This year marks the 20th anniversary of the beloved Kingdom Hearts series. We’re celebrating with our list of the best Kingdom Hearts moments.
The series has released multiple sequels and spin-offs following the 2002 launch of Kingdom Hearts on PlayStation 2. The game is both praised and hated for its sometimes bombastic story, but that story is full of memorable moments that help define the series.
Here are our 13 best Kingdom Hearts moments from the series.
SORA, KAIRI, AND RIKU REUNITE (KINGDOM HEARTS II)
We’ve all been there where we haven’t seen friends in a long time and when we do, it’s like things never changed. We get that here where Sora hasn’t seen Kairi or Riku, his childhood friends, since before puberty. When he finally does after years, he understandably gets emotional. It’s easy to forget that when Kingdom Hearts II starts, your only known objective is to find Riku. Then it evolves into saving the fate of the universe, of course.
Sora is ready to forgive who he thinks is Ansem for all the bad things he’s done because he saved Kairi. That’s either incredibly naive or kind. When he realizes it’s Riku, he gets down on his knees, and we all start crying.
SORA WAKES UP (KINGDOM HEARTS II)
This is one of the more bittersweet moments in the series. It marks the end of the Kingdom Heart’s infamous tutorial section where you play as Roxas. Roxas’s existential crisis leading up to this moment is heartbreaking when he realizes he is just a nobody. Following that, Roxas sees himself staring up at the individual, Sora, who was the reason he was there. Sora had been in a deep sleep while his memories from the previous games were being put back together. He finds out that his life is needed for Sora to wake up and that his summer is over. He puts it together that he’s about to be forgotten.
AXEL’S SACRIFICE (KINGDOM HEARTS II)
We love dramatic and drawn-out character death. After unleashing a powerful attack to help out Sora and his friends, junior hero Axel begins to fade away. Until this point in the game, Axel had remained a mystery to Sora and his friends. It had been clear that Axel was conflicted about the directions his handlers had given him because of Sora’s association with one of his best friends, Roxas. As he’s lying on the floor of a strange void world, he begins to tell Sora that Roxas is the only person who made him feel like he had a heart. Sora, still not knowing who Roxas really is at this point, is understandably confused. Axel’s past friendship with Roxas is exactly why he sacrificed himself to ensure Sora could continue his journey.
LEA SAVES THE DAY (KINGDOM HEARTS: DREAM DROP DISTANCE)
All hope seems lost as Master Xehanort reveals his big bad plan to Riku and Mickey. Organization XIII outnumbers them, and Sora is out of commission. He’s about to be sacrificed and turned evil. When Xehanort is about to perform the sacrifice ritual, Axel saves the day with a well-timed fireball. It’s a hype moment because Axel arrives at the perfect moment, but it’s also the moment he tells the world he wants to be called “Lea.” Axel’s previous name was tied to a life he wanted to put behind him. It’s a powerful moment as Lea says, “I’ll always be there to get my friends back.”
OPENING MOVIE (KINGDOM HEARTS: DREAM DROP DISTANCE)
The opening movie of Dream Drop Distance is easily one of the best Kingdom Hearts moments. It’s a gut punch to that nostalgia organ that’s unmatched in the rest of the series. We get to see the big story beats of the series beautifully rendered with that beautiful Square Enix look, all with the backing of the masterful orchestral version of Simple and Clean. Pair that with playing it on the 3DS, where Mickey’s silhouette is flying across both screens.
SORA SACRIFICES HIMSELF (KINGDOM HEARTS)
This was a bizarre story beat for children playing Kingdom Hearts for the first time. Sora’s childhood friend Kairi was soulless after he had just saved her from the game’s antagonists. Sora saw no other option but to sacrifice his heart to someone he cared so deeply for so that she could be normal again. We would do anything for the ones we love, and that’s what Sora did. As this scene plays out, a piano version of the game’s iconic song Simple and Clean is put over it, and it’s the cherry on top of an already heart-wrenching scene. As Kairi comes to, she realizes what Sora did, and we see her and Sora’s companions Donald and Goofy rushing to save him, but it’s too late.
AQUA & MICKEY VS DEMON TIDE (KINGDOM HEARTS 0.2)
Kingdom Hearts is home to both memorable and challenging boss fights. If you had told me ten years ago that you would get to play as a keyblade wielder who wasn’t Sora and battle a storm of Heartless with Mickey Mouse backed by an epic score, I wouldn’t have believed you. As Aqua and Mickey investigate the remnants of a Destiny Islands world, they are swarmed by a mass of Heartless that can morph itself into various shapes.
Even if we ignore the ridiculousness of the scenario, this moment holds its own with gameplay alone. At this point in the game, the player is upgraded substantially. They can use many tools in their arsenal, helping them defeat the swirling storm of Heartless. Kingdom Hearts 0.2 introduced the combat system we would see again in Kingdom Hearts III, possibly the best combat system we’ve seen in the series.
AQUA SACRIFICES HERSELF FOR TERRA (KINGDOM HEARTS: BIRTH BY SLEEP)
Aqua would do anything for her friends, including giving her life. Aqua is holding the unconscious body of her best friend Terra, who a madman has possessed. They’re sinking to the depths of the Realm of Darkness, and she realizes they won’t make it out together. In a truly selfless act, she instructs her armor to bring Terra to the surface world. She does this just moments after fighting Terra, who the game’s antagonist had taken over. Though it was selfless, Aqua’s actions in these scenes could have prevented the entire events of the Kingdom Hearts series from unfolding for better or worse.
SECRET ENDING (KINGDOM HEARTS II)
If the player had completed the main story of Kingdom Hearts II in a certain way, depending on the difficulty, they would unlock a secret cutscene at the end of the credits. It features three armored keyblade-wielders fighting a bald man and his mysterious apprentice. When it was released in 2005, Internet forums were theorizing about the characters in cutscenes and what it could mean for the series. It hinted at a possible dark and gritty tone for the future. This scene would end up being a teaser for a future installment in the series: Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep.
SORA LEARNS THE TRUTH ABOUT NOBODIES (KINGDOM HEARTS: DREAM DROP DISTANCE)
The best Kingdom Hearts moments may also be the cheesiest, but they can still bring the hype. There are a few instances in the series where the protagonist tells a bad guy that their friends are their power. In this instance, the villain Xemnas had just told Sora about how the heart is a machine that can be controlled. The series had established that Nobodies had no hearts, and Xemnas reveals that they actually do. Sora claps back with a heartfelt speech about the heart and how its connections to people are what make it strong. A central theme we’ve seen in these games over the years is the power of human connection, which makes this one of the best Kingdom Hearts moments in the series.
SORA & RIKU VS XEMNAS (KINGDOM HEARTS II)
In the final showdown with Xemnas in Kingdom Hearts II, Sora is aided by his best friend Riku to banish him for good. Kingdom Hearts loves turning the anime to 100 in the climax of its games, and we get that here. Spiky-haired protagonists are flying around attacking this man in an eccentric trench coat who can unveil light sabers from his palms. Did I mention he can shoot lasers out of those same palms?
Sora and Riku had been separated for years before teaming up in these final moments. Seeing them work together to banish Xemnas is truly special.
DONALD AND GOOFY BRING SORA BACK TO LIFE (KINGDOM HEARTS III)
Kingdom Hearts’ infamous death screen features a lifeless Sora floating in the darkness before the game asks if you want to continue or load a save file. This moment capitalized on that by making you think you were at just another death screen before you realized it was all scripted. During the final boss battle in Kingdom Hearts III, Xehanort unleashes a powerful blast at Sora, resulting in instant death. As Sora floats in the darkness, you hear your longtime companions Donald and Goofy start to shout Sora’s name. Sora is brought back to life by their words. Together, they defeat the big bad once and for all.
I teared up when I first played this part because it made me realize that Kingdom Heart isn’t just Sora’s story: it’s Donald and Goofy’s too. They weren’t just your support NPCs. They were also your friends. Being the third main installment of the game and not knowing the series’ future, I had assumed this would be the final last fight of the series, and that added to the impact of this moment.
GOOFY’S “DEATH” (KINGDOM HEARTS II)
At around the midpoint of Kingdom Hearts II, there’s a climactic battle that requires the attention of King Mickey. As a Heartless throws a boulder at King Mickey, his faithful servant Goofy pushes him out the way to take the hit. As Goofy laid lifeless on the ground in the cutscene, I remember feeling like Sora and saying, “This isn’t happening,” but it was more from confusion and shock than anything. Was Goofy dead?
What makes this moment great is what happens shortly after Goofy is conked on the head. We get strangely genuine performances from the voice actors for Sora, Donald, and Mickey. You feel the emotional weight that they do. Then Mickey throws off his black robe and seemingly goes on a Heartless and Nobody killing spree to avenge his fallen friend.
Until this point in the series, I didn’t think of Goofy as an integral part of Kingdom Hearts. This moment solidified that. As soon as I thought about what the possibility of this video game world without Goofy would be like, it hit me hard.
In your opinion, what are some of the best Kingdom Hearts moments in the series? Let us know in the comments below. You can also look at how we ranked the various games in the Kingdom Hearts series from worst to best.