The Striking Similarities Between Xenoblade Chronicles and Kingdom Hearts

Xenoblade Chronicles is a franchise about friendship, adventure, perspective, and so much more. It is dripping with lore, iconic characters, funny gags, serious moments, everything in-between. Over the course of each entry, the combat system has been iterated on so thoroughly that with the release of Xenoblade Chronicles 3 and its standalone expansion, Future Redeemed, the combat feels the best it’s ever felt. At the same time, however, Xenoblade’s worldbuilding is sometimes obtuse, some of the dialogue can be a bit stiff, and certain moments can be unintentionally funny; like virtually any RPG series, it has its caveats. Some might find these aspects a bit of a turnoff, whereas others, including myself, might say these elements add a certain charm to the franchise.

Kingdom Hearts fans might see these aspects of Xenoblade and find they strike a chord. After all, much the same could be said about Kingdom Hearts, a franchise known for making a large amount of people cringe and making an equal number of people cry. While these two franchises don’t share much in common when taken at face value, they actually have a number of similarities that go much deeper than art style or character design. As a fan of both, I want to take a look at what makes these two franchises similar.

Axel, Roxas, and Xion are my favorite trio in the Kingdom Hearts franchise.

To begin, stating the obvious is in order. Tetsuya Nomura and Tetsuya Takahashi, directors of the Kingdom Hearts and Xenoblade Chronicles franchises respectively, both have worked on the Final Fantasy franchise, with Nomura continuing his work on the franchise while Takahashi quickly branched into other projects starting with Xenogears before moving on to found Monolith Soft. However, the two were able to work together years later as Takahashi was able to bring Nomura on to do the character designs for the primary villains of Xenoblade Chronicles 2, making them feel appropriately otherworldly. Even some of the conversations those characters have feel reminiscent of Kingdom Hearts, with a lot of moments where they question their purpose or why they were created.

Xenoblade Chronicles and Kingdom Hearts have some similarities in their combat and gameplay as well. Cancelling arts in Xenoblade adds an element of action to an otherwise more methodical, strategic combat system, something Kingdom Hearts fans will no doubt appreciate. Additionally, those that enjoy the light party management of Kingdom Hearts will find a lot to like in Xenoblade, as that entire franchise is built off of party management.

For my money, the best element of Xenoblade’s combat is the fact that, especially by the third game, it is possible to reach damage numbers well into the hundreds of millions, something most RPGs would shy away from. Kingdom Hearts doesn’t have quite that same ability to become overpowered and do absurd amounts of damage, but the ways in which certain bosses can be “solved” is not unlike the way it happens in Xenoblade, with some combos in Kingdom Hearts II being literally endless if done with proper execution.

There’s also the matter of the narrative. While Xenoblade carries darker themes than Kingdom Hearts, both franchises have mechanisms of storytelling that aren’t dissimilar, from timeline shenanigans to various “other selves” that pop up from time to time. Add to this Takahashi and Nomura’s propensity to include ideas that are incredibly high-concept, and the amount of overlap becomes staggering. Even some dream sequences in the original Xenoblade Chronicles feel reminiscent of the iconic intro sequence from the first Kingdom Hearts. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that what the villains do to Shulk in the first Xenoblade is incredibly similar to what happens to Sora in Chain of Memories, where both are shown visions that ultimately further the antagonist’s plot.

Jin from Xenoblade Chronicles 2 feels like a character Tetsuya Nomura would write.

Another thing both franchises lean on is taking the most absurd elements of their worlds as seriously as possible, from Donald Duck using Zettaflare, one of Final Fantasy’s most powerful spells to ever exist, to Xenoblade Chronicles 2’s propensity for outrageously designed female characters being present in emotional moments throughout the game. These things, and more, are played completely straight, with the intentionally humorous moments being clearly defined and laid out for the player. These same elements permeate some of the greatest moments in these series, such as Sora slashing through buildings in the finale of Kingdom Hearts II or Mio punching a giant monster so hard it goes flying in Xenoblade Chronicles 3.

Both franchises also consist of incredibly satisfying moments for long-term fans. Though criticized for leaving the player with more questions than answers, Kingdom Hearts III has many moments that pay off series-spanning setups. Similarly, Xenoblade Chronicles 3: Future Redeemed has many a moment that calls back to or otherwise pays off setups from the first two games.. Even the second numbered entries of both franchises are filled to the brim with moments that fulfill setups from the first game in some way, shape, or form. Fans who are willing to suspend their disbelief for these franchises will find that both are abundant with hype and satisfaction, rewards for the time investment required to play/complete them.

Of course, just because they share similarities doesn’t mean they are exactly the same. Kingdom Hearts is, on the whole, much lighter on a thematic level given its ties to several Disney properties. Xenoblade also isn’t beholden to the standards of pre-existing intellectual properties that Kingdom Hearts is, allowing the narrative to be entirely it’s own while Kingdom Hearts juggles an original story with the established narratives of said Disney properties. Kingdom Hearts also places much more emphasis on its roots in the action RPG genre and platformers, whereas Xenoblade Chronicles takes more inspiration from MMORPGs for both world and combat design.

Kingdom Hearts and Xenoblade Chronicles both mean a lot to me, and I think this is due in part to their similarities. So many moments in one franchise echo the other, and I can honestly say that without Kingdom Hearts I never would have gotten into Xenoblade. That’s not to say they are exactly alike, but enough elements between them are shared, especially narratively, that I am willing to bet that it’s because of these elements, not in spite of them, that I enjoy both franchises to the extent that I do.

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