Wild Hearts is another take on the hunter genre like Monster Hunter and with the success of the latest entries on various platforms, it would make sense for others to try and get a piece of the pie. The game is developed by Omega Force, the team at Koei Tecmo responsible for the Dynasty Warriors games, and published by EA. The game very much plays like a mixture of Monster Hunter, hunting giant creatures, and Dark Souls, lots of dodge rolling, just set in a feudal Japan setting.
You start as a new hunter that has just arrived in Azuma, a land taken over by the Kemono that has left nothing but disaster and destruction in their pursuit of claiming territory and shaping it their way. An unfortunate encounter with a Deathstalker, you are left wounded but are bound to an ancient power that allows you to summon various devices, called Karakuri, to assist in your hunts and in rebuilding the lands. Setting out from Minato once you have progressed far enough, you can complete jobs from the various citizens that reward you with more resources to upgrade your gear or offer challenges in the various hunts of Kemono to learn the truth behind them.
The design of the Kemono, oversized beasts that have fused with nature, are unique and based on mythical creatures or just your average animals. The first one encountered is the Deathstalker that is clearly a wolf that is covered in blue roots and vines giving it a very different expectation. Even though some animals have 2 different versions, these tend to be different enough look wise and gameplay wise that they could be considered entirely separate. This does also make sense since it is said that the Kemono have undergone an evolution so similar animals in different terrain would adapt to better survive in their territory. The Kingtusk seen in the lush areas is more nature based; while the Icetusk, the name gives it away, thrives in the colder, snowy areas. A nice little touch is also how the beasts are animated as you can see the Kingtusk’s eyes follow your character as you are close to its face. Some of these animations are unique to each one so I spent some time trying to find more as the battles carried on. These also go on as the creatures will tend to limp a bit or drag parts of themselves while moving, giving the player a much-needed look at their status or health.
The gameplay involving the Kemono feels like a constant phased boss fight since they can run away into different areas after you have damaged them enough. This is normally signalled by them roaring and stunning your character temporarily so that they can get away. This normally forces the player to chase after them and thankfully have the Karakuri threads to guide them. Once enough damage has been done to them, they enter a rage mode that tends to have the plant areas glow red and sometimes change appearance. The Ragetail almost looks like the buds on its body flower changing the appearance and making them more menacing looking. When this happens, some of the larger and stronger Kemono can deal some serious damage and possibly even kill you in one shot. As the battle continues you will spot glowing spots the bodies. By jumping on them and making your way over to them, you can use your Hunter’s Arm, an action that allows you to refresh your resources and healing items. I found this to be a bit frustrating as the trying to cling to a giant monster that then tries to chuck you off while desperately trying to shimmy over to the weak spot can make a person motion sick and did tend to cause the camera to rotate wildly. And to top it all off, you have only as long as your stamina meter as you get thrown off spectacularly across the arena.
Once the beasts have been finished, you need to deliver a final blow that is normally a small cutscene where the player apologises and kills the larger Kemono. You do get some of the smaller Kemono, that are used for harvesting smaller items crafting of gear or for farming items to sell, that once defeated, lay on the ground twitching and in order to harvest must also hit a prompt to finish them off. This part is not for the overly sensitive as some of the smaller beasts are based on rabbits or deer that people would not see as threatening. The good news is that you don’t have to kill the smaller Kemono to get the items. You can sneak up on them while they are passive and hitting L2, will allow you to pet them which will drop an item as well. Some items can only be gained by doing one or the other but there is an entry in the bestiary that shows what items you get from what action.
To assist in surviving these fights and to make the movement around the map a bit faster, you can create Katakuri that can be used to travel around the world faster or stack the basic crate together to form a bulwark used for defence to possibly stun or knockback the attacking Kemono. You get variety of these that can used for various purposes. The ones used during battle are basic’s like the crate, that can be stacked together to launch an air attack on the target or even stop an oncoming ranged attack or a weaker lunge. These items are not indestructible either as they can be destroyed after the attack or if it’s the larger Kemono, will get totally ruined before it can even be used. The other option is the fusion Katakuri that are a combination of basics. Putting up 6 crates, 3 by 2 stacks, creates a bulwark that is strong enough to defend against the stronger attacks and in some instances can knockback them back and stuns them allowing you to get some damage in. The third kind is called Dragon Katakuri that can be place all over the world to assist in travel or setup camps to craft equipment or improve your Tsukumo.
These are little balls that are scattered all over the maps and once you find one, will accompany you. They can be upgraded by using old cogs that can only be found by finding more of them. As mentioned previously they can be upgraded to assist you in battle by attacking the Kemono, just don’t expect massive damage, distracting them allowing you to heal or orientate yourself after suffering a nasty hit or even providing a healing mist. Although the latter proves to be ineffective as it’s normally done out in the open so good luck trying to stay close to it while fighting the larger Kemono.
While the first two are limited by how many resources you carry, the Dragon Katakuri are limited to how many Dragon Pits you have unlocked and upgraded. These normally add a certain amount of points to the area in the 5 elemental variants. By using a scanning tower, you can track all the Kemono in it’s area but this uses a large amount of points so you cannot have too many out but the ranges are large so only one or two are necessary. On top of the helping the hunt, it will also allow you to traverse the maps faster. If you manage to climb to the top of a cliff or something, you can create a zipline between the 2 points. This is also useful for launching surprise attacks on unsuspecting Kemono. If you scout an area where you know it might run away to or moves into, you can even setup traps beforehand allowing you to spring one to deal a chunk of damage or slow them down and even bring the flying Kemono to your level.
Obviously, the hunting cannot occur with just basic weapons. There are a total of 8 weapons that you can use, with 5 being available from the start and the rest being unlocked after progressing further into the story. You start off with a katana but as soon as unlocking the first camp, can craft any of them, if you have the correct resources. Each weapon has its strengths and weaknesses like the maul and nodachi weapons being slow but deal the most damage. The bow is a ranged weapon, who would have guessed, that does very little in the way of damage but can keep you at a safe distance but you do need some more skill as the arrows do drop so you cannot just climb a cliff and slowly cheese the target’s health down. The katana and the bladed wagasa are the light to medium weapons that allow you more flexible hit and run tactics. The others are best found once progressed as they should be a rather pleasant surprises.
The game does allow you to craft weapons and armour and to upgrade them to meet the requirements of a hunt, but this is what I found to be the weakest part of the game as this is not explained very well and considering the large skill tree paths for each weapon can be a bit daunting in the beginning. Some upgrades cannot co-exist with others so you do need to be careful with how you upgrade as you could get a weapon with higher points in a certain element that the Kemono are strong against, and this could lead to a tougher encounter. You can remove the upgrades and experiment if you have the required items for each upgrade so does kind of increase the time to fully master a certain type. Taking some time to better understand the weapon upgrades was just not on the forefront of my mind when trying to hunt giant beasts.
The armour crafting and upgrading is slightly easier to understand. As you progress in the story, you can forge different sets of items, but these can be split into 3 types: centered, human and pure human path or Kemono and pure Kemono path, with each offering different advantages and appearances. You will always need the neutral set and with the items that are received from the hunts, can be upgraded to one of the other sets with each having a very different appearance but still having similar features to identify each set. A similar element exists with the weapons changing appearance based on the upgrades used. While playing, I did encounter some issues with certain parts of the terrain not loading but still being detected as normal. This would cause my character to stand in thin air or vertically run up a vine without even touching it and just floating at the top but as soon as you move, you fall to the ground, thankfully no fall damage. While this did not happen often, it was funny just floating about for a while but did get a bit frustrating when I wasn’t sure if I could move across without falling and having to start somewhere else.
Visually the game is impressive from afar with gorgeous looking environments but as soon as you start looking a bit closer to, you can start to see some of the graphical issues with the buildings and environments. A lot of the effort went into the various Kemono which is not a bad thing when they are the main focus of the game. They do also feature a lot of destructible terrain and buildings. Think you are safe behind a tree? Guess again as the tree is destroyed as the Kemono attacks. Think climbing up the building to get some breathing room? Same story but now you also take some damage as the building crumbles around you. Well not everything is destructible, there are the obvious ones that can be used for cover such as a large tree or some of the temples dotted around.
If you decide to get Wild Hearts, there is definitely some great ideas and fun gameplay to be had if you take the time to learn all the games elements. Or if you have some friends, join 2 of them and tackle the hunts together. The best part, it features crossplay. I can see the game getting quite a bit tedious playing alone as the hunts can be difficult until you master the combat and Katakuri. There are some plans to release more content later on, adding more subspecies of Kemono, more variations of the gear, more Karakuri and for those that like a challenge, harder quests. The best part is that all of these are free. Hopefully they will support the game further and hopefully include more Kemono but we will just have to wait and see.