Jeremy enjoys gaming when not working as a manager at the same college he graduated from.
Kingdom Hearts History
Spoilers from throughout the franchise ahead.
As odd as a Final Fantasy/Disney mashup sounds, Kingdom Hearts has become one of the most beloved gaming series of all time. With the classic fantasies of Disney with the epic story and drama of Final Fantasy (and some darn solid gameplay), each Kingdom Hearts entry repeatedly impresses gamers.
My friends and I love to debate which characters are the strongest, and the two who always come up are the original hero and anti-hero: Sora and Riku. Let's examine the abilities of each Keyblade wielder to decide which ultimately reigns supreme!
The main character of most games, Sora comes across as naive at times, but his determination and kindness allow him to link the hearts of many worlds. When his best friend Kairi first went missing, Sora joined with Donald Duck and Goofy to rescue her, and has since battled countless and Nobodies across the universe.
Despite his youth, Sora displays impressive prowess with his Keyblade, and within himself, he currently harbors Roxas (his Nobody) as well as Ventus's heart.
- Keyblade techniques
- Magic Prowess
- Drive Forms
Sora learns a variety of Keyblade attacks, and he utilizes a two-handed style that's more defensive style than most. He can block any attack by guarding at the right time, and his blade has felled many a foe (see his victories below).
Sora learns and upgrades several spells throughout his journey. Most notably, he can heal himself with Curaga, attack with Firaga, Blizzaga, and Thundaga, and create wind shields. Sora can also brandish powerful Limit attacks, but most demand an ally's presence, limiting their use in solo fights.
Perhaps Sora's strongest ability, Drive Forms grant Sora powerful abilities (speed, flight, etc.) and most give him two Keyblades. However, they require party members to utilize, making them inaccessible in one-on-one duels. Sora can also harness summons with the Drive Gauge, but this also requires allies' presence.
- Defeated Riku-Ansem and Ansem
- Defeated Xemnas and most of Organization XIII
- Defeated gods like Hades and Chernabog
Perhaps Sora's strongest case is his triumph (single-handedly) against Riku-Ansem, a form that boosted Riku's power. In addition, he's even conquered supposed god-figures like Hades and Chernabog, admittedly with help from Donald and Goofy. Still, he alone prevailed against Organization XIII's leader Xemnas (prior to Xemnas's Kingdom Hearts absorption, where Sora and Riku had to team up against him).
- Defeated Sephiroth
- Defeated Riku (Destiny Islands)
If you count these optional fights, they greatly aid Sora's case. He's beaten the exceptionally skilled Sephiroth twice, and can potentially take down Riku on the Destiny Islands early in the first game.
A talented fighter who also grew up on the Destiny Islands, Riku has shared a longtime rivalry with Sora. Though Riku has struggled with jealousy and darkness in the past, he's since developed from anti-hero to hero and shares a close bond with King Mickey.
Riku has a sharper tongue and keener mind than Sora, but proves his loyalty when it matters.
- Keyblade Mastery
- Darkness and Magic
- Was chosen first as a Keyblade Inheritor and by Organization XIII
Like Sora, Riku competently defeats many adversaries with his weapon, utilizing a swift one-handed style. Unlike Sora, he's even an official Master now (more on that below).
After first giving in, Riku eventually learned to wield the darkness within without letting it control him, granting him many potent attacks and an inherent resistance to manipulation. At times, his strength is further enhanced through possession by Ansem. Riku also uses magic similar to Sora, though it's seen less often.
Riku was originally intended to be the Keyblade's successor, but it passed to Sora when Riku gave into darkness. Likewise, Organization XIII initially had their sights set on him to be their vessel, and later altered their goal to Sora. You could argue that Riku being the first choice shows his greater strength, though some would counter by citing his initial succumb to darkness.
- Defeated Tidus, Wakka, and Selphie
- Defeated Ansem
- Defeated Armored Ventus Nightmare
- Helped Sora defeat Xemnas
Riku was hailed for his strength on the Destiny Islands, and reportedly defeated Tidus, Wakka, and Selphie even when they triple-teamed him. He also conquered "Ansem" (Xehanort's Heartless) and defeated an Armored Ventus Nightmare.
Most notably, Riku did better than Sora against Kingdom Hearts-boosted Xemnas. At one point, Xemnas ensnares Sora with magic, and the player briefly controls Riku during a rescue; later, Riku also takes a hit aimed at Sora.
Sora's Nobody battles both Riku and Sora at various points, but it's difficult to glean which performed better against him. Roxas actually outdueled both, but Sora won with a trick of the Keyblade (instantly returning it to his hand) while Riku won by yielding to the darkness within to gain more power.
If I had to, I'd say Sora performed slightly better, especially considering his confused mental state during the clash (he was as much trying to figure out what was going on as battling), but it's a close call.
Is Sora a Keyblade Master?
A quick aside, Yen Sid officially dubs Riku a Keyblade Master by the end of Dream Drop Distance, while Sora failed his exam due to inexperience with battling inner darkness. This may lend credence that Riku's skills exceed Sora's.
Still, others contend that Sora is already a Master (if unofficially); after all, he had very little darkness in him to begin with and has already awoken the hearts of many worlds. Even the Kingdom Hearts wiki notes that Sora's actual test may have been his reaction to Riku's advancement: would he grow jealous or congratulate his friend? Sora immediately celebrated with Riku, indicating an inner maturity; perhaps he passed his true exam with flying colors.
I've gotta give it to Sora. Call it plot armor if you will, but the fact is, he canonically beat Riku-Ansem. Additionally, Roxas's presence within seems to grant extra powers, and Xehanort calls him "a Keyblade wielder unlike any I have ever seen."
Plus, if you count Sora's canonically-questionably victories over Sephiroth and Riku himself (on the Destiny Islands), you could make a case of him being the strongest character in all of Kingdom Hearts even without Drive Forms. Besides that, Sora teams better with allies than any other character and is able to combine their strengths into the potent dual abilities (Final Form being the current ultimate boon available to players).
Finally, Riku seems to lose some degree of strength when he returns to the light; for instance, he tries and fails to create a gateway at the end of Kingdom Hearts 2.
Still, Riku earns many points, and I'm sure we can revisit this timeless debate once we encounter the new evidence Kingdom Hearts 3 will undoubtedly provide. Until then, cast your vote for the true Keyblade Master, and I'll see you at our next review!
© 2017 Jeremy Gill
Alexis on October 16, 2017:
Quite true on all accounts. Cloud has a number of things Sephiroth doesn't have, which makes him ultimately able to win. Sephiroth is stronger, but he has some notable flaws. Battle wise, Sora is a more versatile fighter which gives him a distinct advantage. Riku is stronger physically, but vertisality and knowing know to harness it gives Sora an advantage.
Riku also recognizes that Sora is the 'hero', regardless of the strengths he has against Sora. I think he's accepted his 'role' and is there to support Sora. When you think about it, there are a lot of stories where a side character IS stronger physically or more intelligent, but delegates themselves to a secondary or support character, possibly because they don't want the pressure of being 'the one' or have no interest in it.
Jeremy Gill (author) from Louisiana on October 15, 2017:
I was hoping this would spark some constructive debate! I agree that Riku has some edges, like intelligence, and often it seems the games try to convince us of his power (everyone's always talking about how skilled he is).
But whenever he actually faces Sora, Sora wins, and that gives him the edge in my book (though I respect your opinion, it's a close call).
Almost reminds me of fellow Square characters Cloud and Sephiroth; nearly everyone in-universe considers Sephiroth the best swordsman, but match them up and Cloud wins.
Alexis on October 15, 2017:
Riku is one of my favorite video game characters, so I might be biased in saying that I think he's stronger. At the end of Birth by Sleep, the game hinted at the fact he was stronger than Sora (no spoilers). Personality wise, I feel that Riku has some strengths in terms of perception, judgement and maturity...things that Sora lacks.