All things considered, the Monster Hunter franchise is still pretty unique. Even after 15 years, very few other developers have made a genuine play for Capcom’s crown. There’s God Eater, which is probably the most prolific with almost a dozen games, and more recently Dauntless stepped into the river, angling its net towards the influx of live service gamers flooding in from Lake Fortnite. And then, of course, we had Toukiden, developed by Koei Tecmo’s Omega Force, the makers of Dynasty Warriors. A flashy, fast-paced answer to Monster Hunter’s more methodical approach. Less pre-hunt prep and more over-the-top razzle-dazzle, Toukiden was perhaps the closest thing to a rival Monster Hunter had. Until now, that is. With the advent of Wild Hearts, Omega Force have managed to pitch their tent in the rocky no-man’s-land between their own Toukiden 2 and Monster Hunter World.
The result is a game with much of the majesty and visual sparkle of 2018`s World, peppered with the bat-shit mental, knowingly messy weapon and monster design that Toukiden always suggested Omega were capable of. And by god is it good fun.
Before we go any further we may as well address the Rathalos in the room, currently scratching up the rugs and setting fire to the curtains: Wild Hearts borrows heavily from Monster Hunter. There’s enough here to excuse it and we’ll get to all of it, but on the surface at least, this looks a lot like Monster Hunter World. It would be nice to say it’s all skin deep, and much of it is, but the truth is Wild Hearts wouldn’t exist without Monster Hunter. Which is like saying Dungeons & Dragons wouldn’t exist without Lord of the Rings – it’s not necessarily a bad thing to be inspired. And Wild Hearts has enough up its sleeve to draw more than the odd ace.
It begins with your arrival in the land of Azuma, where a stranger at a campfire is the perfect reason to spell out your backstory, selected from a list of options that, surprisingly, do inform dialogue later on. Then it’s into a pretty comprehensive character creator before the obligatory unwinnable fight gets the story rolling. The town of Minato is in trouble, as dangerous rampaging beasts known as Kemono ravage the surrounding islands. Kemono are huge creatures, twisted versions of common wildlife mutated with the local flora.
As with other games of the genre the focus is on going toe-to-toe with these monsters, solo or with friends, stripping them for parts like an old Cortina, and fashioning new weapons and armour to improve your chances of survival. That’s about as black and white as I can make it, too, because the way Wild Hearts goes about it is what really sets it apart from its genre-mates.
It’s not necessarily the hunting itself. That’s actually quite formulaic: track the beast across the landscape, slap it around until it retreats, follow it to its lair and finish the job. But the unique selling point of Wild Hearts is the Karakuri, and it’s nothing short of genius. Gifted a Karakuri Seed at the beginning of the story, your hunter is unique (sort of, ignore the multiplayer for the purposes of story) in their ability to wield this ancient technology.
The Karakuri weaves Celestial Thread into all sorts of structures to use in and out of hunts. Anyone who saw the trailers and thought it looked like a bit of a gimmick is going to be surprised. There are dozens of uses for the Karakuri, up to and including building actual furniture to put in your camp or home for the hell of it. Primarily though, this is an utterly game-changing mechanic.
You summon it by holding the left bumper and pressing an assigned button. It’s instant, intuitive, and besides a few issues on dodgy terrain, incredibly versatile. You will have seen the Crates being used in gameplay trailers, but in use they’re ridiculously satisfying. Dropping just one gives you a springboard for an aerial attack, but each gives you extra height and a damage boost. There’s nothing in any other hunting game that compares to finishing off a tough fight with a perfectly timed swan dive in the heat of battle – and that’s not hyperbole. I’m a huge fan of Monster Hunter World and Rise, but I’ve had more moments of unbridled joy with Wild Hearts.
There’s a giant spring-loaded hammer, a glider for swift transport across the vast maps, there are springboards and traps and zip lines. More than this though, you can also conjure utilities. Build a workbench anywhere on the map, install listening towers to search for Kemonos and secrets, hell you can even construct devices that forage food for you. You can eat before or during a hunt by combining individual ingredients, or you can dry, pickle or ferment ingredients over the course of a few hunts by using Karakuri. The way the main devices are unlocked is also cool, as you’ll develop them during specific huhts with specific enemies and from that moment they’re yours. Smaller “Dragon” Karakuri are unlocked using Kemono Orbs you earn in battle and are given as rewards.
Even some of the weapons are built from Karakuri Thread, such as the Katana and the Staff. Speaking of which, there are 8 unique weapon archetypes and dozens of variations. As in Monster Hunter, very few weapons can be considered low skill. The Katana is the most beginner-friendly but even that has layers to dig through. You’ll have 5 available initially with three more coming later and you’re encouraged to test them all. You can’t mash buttons with any of them, and the game deliberately teaches you nothing but the basics. Each weapon has multiple combos, as well as attacks that react with different Karakuri. Some have charge meters, some have multiple forms, and you’ll need to dedicate time to unlock their secrets.
Armour, too, comes with attached skills that can be increased and combined. Things like enhanced critical attack, elemental resistance, or being able to carry more Thread. There are dozens of different skills, and more can be unlocked using Talismans, of which you can equip up to 5. You can upgrade the armour down different paths which in turn convey further bonuses or unlock path-specific skills.
But what often lets hunting games down is the enemy design. I never felt much when battling Oni in Toukiden or Arigami in God Eater 3. They’re just big monsters. On the flip side, the Wyverns in Monster Hunter and Dauntless’s Behemoths all have real personality and feel like actual beasts. Wild Hearts falls into this category. Even monsters that share similar frames like the Gritdog and Goldshard feel completely different to one another. They have counters, combos, charge attacks and pin attacks, and every one has an enraged mode that changes the battlefield and increases their power and speed.
Each one seems almost insurmountable on first encounter, but you’ll slowly but surely learn their tells and wind-ups. That being said, some of them have an insane amount of moves, and while they can be baited into specific attacks, there’s a randomness to it that can and will catch you by surprise. Annoyingly, some of the moves have a 100% hit rate within a certain range, and the hitboxes are often either too generous or too tight. Some of the Kemono are utterly relentless and you’ll need to wait until they tire out or, in some cases, over exert and stumble – or of course there are Karakuri. Bulwarks and shield walls can halt charging beasts, while there are ways and means to bring down flying enemies for some swift retribution. Be aware though: you will fight with one of the most unruly cameras I’ve seen. It’s not great to view the action through a bush from an angle just under your Hunter’s arsecrack, but it will happen.
Bringing friends or strangers along is a good way to even the odds, though Kemono will be stronger and tougher if you do. You can reduce the chance of carting by reviving each other if you’re fast and fortunate enough to get to them before they perish, which adds a greater element of teamwork. Even playing solo you won’t be alone: there’s a support character you can choose to bring with you all the time. I won’t spoil who or what it is, but for solo players it’s often literally a lifesaver.
The multiplayer is super easy, too. On solo hunts, requests for help from other players will manifest as glowing Hunter Gates you can jump into even in the middle of your own mission, and playing with friends feels most like the Guiding Lands in Monster Hunter World, allowing you to group up and hunt as much as you like together. There’s an asynchronous element, too, as Karakuri built by other players will often appear in your world, giving you Crates and zip lines that don’t cost you anything.
If Wild Hearts has a real problem, it’s the lack of clarity. It explains very little, from how to expand your influence and increase how much Dragon Karakuri you can summon in an area (these are things like tents and hunting towers), to how the ailments and elements affect Kemono. There are mechanics that just aren’t made clear. Likewise, being able to upgrade armour down either of two paths is poorly explained, and the clumsy armour menu doesn’t help.
Overall though, these are minor complaints and you will pick up everything as you play and experiment. It’s a game that wants you to explore, not just it’s vibrant, detailed biomes, but also its intricate systems.
Wild Hearts is a fantastic video game. It has so much flair and personality, and so much of it is designed with fun in mind. Yes, it’s challenging and some of the Kemono will test your skill and patience, but there’s so much to find and grind for, secrets in the wilderness to uncover, dozens and dozens of weapons to get to craft, side quests, repeatable hunts, optional Karakuri to unlock. It’ll take you 40 – 50 hours to see all the hunts, but there’s potentially endless replayability in farming armour sets and weapons. It never feels like just a clone of something else, and with the Karakuri mechanic it offers enough originality to stand proudly alongside what has come before.
The Karakuri are genius
Great selection of weapons
Kemono look awesome
Loads to see and do
Camera needs work
Some framerate issues on PC