If you read my post about the 2013 E3 event, or if you have been around me at any point since 2002, you probably know that I'm a big fan of Square Enix' "Kingdom Hearts" series. At its best, the series is an action/adventure game focused on the efforts and relationships of one boy: Sora. The series is played as a hack-and-slash and is a marriage between Disney and Square Enix' "Final Fantasy" franchise. The boss fights can be incredibly long, the stories are incredible, and it's a series that really should be experienced.
The biggest criticism--in a landslide--of the Kingdom Hearts series is its incredibly deep and complex story line. Hopefully I can do a good job of explaining it here:
*Watch this video for easy explanation:
Part One: Understanding Kingdom Hearts (the thing, not the series)
Our story begins in the distant past in the Kingdom Hearts universe. To start off, let it be understood that Kingdom Hearts serves as the source of all light, power, and knowledge in the world--the details have yet to be fully explained, but Kingdom Hearts is a sort of deity here. It existed with its counterpart, the X-Blade (pronounced "key-blade" as that's a Greek letter Chi, not an x)--which served as the its protector. With this source of power, there were those who wanted to take over possession, which spawned the original Keyblade War. At the end of the war, the X-Blade was broken into 20 different pieces: 7 of light and 13 of darkness. When this happened, Kingdom Hearts was swallowed by darkness.
Part Two: Enter Xehanort
There series' main antagonist is Master Xehanort (pronounced zay-uh-nort)--the "master" title refers to his expertise with the game's main weapon, the standard keyblade. When he was young, Master Xehanort lived in a place called the "Destiny Islands" where he felt limited and sheltered by his existence there. Eventually, he found his way out of the world and discovered the powers of the keyblade and learned the story of Kingdom Hearts.
**Quick, go read the first part of Part Three before continuing on**
Prior to the events of Birth By Sleep, Master Xehanort sets forth his plan to restore the broken X-Blade and spark another keyblade war. In his first attempt, he finds a young Ven and makes him his apprentice. When Ven refuses Xehanort's plan, Xehanort attempts to split his heart into two pieces: one of pure light and one of pure darkness (which becomes a character known as "Vanitas"--pronounced vah-nee-tas). When this happens, Ven's heart is damaged and is restored by Sora's heart.
Xehanort is obsessed with the idea of recreating the universe through another keyblade war.
Part Three: "Birth By Sleep"
This is the first of games in the series if we go in chronological order. In this game, there are three main characters: Terra, Aqua, and Ventus--Ven for short (Terra left, Ven center, Aqua right). For Terra and Aqua, they have been under the watchful eye of another Keyblade Master named Eraqus (pronounced air-uh-cuss). As for Ventus, he has been brought to the care of Eraqus by Master Xehanort--the two masters have been friends for quite some time.
**Quick, go read the second part of part two before going on**
At the beginning of the game, Aqua and Terra are seen going for the "Mark of Mastery." As part of his plan, Xehanort corrupts Terra during his exam--because Xehanort is targeting Terra as his vessel--causing Aqua to pass and Terra to fail. At this point, Vanitas' existence has created beings known as "Unversed" which are spawned of darkness, which causes Terra, Aqua, and Ven to set out to other worlds. Terra is told by Xehanort to search for the seven princesses of heart, which is part of Xehanort's backup plan to the Vanitas/Ventus fight.
Fast forwarding a bit, Eraqus learns of Xehanort's plan to have Ven and Vanitas fight to restore the X-Blade and spark the war. Due to this, Eraqus decides to eliminate Ven. When Terra learns of this, he confronts his master and uses the power of darkness to hold him back--Xehanort deals the final blow and kills Eraqus.
**Upon defeat, Eraqus' heart takes refuge within Terra**
After this Terra, Ven, and Aqua find their way to the "Keyblade Graveyard"--which is a ruin of the Keyblade War. They confront Xehanort and Vanitas, with King Mickey--who has learned from Master Yen-Sid (the guy from Fantasia)--at their side. In this fight Xehanort frees his heart and gets inside of Terra (a new vessel...remember that for later) and Ven's fight with Vanitas causes his heart to fall "asleep"--which, in this series, is basically the equivalent of coma. The X-Blade is forged, but is broken and eventually explodes, which forces Aqua to take Ven back to "The Land of Departure"--a safe haven for keyblade wielders.
Aqua uses a technique bestowed upon her after earning the Mark of Mastery to seal away the world--which hides it from visitors--and locks Ven safely away in the "Sleeping Chamber" in a place later referred to as Castle Oblivion. After this, Aqua confronts "Terranort"--which is Xehanort living within Terra's body--and eventually gets pushed to the Dark Realm--the Kingdom Hearts Universe is composed of the Realms of Darkness, Light, and in-between.
*Note, through the game, Terra, Ven, and Aqua are connected to/meet Sora, Riku, and Kairi--who will be introduced at a later point--and pass on the ability to use the keyblade as a weapon. Terra performs the ritual on Riku first, and Aqua chooses not to do so with Sora because of competition between the boys. Kairi gains the ability through accidentally touching Aqua's keyblade. Sora gains the ability when the Destiny Islands fall to darkness and the keyblade seeks the nearest and strongest heart. In the second game, he can dual-wield through an ability granted to him by Ventus through Roxas/Xion--who will be explained later in the series.**
Throughout the game, we are introduced to Ansem (a researcher) and his team of assistants, which includes Dilan, Braig, and a bunch of others*. Terranort (now just calling himself Xehanort) is adopted into this group as one of Ansem's primary assistants.
*Their nobodies are the original members of Organization XIII. Also relevant to future plot, Xehanort betrays Ansem, which causes Ansem to seek revenge.
Part Four: Sora (and the rest of the first game in the series)
Introduce Sora, the series' main protagonist. Sora is a boy who has grown up on the Destiny Islands--yes, the same place as Xehanort--with his best pals Riku (pronounced ree-koo) and Kairi (pronounced Kiii-ree...long "I" sound at the front). Kairi is from a place called Radiant Garden--we'll get to that later. As mentioned before, these three have been granted the power to use the keyblade, and the first game is primarily about Sora's exposure to it. In the beginning of the game, Sora encounters a man in a strange cloak--who turns out to be Xehanort reduced to nothing but a heart.
**When a person releases their heart, like Xehanort did, the person is split into two beings: a heartless and a nobody. When both of these things are destroyed, the person is restored. Xehanort's heart goes to Terra, his heartless is the antagonist in game #1, and his nobody is the antagonist in game #2**
Simply put, the islands are destroyed and Sora is forced on a quest to find his friends--at this point, the keyblade chooses him as he is the nearest and strongest heart. He meets Donald and Goofy, who have been sent on a quest by King Mickey to find Sora. This game's primary antagonist--for most of the time, anyway--is Maleficent, the witch from Sleeping Beauty. She has teamed up with Xehanort's heartless (known as "Ansem: Seeker of Darkness" or ASOD for short) to capture the seven princesses of heart.
**Xehanort's second attempt to unlock Kingdom Hearts is to collect the seven princesses of heart**
Along the way, we learn that Riku is playing for the wrong side and has been tricked into using darkness to find Kairi on his own. This makes him a dark person, and eventually ASOD uses Riku as a vessel to carry out his plans (hmmm...more vessels, you say?). Sora travels to a place called "Hollow Bastion" (the ruins of Radiant Garden) where Maleficent resides. Sora eventually puts an end to Maleficent before squaring off against "Rikunort" (Riku possessed by ASOD). After doing so, ASOD is separated from Riku, but still has a strong connection to his heart. Sora learns that Kairi's heart has been resting within his--remember, Sora did the same thing with Ventus, so yay Sora's heart--and knows that he needs to free it in order to be able to seal the keyhole--keyholes are locks that seal the heart of a world, which is basically its essence.
**When Aqua meets Kairi in Birth By Sleep, she casts a spell on her that makes it so her heart will find the nearest, strongest heart for refuge should her heart ever be threatened by darkness**
To free Kairi's heart, Sora uses the keyblade to free his own heart, and he is turned into a heartless and a nobody (remember this). His heartless form is restored by Kairi (pictured above)--who, as it turns out, is a princess of heart and has this kind of power--other princesses of heart are: Belle, Alice, Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Jasmine.
Sora seals the keyhole and eventually finds his way into the darkness, where he fights ASOD and he teams up with Riku, Mickey, Sora, and Donald to seal the door to darkness, thus ending the first game.
It also ends the first part of this entry.