Disney is an integral part of what made Kingdom Hearts a phenomenon in the first place. From the novelty of crossing Disney with Final Fantasy, to simply getting to explore the Disney realms, Kingdom Hearts used its connections with Mickey Mouse to get a hold on gamers everywhere and never let go. But the question has remained: which Disney world in the Kingdom Hearts series is truly the best?
Now, we’re not going to even look at the worlds introduced in Kingdom Hearts III, since we don’t truly know how they function, look, or play. But, if a world is in Kingdom Hearts III but was previously introduced in the series, it’s fair game. So, without further ado, here are the official rankings of all the Disney worlds in the Kingdom Hearts series.
22. Olympus Coliseum
(Based on Hercules; First appeared in Kingdom Hearts)
Controversial? Maybe. But Olympus Coliseum commits the cardinal sin of any video game: it’s boring. Hercules tie-in aside, there’s simply nothing going on in this world. It’s nothing more than a place to house the various tournaments (which, probably is why it was included in the first place). In the first Kingdom Hearts alone, there’s literally only two accessible rooms, plus the actual tournament stage. Kingdom Hearts II attempted to expand on it with the introduction of the Underworld, but for the most part, it still fell flat. And yet somehow it’s been in every single Kingdom Hearts game (except for Dream Drop Distance).
(Based on The Little Mermaid; First appeared in Kingdom Hearts)
You’ve got to give the team at Square credit for its ambition. Attempting to translate the gameplay of Kingdom Hearts into an underwater setting was a bold choice for the 2002. Sadly, ambition doesn’t always translate to success, and the Atlantica world is the number one case of that. A convoluted control scheme, the already-problematic Kingdom Hearts camera somehow acting even worse, and a layout that’s almost impossible to navigate make this world one to remember. Just maybe not the way the developers would like. And we’re just going to brush Kingdom Hearts II aside.
20. Country of the Musketeers
(Based on Mickey, Donald, Goofy: The Three Musketeers; First appeared in Dream Drop Distance)
You have to wonder whose idea this world, the first based on a direct-to-video film, was. A largely forgettable Disney take on the classic Three Musketeers tale, this isn’t even a film that’s that fondly remembered at that. It all adds up to a world that’s forgettable. That’s something that could be said about all the worlds included in Dream Drop Distance, honestly (which this list will reflect). The constraints of the 3DS meant that none of these worlds ever had much of a personality. But of all of them, the weakest link by far is Country of the Musketeers.
19. Deep Space
(Based on Lilo & Stitch; First appeared in Birth by Sleep)
This one’s a weird one, for sure. It’s not technically a world, per se, but rather a giant transportation ship. It operates like a world, sure, but again, there simply isn’t anything memorable about this world. The futuristic aesthetic is a nice change of pace from what we normally get in the Kingdom Hearts series, and the music is awesome, but that’s about it. You get some cool changes in gravity here and there, but the Experiment 626 isn’t enough to save this bland world.
18. La Cité des Cloches
(Based on The Hunchback of Notre Dame; First appeared in Dream Drop Distance)
There was so much potential here. The Hunchback of Notre Dame is one of the most visually stunning Disney films out there. But again, the constraints of the Nintendo 3DS are all too apparent here. Instead of a sweeping, gothic Paris, what we instead get is a series of uninspired corridors. Sure, there are some bright spots here, like the titular cathedral and an appropriately gothic windmill scene. As unlikely as it is, it would be great to get another shot at tackling this world on a more powerful system.
17. Enchanted Dominion
(Based on Sleeping Beauty; First appeared in Birth by Sleep)
The main takeaway here is that handheld systems = generally uninspiring worlds. While the angular art style of Sleeping Beauty creates a unique visual style, the fact is that you’ve got about six rooms you’re working with. Working your way through Maleficent’s fortress is awesome, and the theme for this world is haunting (Yoko Shimomoura really is the unsung hero of this series). But one of the unfortunate realities of the Kingdom Hearts series being relegated to handheld systems in its later life means the levels are lacking.
16. The Land of Dragons
(Based on Mulan; First appeared in Kingdom Hearts II)
Poor Mulan. Quite possibly one of the most inconsequential Disney worlds in any Kingdom Hearts game, The Land of Dragons is easily least developed world in the Kingdom Hearts II. But the least important world in Kingdom Hearts II still has its shining moments. It’s got some cool design features, and Mulan is a pretty awesome party member (you know, after she drops the Ping disguise). But, removing this world wouldn’t change Kingdom Hearts II in the slightest, which is a shame.
15. Castle of Dreams
(Based on Cinderella; First appeared in Birth by Sleep)
This world sure likes blue, huh? For some reason, this world has some of my favorite aesthetics in any of the Kingdom Hearts game, even though (surprise!) there’s not a ton of substance here. Shrinking your size down to the size of a mouse is awesome, and it’s a perspective we haven’t seen since Wonderland in the first Kingdom Hearts (though it’s being revisited in Kingdom Hearts III’s Toy Story world). But this world proves we don’t need any more escort missions in any video game.
14. Symphony of Sorcery
(Based on Fantasia; First appeared in Kingdom Hearts II/Dream Drop Distance)
For simplicity’s sake, we’re just going to lump in the Mysterious Tower. Symphony of Sorcery is one of the weirdest worlds in any Kingdom Hearts game. A reliance on classical orchestral music, and a general lack of other sound effects (this world is based off Fantasia, after all) make this world stand out. Design-wise, this is one of the most unique locations in the Kingdom Hearts series. Fantasia is possibly the most abstract film in the Disney pantheon, and this world (somewhat) nails that. Again, though, if only we had the chance to see what the PlayStation 4 could do with this totally out-there concept.
(Based on Alice in Wonderland; First appeared in Kingdom Hearts)
Speaking of abstract, we have Wonderland. It’s got a unique concept, and it truly is a bizarre place. Narrative and gameplay-wise it’s kind of a mess, considering you have to search the world upside-down (sometimes literally) to search for clues the prove Alice’s innocence. There’s also an annoying boss battle here that should have been tweaked. It’s important to the overall story of Kingdom Hearts, though, so it’s got that going for it. Plus, who doesn’t love the color pink?
12. The Grid
(Based on Tron: Legacy; First appeared in Dream Drop Distance)
Kind of, but not really the same world as Space Paranoids, The Grid is canonically what the former world is based on. Rather than the 1982 original, this world is based off 2010’s Tron: Legacy, which is for sure a visual treat. Weird digital recreations of Jeff Bridges and Olivia Wilde (we’ll have more on that later) aside, the inclusion of The Grid was one of the coolest parts of Dream Drop Distance. A Daft Punk-inspired soundtrack helped elevate this world, but unfortunately, it paled in comparison to the other Tron world.
11. Dwarf Woodlands
(Based on Snow White and the Seven Dwarves; First appeared in Birth by Sleep)
Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, the first full-length animated film. It’s almost shocking that it took all the way until Birth by Sleep to formally introduce Snow White’s world, but in the context of the series, it makes sense. A more varied and engaging world than the other princess’ worlds, Dwarf Woodlands takes you from an underground dungeon, to a scary forest, to a diamond mine. It also features one of the series’ coolest bosses: The Magic Mirror himself.
10. Deep Jungle
(Based on Tarzan; First appeared in Kingdom Hearts)
After appearing in the first Kingdom Hearts, it has yet to make a reappearance since, making you wonder if this world exists (blame legal issues on that). Even though it’s essentially the red-headed stepchild in terms of Disney worlds, it’s still a pretty fun one to explore. A setting unlike any other in the series, some interesting (if flawed) mechanics, and a story that’s important to the overall plot! It’s just a shame we’re unlikely to revisit Deep Jungle anytime soon.
(Based on Aladdin; First appeared in Kingdom Hearts)
A fan-favorite for sure, but also maybe a world that’s suffered from overexposure. Of all the worlds, Agrabah is by far one of the most open-ended, full of secret passageways and rooms. Exploring the Cave of Wonders can be a pain, sure, but it’s also one of the most downright fun locations in all of Kingdom Hearts. Let’s just hope we don’t have to revisit it anytime soon, okay?
8. 100 Acre Wood
(Based on Winnie the Pooh; First appeared in Kingdom Hearts)
A breath of fresh air in the Kingdom Hearts series, 100 Acre Wood is simply the most wholesome thing ever. It’s so wholesome, in fact, that the “Attack” command is replaced with “Hit.” A world where combat doesn’t exist, the source of pain and conflict is instead a series of minigames the denizens of this world force upon you. It’s also one of the most convoluted worlds in the series, since you need to travel across the literal universe to find the pages to complete the book that houses the world itself. Anything for you, you silly old bear.
7. Prankster’s Paradise
(Based on Pinocchio; First appeared in Dream Drop Distance – though Monstro appeared in Kingdom Hearts)
Mostly up this high thanks to the by-proxy inclusion of Monstro, which technically is its own world by this point. While the carnival setting of Dream Drop Distance is fun, what the people really want to talk about is the whale. Seriously, can you imagine the shock players had when this monster of a whale ate up the Gummi Ship in one fell swoop? Monstro wins the points for most creative setting, that’s for sure. Navigation can be tough, and the aesthetics are just under the line of gross, but you’ve got to give Square points for its creativity.
6. Port Royal
(Based on Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl; First appeared in Kingdom Hearts II)
Quite possibly the strangest world to be included in a Kingdom Hearts game. Back in 2005, when Pirates of the Caribbean mania was in full effect, Sora and friends made their way to a world populated with digital recreations of Johnny Depp and Kiera Knightley. The sight of seeing Donald Duck stand next to video game Orlando Bloom is slightly disconcerting, but it’s a fun novelty at the same time. Sure, it doesn’t fully live up to the potential of the swashbuckling, expansive world of the films, but Kingdom Hearts III looks to be remedying that.
5. Halloween Town
(Based on The Nightmare Before Christmas; First appeared in Kingdom Hearts)
The spookiest world of them all, this world based on Tim Burton’s stop-motion cult hit was one of the coolest inclusions in the original Kingdom Hearts. It also gave us some awesome transformations for our main heroes. With a muted color scheme that’s even reflected in the heartless, Halloween Town is one of the most unique worlds in terms of aesthetics. The fact that you could go to Christmas Town in Kingdom Hearts II helped sweeten the deal, but also raised a ton of questions about the Kingdom Hearts universe that probably don’t need to be asked.
(Based on Peter Pan; First appeared in Kingdom Hearts)
Originally one of the biggest jokes in the Kingdom Hearts fandom due to its blatant misdirection, Neverland finally got its due in both 358/2 Days and Birth by Sleep. And when players finally got to explore the land past the second star to the right, it didn’t disappoint. One of the most lush and colorful worlds to ever make it into Kingdom Hearts, Neverland was as full of as much childlike wonder as you’d expect. Plus, completing Neverland gifts you with the greatest ability in the Kingdom Hearts series: glide.
3. Pride Lands
(Based on The Lion King; First appeared in Kingdom Hearts II)
Tied with Atlantica for the most ambitious Kingdom Hearts world, though a heck of a lot more successful at its execution. Featuring the most dramatic transformations in the series until we get a Cars world, the Pride Lands had to completely rethink how to play a Kingdom Hearts game. Sure, the transformation isn’t fully on-point; controlling Sora can be iffy at best and the lack of Drive forms is a real bummer. But this is one of the most expansive worlds in the series to date. The only thing that can beat it is if we get Finding Nemo.
2. Space Paranoids
(Based on Tron; First appeared in Kingdom Hearts II)
When Kingdom Hearts II released, Tron was little more than a cult film. Despite that (or maybe because of that), it was included in the line-up of worlds in the 2005 sequel. One of only two live-action franchises to be featured in the Kingdom Hearts series, Space Paranoids features some of the same issues present in the Pirates of the Caribbean world. Thankfully, the very fact of being a Tron world made the character models seem a little less uncomfortable. Featuring that signature Tron neon aesthetic, right down to the Keyblade, few worlds will ever be stand out as much as this one does.
1. Timeless River
(Based on Steamboat Willie; First appeared in Kingdom Hearts II)
Going way back to the beginnings of the Disney empire, this world, based off the first Mickey Mouse cartoons, tops the stable of locations featured in the series. Everything about this monochromatic world is on-point. Take the character designs, which includes reverting Donald and Goofy to their original looks and having Sora in his Kingdom Hearts outfit. Even the sound is slightly muffled, reflecting the audio standards at the time. Kingdom Hearts has started to incorporate time travel in some concerning ways, but here, time travel was nothing but a win.
Do you agree with this list? Or does it make you want to yell at us? (It’s probably the latter.) Let us know! If this makes you want to revisit or try it out for the first time, all of the games are currently available on the PlayStation 4. And for more on the potentials of other Disney crossovers, be sure to read about why a Disney fighting game is what we need.