Kingdom Hearts is a franchise that has been around since the 2000s. The games feature various Disney characters and various characters from Square Enix’s IPs like Final Fantasy. So far, the franchise has thirteen titles, most of which were received favorably and has a loyal and dedicated fanbase always waiting for the next title in the series.
At its core, Kingdom Hearts is an ARPG game with hack-and-slash combat. The game plays like most titles of the genre; players assume the role of Sora, the protagonist of the series, who is usually accompanied by Disney’s Donald Duck and Goofy, who act as companions. The game progresses linearly as players make their way from objective to objective, with cutscenes playing in between as exposition and moving the plot forward.
Games like Kingdom Hearts focus on players earning experience by completing various tasks and side missions allotted by NPCs and investing that experience in character progression; this forms the primary gameplay loop.
While the game features many Disney characters, it is not necessarily a game for children; the gameplay is quite addictive and honestly can be enjoyed by all age groups. So, without further delay, let’s look at other titles that share elements with Kingdom Hearts.
1. Rogue Galaxy
Rogue Galaxy is a cult classic title that was released for PS2 in 2005; the game features a similar ARPG gameplay loop that fans of Kingdom Hearts enjoy so much. However, it’s also important to note that the game recently saw a release for PS4, and it’s the director’s cut version of the game featuring improvements not present in the original release.
The game features a third-person camera and plays like a hybrid of Final Fantasy and current-gen RPGs. Players are free to move around in the world and have a chance to encounter a random event.
Like Kingdom Hearts, the players are accompanied by AI teammates, but Rogue Galaxy allows players to switch between these companions as they see fit in the middle of the battle. Upon leaving a character’s control, the game enables the AI to control the character, and players can set specific strategies to which the AI must adhere.
The combat plays in a hack-and-slash format, and there are gameplay elements that the player must take into account during the battle. For example, each character has action points assigned to them; performing attacks depletes the action points during a fight.
Once it’s zero, players will be unable to attack; however, successfully blocking incoming attacks allows the bar to refill itself. These mechanics also carry over to weapons, and all these stats must be on the player’s mind at all times if they want to win.
The game also has standard RPG mechanics of gaining experience and levelling up their characters and equipment to gain access to more challenging areas.
The game has a revered status within the ARPG community, and its PS4 rerelease is something a lot of people were looking forward to; the only drawback to this title is that it’s only playable on PS. However, there’s a specific something called emulation you might want to look at if you’re looking to enjoy the game on a PC.
2. Final Fantasy XV
Seeing Final Fantasy on this list shouldn’t be a surprise. Not only Kingdom Hearts and Final Fantasy share the same developer. They also share mechanics to a great degree, except, of course, Final Fantasy featured turn-based combat for the longest time.
Final Fantasy XV takes a step away from the turn-based format and introduces the more modern third-person combat. While the combat system is a little barebone compared to other contemporaries, it’s not all bad, and the game is well balanced around this new real-time combat.
The game features standard combat options like attack, block or using an item. Players can engage in action, and unlike the older titles, there is no teleportation to an arena for a battle. Instead, all wars are fought in the same place, and players can always choose to flee an area if they feel unable to beat an enemy.
If a companion is lost in a battle, they will enter a DBNO state which sees them constantly losing the max HP cap. If the max HP cap hits zero, the companion is lost. I have always enjoyed games that put a more permanent penalty on losing; this makes the player more cautious and invested in the game.
FF XV also features a multiplayer mode that alters the combat slightly, allowing players worldwide to compete against one another. Although it’s not the best hack-and-slash in the market, FF XV still offers engaging gameplay with a compelling story and game mechanics very similar to Kingdom Hearts.
3. Crisis Core
Also known as Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII, Crisis Core was released in 2007 for the PSP, but I have to mention that Square Enix is attempting to rerelease some of its titles from that era to smartphones, including Crisis Core.
Fans of Final Fantasy surely enjoyed Crisis Core as a spin-off to the main series adding lore and background to the world and also featuring impressive gameplay.
The game plays like an ARPG of the era; players take control of Zack Fair and move him around the open world, talking to various NPCs, getting to know the world, obtaining various quests, and venturing out to battle with monsters.
Unlike other Final Fantasy titles, Crisis Core uses a real-time combat system where players can dodge incoming attacks and use items against the enemy. The gameplay revolves around collecting “Materia”, which unlock various combat abilities, and the maximum amount of time is spent mixing and matching Materia, allowing for maximum damage.
Players are limited to carrying only six Materia at any given time. They must combine some of them to maximize their combat efficiency; this is where combining comes in. To use as much Materia as possible, players must combine Materia that unlocks better attacks and free up space for more Materia.
Crisis Core might be a short game, but it still is a great experience and does offer plenty of replayability. In addition, it has plenty of content for a PSP title. But, again, for non PSP owners, I suggest waiting for the smartphone release or configuring an emulator.
4. Ys Origin
Sadly, Ys is one of the forgotten franchises. Ys Origin is the ninth title in the series developed by Nihon Falcom and released in 2006.
Although it is one of the later titles in the franchise, it also serves as an origin story and does not follow the main-line story, so newcomers will have no problem picking it up and understanding its tale. The game features an open world and allows players to control three characters; each character has their own sets of abilities that players can use in combat.
Furthermore, during battle, a boost meter can be filled up that allows characters to discharge more powerful attacks and blocks at the cost of depleting the bar; they can also deal burst damage which are special moves contextualized for the character.
Ys Origin might be an old title, but it has very polished and refined gameplay. In 2017 DotEmu released ports for PS4 and Xbox One, so anyone can enjoy this title on console or PC.
5. Devil May Cry 5
And for gamers looking for newer titles and don’t want to deal with pesky emulation and compatibility problems. I present to you Devil May Cry 5. Released in 2019 and developed by Capcom, DMC 5 is the franchise’s comeback after the utter mess that was DMC 4. DMC 5 aims to reconnect with the core audience that enjoyed older DMCs, and boy, did it do just that.
DMC 5 doesn’t feature party-based combat like Kingdom Hearts of FF, but instead, it has a heavy focus on its hack and slash combat and brings it to a whole other level. The game is not all about mindless button-mashing; instead, players must pay attention to the battlefield, look out for incoming attacks, and focus on Ariel juggling opponents to keep them incapacitated.
The game rewards players for playing fast-paced with style points; this is influenced by several variables, including if the player got hit, how long was their combo, and how many attacks did they dodge; these style points are basically experience points that the players can invest to unlock new combos and overall character progression.
There is not much to add here, except there is an over-arching story, and the best way to enjoy the game would be to start from the first title. However, for those looking for a great, more modern hack-and-slash title, DMC 5 is the one for you.
6. Metal Gear Rising
Metal Gear Rising is a spin-off to the well-known Metal Gear Solid series. While the MGS focused on tactical espionage, MGR focused more on action-oriented set pieces and hack-and-slash gameplay. Both games are set in the same universe but play very different from each other.
MGR emphasises action and allows players to cut virtually anything using Raiden’s blade. In any battle, players can expect to slice through vehicles and pillars, among other things in the environment, making the fight a visual spectacle. This also translates into movement and some gameplay elements.
For example, most games involving sword fights don’t allow players to counter enemies with their backs turned (Think Sekiro). However, Raiden is no ordinary soldier enabling him to do superhuman feats like dodging rockets, fighting numerous enemies simultaneously, reaching high speeds while running and so on. The game is a power trip in a neat package.
Like other ARPG games, there is also a character progression; however, experience is not earned through points but performance. At the end of each stage, players are given a rank; the higher the grade, the more points players can invest in making Raiden stronger.
I’d recommend Rising to those players who are again looking for newer hack-and-slash titles.
7. Nier: Automata/Replicant
I’ve talked about Nier games at great lengths in previous articles. While I do not appreciate the anime art style, it has a compelling tale, and the gameplay is addictive, especially the combat.
Neir features great real-time combat that works very well; while the game sometimes opts for a sidescroller perspective, most of the fight plays out in third-person, and its skill-based nature and responsive actions make it highly addictive and replayable.
Neir also features party-based combat and exploration that fans of Kingdom Hearts might miss in DMC and MGR; Nier is the perfect package of gameplay elements from Kingdom Hearts with its own spin and a more modern visual flair.
Of course, like any other ARPG, it also features character progression and weapons/equipment to gather. I’d also like to point out that the game’s true ending has to be reached by replaying the game many times, and if that isn’t your cup of tea, I’d recommend sticking to DMC and MGR.
Hack-and-slash games are the best kind of combat games, they reward players who can prioritize targets and also deal with them swiftly, while on-screen it might look like the player is just mashing the attack button, good hack-and-slash games punish players for doing just that, instead, players are required to use some strategy to stave off the mob without taking a hit and getting those cool style points.