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To say that Kingdom Hearts, a game that blends Final Fantasy and Disney, is an alien concept within the gaming industry would be a bit of an understatement. Back at the time of release, we had seen Square Enix (Squaresoft at the time) produce a lot of brilliant turn-based epics, but Kingdom Hearts was a new brand of chaos altogether. With the inclusion of reactive real-time combat and platforming, along with some staple mechanics of the Final Fantasy series, this franchise would captivate audiences and defy the odds to become one of the most beloved RPGs of all time. Not bad for an idea between two business executives in an elevator, but we all know that story by now, don’t we?
Well, that raises another question, do we all intimately know the Kingdom Hearts series? After all, it’s a decades-old franchise, and perhaps many generations of gamers have lost the thread of the series, or just haven’t happened to pick up a game from the long list of titles to play. It’s a series that can be hard to jump into. Many tout Kingdom Hearts as one of those ‘you had to be there’ series because the narrative is so convoluted. However, with the introduction of the All-in-One collection, it’s pretty simple to get all the games in one neat package and get caught up, if that’s what you want to do.
However, even with all the games wrapped up in one neat little bow, these titles can feel a little alien and hard to get your head around. So with that in mind, I have decided to put together a comprehensive Kingdom Hearts Getting Started Guide, allowing you keyblade masters in training to get your bearings, and make exploring innumerable Disney locales a piece of cake. Okay, enough chit-chat; it’s time to defeat the Heartless, and save the world. All in a day’s work for a kid from Destiny Islands. This is RPG Informer’s Kingdom Hearts Getting Started Guide!
Before You Begin
Okay, so before you begin your adventure, whether that be building a raft on Destiny Island with Riku and Kairi, spending the summer holidays with Roxas, or heading to see Herc in Olympus, there are considerations we have to take into account. These early choices will affect the whole playthrough, so best to know what you are getting yourself into. Check these out:
Firstly, you need to consider what difficulty you want to work with, and this will probably change from game to game. The initial title in the series is much more punishing than the other two main entries, for example, so you may want to manage this accordingly. If you are a new player, this is what I would suggest:
Kingdom Hearts I: I would suggest playing on Beginner difficulty, but Standard is also feasible
Kingdom Hearts II: I would suggest Standard difficulty, but it’s feasible for new players to try Proud Mode
Kingdom Hearts III: I would suggest Standard mode at the very least, as this game is laughably easy at times
Dive to the Heart
Although this is a section that happens after you have started the game, this is a prologue/tutorial of sorts, and within this section, you effectively choose your character build. All main entries will have you choose between HP, MP, or a mixed build, and will then make you choose an ability pathway that will decide if you have abilities geared toward an attacking, defensive, or MP-based character.
Now, all of these choices will work for a beginner player, provided you lean into your respective choices. After all, you can’t be an effective MP build Sora without using quite a lot of Magic. However, if you are a beginner, I would suggest a vitality and defense build. This is because having more HP is a good thing to have as a newbie, and the defensive path offers a blend of MP abilities and combo builders, while also offering great defensive abilities like Second Chance early in your run.
If you want a more deep run-through of how this all works, then check out my Best Kingdom Hearts III Starting Choices Guide.
Your First Moments In Kingdom Hearts
The first moments within the mainline Kingdom Hearts series are quite diverse, especially if you compare KH3 to the previous two entries, which are much more closely aligned. However, there are quite a few things that happen that link them together, and there are a few things that you will find yourself doing, no matter what KH iteration you find yourself working through, so here is how it usually goes:
Initial World hand-Holding
While the games handle this in their own respective ways, Kingdom Hearts will always have you play through an opening world that is rife with mini-games that tutorialize basic mechanics within the game. I’m sure even those on the outside looking in are aware of the 3-hour long tutorial that was KH2’s prologue. During this period, the game will get you acquainted with movement/platforming, like in the race with Riku in KH1, for example.
The game will teach basic combat, and MP use to the player, and it will also introduce new mechanics, such as KH2’s reliance on Action Commands, or KH3’s plethora of new features like Shotlocks, Wall-running, and more. Take your time and try to absorb what the game is telling you in these stages, because when you leave Destiny Islands/Twilight Town/The Mysterious Tower, the game isn’t quite as forgiving.
Just in case you didn’t know, Kingdom Hearts as a series has released canon spin-offs on consoles like the GBA, the Nintendo DS, the PSP, and even on mobiles within the era where Smartphones weren’t in production. So, inevitably, this leads to a lot of explaining and exposition in the early stages. This is largely absent in the original game, but from there on out, expect a tonne of cut scenes and plot points that merely exist to fill you in on plot points of previous titles. What I wouldn’t give to peer inside Tetsuya Nomura’s head and see just what the hell goes on in there.
After you plow through the opening sections, the game will eventually pair you up with Donald and Goofy. Now, disclaimer, in KH3, you will have access to the pair right from the start, and this game isn’t great at teaching you menuing. However, in the original two games, when you team up with them, the game will explain how party systems work within the game, and also explain how equipment setups work, how to change party settings, and more. Take this time to make sure that your party is set up just the way you like it. It can make the difference between a sometimes-dead Donald, and an always-dead Donald. Oh, who am I kidding? He always finds a way to pass out during fights. Grand Wizard, my ass.
Show Them Who’s Boss
Then this opening section will usually culminate in a boss battle that puts all of your basic skills to the test. In KH1, this is a battle against The Darkside, quickly followed by Leon in Twilight Town. In KH2, this comes in the form of a battle with Axel, and in KH3, this comes in the form of a Heartless Tornado called a Demon Tide when visiting Twilight Town. This is the first real test you will face, so be sure that you are ready!
Your First World
Okay, so you know the basics now. The game is finally willing to let you off the leash, but do you truly feel ready? If not, don’t panic, as I have put together some info that will make this transition to open play a breeze:
Choosing Your First World
You will see a laundry list of Disney locales throughout your KH journey. However, the general format of KH’s opening act is that the player will have access to just two worlds, and can pick freely between the pair. KH3 is the outlier that will have you travel to Olympus, then Twilight Town before this happens, but after that, you get the choice of two. These are Deep Jungle and Wonderland in KH1, Land of the Dragons and Beast’s castle in KH2, and Toy Box or Kingdom of Corona in KH3.
Your choice doesn’t matter too much here, so if you are dying to go to your preferred Disney properties world, lead with that. However, if you want to go at it logically for the best possible results, here are some things to consider:
- The Battle Level of the world. It tends to be best to go for the lower level first
- The keyblade you get as a reward can be a factor. It’s always good to have the best gear as fast as possible
- The end-world boss can be a factor. For example, Deep Jungle’s Clayton fight is a tough one
Gummi Ship Travel
When you make your decision, you’ll need to travel there, which means flying there in your trusty Gummi Ship. This is effectively an on-rails shooter mini-game, and will require you to survive an onslaught of enemies to reach your destination.
If you want a more detailed rundown of Gummi ship travel, then check out my Kingdom Hearts Worlds guide!
Temporary Party Members
In new worlds, you will occasionally have access to temporary Disney character companions that can join your party at the expense of Donald or Goofy. There are pros and cons to this decision, so allow me to give you all the facts for an informed decision:
- These characters tend to be at a higher level and therefore provide an added bonus in battle
- These characters often have unique skills and Limits, which make them invaluable, especially in KH2.
- Taking out Donald or Goofy will usually lead to them being under-leveled compared to the other SDG party members.
- Not running with the SDG party means you can’t access things like Trinity markers or other unlockables until a later time
Then lastly, let’s talk about navigation through the world. KH2 and KH3 are pretty linear, so you shouldn’t have any issues getting around and progressing the story. However, KH1 is a nightmare in this respect, with Traverse Town, Deep Jungle, and Wonderland being prime suspects. Not quite as bad as Monstero, but still pretty awful. So a word of advice. Don’t skip cut scenes, really pay attention to the thread of the world’s story, and you should be able to keep things moving at a steady pace.
The Core Mechanics
Next up, let’s get into the core mechanics of this game. Many casual players will see this as little more than a button masher, but with the aid of this guide, you’ll be able to become a tactical keyblade user, manage your party expertly, and beat even the most difficult of bosses. Here’s a rundown of the core mechanics in the KH series:
Fighting is the thing you’ll be doing most in Kingdom Hearts, unless you get really engrossed in the Hundred Acre Wood mini-games. As mentioned, the game swaps out Final Fantasy’s turn-based style of combat for a much more reactive real-time brawler format. Players will have access to a menu in the bottom left of their screen, and this will give them the option to attack, which initiates a melee combo. You can select Magic, which will allow you to select from a series of spells.
You also have an items menu that will allow you to use items like potions and ethers on the fly. Then lastly, we have the Limit/Summon section, which allows you to summon Disney characters to the battlefield, or change into your limit form, depending on the game in question. Players will also have access to hotkeys which make using magic spells much more convenient. Players also have the option to lock on with enemies, which is invaluable in most boss fights.
Party Setup is a part of the game that separates beginners from intermediate players. The number of people I have seen try and push through the game without giving Goofy and Donald the tools for the job is insane. In this menu, the player will have access to the following options:
- Manage party member’s Weapons
- Manage party member’s Accessories
- Manage party member’s items
- Manage Party AI
- Manage Party member abilities
Of all of these, party AI is an understated feature that can really maximize your party’s performance. For a beginner, the best setting for your party is to make Goofy a blocker, and Donald a support-only fighter. To put that in a format that makes sense in the settings menu, here is how it should look:
- Regular Attacks: Occasionally
- Offensive Magic: Occasionally
- Defensive Magic: Occasionally
- Advanced Magic: Occasionally
- Regular Attacks: Constantly
- Shield Techniques: Constantly
- Special Attacks: Occasionally
- Support Actions: Constantly
General attack pattern: Huddle
This ensures that your party fight as a unit, because they will die if they fight alone, and it also ensures that they really only serve as healers while you do all the fighting. Which sounds counter-intuitive, but believe me, it’s for the best.
Next, you have Sora and how to set up your protagonist. This can vary slightly from game to game, but in general, the considerations on the table tend to boil down to this:
- Sora’s active Keyblade
- Sora’s Accessories
- Sora’s Items
- Sora’s active spells
- Sora’s active Abilities
The equipment selection is basically the same as kitting out Donald and Goofy. However, with Sora, there is a wider variety of weapons and abilities to choose from, which means you can experiment a lot more. For a beginner, I would simply urge you to continually swap out your Keyblade as you complete worlds, and use all of your available AP to pick abilities that align with your chosen build. For example, if you picked an MP build, then things like MP Gift, and MP Haste are super. Whereas if you are a warrior build, then Combo Plus, and Combo Boost are nailed-on choices
Then lastly, we have platforming, which changes drastically between mainline entries in the KH series. To break it down, KH1 isn’t too polished in the platforming department, and you’ll find that these sections tend to be quite labored and frustrating. However, as the game progresses, you will gain access to the Glide ability, which will curb some of these issues. There isn’t really a tip I can give you other than take your time and try to be precise, but overall, KH1’s platforming kind of sucks.
KH2 is much better, but feels largely the same. The difference is that the game offers extra abilities which make traveling in mid-air feel less heavy and more forgiving. Plus, with the addition of Limit Forms, players then have access to skills like zooming through the air, boosting upwards, gliding, and more. It essentially fixes all of KH2’s labored platforming without reinventing the wheel.
Then KH3 goes ahead and reinvents the wheel with the ability to wall run, and the ability to use Flowmotion. Truthfully, there isn’t as much platforming in KH3 as there is the use of abilities and skills in lieu of platforming, and honestly, the game is much better for it.
Things We Wish We Knew
You now know about the core mechanics and what to expect in the opening hours of each mainline title, but what about all those things you don’t know? How are you meant to preemptively plan for things that await you much later in your KH journey? Why, with the help of yours truly, of course. Here are all the things that I wish I had known about the KH series before I decided to battle through innumerable heartless:
- Hotkeying magic spells is damn near essential if you want to use them effectively. So ditch manual menuing and put your favorite spells on speed dial.
- Running from battles is faster, but will hurt you in the long run. To ensure you get the necessary synthesis materials, and stay appropriately leveled, be sure to fight Heartless more than you don’t
- Collectibles like Lucky Emblems or Dalmatians may seem pointless, but they come with great rewards, so be sure to rack these up passively
- Some worlds are not mandatory. Take Atlantica in KH2; you can mercifully skip it and complete another world instead
- Some assets are incredibly overpowered. Tinkerbell in KH1, Reflega in KH2, Attractions is KH3. There’s always something.
- Some abilities are must-haves no matter what build you choose. For example, equip Second Chance as soon as you get it; it’s a literal life-saver
- You will not be able to beat all the Gummi Missions without building a new Gummi Ship
- There are lots of secret end-game bosses to find after things wrap up. Try researching Kurt Ziza, Phantom, The Lingering Will, or The Mysterious Figure
- If you lose track of the story at any time, you can check out Jiminy’s Journal; he keeps a log of everything.
Things to Avoid
Then along with things that you should know, there are also common mistakes that a lot of first-time players make, which you should really do your best to avoid. Here are some of the most common ones below:
- Don’t forget to change your equipment regularly. You can technically beat the game with the Kingdom Key, but why put that burden on yourself
- Don’t get too hung up on collecting hard-to-reach chests; you will gain abilities to reach them with ease later down the line
- Don’t rely on party members to heal you, have MP available to use Cure, and have potions on hand just in case
- Don’t be afraid to use items as you progress; I can’t count how many times I had an abundance of Elixirs at the end of the game because I hoarded them
- If you happen to trigger the Rage form in KH2, it’s best to back off and let this pass; it makes you really vulnerable
- Don’t forget to save regularly, because you can only save the game when you are physically at a save point
- Don’t skip cut scenes, especially in Kingdom Hearts I; you will get lost
- Don’t forget to use boost items. AP Boosts, Strength Boosts, and AP Boosts make all the difference
Long-Term Goals to Consider
Then before we wrap things up, we should look ahead to the end of your Kingdom Hearts adventure, and consider some long-term goals that will feel super-satisfying when you come out the other end. Here are some things that you should be gunning for:
Synthesize the Ultima Weapon
One of my most proud childhood achievements was working tirelessly to forge the Ultima Weapon in Kingdom Hearts I, and this remains a remarkable feat throughout the entire series. The game will give you access to a number of great Keyblades simply by progressing the story, but if you want the best of the best, you will need to collect a lot of different synthesis materials, so make a grocery list and get killing those heartless!
Max Out Sora’s Level
If you want to stand a chance of beating the end-game content, especially if you find yourself playing on Proud or Critical Mode, then you need to grind Sora’s level up to Lv.99. There are some great spots to grind Sora’s level in each game. My personal favorite in KH2 was the hall before the Garden of Assemblage, but I’m sure you will find a high-level cluster of enemies that suit your playstyle down to a tee. However, if you need a hand finding those, you might want to check out our Best Grinding Spots in Kingdom Hearts III Guide.
Beat ALL the Bosses
The main game’s storylines serve up quite a few tricky bosses. The battle with Dragon Maleficent, the end battle with Xemnas, the Dive to the Heart battle with Roxas, and taking down Master Xehanort spring to mind. However, the really tough battles await the player after the credits roll. You have the secret battles of KH1, the Data Battles within KH2, and you also have a cavalcade of bosses to work your way through if you happen to own KH3’s Re: Mind DLC. So be sure to treat yourself to a cast of absolute brutes.
Complete Jiminy’s Journal
This essentially means getting 100% in the game in question, and this requires quite a lot of work on your part, and mastery of pretty much everything in the game. You’ll need to open all chests, beat all bosses, complete all Gummi missions, ace all the mini-games, collect all the collectibles, and much more. It can be a slog, I should know; I’ve done it on more than one occasion. However, the satisfaction of a fully filled-out Jiminy Journal is a thing of beauty.
Destiny Islands & Beyond
As you can see, there are many moving parts to this enthralling JRPG, and while the games in the series introduce new mechanics and features that players will need to adapt to as you progress through the laundry list of titles, the core gameplay remains rather predictable. Sure, you could probably get through the game by mindlessly mashing attack, but with the help of this guide, you’ll be able to do more than that. You’ll be well-versed in party management, skills, character builds, equipment management, and much more. This means you’ll get to see all the content that the game has in store for you, including battles against Sephiroth, or The Lingering Will. I don’t envy you; I honestly don’t. I hope this guide was everything you needed and more, and as always, thanks for reading RPG Informer!
Question: Which Kingdom Hearts Game is Hardest?
Answer: With the addition of a beginner mode for all of the mainline games in the series, none of the games are particularly difficult anymore, unless you want them to be. However, of all those in question, I would say that the original Kingdom Hearts remains the hardest of the bunch. Although that is largely down to dated mechanics and less refined gameplay rather than genuine difficulty on the developer’s part.
Question: Are Roxas and Sora The Same Person?
Answer: Yes and no. It’s complicated. You see, Roxas is Sora’s nobody, an entity that is created when someone with a particularly strong heart, loses their heart. This happened to Sora in KH1, and at that moment, Roxas was born. If you want to know more about Roxas’ origin, then you should play Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days.
Question: What is the Worst World in Kingdom Hearts?
Answer: There are some real stinkers in there, so it’s hard to choose just one, so I won’t. Here are a few awful worlds from the Kingdom hearts series:
• Atlantica (KH2)
• Monstro (KH1)
• Wonderland (KH1)
• Arendale (KH3)
• Port Royal (KH2)