Suitably dramatic orchestral music that ramps up as the hunt unfolds. Voice acting is good, and the guttural growls of kemono are suitably ferocious.
There are minor graphical glitches, but nothing that takes away from the grandeur of Azuma and its angry, displaced fauna. Wild Hearts looks very pretty indeed.
Granted it takes many a page from the Monster Hunter bible, but Wild Hearts has plenty of its own ideas. The result is something endlessly playable, intuitive, and fun.
A huge game brimming with content, Wild Hearts is a sprawling experience that will have you playing for hours. Online works well, too, one you figure out the fiddly menus.
There's an awful lot to grind out here, and a fair few 'deeply volatile' kemono to hunt, which will put you through your paces. Prepare to dig in - this will take a while.
February 20, 2023
Wild Hearts is a Monster Hunter game in all but name. Everything, from the basic controls, to the way your hunter slides down steep inclines and scales sheer cliff faces, is lifted straight out of Capcom's juggernaut franchise, which, until now, has largely gone unchallenged for almost twenty years. While Koei Tecmo and developer Omega Force have previous experience in the genre with the under-appreciated Toukiden, Wild Hearts represents a serious step into mainstream competition for Monster Hunter, and we'll be damned if it doesn't give Capcom a damn good run for its money.
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Capcom ought to be blushing at the sight of Wild Hearts, despite a few key differences. Chief among these differences is the presence of 'karakuri' – ancient devices driven by cogs and other mechanical innards, which your hunter is able to miraculously conjure out of thin air, thanks to a seed lodged deep within their body. Initially, these include basic contraptions like crates to use as platforms to scale any slightly out-of-reach precipices, and spring-pads used to bound towards monsters (known in Wild Hearts as 'kemono'), before further tech is unlocked and added to your repertoire. And it's all driven by a resource known as 'celestial thread' – glowing green string extracted from rocks and trees, consumed when summoning karakuri.
As you progress and rack up more and more successful hunts, you'll 'awaken' new Fusion Karakuri abilities, like being able to build a 'bulwark' wall out of several crates, constructing a 'pounder' hammer that swats monsters by combining multiple springs, or creating a handy diffuser that emits a healing mist, fireworks that can blast winged beasts out of the sky, or a totem that dampens an enemy's elemental power. Other 'basic' karakuri include the torch, which enables you to burn away obstacles in the environment or set your weapon ablaze, while the lantern-like glider (obviously) aids with traversal across the expansive, diverse, feudal Japan-inspired land of Azuma, its little rotor blades propelling you for a short spell (much longer when combined with a wind vortex).
The range of karakuri machines don't stop there, either, with so-called 'dragon karakuri' activated by touching and opening dragon pits scattered across the map, which, in turn allow you to put down camps that serve as spawn points, places to rest up, and forge weapons or armour. Other stationary dragon karakuri structures include the flying vine, which shoots a zipline to wherever you'd like to get to at speed, reducing the amount of pesky running around and climbing you'll have to do. It's karakuri that prove to be Wild Hearts' main game changer, setting it apart from Monster Hunter with fun traversal gizmos and useful hunting helpers.
Throw in adorable little tsukumo buddies, who follow you around on hunts, providing distractions and support like Monster Hunter's Palicoes, and you have plenty to draw upon, beyond your chosen weapon. Speaking of which, Wild Hearts starts you off with a karakuri katana, before letting you craft a starter weapon of your own. There's the weighty and slow, but devastating nodachi sword; the huge, sluggish, and (in our experience) ineffective maul; the speedy and lightweight bladed wagasa (a razor-edged parasol); and the long-range bow, which offers convenience and manoeuvrability while allowing you to keep a safe distance. Reach chapter 2, and you can also craft a portable cannon, a swift claw blade, and the form-changing karakuri staff.
Hunts can be long, drawn-out affairs, so choosing the weapon that best suits your playstyle is paramount, although you can always retreat to a campfire to switch up your loadout, or place a forge to craft a new one. It's enjoyable to experiment with different weapons, and extensive upgrade trees for each mean you can invest in your favourite hunting tool, using materials harvested from vanquished kemono, as well as various minerals and resources you'll find in abundance throughout Azuma, to increase its efficacy. Karakuri too have their own vast network of upgrades to work through, with more and more added to your arsenal as you progress through the story. There's no shortage of depth.
Eventually, you'll be riding around in a karakuri roller, using wind vortexes to glide long distances, and placing fully geared-up camps with pickling jars for processing better stat-boosting foodstuffs, places to relax, and other handy accoutrements to ensure you're amply-equipped for a hunt. Failing to prepare for a challenging hunt often ends in a complete drubbing at the hands, claws, teeth, or talons of a kemono, and with a pool of only three lives (you share only three when playing in co-op as a band of up to three hunters), strategising (and targeting weak spots using your ‘hunter’s arm’) proves to be crucial.
Hunting alone is great, but it's even more enjoyable when you can coordinate with allies – or you can swoop in from a Hunters Gate to provide assistance, or request assistance with a hunt from a random online player. Indeed, there are a wealth of options at your fingertips, although many are quite poorly explained, or tucked away in fussy menus. That said, the presence of cross-platform play is hugely welcome, ensuring you've always got someone to quickly matchmake with, if you're unable to wrangle a couple of friends.
With its diversity of nature-infused creatures and exotic locations, as well as an array of karakuri contraptions, Wild Hearts sets itself apart from the competition, and with a wonderfully distinctive art style, Koei Tecmo and Omega Force's foray into beastie bashing is fantastic stuff, building upon lessons learnt with its own Toukiden games and the template set by Capcom with its wildly successful Monster Hunters series. Wild Hearts shares a great deal of DNA with those games, but succeeds in feeling fresh, and with a decent story featuring a colourful cast of characters and the looming threat of the imposing, bear-like 'Earthbreaker', this is monster hunting at its finest.