Review: ‘Wild Hearts’ treads familiar (hunting) ground
Capcom’s Monster Hunter franchise is a gaming cornerstone at this point, and it’s shocking more companies haven’t tried to replicate its success. There have been a few contenders in the almost 20 years of the Monster Hunter series, most notably the Omega Force-developed Toukiden games that began on the Sony PSP and eventually came to the PS Vita and PlayStation consoles. Now, EA Originals and Koei Tecmo, along with Toukiden developer Omega Force, are loaded for bear with their own take on the “big creature hunting” genre with Wild Hearts, and while there are moments where it absolutely shines, long-time hunters may feel they have seen this all before.
Wild Hearts tries to lay a foundation of uniqueness right off the bat by setting its story in Feudal Japan and drawing off Japan’s cultural styles and flavor, even as you are tasked with hunting ridiculously large monsters that have never walked the Earth. The time period is a little fuzzy, but there is mention of the clan wars of the shogunate era in Japan’s history. Your unnamed hunter is quickly “adopted” by the citizens of Minato, a small fishing village, and takes on quests to defeat monsters that are plaguing the game’s five biomes. If you’ve played a monster-hunting game before, you know the drill: you start with a small selection of weapons that eventually grows into more, offering opportunities for different play styles to shine. You take down monsters and collect their parts to build bigger and better weapons and armor; rinse and repeat for the 40-50 hour campaign, and way more after that with online hunts.
What separates Wild Hearts from its genre contemporaries is that the beasts are tied to their ecosystem and that environmental synergy allows creatures to take on new, powerful forms. The Kingtusk, a huge boar, can draw on fire, making his tusks glow like embers; the Sapscourge is a plant-infused monster that spews sticky sap and pollen; and the Gritdog can fuse with the metals of the Earth to absolutely ruin your day. Countering these variants means hunters have to fall back on good old Pokémon logic to figure out what element beats the prescribed fusion of the monsters you are hunting. Water beats fire, fire beats grass, grass beats water, etc. Having multiple loadouts at the ready is key to success in your hunts, and luckily, Wild Hearts lets you set up multiple camps across a region to switch out as needed.
The most significant addition that Wild Hearts brings to the table comes in the form of mystical Karakuri. Early in the story, a mysterious figure grants you a seed that burrows into your arm, creating a “hunter’s arm” that allows you to draw “thread” from nature and create some rather bizarre — albeit interesting — constructs to aid in your hunts. Some of the Karakuri include simple cubes that can be used to reach new heights and spring boxes that can shoot you over long distances. As you progress, so do the Karakuri, and soon you can create Fusion and Dragon Karakuri that allow you to turn the tide in battles. These include drawing out six cubes to create a defensive wall that can stop a charging Kingtusk in its tracks, and the extremely helpful Flying Vine that has multiple uses — some you may even discover on your own by trial and error — though it’s mainly used to allow the hunter to traverse great distances along a vine.
My favorite Karakuri is, without a doubt, the Pounder, which takes the form of a massive spring-loaded mallet that can wallop a monster for serious damage. Coupling pounders with traps can even level the playing field against some of the faster, more aggressive beasts, like the ape-inspired Lavaback.
Wild Hearts has plenty of cool Karakuri to unlock and use, and each time I go on a hunt, I seem to find a new use for some of the most basic constructs. Once built, these contraptions stay on the map, allowing you to easily explore or find your way back to where you fell in battle. The Karakuri add an almost Fortnite-esque element not only to this game, but the monster-hunting genre itself, and it’s a very welcome addition that allows players to flex their creativity and find their own way to complete a quest.
The real fun in Wild Hearts comes from teaming up with another hunter or two, regardless if they’re friends or strangers. A well-balanced trio with different weapon and armor loadouts can make for an amazing experience and offers triple the excitement… and triple the fun! There is nothing more satisfying than watching three Pounders obliterate a Dreadclaw, a plant-based chicken thing that you will very quickly learn to hate. Killing this dammed bird brings me considerable joy, and I try to hunt one each day because I hate it so much. Oh, how I hate it.
Wild Hearts‘ online component offers a bit more freedom than in other hunting games. There are hunting gates scattered across each of the five maps that allow you to visit and assist other hunters, and you can even go online at any campsite. It’s been difficult connecting with other players during this review period of the game, but once it launches, I expect linking up with others will be a fast and seamless experience.
Rounding out the experience is a cast of characters that hail from Minato. There’s a washed-up samurai who offers advice, and tall tales; a cute, perky blacksmith who can outfit you as needed; a mythology and history expert that can offer insight into new regions, and many more. There’s also Tsukomo, a mysterious Kakakuri-like creature in the shape of a ball that serves as your companion. In fact, the land is littered with various other Tsukomo that you can seek out and find, which lets you upgrade your companion Tsukomo (you can change its name to avoid confusion). This partner can distract monsters when you need a quick breather to take in some healing water, and can even attack and defend. He’s a handy little bugger to have on a hunt and is always by your side – unless he falls in battle, after which he returns following a short cooldown.
Wild Hearts is a gorgeous game to play. Omega Force has crafted a world teeming with life, and with its focus on nature and Japanese history, each map has plenty of cool things to discover between beatdowns. I’ve stumbled across a few graphical issues here and there, but all in all, it runs smoothly and looks stellar. Plus, the unique designs of the monsters and the flora and fauna more than make up for any graphical infidelities.
Wild Hearts brings a few welcome additions to the “monster hunting” class of games, and that helps keep it fresh and exciting in its own right, even if longtime fans of this genre might feel like we’ve seen this all before. The Kakakuri are wonderfully implemented, allowing the player to be as creative as they want to be while hunting, and the monster designs draw inspiration from real-life animals and nature to create memorable monstrosities. When all is said and done, fans of these types of games will find plenty to enjoy here too, and I’m willing to bet that many will be hooked on Wild Hearts‘ living, breathing world.
This review is based on the PlayStation 5 version of the game. A copy was provided for review by Electronic Arts.
Wild Hearts treads familiar ground as you hunt one monstrous beast after another, but Omega Force has added new tricks and gimmicks that help separate it from the games it draws inspiration from. At the end of the day, it proudly stands as a unique experience with its own identity.