Throughout the majority of the games in the Kingdom Hearts series, there is one prominent rivalry that has been a major feature in the story. Sora and Riku have been friends since they were young children, long before they ever gained keyblades. The pair has been like brothers, even when they were each other's adversary in the first game. Since then, the duo has moved on to become equals — like partners.
For years, fans have argued over who was stronger: Sora or Riku? Since childhood, Riku was always the better of the two. And in the first game (as well as KHCoM), Riku seems to be the more adept fighter. But, if we were measuring up their accomplishments and feats of battle over the course of the entire series, it likely indicates that Sora far surpassed Riku. Then again, by the end of KH3D, the gap seems to have shrunk.
Regardless of the controversy regarding the balance of their battle strength, Riku certainly has some traits that triumph over his childhood friend. (And I'm not just talking about Riku being able to reach higher shelves in the kitchen —though some of these may be about as superficial). Riku may not be the main protagonist of the games, but he has certainly earned his place as the other most important character. Read on for some of the ways Riku wins over Sora.
15 Riku Can Unlock Hearts
Riku could tap into people's hearts, and I'm not talking about his uncanny capability to capture the affections of female fans. After taking Sora's keyblade (and losing it), the first keyblade Riku is shown to use is the Keyblade of Heart. This is a special keyblade that only Riku has utilized, due to his connection to Ansem. Xehanort believed it was a necessity for opening Kingdom Hearts.
It has the unique ability to release the inner essence of whichever heart it unlocks. When an injured Maleficent staggers away from Sora, Riku uses the Keyblade of Heart to unleash Maleficent's full potential, allowing her to transform into her dragon form. It was created by using the hearts within the Princesses of Heart, so perhaps Riku no longer has access to this ability.
14 He Can Fight Using The Darkness
In the first game, Riku's powers of darkness are boosted three times. First, it allowed him to summon heartless and travel using dark portals. Then, Maleficent grants him Dark Mode, giving him superhuman strength and speed. By joining with Ansem, he's mastered using darkness in battle. He slams enemies with it, throws it, or zips around with it.
His darkness becomes even stronger after fighting Roxas. When Riku resorts to using Ansem's form, he is able to use some of his powers. Though, by the end of KH2, Riku has completely ousted Ansem from within himself, weakening his dark powers. Yet, Riku masters his new balance of less darkness and more light; still capable of utilizing Dark Aura, Dark Break, and now Dark Barrier to reduce damage.
13 Riku Can Handle Being Alone
Despite the fact that some of the entries in the series were among my favorite games of all time, it's hard to reminisce on prominent scenes without being bombarded with flashbacks of Sora's incessant calls for other people. It's like all of my memories of the entire first game are supplanted by sound clips of Sora yelling 'Goofy!' 'Riku!' 'Kairi!' 'Ariel!' 'Riku!'
Sure, Riku relied on a couple of allies too. And it's not like Sora never handled any solo battles. But if we were measuring the mass of people that had Sora's back versus the few with Riku's, it would be completely lopsided. This is largely because of Sora's role as a protagonist that boasts the 'power-of-friendship' archetype. But if we were talking who can pull of being a lone wolf to get things done, Riku has it down.
12 He Can Absorb Dreams, Which Sora Can't Do
Sora kinds of uses and fuses with his teammates in KH2. He absorbs party members into his clothes to use his Drive Forms (which in my opinion are easily where he gets his best skills). Now, Riku doesn't have this ability to supplement his combat abilities. However, he does get something similar in KH3D.
KH3D features Dream Eaters as the primary enemy monsters in the game. Both Sora and Riku are capable of recruiting these critters as party members since they face their Mark of Mastery exams alone. The most powerful attacks unleashed through allied Dream Eaters are utilized through the Link System. Sora's Link Attacks typically involve riding atop the Dream Eaters. Riku instead has Link Styles, where he temporarily fuses with his spirits.
11 Riku Can Pick Clothes PROPERLY
It wouldn't be faulty to say Riku puts a little more effort into his appearance. Sure, when the darkness takes over, he wears a silly grass skirt, and it's not kosher that he later copies Organization XIII's robes. But overall, Riku dresses less cartoony than his counterpart. Riku (particularly in his KH2 appearance) could easily fit into the pretty boy model role typical of Final Fantasy games. Well, maybe if he didn't have Disney's trademark gigantic shoes, anyway.
In KH2, Sora's clothes are given to him by fairies, and they change depending on his Drive Form. That, or Donald changes Sora's appearance to match the world they are visiting. Admittedly, Riku's default clothes are just rehashed over the course of the games. Typically, you'll see him wearing blue pants and yellow shirt. But at least he dresses himself.
10 And He Can Manage His Hair
Between KH2 and KH3D, many fans were unhappy with the change in Riku's hairstyle. People were swooning over his long locks of silver hair, so why did he cut it? On the one hand, it made him look like he de-aged by a year. On the other hand, it was likely symbolic, as cutting off one's hair could have implied Riku's desire to leave the past and start anew.
Okay, I might be giving Riku too much credit. The young man likely just lets his hair fall however it will, and never deigns to run a comb through it. But obviously, Riku must use a ton of conditioner. And unlike Sora, at least Riku doesn't eternally look like he has bed head from hell. That, or Sora's hair is intentionally made the way it is from a tub of gel.
9 Riku Can Move Seriously And Smoothly
To put it plainly, Sora's typical sword-fighting stance in KH games is atrocious. Sure, I'm not an aficionado on proper weapon handling, but Sora always looks like he's lugging around a hammer rather than a blade, swinging it overhead like a cartoon character. Actually, many of his movements have silly animations, particularly when he jumps.
This is intentional, but not unnoticeable. Though admittedly, Sora's Drive Forms and Limit Breaks can pull his body into some stylish moves. On the opposite side of the fence, Riku's self-taught sword-fighting is in the realm of typical edgelords that think they look cool. It's just okay, but at least Riku seems notably more dexterous than his buddy. Sometimes, he can really move around impressively, particularly when he's zipping around with the powers of darkness.
8 Riku Can Pay Attention
As the protagonist, Sora has to sit through explanations all the time. Normally, the player is learning this information for the first time as well, so the audience often has the same questions as Sora. But it can get annoying how much of the time Sora succeeds while only getting the gist of the situations. For him, it's just 'whatever, time for more fighting.' He just doesn't really contribute to conversations or anyone else's comprehension.
Perhaps that isn't really fair, since many of the concepts in Kingdom Hearts don't really make sense. Still, Riku never seems to have trouble deciphering anything he learns. He gets it the first time, every time. And he's perceptive enough to return the cryptic perplexities and light philosophy as well as the best of them.
7 He Can Be An Interesting, Developing Character
Okay, so if Sora doesn't really understand what's going on, how does he develop? Short answer: he doesn't. Much of the time he could probably be replaced by any overly optimistic hero that embraces his inner child. He doesn't grow as a character. Once again, this is intentional, since he's supposed to be the shining light of hope in the series.
In contrast to this, Riku really matures, probably the most of anyone. He's the realist, and makes the tough decisions to change things that he deems unacceptable. He starts out desperate for adventure, and is weak to promises of destiny. He was the Chosen One that lost his way, and falls into the darkness. And then he spends a majority of time trying to atone for his actions, becoming the main character of KH3D by the end.
6 Riku Knows How To Keep Himself In Check
Sure, Riku can be a bit depressing at times; that's easy to admit. But by comparison, Sora is absolutely manic. In any given scene, he really only seems to flip between being upbeat and agitated. He's childish and careless, rarely taking a moment to hold himself back. Perhaps that's a part of his charm, but it gets him into some trouble.
Riku keeps his emotions in check. He made some mistakes in the first game, but otherwise is the cool-headed one in the pair. Though, originally he was a bit more mischievous and unbridled, now Riku is more mellow. The dogged young man really does have a handle on his own capabilities and now knows restraint and composure.
5 Riku Can Think Things Through
Now, we know that Riku is keeping cool and tries to be a bit more knowledgeable about the situation. That's enough to say Riku uses his head, but maybe he does more than this. Riku was the one that wanted to build a raft and explore more of Destiny Islands. He tried to think of ways to revive the unconscious Kairi in the first game, and later an unconscious Sora. And he isn't so quick to black-and-white judgments of evil.
Sure, Riku may not be a brilliant strategist, but perhaps anyone can out-think our main hero. Sora will rush headfirst into any danger without a battle plan. It's one thing to be a courageous optimist, but there's a fine line that Sora stands on that can sometimes dip over into the realm of the reckless fool.
4 He Can Avoid Using Silly Keyblades
That's right, Sora. Take a good long look at that cartoon you call a 'weapon.' Perhaps after replacing the keychain, the form of a keyblade reads the user's mentality to determine its aesthetic. So maybe we have Sora to blame to his honeycomb or crab keyblades. And while Sora has acquired some ludicrous keyblades over the years, even his cooler ones are still usually clunky hunks of metal.
This isn't just a facet limited to Sora. The other keyblade wielders in the series are all also unable to avoid using silly keyblades. By contrast, more of Riku's weapons are rather slick. Particularly, he's wielded things that actually look like real swords, a real departure from the other keyblade wielders.
3 Riku Knows Girls Exist
Admittedly, Riku isn't the ladies man the fanfictions thought he was. As seen by his interactions with Shiki in KH3D, Riku is actually pretty awkward (which he admits). She calls him her 'knight in shining armor,' and he becomes flustered and rejects it. Still, he might only be this way because of his rigid sense of duty (and his apparent inability to take a joke), as he wants her to get to safety.
Fans have long criticized Sora in the first game for his obsession with Riku, while seemingly scorning Kairi. This was something that Dark Riku really resented Sora for. Sure, Riku's methods at the time were more than questionable, but he did seem to act out of a desire to help Kairi. Since then, Sora still doesn't show a whole lot of consideration for Kairi's well-being.
2 He Can Stay Awake, Sora Can't
Did you ever notice how often Sora is depicted sleeping? The prologue to the game opens with Sora waking up on the beach. After Destiny Islands is destroyed, Sora's knocked out in Traverse Town. After KHCoM, Sora is asleep for a full year getting his memories repaired after the Castle Oblivion shenanigans. The end of KH3D has Sora fall into the darkness, and Riku has to save his unconscious friend.
Sure, much of this is outside of Sora's control. But do you know what Riku was doing during all of this snoozing? Riku was getting work done. He was building a raft, or trying to save Kairi, or trying to protect Sora. Say what you will about Riku's failures and redemption, but damn if he doesn't have some serious work ethic.
1 Riku Can Overcome Manipulation
This is, of course, the most important trait Riku has over Sora. Unlike Terra, Riku was able to overcome being under Xehanort (or at least his Heartless') influence. At first, he didn't do this alone, but Riku has by now become immune to manipulation of this kind. His heart is completely steeled to dark control, and it's become a major consideration for the villains.
In the end of KH3D, the True Organization XIII just decides to forgo attempts at making Riku their newest vessel, knowing that they couldn't insert a Xehanort into the young man. He'd mastered the darkness, and it wouldn't be possible. Instead, they turn to Sora and it's up to Riku to battle the controlled Sora, and be the one to free him this time.