Editor’s Note: As we’ll dive into the explanations behind each of the Kingdom Hearts games’ titles and meanings (or try to), some spoilers will follow for the past series entries before Kingdom Hearts III‘s release.
Kingdom Hearts III is dangerously close to release, and like a bunch of high school students cramming the night before a test they knew about weeks in advance, everyone is trying to make sense of the lore beforehand. With numerous spin-off games across platforms, soapy drama, a web of character relationships, and the presence of Skrillex, the Kingdom Hearts series makes the most convoluted anime shows seem as simple as a children’s picture book in comparison.
I’m here to make a wild claim: the Kingdom Hearts series is not as impenetrable as it seems. I won’t defend the lore as a whole (especially now that time travel is in the mix), but where I will start is with the game titles. Square Enix always likes to keep it esoteric and straight-up bizarre—don’t forget that Ehrgeiz: God Bless the Ring and Murdered: Soul Suspect are absolutely real titles for games they have published. While Kingdom Hearts may have caught the same bug, allow me to try to make sense of all of these titles.
For the most part, it’s simple math.
Short, sweet, simple, and to the point. Kingdom Hearts is named after, well, Kingdom Hearts. It’s basically the big MacGuffin throughout the series, though rather than being a statue or a Holy Grail-type object, it’s represented by a giant-ass heart-shaped moon that acts as the “heart of all worlds.” Everyone wants a piece of that Kingdom Hearts, and it drives the plot whether you understand the character motivations or not.
Luckily, Square Enix never pulled a “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope” with this first title and retroactively gave it something even longer and more convoluted. That’s what these later titles are for.
Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories
It didn’t take too long for Tetsuya Nomura and friends to get into handheld spin-offs for Kingdom Hearts. First released on the Game Boy Advance, this game served double duty in advancing the story while also retelling some story beats from the very first game, which those who exclusively own Nintendo consoles weren’t able to experience (at first).
As one can probably guess from the title, memory is the primary story theme this time around. The main trio of Sora, Donald, and Goofy are going through the Castle Oblivion, which recreates several Disney worlds based on Sora’s own memories. At the same time, as the trio makes their way up the castle, their memories begin to fade, thanks to some trickery from Organization XIII and their memory-manipulating “witch” named Naminé.
This game got a rerelease for the PlayStation 2 called Kingdom Hearts Re:Chain of Memories that remade the entire game in 3D. Let’s just say that “Re:” means “remake” or “revisit” or “redoing,” or what have you, and not “regarding” like in email chains.
Kingdom Hearts II
Wait a second, why is Chain of Memories not Kingdom Hearts II and why isn’t this Kingdom Hearts III? Semantics is a weird thing, especially when it comes to video game titles. If you want a point of reference from Western games, think about how Brotherhood and Revelations in Assassin’s Creed came between AC2 and AC3.
Chain of Memories was a side story with a completely different card battle system, summarizing events from the first game. KHII, on the other hand, iterated on the hack-and-slash third-person action-RPG combat from the first proper game. Need more proof that it’s a sequel? Sora’s got new clothes.
Also, Chain of Memories is mostly summed up visually in the opening FMV of Kingdom Hearts II, basically making you play that game by transitive property if you missed it. I’d also like to think that the antagonist Xemnas trying to create his own Kingdom Hearts would give the title a meta element by having the second Kingdom Hearts we’ve seen—that would probably make too much sense, though.
Kingdom Hearts Coded
If you think hacking and computers in film and television are silly, wait ’til you get a load of Kingdom Hearts Coded. The first of three handheld Kingdom Hearts titles simultaneously announced for release, Coded (or “coded” in lowercase letters if you care about their styling) came out on mobile phones. Like, old phones with buttons before gacha games were a thing.
That mobile version never left Japan, but the rest of the world got to experience the Nintendo DS remake called Kingdom Hearts Re:coded (see above for the “Re:” explanation). See, this game has computers as the main focus. Rather than focusing on memory, Coded focuses on data, with our Disney Castle characters (King Mickey, Donald Duck, Goofy, and chronicler Jiminy Cricket) digitizing Jiminy’s journal of Sora and co.’s adventures.
Turns out the data (or the code, rather!) is corrupt, and the characters… make a digital Sora… to clean up the bugs. Listen, I said that the titles make sense, not the games. But you probably skipped out on Re:coded—not only does it once again go through old worlds from the first game, but the story basically sets up the 3DS title Dream Drop Distance for that to set up Kingdom Hearts III.
What a fun cycle!
Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days
“Three-five-eight days over two.” Say it with me again. “Three-five-eight days over two.” Not this “three-hundred and fifty-eight divided by two days” or whatever nonsense everyone has been spouting. I said there would be math involved, but not like this.
Why it is pronounced “three-five-eight” and not “three-hundred and fifty-eight” is unbeknownst to me. It also possibly could have been remedied by naming it “Kingdom Hearts 358 Days/2,” but perhaps it was just a stylistic choice. Nevertheless, I’m happy to provide a comprehensive explanation of what the title means.
The game takes place over 358 days, and there are two main characters, Roxas and Xion.
That’s literally it. 358/2 Days covers the entirety of these two characters’ time working for Organization XIII. Most of the game has the player as Roxas entering a lobby, given a task or job for the day, some sort of life lesson, eating sea salt ice cream on that clock tower, going to sleep, then the cycle repeats the next day. It’s basically Office Space, but Kingdom Hearts. Maybe they should’ve just called it “Kingdom Hearts: Roxas’ Odd Jobs” instead, or something.
It’s “three-five-eight days over two,” dammit.
Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep
Acting as a prequel, what is basically “Kingdom Hearts Zero” has a case where characters actually say the title of the thing that they’re in. In the PSP game’s secret ending “Blank Points,” Ansem the Wise (the real Ansem; it’s a whole thing) relays to Aqua, also in the Dark Meridian, the following: “So many are still waiting for their new beginning. Their Birth by Sleep. Even me, and even you.”
There are a few ways to approach this title, but the concepts of “rebirth” and “awakening” become evident as the game barrels towards its quite sad and cynical conclusion. Aqua is stuck in the realm of darkness, Terra is possessed as the vessel for Xehanort, and Ventus is literally asleep and in a catatonic state after losing his heart (now kept by Sora, which is why Roxas and Ventus look the same, got it?).
Basically, the three main characters are screwed, and it will be up to Sora to save all of them—hence, a rebirth from their sleep. Probably. I think. You know, we can defer to Nomura himself:
Honestly, I simply wanted to try using the word ‘by’ (laughs). I thought, game subtitles always have ‘of’ or ‘is’, but you hardly ever see ‘by’. I asked the localization staff and they said ‘you don’t usually use it in titles’, but according to a producer fluent in English there wasn’t a problem, so I thought it wouldn’t be too odd to use it. Also, I thought it would be good to continue the flow of KHCoM and KH Coded using internet words, and keeping ‘bonds between people’ in mind, I wanted it to be contracted to BBS (Bulletin Board System, software that allows users to connect). Then, I wanted to use the word ‘sleep’, and the result of all that was ‘Birth by Sleep’.
Okay, that makes significantly less sense than my own explanation, so ignore that.
Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance
Remember the glory days of Nintendo where console names would cause trends in game titles? Think of all of the games that began with “Super” for the Super Nintendo/Famicom and every game that ended with “64” for the Nintendo 64. It’s a time that I’m oddly nostalgic for.
Back when the Nintendo DS was at its prime, the game titles for that platform observed a different trend: DS acronyms. You got your Advance Wars: Dual Strike, your Tenchu: Dark Secret, Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword, and so on. While none of the Kingdom Hearts DS games observed this, Dream Drop Distance for the Nintendo 3DS was the lone contributor to a weird trend of having three Ds in the name. Because, you know, 3D. As in, Nintendo 3DS.
And what does Dream Drop Distance mean, Nomura? (from Nintendo Power via KH Insider):
The story for this installment takes place in a world submerged in sleep, and from that “Sleep” we derived “Dream”. “Drop”, from the phrase “Drop off to sleep”, is our name for the system in which players alternate between control of Sora and Riku during gameplay. And since Sora and Riku are progressing through the story on different storylines, we chose “Distance” to express the gulf between them. And of course, since all three words start with the letter D, it can be shortened to 3D to add to the meaning of 3D functionality.
Okay, that one made a little more sense. Everyone in Kingdom Hearts really likes going to sleep. Instead of Donald and Goofy, the alternating player characters of Sora and Riku would have companions known as Spirit Dream Eaters, fighting Nightmare Dream Eaters as enemies. I have to wonder if Nomura just thought of three random words that began with “D,” strung them together, and made the gameplay systems based on that title. Is that how they make games at Square Enix?
Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix
Here’s where numbers start to come into play. This is an HD remaster of the first Kingdom Hearts, along with an HD version of Kingdom Hearts Re:Chain of Memories, and an HD cinematic retelling of Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days (which I must continue to stress is pronounced “three-five-eight days over two”).
The “Remix” part comes in as this version of the first Kingdom Hearts is the Final Mix version, which included minor changes and additions, including a secret boss—this version never made it to the West until this HD collection popped up. As for the “.5” added on, Chain of Memories and 358/2 Days were half-steps in the story after the first game, with the former beginning immediately after the first game and sometime before the second game, with the latter title beginning around the end of the first game, during Chain of Memories, and right before the second game begins.
Kingdom Hearts χ
Say, what is that The Artist Formerly Known as Prince-looking symbol at the end? It’s a letter that is literally pronounced as “key,” though Master Xehanort in Birth by Sleep has mentioned that some refer to it as “kye” (it is also “chi” from the Greek alphabet). The χ-blade is a bit of a MacGuffin in Birth by Sleep, and it straight up looks like the default Kingdom Key keyblade doubled and crossed together with a giant Final Fantasy-like sword at the end.
This “legendary weapon” is said to co-exist with Kingdom Hearts and is apparently the only thing that can summon its door. Xehanort’s master plan from Birth by Sleep all the way to Dream Drop Distance is to recreate this blade, so expect this to come into play in Kingdom Hearts III. And remember how all of those Organization XIII members have weird names with an “X?” That’s meant to be a reference to χ, with their Nobody names being their original names but as an anagram with an X—hence Sora to “Roxas.”
Now, what the hell is Kingdom Hearts χ? It’s a browser game that went to mobile (as Unchained χ; I guess being on browser was the game being “chained?”) in the gatcha era. I’m currently trying to get through it on iOS, but boy is it a hassle. It takes place way, way before anything else in the Kingdom Hearts timeline, and the era is explored more in the HD cinematic movie Kingdom Hearts χ Back Cover as part of 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue.
Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 Remix
Like 1.5 Remix, 2.5 Remix brought Kingdom Hearts II Final Remix outside of Japan for the first time. With HD cinematics summarizing Re:Coded, a game that takes place after KHII and before Dream Drop Distance, this compilation acted as another “half-step” towards KHIII.
Despite being a prequel, Birth by Sleep (which also came in Final Remix form) came out after Kingdom Hearts II and is greatly informed by that game’s story. It’s how like people should watch the Star Wars prequels after the original trilogy (if they do at all, even). Plus, the aforementioned “Blank Points” secret ending has scenes that take place after Kingdom Hearts II, so it certainly pushed the story forward.
Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue
Ugh, okay, more decimals. First off, I think “Final Chapter Prologue” speaks for itself, even though it is far from the most eloquent phrasing for what this compilation is doing. That’s essentially what Dream Drop Distance is, as it directly leads to Kingdom Hearts III, the final chapter in this “Xehanort Saga,” as Nomura calls it.
Basically, this compilation is an “everything left you need to know” approach before the release of KHIII. The most recent full game is there in full HD, and so is the aforementioned Kingdom Hearts χ Back Cover—in theory, that should relay important stuff from a mobile game people will probably miss necessary for KHIII. But most importantly, the compilation contains a new piece using the Kingdom Hearts III engine. Kingdom Hearts 0.2: Birth by Sleep – A Fragmentary Passage is about the same length as a full Kingdom Hearts world, following Aqua in the Realm of Darkness.
Why 0.2? It’s a follow-up to what was essentially “Kingdom Hearts Zero,” Birth by Sleep. Why 2.8? Well, that’s after the 2.5 stuff, so another tiny step But when you add 0.2 with 2.8, you get the full story—and now you’re at Kingdom Hearts III.
See? Silly and contrived and ridiculous, but simple math! We did it, everyone!
Kingdom Hearts III
That finally brings us to Kingdom Hearts III, which is quite obviously not the third-ever Kingdom Hearts game to come out. Why call this III? If you ask me, what makes a mainline Kingdom Hearts title is having Sora, Donald, and Goofy (in that order) as the main trio, going around the different worlds via Gummi Ship and solving problems and what not in the various Disney worlds.
Every game between KHII and KHIII changed up the formula in some way, but over twelve years later, we’re finally back to pure, core Kingdom Hearts goodness.
Now that the Kingdom Hearts series completely makes sense, don’t forget that Kingdom Hearts III is still due for release internationally on January 29 for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. You can check out another DualShockers editorial about our anticipation for Kingdom Hearts III, and if you’ve studied enough, you can pre-order the game on Amazon.
The post Explaining the Kingdom Hearts Game Titles (Which Totally Make Sense) by Chris Compendio appeared first on DualShockers.