Kingdom Hearts: Previously On... [SPOILERS]
I love Kingdom Hearts. I played it a little as a child but became really passionate about it thanks to the 1.5 Remix HD release for PlayStation 3. I’m incredibly keen for Kingdom Hearts 3. But I find that KH, like my other favourite gaming franchise (being Metal Gear), has a rather complicated series narrative. The game releases don’t follow a chronological narrative, often spinning off to detail side characters or other events (on various gaming platforms, which can make following the story more difficult); there are several different incarnations of the same character, with different names, and looks; and frankly, it’s a little confusing.
This is my attempt to explain the overarching story of the Kingdom Heart games, titled ‘The Dark Seeker Saga’, as simply as possible, but with enough detail to capture some of the intricacies of what’s going on.
Oh, and obviously: SPOILERS WITHIN.
Many years before the series began, in “the age of fairy tales”, the World was whole (each of the separate Disney worlds existing in one), and full of light. This was believed to come from the Kingdom Hearts, the heart of worlds, a source of great power and wisdom. The Kingdom Hearts was protected by the χ-blade, a legendary weapon. Over time, people came to desire the power of the Kingdom Hearts, and darkness was introduced to the World.
To seize control of the Kingdom Hearts, people forged weapons in the image of the χ-blade, called Keyblades. There was an epic battle, a far-reaching conflict that spanned the entire World. In the end, the darkness covered the World, the χ-blade was shattered into twenty pieces (seven of pure light, and thirteen of pure darkness), and the Kingdom Hearts disappeared. The remnants of the battlefield became the Keyblade Graveyard, a scarred wasteland filled with the abandoned Keyblades of fallen warriors.
The remaining Keyblade wielders resolved to protect the World from further destruction, becoming guardians of the world order. The World was restored by the light within the hearts of children, but individual worlds were separated from each other, unable to reached. The story of the Keyblade War became legend, then a fairytale, and the Keyblade was depicted as both a harbinger of destruction, and a weapon capable of saving the world.
Many years later, a young man named Xehanort was born on the Destiny Islands, but longed to leave his home. He found a way to leave, reaching the Land of Departure, where he became a Keyblade wielder, serving under a Keyblade Master. He also befriended a fellow apprentice, Eraqus. They became brothers, but their conflicting beliefs in the balance of Light and Darkness shattered their relationship. Where Eraqus believed Darkness must be destroyed, Xehanort believed Darkness could be controlled.
Xehanort and Eraqus passed the Mark of Mastery exam, and were deemed Keyblade Masters. Having learned Keyblade lore - particularly, the Keyblade war, the χ-blade, and the Kingdom Hearts - he became obsessed with merging with the Kingdom Hearts, and remaking the universe in his own image. With his own body too old to continue his mission, he attempted to use his apprentice Ventus as a vessel, but failed. Instead, he extracted the Darkness from Ventus’s heart and created a separate being, Vanitas. Xehanort took him to Eraqus to be trained in the ways of Light, and met Eraqus’s two students, Aqua and Terra. Xehanort decided that Terra would be his new vessel.
Four years later, Xehanort manipulated Terra into turning against his friends and loved ones, and luring him to Darkness. He sabotaged Terra’s Mark of Mastery exam, and staged his own disappearance. At the same time, Xehanort encountered the evil fairy Maleficent, and manipulated her into beginning a quest to gather young women with no darkness in their hearts. They were the Seven Princesses of Heart: Alice, from Alice in Wonderland; Snow White, from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs; Jasmine, from Aladdin; Belle, from Beauty and the Beast; Cinderella, from CInderella; Aurora, from Sleeping Beauty; and Kairi, adopted daughter to the Mayor of Destiny Islands.
Xehanort allowed himself to be “found” by Terra, before guiding him in the ways of Darkness. He even faked a kidnapping to provoke Terra’s anger and vulnerability. During this manipulation, Terra visits Destiny Islands, and meets a young boy named Riku. Through a Keyblade Inheritance Ceremony, or Bequeathing, Terra chooses Riku to be his successor to wield his Keyblade. Meanwhile, Ventus has come to love Terra like a brother, and Vanitas - on Xehanort’s orders - convinces Ventus to chase after Terra. Eraqus almost kills Ventus but is stopped by Terra, who weakens his former Master in battle; Xehanort delivers the killing blow.
Xehanort then goads Terra, and instructs Ventus and Aqua, to meet him at the Keyblade Graveyard. After an epic battle that weakens those involved, Xehanort transfers his heart into Terra’s body, and becomes Terra-Xehanort; Terra’s Keyblade Armor comes to life as the Lingering Will, a separate entity in the form of an animated suit of armour. The Lingering Will defeats Xehanort, while Vanitas possesses Ventus and creates the χ-blade. Aqua, with the assistance of fellow Keyblade apprentice Mickey Mouse (who is training under Yen Sid, the sorcerer from The Sorcerer’s Apprentice in Fantasia), defeats Vanitas and shatters the χ-blade, scattering everyone at the Keyblade Graveyard to a different location.
Xehanort winds up in the Radiant Guardian, with Terra’s heart’s resistance causing his memories to dissolve. Aqua finds him and fights him, allowing Terra to gain the upper hand in the internal struggle, but Xehanort stabs himself with his own Keyblade and falls into the Realm of Darkness. Aqua sacrifices herself to save Terra-Xehanort, and becomes trapped in the Darkness. Xehanort, with amnesia, is found by Ansem the Wise, the king of Radiant Garden, and taken in as one of his apprentices. A year later, his memories begin to return, and Xehanort concocts a new scheme. He and fellow apprentice Braig manipulate Ansem into experimenting with the heart, in order to produce the Heartless, under the cover of unlocking Xehanort’s hidden memories.
Ansem built a huge laboratory under his castle where he conducted tests on Xehanort’s heart; the six apprentices used the laboratory to conduct inhumane experiments on the heart, and the darkness within. Ansem, discovering this, ordered the experiments stopped and sealed the chamber, but not before the ruler of another world arrived: Mickey Mouse, now King. The two became friends, conversing over many topics, until Mickey revealed the truth of Xehanort’s intentions to Ansem. The six apprentices, meanwhile, had done irreversible damage, consumed by Darkness. They had produced the Heartless, as well as Nobodies: separate bodies, and all that remains of those who have lost their hearts to Darkness.
Ansem attempted to stop his apprentices, but was plunged into the Realm of Darkness, after Xehanort stole his name. Enraged, he discarded his stolen name and became Darkness in Zero, or DiZ. He found a way to gain the power of darkness without being consumed by it, as his apprentices had, and escaped the Realm of Darkness, concealing his identity with a red robe and mask of red bandages. Meanwhile, the six Nobodies created became the founders of Organization XIII, a group of thirteen Nobodies intended to harbour a piece of Xehanort’s heart, as an alternate way of creating the χ-blade. But, knowing that Nobodies develop hearts and personalities of their own over time, an alternate plan is hatched.
Xehanort split into two forms to continues his plans. His Heartless form (Ansem, Seeker of Darkness) travelled back in time and contacted Xehanort as a young man on Destiny Islands, granting his younger self the ability to travel through time and gather various incarnations of himself together as a backup plan. Ansem returned to lead an army of Heartless across several worlds, to swallow as many as possible. His Nobody self, Xemnas (the name Ansem rearranged, with an 'x’; all members of Organization XIII have their original names altered this way), began searching for more Nobodies to join Organization XIII.
Nine years later, Xehanort’s plans fell apart due to the intervention of another Keyblade wielder: Sora, also from Destiny Islands. Sora is the first person to be chosen by the Keyblade as a Keyblade wielder, as every other wielder had been selected by a predecessor. With the assistance of Donald Duck and Goofy, Sora was able to defeat Maleficent and her council of villains (Hades, Jafar, Ursula, Oogie Boogie, and Captain Hook), rescue the captured Princesses of Heart, and defeat Ansem at the End of the World. During his quest, Sora temporarily became a Heartless, and a Nobody was created.
His Nobody, Roxas (also able to wield the Keyblade), was inducted as the thirteenth member of Organization XIII, with the intention of using his Keyblade to gather hearts for an artificially created Kingdom Hearts. As a backup plan, Xemnas created Xion, an obedient imperfect (and female) clone of Sora, for the purpose of absorbing Roxas. Xion developed her own personality and rebelled, and was defeated in battle by Roxas. Meanwhile, Sora began eliminating the members of Organization XIII one-by-one, until only Xemnas ws left. Xemnas merged with the artificial Kingdom Hearts for the final battle, but was defeated and faded into darkness.
Master Yen Sid believed that the destruction of Ansem and Xemnas did not mean the end of Xehanort, but that he will eventually be revived as Master Xehanort, his original form. To counter this, Yen Sid lead Sora and Riku through an abridged form of the Mark of Mastery exam, to make them strong enough for the coming battle. The exam was hindered by a mysterious youth who interfered with events, and tricked Sora into returning to The World That Never Was, where he was captured. Riku follows, discovering the young man is Xehanort from the past, using his time travel abilities to gather thirteen forms of Xehanort in order to revive Master Xehanort.
Xehanort admitted his previous attempt to use Ventus and Vanitas to forge an χ-blade was miscalculated, but has a new plan. He will select thirteen Seekers of Darkness - himself, and twelve other vessels for Xehanort’s heart from across time and space - against the seven Guardians of Light - either the Princesses of Heart, or seven Keyblade wielders protecting them. Xehanort plans to place a fragment of his heart inside Sora’s comatose body to complete his thirteen, but Riku forces him to retreat. Xehanort promises that they will meet again for the final battle.
Riku enters Sora’s comatose body and restores his heart by gathering its broken pieces. Yen Sid declares Riku a Keyblade Master, for his efforts to save Sora; Sora has failed. Undaunted by his failure, Sora sets out on a new journey to train for the coming battle. Yen Sid, meanwhile, plans to gather seven Keyblade wielders to combat the new Organization. To this end, Riku brings Kairi to him, so she can be trained to wield the Keyblade (bequeathed to her by Aqua)…
So, that’s the Dark Seeker Saga (so far!). Bits and pieces have been left out, like much of Chain of Memories, and some of the smaller characters. But (what I think are) the important things have been included to hopefully make understanding the story a little easier.
Bring on Kingdom Hearts III!