If you want games like Kingdom Hearts 3, you should try Duke Nukem Forever. Just joshing with you – nobody should play the interminably delayed Duke Nukem Forever, except for perhaps the most dedicated FPS historians or developers determined to learn from the mistakes of the past.
We were merely making a joke at the expense of Square Enix, who has been working on Kingdom Hearts 3 since the release of Steamboat Willie in 1928.
Now, though, it’s finally finished, and will be the only place in games you can find Baymax rubbing shoulders with Daffy Duck. Figuratively speaking, that is – Baymax stands a full two-and-a-half Daffys tall.
There’s only one issue remaining – the list of release platforms that includes PlayStation 4, Xbox One, but no PC. A mere clerical error, we’re sure, but until Square Enix clears it up, here are a bunch of games you can play to capture the essence of the Kingdom Hearts experience. Or to give the idea of a title in the style of the series: Kingdom Hearts Essence/9 Games.
World of Final Fantasy
If the cast of cartoon characters is to blame for your interest in Kingdom Hearts then just wait until you see World of Final Fantasy. It’s lighter in tone and much more friendly than the mainline Final Fantasy games – essentially, Final Fantasy meets Pokemon. You play as two magical siblings with amnesia who embark on a journey to remember their past and save the future. And learn that there’s no gift like the present. Probably.
What stands out most here are the chibi character designs. The world you explore is full of small and – crucially – cute versions of classic Final Fantasy characters and creatures. These are called Mirages, which you can collect and evolve, but also stack up in battles to give yourself buffs. It’s worth playing just to see the chibi version of Cloud Strife.
Tales of Vesperia
The Tales of series is one of the few JRPG mainstays that can give Kingdom Hearts a run for its money. It has convoluted timelines, real-time battles, beautiful anime cutscenes, and more games than you have fingers. What more could you want? It’s a series worth diving into if you want more high fantasy worlds where different races co-exist and engage in cute arguments.
If you’re completely new to it then Tales of Vesperia is a great place to start. It’s one of the most treasured entries – unsurprising, given that it has a dog that smokes a pipe – and it has recently had a tenth anniversary edition released on PC. That means you can now enjoy this epic cel-shaded adventure with improved visuals, as well as characters, events, and costumes that weren’t previously released outside of Japan.
The bold and lively universe of Kingdom Hearts is a completely different vibe to Okami’s ambient and humble world, but both games are similar in that they’ll breed in you a love for exploration and action-packed combat.
In Okami you play as Amaterasu, the wolf form of the Shinto sun goddess, who is on a quest to defeat the eight-headed demon Orochi – who in turn is transforming the peaceful lands of Nippon into a wasteland of monsters and demons. You get to run around the world completing side-quests, solving environmental puzzles, and beating up enemies.
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As with the combat in Kingdom Hearts, Okami focuses on a hack-and-slash system that has Amaterasu dashing and jumping around the battlefield. Just as you can summon Disney characters to help you in Kingdom Hearts, in Okami you can control a giant celestial brush which can paint special symbols, granting Amaterasu special attacks. It’s not quite Goofy, but it’s pretty cool, trust us. Both games have an energy and dynamism that get you right into the action.
Ni no Kuni II
Kingdom Hearts was born from a collaboration between Disney and Square Enix, and Ni no Kuni comes from a partnership between Studio Ghibli and Level-5. Ni no Kuni doesn’t use characters from Ghibli films, however – instead the game is set in an entirely new world, yet the style and sensibilities of the production house are stamped indelibly onto the series.
In Ni no Kuni 2 you return to the kingdom of Ding Dong Dell and take control of Evan, heir to the throne, as he fights to assume his place as king after he is ousted by a coup. The game is vast, including your standard RPG quests, large-scale battles, a city builder meta game, and all the whimsical creatures that made the first game memorable.
If you loved the story depth of the Kingdom Hearts series and want another world to sink your analytical teeth into, then Nier: Automata is perfect for you. It tells the story of two androids, 2B and 9S, and their fight against powerful machines that have taken over the beautiful but desolate Earth of the far future.
In a world that’s been abandoned by humans, Earth’s husk is still full of life
Nier: Automata shares the same RPG elements as the Kingdom Hearts series, making you feel right at home. It has action-packed combat that hinges on powerful combos and a wealth of weapons to suit your playstyle. But where Nier really shines is in its world exploration and philosophical story.
In a world that’s been abandoned by humans, Earth’s husk is still full of life. There are the giant machines who roam the desert wasteland, the abandoned amusement park where automatons have been left to short circuit, and the whimsical forest that a faction of peaceful robots have made their home. While exploring this world, 2B and 9S start to question where they stand in the war between the machines and the humans and begin to grapple with what it means to be human at all.
If you’re new to Kingdom Hearts you might well assume it has a turn-based combat system like many of its peers in the JRPG genre. But it doesn’t – the fighting here is hack-and-slash, making it somewhat reminiscent of the Fable games. In both cases, the instantly understandable style of battle makes the games friendlier than other RPGs which forefront stats and tactics.
Like Kingdom Hearts, Fable 3 also weaves a grand story about heroes and terrible world-ending threats, and has a penchant for minigames. Where Square Enix stuffs its game with FPS mech sequences and underwater fighting, the Fable series has a long history with wood chopping, blacksmithing, bartending – really anything that can be turned into a rhythm action diversion.
In Kingdom Hearts there’s lots of talk about light and dark, good and evil, and hearts… so many hearts. Corrupted hearts, pure hearts, Queen of Hearts – there’s a lot of hearts. The indie RPG Undertale echos many of these same themes, but where Kingdom Hearts can come across a little ham-fisted with its ideas, Undertale explores them in a more sincere way.
In Undertale you play as a human who has fallen into the underworld of monsters and must find a way out. As you traverse the underground the game communicates to the player that killing is completely unnecessary and that you can negotiate your way out of fights and even make friends with monsters.
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Its quirky, Disney-esque characters and great sense of humour keep it from feeling sappy, making its key moments about friendship and hope more heartwarming. Just when you feel you’re at your weakest point, its soundtrack starts to swell to the stage where you can’t help but shed a tear.
Secret of Mana
Kingdom Hearts didn’t come out of nowhere. There’s a huge and rich history of JRPGs that came before it, and Secret of Mana is one of the most influential. Not only did its real-time battle system send ripples through the Japanese game industry, its story endures and is still powerful today, capable of inducing tears of joy and sadness.
It follows three boys as they attempt to prevent the return of a flying fortress, the existence of which previously angered the gods, leading to a globally destructive battle. Dark as that is, the game itself is vibrant and heartwarming all round. It was recently remade for PC with 3D graphics and supports up to three players in local co-op.
One of the major pulls of Kingdom Hearts 3 is that its story dives into so many contrasting and colourful worlds, one after the other. Take Big Hero 6’s San Fransokyo, where the Golden Gate Bridge bears the flourishes of the torii gates associated with shinto shrines. Look to the 100 Acre Wood, which Pooh and Piglet galumphed around all those years ago. And the Kingdom of Corona, which is from Tangled, rather than a world themed around light beer.
Psychonauts is a game about entering people’s heads, but the feeling is the same. Each personality you jump inside brings with it a new art style, different characters or mechanics, and sometimes an entirely new genre – like the turn-based strategy battle raging in the head of young Fred Bonaparte against his overbearing ancestor, Napoleon. None of the cast of Frozen appear, but with so much going on you won’t miss them.