It’s been over a decade since Kingdom Hearts 2 launched on the PS2, and fans of the Disney/Final Fantasy crossover franchise will finally have the chance to see how Sora’s story ends when Kingdom Hearts 3 launches in January. Sora’s journey has taken him, Donald, Goofy, and an assortment of other protagonists to a wide range of colorful worlds, some representing Disney franchises and others the original creations of the developers at Square Enix. The upcoming Kingdom Hearts 3 will see players return to worlds they’ve visited in the past, and it will also see other worlds make their series debut.
But before Kingdom Hearts enthusiasts visit worlds based on Toy Story, Tangled, Frozen, and more, let’s take a look back at the best (and worst) worlds that they’ve visited so far.
1. Atlantica (Worst)
Atlantica, based on The Little Mermaid, is almost universally agreed upon to be the worst Kingdom Hearts world there is. In the first Kingdom Hearts, Atlantica is a water level that slows combat down significantly, and features a series of needlessly confusing areas that players have to navigate in order to get around. Kingdom Hearts 2 thankfully strips Atlantica of its sluggish combat encounters, instead opting for a rhythm/music-game style experience. The downside is that it forces players to constantly leave Atlantica and come back later when they’ve acquired new abilities, which gets old fast.
2. Castle Oblivion (Worst)
Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories is the black sheep of the Kingdom Hearts franchise. Originally released on the Game Boy Advance and serving as a bridge between the first two games in the series, Chain of Memories attempts to combine the franchise’s trademark hack-and-slash gameplay with a card-based battling system. This polarizing decision is enough for many Kingdom Hearts fans to write this entry off entirely, but the game’s setting, Castle Oblivion, is what really drags it down.
Castle Oblivion regurgitates the worlds from the first Kingdom Hearts game, but instead of providing exact copies, reduces them to virtually identical, boxy rooms with no personality. Those playing through one of the Kingdom Hearts collections will no doubt find themselves frustrated if they play in order, as Castle Oblivion in Chain of Memories makes them relive a boring retelling of the plot of the first Kingdom Hearts game with none of the substance or production value.
3. Deep Jungle (Worst)
Deep Jungle is a world that’s often hailed as one of the better ones from the first Kingdom Hearts, but much of that praise seems to stem from it being the franchise’s only Tarzan stage. Upon revisiting Deep Jungle, players will find that it mainly consists of a lot of backtracking to trigger cut-scenes, along with some frustrating vine swinging sequences in a confusing, difficult to navigate jungle.
4. Monstro (Worst)
Speaking of confusing level design, Monstro from the first Kingdom Hearts is a nightmare to get through on the first playthrough. Some of the rooms are just flat-out identical, and one of the collectible Trinity marks is impossible to see due to the colors used. Basing a world on Monstro from Pinnochio also just seems like a waste in general, as there isn’t really anything interesting to see inside of the giant space whale.
5. Twilight Town (Worst)
When players first start Kingdom Hearts 2, instead of continuing the adventures of Sora, Donald, and Goofy, they are forced to play through a bizarre, extra-lengthy prologue as a different character named Roxas in a tutorial world called Twilight Town. Weird and intriguing at the same time, Twilight Town is more like the Twilight Zone, and even players who have played both Kingdom Hearts and Chain of Memories beforehand will be downright confused. The whole thing just feels like a roadblock for players to get to the real meat of the experience, and it doesn’t help that it hardly makes any sense from a narrative standpoint without playing the spin-off games (many of which released after Kingdom Hearts 2).
6. 100 Acre Wood (Best)
Most Kingdom Hearts worlds follow the same formula. Sora, Donald, and Goofy arrive, encounter famous Disney characters, fight a bunch of Heartless in hack-and-slash combat, save the world, and leave. However, 100 Acre Wood is a departure from the norm, serving as an optional world focused on mini-games that players can only visit if they manage to find all of the missing torn pages. Some Kingdom Hearts fans dislike this change of pace, but others appreciate the variety it provides for the series. Plus, some of the mini-games in the Kingdom Hearts 2 version of 100 Acre Wood are a genuinely good time.
7. Destiny Islands (Best)
The beginning of the original Kingdom Hearts is one of the most memorable video game openings of the PS2 era. Players start their universe-spanning adventure on a set of small islands, where a young Sora is spending his childhood with his friends Riku, Kairi, and pint-sized versions of the Final Fantasy 10 cast. Destiny Islands succeeds at setting up some of Kingdom Hearts‘ most tantalizing mysteries, and it also manages to be an effective tutorial level without being boring. The franchise has repeatedly returned to Destiny Islands, and it’s one of its most recognizable areas as a result.
8. Halloween Town (Best)
Since most of the Kingdom Hearts worlds are based on Disney franchises, it’s no surprise that many of them are upbeat and colorful. This makes Halloween Town, from Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, really stand out among the crowd. Adding to the level’s spooky charm is the fact that Donald, Sora, and Goofy sport some Halloween costumes to really get into the holiday spirit along with Jack Skellington, Sally, and the rest of Halloween Town’s residents.
9. Hollow Bastion (Best)
Most Kingdom Hearts worlds are built specifically with Disney characters and franchises in mind, but Hollow Bastion is an exception. Hollow Bastion is a completely original world and one of the last worlds players visit in the first Kingdom Hearts, plus it’s home to some of the game’s toughest boss battles, including a memorable encounter against Maleficent. Hollow Bastion becomes a hub world in Kingdom Hearts 2 that lets players visit Tron‘s Space Paranoids stage and 100 Acre Wood, and it also features one of the largest-scale battles in series history, with Sora fighting off a massive horde of 1,000 Heartless.
10. Olympus Coliseum (Best)
One of the most consistent worlds in the Kingdom Hearts series is the Olympus Coliseum level based on Hercules. In most games that it appears, the Olympus Coliseum is a series of battles against Heartless and unique bosses, like the Ice Titan and Final Fantasy 7‘s Sephiroth. Thanks to its constant action, Olympus Coliseum has remained a favorite world for Kingdom Hearts fans, and it will be interesting to see how Square Enix expands on it when Olympus Coliseum returns in Kingdom Hearts 3.
11. Port Royal (Best)
Kingdom Hearts worlds are almost exclusively based on animated Disney features or video games, but Port Royal is based on the live-action Pirates of the Caribbean films instead. Featuring the likeness of famous actors like Johnny Depp and Keira Knightley, the more realistic art style helps Port Royal stand out from other worlds from a visual standpoint. The undead pirates Sora and friends have to fight also mix things up since they’re only vulnerable in moonlight, forcing players to be a bit more strategic than when they’re fighting standard Heartless.
12. Pride Lands (Best)
Some fans think the Pride Lands stage in Kingdom Hearts 2 is too gimmicky, but others appreciate The Lion King-inspired level for its creativity. When visiting the Pride Lands, Sora and the gang are transformed into animals, and the added mobility of lion Sora makes a world of difference when traversing the environment. Combine this with the fact that Pride Lands is based on one of the most popular Disney animated features ever made, and it’s a winning combination for sure.
13. The World That Never Was (Best)
The mysterious Organization XIII is a driving force behind much of the Kingdom Hearts franchise’s plot, and while they can be blamed for the confusing plot developments in the sequels, they’re still an interesting bunch. The World That Never Was is Organization XIII’s home base, and it’s there that players take part in some truly intense boss fights against the Organization members themselves.
14. Timeless River (Best)
In more ways than one, the Kingdom Hearts games are like a love letter to Disney, and the biggest tribute to the House of Mouse has to be the Timeless River world. Inspired by Disney’s earliest cartoon shorts, Timeless River features a black and white aesthetic, and gives players an alternate look at Mickey Mouse and the villainous Pete. It’s one of Kingdom Hearts 2‘s best surprises, and easily one of the best worlds in the series.
15. Traverse Town (Best)
Some may scoff at the idea of a hub world being one of the best Kingdom Hearts worlds, but there is something truly special about Traverse Town. Comprised of the remains of worlds that have already been consumed by the Heartless, Traverse Town lets players interact with characters from Ducktales, 101 Dalmatians, Pinocchio, The Sword in the Stone, and more. Traverse Town is full of secrets for players to discover as well, rewarding players who take the time to explore it thoroughly.
Kingdom Hearts 3 launches on January 29 for PS4 and Xbox One.