The Heartless are the central antagonists of the Kingdom Hearts series and are living embodiments of darkness created when a heart is swallowed by Darkness. They reside wherever there is darkness, most prominently the Realm of Darkness. All Heartless act on instinct, seeking out even more hearts to consume and add onto their ranks. Though they have normally been seen controlled by Disney Villains in their appearances, the Heartless will actually ally with whoever is the strongest when two different forces try to control them.
Heartless, Emblem or Pureblood, possess several key characteristics that define them as Heartless. All Heartless are created when the darkness that resides in a person's heart consumes him or her, thus giving the darkness shape and form. They are mindless and act on instinct, their only goal being to find hearts, and consume them to create more Heartless. There are, however, rare aberrant Heartless that defy these characteristics, such as Ansem, Sora's Heartless, and Xehanort's guardian, as all three were able to retain their mind and personality.
The more darkness a heart has, the stronger its Heartless becomes.
Although they are mindless and act only on instinct, dark beings with strong will can command them. However, this is risky process as showing any sign of weakness can cause the Heartless to turn on them and consume their heart. This happens often to those of the Disney Villain Council.
While many of them are bad, some of the Heartless are known to be neutral ones to the point that they don't attack, and a even few such as the White Mushroom are good and helpful.
The Keyblade is the primary weapon for destroying the Heartless. Thus, Heartless seek out Keyblade wielders, placing them under constant danger. There are also other options to hurt Heartless, such as magic and magical weapons.
Pureblood are more common in places that are close to or saturated in darkness. Upon their destruction, they simply disappear in puffs of darkness, without a heart leaving its body.
They are ink-black in color, with yellow beady eyes.
Emblem Heartless were originally created from machines that reproduce the process of a heart being consumed by darkness. Afterward, stolen hearts can become Emblems. Upon gaining more hearts, they become more powerful and multiply. They make up the majority of the Heartless enemies and bosses in both games.
They come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. The Heartless symbol is branded on them to differentiate them between the Purebloods.
The Heartless appear to Destiny Islands as the invasion force of Maleficent, intending to consume its heart like the countless worlds that had fallen before the islands. Sora encounters the creatures when Riku opens the door to the heart of the world, causing the Heartless to invade and losing the world in the process. In the midst of the chaos, Sora obtains the Keyblade and is whisked away from the growing darkness in the world. When Sora arrives to Traverse Town, he encounters the Heartless again, but this time he is able to vanquish them with his newly-obtained Keyblade. Joining forces with Donald Duck and Goofy, Sora begins a journey to save the remaining worlds from the Heartless invasion, fighting against Heartless in many shapes and sizes.
Sora eventually learns that the Heartless are being used by Maleficent to capture the seven Princesses of Heart and open the door to Kingdom Hearts so that she and her allies can rule over all worlds. However, when the group arrives at Hollow Bastion, Ansem, the Heartless' true leader, appears through Riku and reveals that Maleficent and the other villains were being used by the Heartless all along. In order to save the sleeping princesses, Sora then uses Ansem's Keyblade on himself, freeing the princesses' hearts but turning him into a Heartless as a result. Fortunately, Sora is returned to human form by Kairi's light.
After the destruction of Ansem during the former's attempt to open Kingdom Hearts, many Heartless begin emerging from the Door to Darkness. However, their escape is put to a halt when Sora closes and locks the door with the help of Riku and Mickey, who are stuck in the Realm of Darkness.
Heartless appear as enemies hunted by Roxas to collect their hearts for the Organization in order to form Kingdom Hearts.
The Heartless are the generic enemies along with Nobodies in the game. Their reappearance, as Yen Sid explains to Sora, is because although Sora and company prevented a catastrophic invasion of the Realm of Light by Heartless, the Heartless are still a significant threat lingering in the worlds. The Heartless in this edition are important for both Maleficent and the Organization but for different purposes; Maleficent continues to use Heartless to conquer worlds, and Organization XIII uses Sora to release the hearts of every Heartless he destroys to create their own Kingdom Hearts.
Once Sora enters The World That Never Was, Organization XIII's home base, the artificial Kingdom Hearts is damaged when Ansem the Wise fails to encode it as data, causing hearts to rain down over the Dark City, spawning a great swarm of Shadows that swarm the castle while the Nobodies try to catch the falling hearts. Through a temporary alliance, Maleficent and Pete take on the swarm, sending Sora and company to defeat Xemnas, atop the castle. It is unknown what happens afterward, but due to the reappearance of Maleficent in later games, it is assumed that the Heartless were temporarily defeated.
Digital copies of the Heartless appear within the Datascape of Jiminy's Journal, just as they had appeared in the real worlds. The digital representation of Sora's Heartless is the source of the datascape's bugs and serves as the game's final boss, but it is defeated by Data-Sora and King Mickey, which repairs the journal.
The prequel game reveals that before the Heartless invasion in the first game, Xehanort's demonstration the ability to summon Neoshadows to train his apprentice Ventus and Heartless within the Realm of Darkness indicate that the Heartless existed prior to Kingdom Hearts, although only the Pureblood variety was the only appearance of Heartless at the time.
After Aqua's imprisonment in the Realm of Darkness, she encounters several Darksides and decides to let them come at her due to her descent into despair. However, Terra's Keyblade and Ventus's Keyblade appear and destroy the Darksides, giving Aqua hope for escape, and fights her way through the realm and encounters many Pureblood Heartless.
Meanwhile, Xehanort creates the Emblem Heartless within Radiant Garden while experimenting on the heart, which leads to the creation of his Heartless, Ansem, as well as Organization XIII's founding members from the Nobodies of Ansem the Wise's apprentices who begin their plan to harvest the power of Kingdom Hearts. This begins the spread of Heartless to other worlds and become used by each world's respective villain, leading to the events of the first game.
The Heartless return in the third installment as one of the three primary enemies, the others being the Nobodies and the Unversed. Aside from the game introducing new variants of Heartless, the Heartless from earlier installments also appear, some of whom receive a redesign and older ones such as the Shadows gain new abilities, including the power to cluster into a tower of Heartless and swallow their victims into darkness.
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