore him.
King Ansem / DiZ
The real Ansem was a kind and benevolent king who found Xehanort (in Terra’s body) and nursed him back to health, and conducted experiments meant to help restore his memory. After deeming his experiments too dangerous, Xehanort staged a coup and cast him into the Realm of Darkness so that he and the other researchers could continue the experiments themselves. When Xehanort embraced the darkness himself, his Heartless took the form of a dark, gray-haired Ansem. Meanwhile, the real Ansem lived on and disguised himself in bandages, calling himself DiZ. DiZ offered help to the heroes before sacrificing himself to save them.
Riku was briefly possessed by the spirit of the dark Ansem. He also appeared as a digital representation inside DiZ’s simulation.
The antagonist Organization has changed its membership over time, which can create confusion over who is and isn’t a member. At first the name applied to the Nobodies of the researchers who helped to overthrow King Ansem, and they were led by Xemnas, Xehanort’s Nobody. Roxas was also inducted for a brief time, as well as an imperfect clone of Sora named Xion. Once the heroes defeated several of the Organization and left them scattered, some are lost and others have changed loyalties. Having thirteen beings of darkness is vital to Xehanort’s plans, though, so he’s filling the empty spots with manifestations of himself plucked from throughout time.
Simple and Clean: The TL;DR Story of Kingdom Hearts
In ancient times, a group of guardians were manipulated into fighting among themselves, and in the process of the battle, the original Keyblade was shattered and Kingdom Hearts vanished. But a few had secret instructions to escape the battle, and started anew.
Years later, the nature of Keyblades and Kingdom Hearts is the realm of scholars and researchers. A Keyblade Master and researcher named Xehanort had plans to reforge the χ-blade and use it to rebalance the world. In the process of enacting his plan, he took over the body of a young apprentice named Terra and in the process, Xehanort lost his memories. The apprentice’s friends, Aqua and Ventus, were left worse for wear: Aqua was lost in the Realm of Darkness, and Ventus was rendered unconscious after being separated from his heart. His heart found a new home in a young boy named Sora, who he had forged a bond with previously.
Xehanort split himself into two beings: Ansem, a Heartless modeled after the benevolent king who had helped him recover his memories; and Xemnas, his Nobody. Both personalities began undertaking their own actions, including the forming Organization XIII from the Nobodies of researchers who had lost their hearts--and learning the secret to time travel so that he could fill out the organization’s ranks with versions of himself from different time periods as a backup plan.
A young boy named Sora teamed up with Donald and Goofy from King Mickey’s kingdom and embarked on a shared quest to find their friends. In the process they learned about the nature of the Heartless--and Sora became one himself for a short time. They all banded together to save Sora’s friends Kairi and Riku, and eventually confronted and destroyed the dark Ansem. But they were separated in the ensuing chaos, and so the quest to reunite started anew.
Sora’s brief transformation into a Heartless created the Nobody Roxas, who was tricked into joining Organization XIII. The Organization had several schemes going at once, but many of their members were wiped out during a single mission against Sora and Riku. The kind King Ansem was still alive, having taken on a disguise as “DiZ.” He helped Riku conquer the darkness in his heart, and organized a mission to recover Roxas and place him in a simulated reality.
Sora learned about the true nature and plans of Organization XIII, Ansem, and Xemnas. Roxas merged with Sora, making him whole. Sora and Riku teamed up to defeat Xemnas. The Organization was fractured and the newly reconstituted Xehanort was forced to use his backup plan: finding incarnations of himself from throughout time.
Xemnas abducted Sora with plans to turn him into a vessel for Xehanort, a process that left Sora severely weakened. Riku became a Keyblade Master. Lea, the real form of Axl, wielded his own Keyblade for the first time, and set off to find the real identities of several missing Organization members. Kairi has been summoned to undergo her own Keyblade training.