Q. Why did they number the Kingdom Hearts games so dumb and weird?
A. Here are the ridiculous title explanations you were waiting for.
Kingdom Hearts, aka Kingdom Heats 1, is the most straightforward of the bunch. As a reminder, yes, Kingdom Hearts is revealed to be an actual object in the game/series, and is not just some random nonsense title. Gilgamesh is not searching the multiverse for the Final Fantasy, and Benjamin does not live in Final Fantasy, USA.
Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories is the Gameboy Advance game that was kind of a retelling of Kingdom Hearts 1, kind of its own original story. So, the “Chain of Memories” is a gentle reminder that you’ve seen everything in this game once already, and a descriptor for how the plot of the game involves Naminé, the slave witch, altering Sora’s memories by inserting herself into key moments. She is breaking Sora’s chain of memories, while you are trying to get a chain combo going through your own memories of a game you already played. Kingdom Hearts Re:Chain of Memories was the PS2 remake of the game that has a title based on an email subject misunderstanding.
Kingdom Hearts 2 is the sequel to Kingdom Hearts, and the last time we saw a straightforward title in this series (it’s been almost a decade!). The “2” here could also be a clever reference to the fact that Sora and Kairi are both accidentally duplicated for the entirety of the game (Roxas and Naminé, respectively), or how Sora wields a pair of keyblades during special occasions. Also, every world winds up getting visited twice, so Kingdom Hearts 2 is twice as padded as Kingdom Hearts 1.
Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days for the DS is where we start sliding off the rails forever. This impossible to abbreviate title features Roxas (Sora clone) and new character Xion (… also a Sora clone) palling around with Organization XIII for the period of time between Kingdom Hearts 1 and 2. We’re talking about 358 Days, and since the relationship between Roxas and Xion is central to the plot, it is 358 days divided by two people. Also, a DS screen can be used by better games (thinking of Contra 4 here) as a sort of giant screen divided into two. It all adds up to KH358/2D being titled unusually so as to discourage people from playing that turd.
Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep is the prequel of the series, thus the whole “Birth” thing. Aggravatingly, this is not the origin story of the main villain of the series, Xehanort, so we’re probably going to see another, earlier prequel somewhere down the line to cover the Birth of Darkness. Interestingly, while this game is mostly in media res because someone lost the ability to tell stories with concrete beginnings, the game does open with the literal birth of Sora, which causes Ven, an identical cousin of Sora, to awaken from a deep sleep. The game is then bookended with Ven knocking back into a coma while his heart flutters off to hang out with child Sora, so “Birth by Sleep” actually makes a sort of sideways sense. If you squint. Note that, thanks to its plot placement before Kingdom Hearts 1, BBS is sometimes referred to as Kingdom Hearts 0, which will be important in a moment.
Kingdom Hearts Coded was a damn episodic cell phone game that got rereleased as a complete DS game named Kingdom Hearts Re:Coded. This is the story of Mickey Mouse trying to get with the times and digitizing Jiminy Cricket’s dusty old journal which, naturally, leads to the world nearly being destroyed, because technology is scary and somehow scanning a book creates sentient life, most of it malevolent. “Coded” is referring to the scanning (coding) process here, and “code” is also a synonym for “puzzle” according to Word’s thesaurus, which alludes to the fact that this is a puzzle game. “Re:coded” is just what those whacky programmers were complaining about when they were informed the game would be reheated for the DS.
Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance is just… ugh… still mad at this one. First of all, yes, if you abbreviate the title, it just appears as Kingdom Hearts 3, which we… *cough*… I mean fans have been clamoring for since Kingdom Hearts 2 six years prior. Now, to be annoyed by the very next letter, it’s “3D” not just because it’s in 3-D, but because the subtitle is three sequential D’s: Dream Drop Distance, which is a previously unmentioned keyblade ability that allows the user to drop into the dreams of the heart… which are… just regular dreams. Anyway, to the game’s credit, it does continue the “story” of Kingdom Hearts, so it did work out like a pseudo-Kingdom Hearts 3. Of course, now we’re all excited about the real Kingdom Hearts 3, and nobody cares about the 3DS anymore, so let’s resubtitle the game as 2.8, since we already used 2.5 for the Kingdom Hearts 2 HD release, and we can’t exceed three. There are an infinite amount of numbers between two and three, and I’m betting 2.9 is reserved for some kind of prologue cell phone game released three months before KH3. Or a paid demo! The possibilities are endless!
Speaking of lousy promotional games, Kingdom Hearts χ was a browser based game set ages before the events of any given Kingdom Hearts, pre-Keyblade War, which was fought over the χ-blade. For those of you without a doctorate in Kingdom Hearts History, this would be akin to setting a Star Wars game a thousand years before the birth of Chewbacca. Kingdom Hearts χ is a nothing of a game, basically meant for playing around the Kingdom Hearts universe while your boss is off hitting on Debra in accounting (think about it, Kingdom Hearts was released in 2002, the teens that played that game and bought Nobody hoodies and custom zippers are well into their cubicles today). There were a few inklings of the plot in there, though, so those scenes are being repackaged as the movie Kingdom Hearts χ in the new set, like 358/2 Days in KH1.5HD and Re:Coded in KH2.5HD. Wow, Team Kingdom Hearts really has this down to a science.
And χ is pronounced “key”, of course.
Finally, we have Kingdom Hearts 0.2 Birth by Sleep: A Fragmentary Passage. Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep (KH0) ends with Aqua sucked into the Realm of Darkness, which is also where a whale of a lot of worlds also wound up during the time period between BBS and Kingdom Hearts 1. This means that we can just reuse Aqua’s BBS HD Remake model and animations to explore a whole host of “lost” worlds that are just reused assets from previous KH games modified to a darker palette for inclusion in the Realm of Darkness. It’ll be Birth by Sleep 0.2 alright, as the whole game will likely involve two new worlds, one new Square guest star (let’s say… Laguna?), and the other 80% will be stuff we’ve already seen.
I’ll buy it day one.
Q. Any handy visual aids available for the series?
A. Here’s the boxart for Kingdom Hearts 2.5 HD
Highlighted below are all the characters that are, or have ever been, Sora.
Now here are all the characters that are, or have ever been, Xehanort.
And, finally, here are all the characters that are… female.