The monster hunting genre has been a bit of a one-man show for a while now. There have been attempts at the throne in recent years, but nothing has really come close to taking any steam away from Capcom and Monster Hunter. Wild Hearts aims to be the first one to maybe make Capcom a little hot under the collar.
Wild Hearts bursts onto the scene with the pedigree of Koei Tecmo and Omega Force. The latter is known for series such as the Warriors franchise and its spin-offs, and another monster hunting game: Toukiden. The interesting thing about Wild Hearts from an outside perspective is that its publisher is Electronic Arts under its EA Originals brand, which has been putting out some good stuff over the years. Wild Hearts is no different.
The bones of Wild Hearts are really magnificent. It brings the action gameplay and pedigree that feels as similarly enjoyable as other Koei Tecmo games in the genre, which really helps lift the gameplay.
Wild Hearts at its core is a Monster Hunter-style game. You fight monsters small and large, come back to camp, forge new items, weapons, and armor, and go back and hunt more monsters. Rinse, repeat. Wild Hearts excels with this loop. The rewards you earn from going out and doing menial hunting tasks is gratifying, and the progression curve stays engaging throughout. While the rewards are mostly feeding back into the loop of hunting and upgrading, that progression is palpable.
One monster hunt stumped me, however, as the beast was killing my character in one hit. Fast forward to three hours later and I had gone out, identified which monsters I needed to hunt to progress my stats, did that, upgraded my armor and came back to the original fight and at last reveled in my victory. In a lot of games that have the progression of numbers going up, the difference can feel negligible. In Wild Hearts, every time I made a new piece of armor, I felt like I was taking less damage. When I made a new upgrade on the weapon tree, I could see my damage numbers increasingly meaningfully.
My personal choice of weapon for my duration with the game was the bow. I had tried every weapon, and enjoyed quite a few. Shout out to the Karakuri Staff and Grip Claw, two other immensely fun weapons. But the bow’s loop of firing a large amount of small arrows for chip damage, then firing a charged arrow to explode those arrows and doing massive splash damage was incredibly satisfying. I can’t really overstate just how exciting it feels to do that much damage with one arrow. It made the gameplay incredibly enthralling. The bow also has another quirk, and that is a unique dodge while in firing mode. It turns your dodge into a cool side-step, which also felt fun to do.
One of the main attractions of this game is its addition of the Karakuri mechanic to the genre. If you’re unaware, Omega Force essentially added a building element to combat. This mechanic is throughout the game and its world, and you can also use it to traverse up cliffs, go across ravines, and so on. This mechanic is impressively well realized. Building boxes to climb on top of to then jump off and attack from, while dealing massive damage, never gets old. You can also use these crates outside of combat for extra height to climb up walls. The gliders are really useful tools for traversing, too.
This isn’t even mentioning the other side of the Karakuri system, which is the Dragon Karakuri. Dragon Karakuri function as sort of quality-of-life items in Wild Hearts. You can also unlock a lot more via the skill tree in the menu. You can build ones that will fish, mine ore, or even traversal-based ones like a zipline or a Wind Vortex.
The amount of Dragon Karakuri you can conjure is absolutely massive; the skill tree feels like it can go on forever with the amount of new ones you can unlock. There’s also other benefits to using this skill tree, such as strengthening and improving other Dragon Karakuri you’ve unlocked, or increasing the amount of healing water you can carry at any given time.
The Dragon Karakuri is such an interesting system in Wild Hearts, and they are intertwined with the map itself. How you’re able to place Dragon Karakuri is dependent on the amount of Dragon Pits you have awakened and enhanced. Larger Dragon Pits lead you to placing more Dragon Karakuri around the map. Dragon Karakuri placed around the map leaves them there between hunts. This is the same with some regular Karakuri too, and it leads to a Death Stranding-esque appeal to optimizing your areas. You need to think about your placements of traversal Dragon Karakuri to make sure you can get back in the hunt as quickly as possible.
This led to me scouting out locations and placing camps and Flying Vines in the most optimal locations. There’s a camp in Fuyufusagi Fort which allows you to place Dragon Karakuri at a lower cost. The area is on top of a building, and my first instinct was to climb to the roof and place a Flying Vine on each side. This made sure I could get wherever I needed to from that camp as quickly as possible.
Adding to the Death Stranding-esque nature of the Karakuri, placing regular Spring Karakuri in boss arenas as a way of optimally avoiding attacks is also a smart move. These also persist between hunts, meaning you can optimally map out boss arenas to make sure you always have a Spring Karakuri nearby at any given time.
Wild Hearts brings it all together
Everything that has been mentioned thus far leads to Wild Hearts having one of the strongest action-gameplay cores I have played in a hunting game. The combination of the already exciting gameplay with the Karakuri system makes Wild Hearts a game I thoroughly enjoyed playing.
Fighting the monsters themselves was a treat, too. Every monster has very obvious tells to each attack, meaning you can learn the patterns as you eke out a victory. Fighting them is fun to do over and over again. I spent hours simply fighting the Gritdog, because I knew its patterns down to a science. This made attempting to get through it without being hit or not using any healing water something of my own challenge to overcome.
Narrative with heart
Wild Hearts doesn’t necessarily have a fantastic story, but it’s interesting enough to get you through the motions. This is helped by a lovely cast of characters who I enjoy spending time with. The cast elevates the plot from being a basic story with some cool ideas, to being an enjoyable time that I can say is a good part of the game. Azuma feels fairly fleshed out too, and I was interested in learning more about the world and its workings as the story progressed.
Wild Hearts is fun with friends
Co-op play is the way to play Wild Hearts if you are able to. The co-op in Wild Hearts is seamless, which is something I personally treasure in co-op games. It also adds the addition of a revival mechanic, meaning you can revive in fights, and theoretically never lose a battle if you and your friends stay on top of reviving each other. That is relatively hard to do, however, as the revival window gets shorter the more often you are downed, but it generally makes fights a bit easier.
All in all, Wild Hearts is an excellent time. With gameplay that’s fun to partake in, and monsters that are fun to hunt, it’s a game worth the hours of grind. While I personally didn’t have any issues with the performance on PC, that is an issue for many people. So do some research to see if it would run well for you before purchasing. We can only hope with the post-launch updates, Wild Hearts gets even better from here.