You can’t talk about monster hunting games without mentioning the classic Monster Hunter, a series Capcom has established as the one you think of when you think of the genre. Besides just running around hunting various beasts, these games are awe-inspiring in how bombastic some of these hunts can really be—because if you really thing about it, where else can you take down towering prey nowadays but in a video game?
- Clever karakuri building system that heightens the flow of battle and exploration;
- Detailed, charming monsters with unique details and personalities;
- Co-op brings everything together.
- Difficulty curve when playing solo;
- Repetitive monsters worsened by a small bestiary;
- Camera and control issues disrupt the tension of battles.
Well, it just so happens that EA’s Wild Hearts wants some love too. It’s a monster-hunting game with a format that will instantly make you think Monster Hunter, but its unique approach to facing these monsters spices up the genre and lets it stand out on its own. It’s not without its issues, of course, but it will surely stick with you after all the hours you put into it.
At its core, Wild Hearts is a monster hunting game—no surprise there. Your character can set out on various hunts across different biomes to take down beasts that range from docile grassy lizards to fiery gorillas that will mercilessly rampage towards you. Each beast you take down rewards you with resources you can use to further upgrade your weapons and gear. This allows you to survive and subsequently defeat more menacing monsters, and thus, the cycle continues.
Wild Hearts takes place in the fictional world of Azuma where wild monsters known as kemono roam free. At the start of your adventure, your hunter discovers a disruption in the flow of “celestial thread,” and in doing so awakens an ancient form of technology known as karakuri. With this new ability, your hunter sets out to explore Azuma’s various regions to restore balance and subdue the kemono that you encounter. It’s a story that gives you a reason to go hunting, but it also serves to introduce the game’s unique feature: karakuri.
Wild Hearts isn’t a perfect game, but it distinguishes itself due in part to the magical charm of its karakuri mechanic and monsters that are mysterious and fascinating. It may look and sometimes play like a Monster Hunter game, but the more you get into it, the more fights you win, and the more karakuri you build, the more it feels like a breath of fresh air.
The karakuri mechanic really makes Wild Hearts stand out from other monster hunting games because of how it changes the flow of battle. Karakuri are various structures you can build during a fight that can either provide defense, mobility, or some extra offense when you need it. You unlock more karakuri as you play which range from simple crates that you can climb for added elevation, gliders to fly above enemies, giant wooden hammers, and other simple and complex constructions that transform the battlefield into a hunter’s playground. Coupled with the various weapons you can wield, fighting a kemono can become an educational experience on the first go.
Karakuri make battles fun because of how they enhance your approach, sometimes giving you an edge when you didn’t expect it. Taking the glider, for example. You can use it to fly over enemies and then pummel them with combos from above, but you can also use it defensively to avoid any treacherous terrain below. You have a set number of celestial threads at your disposal so building too many karakuri will put you at a disadvantage, but if you shift your focus to attacking a kemono, you can also release more threads from weak points on their body. Mastering this balance and knowing when to build, when to run, and when to attack are what keep battles engaging from start to finish.
Your karakuri can also complement the weapons you equip and allow you to pull off a string of combos to fully power up your attacks and increase the damage you deal. From a hammer to a Japanese blade to an interesting umbrella sword, your weapons each feel different and allow you to pick a style you think works for a specific hunt.
Spoils of Battle
Your adventure will take you to various regions in Azuma that feature different biomes in which to hunt down new types of creatures. Wild Hearts is not an open-world game, but you do get free reign across jungles, beaches, and even snow-capped valleys. The town of Minato acts as a hub where you can take on more missions and exchange your resources for goods that will continue to aid you in battle. Japanese elements run strong in the game from the weapons you wield to the occasional Japanese you hear in conversation. Its biggest highlight, however, has to be the soundtrack, which features traditional Japanese music that changes depending on your situation. Not only does it match you adrenaline during battle, but it also gives you a moment of respite all with an elegant mixtures of strings and percussions.
What’s great about the world you explore is that you can also build permanent karakuri to facilitate your exploration. These are different from the ones you use in battle and require you to awaken dragon pits to build karakuri such as forges, fishing stations, and event tents that serve as checkpoints in your adventure. You eventually unlock zip line towers you can install all around the world so you can create a network of them to make it easier to get around. Unlocking these dragon pits requires local resources so the game rewards you for exploring by providing you with even more tools to explore.
This same philosophy applies to your weapons and gear as the game provides you with resources to upgrade your equipment as you defeat more kemono. The issue here, however, is that your weapon trees are limited and will often require specific resources you can only get from certain monsters. This will often lead you to fight the same monster multiple times if you want strands of their fur or a piece of their horn. Sure, the genre is all about hunting monsters over and over again, but because Wild Hearts’ bestiary is limited to around twelve unique monsters, you will often have to face the same creature multiple times.
Don’t get me wrong—their overall design and unique elements tie in nicely with the Japanese mysticism of the game, and their little details are amazing to behold. These monsters take the form of common animals but are fused with natural elements. This means you will see a giant boar with roots for a tail or a badger that spits out sticky sap from its mouth. Not only do these natural elements come into play during an encounter, but they also serve to give these creatures their own unique charm and personality. They even evoke sympathy when you see them limping away from you near their demise—it’s quite sad.
On the contrary, some kemono are quite deadly and can take you upwards to an hour to defeat. The game is difficult if you play it solo, but add in a friend or three and battles feel more feasible and a lot more fun too. It’s one thing to build structures around the battlefield for you to use, but it’s a different feeling when you start collaborating with others in planning your attacks and even helping your allies finish building karakuri they didn’t have the resources to complete.
Playing with others also makes fights feel more approachable and creates a social-like environment during and after battles. Your allies can distract a monster while you attack them from behind, and they can also revive you if you fall, something you don’t have the luxury of doing if you play by yourself. Your guests can also build karakuri that will stay in your world after they leave your game, reminding you of your time together. But the best thing about co-op is that everyone gets a piece of the prize when a fight is over. It’s a no-brainer to play with others if you can as it not only makes the game more fun but it also gives you a better chance of survival against even some of the earlier kemono you meet.
Our reviews are featured on Metacritic .
Despite its charming environments and creatures, Wild Hearts’ visuals are not up to par with recently released games on the PS5. Even your created hunter lacks any form of expression during conversations that you wonder why there were so many customization options to begin with. Lighting looks great, but there are moments when the game feels lazy in its design despite the world around it feeling so magical. Add to that some camera issues and an unreliable auto-lock feature and the game can sometimes feel clunky when it matters the most.
Wild Hearts isn’t a perfect game, but it distinguishes itself due in part to the magical charm of its karakuri mechanic and monsters that are mysterious and fascinating. It may look and sometimes play like a Monster Hunter game, but the more you get into it, the more fights you win, and the more karakuri you build, the more it feels like a breath of fresh air. Perhaps these are just the building blocks it needs to grow into its own series of monster hunting games.
Giancarlo Saldana | Gamepressure.com