When it comes to the creature hunting genre, there is one title that will more often than not be mentioned when it comes into discussion. And that of course is Monster Hunter. It’s a series that’s been going incredibly strong for close to 20 years and shows no signs of slowing down. Throughout the years, there have been quite the number of games released that have been clearly inspired by Monster Hunter but many failed to recreate the addicting grind and the amazing creature designs that were available already, so it’s a genre that over the years has become more and more niche. Now with Wild Hearts, the team at Koei Tecmo have created their take on the creature hunting genre, and while it has it’s issues, it’s the game that’s come closest to recreating the addicting gameplay loop and customisation offered by Monster Hunter, while also doing plenty of new things to stand out and be judged on it’s own merits within the genre.
Upon beginning Wild Hearts, after a quick introduction, you’ll get to create your own custom hunter. The character customiser is quite diverse when it comes to options that can be tweaked to make your desired appearance. It contains the standard affair of body and face shapes, skin tones, hairstyles and colours as well as scars & tattoos and the character’s voice. I spent a decent amount of time here playing around with the options before really jumping into the game. It’s got the ability to finely tweak sizing, colouring and positioning of most components for those that love to get really into the customisation, but for those that prefer just to get right into the hunting, you have the ability to make an awesome looking character in next to no time too, utilising the default settings for each of the selectable components.
Wild Hearts is set in the world of Azuma, a world heavily inspired by Feudal Japan and Japanese folklore in general. The playable areas consist of large scale zones that can be traversed through by your playable hunter. It’s not a full open world game but each of the zones are quite large and consist of multiple areas that you’ll travel through to create your base of operations and also throughout the multiple phases of your hunts. I really enjoyed the setting of Wild Hearts, being a big fan of Japanese culture, I loved it’s diverse locations, inspirations it’s taken from Japanese creatures and architecture, it’s vibrant colours and eye catching set pieces.
The world is inhabited by large monstrous creatures known as Kemono. Many of these creatures are also inspired by Japanese folklore and each creature typically has an elemental affiliation that fuels it’s appearance and the types of attacks it’s going to dish out. It’s up to the hunter to learn these creatures, their strengths and weaknesses, the way they attack their prey and ultimately take them down to harvest their components to craft new pieces of armour, upgrade your existing gear and weapons, to then be able to take down larger, more ferocious Kemono and continue the crafting cycle.
When it comes to games within this genre, their make or break factor are the monsters themselves. In Wild Hearts’ case, the Kemono are a hit. Each of the enemies do feel unique from one another and there are a nice variety to keep things interesting and worth coming back to fighting again even when you’re well into the endgame of the title.
Each type puts your hunting skills to the test, especially the first couple of times you come to take them on. You’ll have to learn each of the monsters and master how to best retrieve their crafting components. There’s a lot of trial and error but it is rewarding and it’s something the game encourages. The boss creatures each have multiple phases and become enraged as you continue to get closer to defeating them. Learning each creature’s individual weaknesses and their weak points will go a long way in taking them down more efficiently. You can start to learn the Kemono’s weaknesses more thanks to the game’s creature encyclopaedia which details the creature, it’s weak points on it’s body, strategy tips, and which physical, ailment and attributes are effective against it. This helps to plan for your next hunt and better understand the most efficient ways to take down each individual Kemono and further makes you feel like a hunter that specialises in taking these things down. And even once you’ve learned these, there are variants and powered up versions of the monsters that are unlocked in the endgame that change up the creature’s damage types and attacks to once again keep you on your toes and keeps the hunting side of the game feeling fresh.
Gameplay wise, Wild Hearts introduces many of it’s concepts, mechanics and it’s creatures via it’s main story and quest line. It’s story is used primarily as a motivational push to give you a reason to keep hunting and guides you through learning the ropes, establishing the core gameplay loops and introducing each of the monsters.
Wild Hearts is very big on player choice, you’ll have the ability to control at most times which monster you’d like to prepare a hunt for and as mentioned, your gear is something you’ll constantly be tweaking and upgrading to better prepare you for your next hunt. But another big aspect of player choice is the ability to change up your preferred method of attack. The game features multiple different weapon types to pick from to once again best suit your playstyle. There’s the default Katana which does move quite swiftly and has special attacks that can be unleashed which I did spend most of my time trying to master, as it also felt fitting given the setting of the game. But there are larger scale weapons such as the Nodachi that will suit those players happy to swing their weapon slower but harder. And even a bow for those that like to be a bit faster paced and do damage from a distance. There are more than just these 3 of course but the point is that regardless of your playstyle, Wild Hearts is going to have something that will suit your hunting method. The game also features co-op so mixing up your style with the styles others are utilising can result in a really efficient team of hunters that can make short work of most creatures once you’ve begun to master the mechanics.
Another really impressive aspect of Wild Hearts is it’s Karakuri system. This system is probably the biggest component of the game that makes it unique from what you may be able to experience in a Monster Hunter title. The Karakuri system allows your hunter to spawn items into the world that spend collected components and instantly appear. It’s a system that’s integrated into just about every part of Wild Hearts’ design and is helpful in so many ways. The items typically consist of wooden items combined with mechanised components that can aid in battle, traversal and also in developing your home bases, allowing for the creation of campsites, forges, tents among many other things.
In the battle side of things though is where the Karakuri really shine. They allow you to create crates and springboards to access new areas, as well as high vantage points to unleash drop down attacks from and can also be summoned to create points of cover between you and your Kemono foe. I was consistently impressed by how much they change up the gameplay and combat encounters and have really provided a point of uniqueness for Wild Hearts.
I really enjoyed most of what Wild Hearts brought to the table but it’s not without some issues. Issues that I hope can be patched out to provide a smoother and higher quality experience. I did encounter quite a few instances of framerate issues, especially during big encounters and in instances where a large number of particle effects are being rendered. The weather effects in the game, especially snow look so jarring at times that they’re distracting and obscure the view of the environments and enemies, typically looking more like old school TV static rather than snow particles. And when it comes to the story, I would have loved if it was more narratively stronger and engaging. It was fine overall but would have loved if the game was able to nail the story side of this really interesting world as well as the fun gameplay loop they had, allowing it to further stand out in the genre too.
Wild Hearts does take a bit of time to get into but once you get past learning the ropes, the game does get really addictive. Even when away from it I often found myself thinking about different build to try out next time I played and which creature I would try to take down next, or which piece of gear should I focus on trying to upgrade, which is always a good sign for a game.
Even outside of the main quest line, there are many endgame things still to do, as well as so many weapon upgrades and skills I’m yet to unlock, more Karakuri items to earn and so many pieces of gear and armour to craft. There’s a lot left to do and this provides plenty of reason to continue playing for those players that like to spend hour upon hour grinding through hunting monsters and progressing your character. For those that enjoy the creature hunting genre and looking to try a unique take on it, Wild Hearts may be just for you. I’m excited to see how the game continues to evolve and how sequels in this series could shape up.
A PS5 review code was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.
If you want to see more content like this and never miss one of our frequent gaming and anime giveaways come and Follow Ani-Game on Twitter.