Wild Hearts faces a daunting task: take the blueprint of a hugely successful franchise, use its core mechanics as a starting point, and then build on it in unique and exciting ways. And without falling flat on your face. If the series you use as a basis is random monster huntera lot can go wrong.
I’m happy to say this while having some issues with the how Wild Hearts treats the monster hunter Formula, this is a game that understands what makes its source material great. It may not have the gameplay depth and complexity of its inspiration, but it makes up for those shortcomings by building on it monster hunter‘s weaknesses while finding its own identity.
Image via EA
There are many different systems that separate Wild Hearts from his monster hunter roots, and some that are quite similar. But you’ll spend most of your time doing what you expect to do: fight monsters. Called “kemono” in Japan Wild Heartsthese are the types of encounters a monster hunter Veterans will be well acquainted with a few minor caveats.
Each Kemono you hunt is based on a real animal rather than an amalgamation of different features and anatomies. All of them are tied to a specific one of five elements – earth, wind, fire, water or wood – and they are weak to attacks from an opposing element.
There are also elemental afflictions, weapon damage types, and a total of eight oversized weapons based on feudal Japanese weapons. You’ll also craft armor with the parts you carve out of the kemonos you hunt, and these will grow in power as the monsters themselves do.
Typical stuff so far, but Wild Hearts has a trick up his sleeve. These part-magical, part-mechanical pieces of technology, called karakuri, allow you to leap high, set your sword on fire, and glide long distances. They can even fuse to help you fight the larger Kemono you will find.
Karakuri comes in three varieties. Basic types that you will use in battle. Fusion, which as the name suggests are combinations of certain Basic Karakuri, acts as a power multiplier in your favor and as a tough opponent to certain Kemonos. Then there are the Dragon Karakuri, which are based around traversal, base building, and resource gathering, among other helpful tasks.
Of particular note is the Karakuri Tower, which serves not only as a radar to target Kemono monsters, but also as a way to reveal the hidden collectibles scattered around the map. The Dragon Vine is a zip line that allows you to control the beginning and end of the line with complete freedom to reorient it whenever you want.
There are dozens of other karakuri to explore as well, and the best part is that they stay on the map until destroyed by either you or a kemono. Even if you go and come back, everything you build will stay.
This consistency makes fighting Kemono an ever-evolving dance as you learn their attack patterns, weaknesses, and opens. They also fill the arenas with deadly traps and other hazards that allow you to continuously change your strategy.
Don’t take kemono lightly, as even the toughest karakuri will shatter into shards when these monsters seek to destroy them. And just because they’re based on real animals, don’t assume you know what to expect. Even the oversized rats have a few surprises in store, whether it’s a tail flick out of nowhere or the ability to summon sleep-inducing mists.
Unlike in monster hunterKemono monsters in Wild Hearts aren’t as bound by size limits, as one of the earliest you fight, the Kingtusk, is the size of a small apartment building and is more than willing to toss its weight around.
Pair your karakuri with plenty of air mobility capabilities, and it’s possible to take on even the largest of beasts, although there are a few instances where size actually makes a difference.
Image via EA
Wild Hearts could take a lot of monster hunter, but also improves some of its weaknesses. The biggest gap in quality is in the story. While neither game focuses on the narrative, Wild Hearts has more, well, Heart. The characters are more developed, well-rounded, and generally written with a more skilled hand. There are some clichés here and there, but instead of relying on tropes, the characters are from Wild Hearts try to defy them.
They don’t always succeed in that, of course, and at times the story lapses a little too much on familiar territory, but when the writing works, it blows out a lot MonHunis out of the water.
Unfortunately, the story itself is quite boring, despite the quality of its details. The flow of nature is turned upside down by some monsters that force them out of their habitats and into conflict with humans. As the only Kemono Hunter in the land of Azuma, it’s up to you to keep saving the day.
There are some twists and turns that play with expectations of what’s appreciated, particularly when dealing with the assumptions the people of Minatos have made that helped define their culture. While the revelations aren’t earth-shattering, they’re novel enough to elevate the story beyond that MonHun‘s offers.
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As much as Wild Hearts if it manages to increase its inspiration, it doesn’t do it justice monster hunter legacy in another meaningful way. First up is the variety of weapons. It’s not the fairest comparison since monster hunter had literally decades to create and iterate on its eighteen-plus offerings, but Wild HeartsThe eight weapons in total are less interesting mechanically, although they can be more aesthetically so.
If you come from the sun break extension for Monster Hunter Ascension, you’ll be disappointed with the options each weapon has, as many of them boil down to a few optimal combo strings and little more. This lack of variety forces you to be inventive with your karakuri, but even this system can only make combat that much more enjoyable.
In other words, the discovery period for Wild Hearts Weapons is a lot shorter than almost all others monster hunter weapon, as well as the amount of flashy maneuvers you can perform.
This lack of quality systems extends to armor as well. Wild Hearts follows the formula “tougher monsters = better gear”, but there are few ways to boost lower tier options beyond their original values. The Humanity/Kemono path system is a nice setting that allows you to unlock additional perks and slightly increased stats, but even these are quickly eclipsed as you progress. The extra cost of crafting is almost insulting at times considering how I could just replace everything after a hunt.
Additionally, the music and environments are good but rarely genre-defining. There are some catchy tunes and the different maps are huge with lots of verticality and environmental variety, but I rarely have more reactions than a simple “Nice. Oh, this place is big.” The same goes for the music. I enjoyed it when it was played, but nothing will be quite as iconic or recognizable as monster hunter’his best songs.
Possibly Wild HeartsHowever, the biggest sin of , especially as a current-gen-only title, is its performance. The graphics are stuck at last-gen, the image itself is grainy and pixelated whether it’s 4K or 1080p, and the framerate is inconsistent at the best of times.
With the power available, especially with the SSD of the PS5 and Xbox Series X | S, this game should run like butter. There also seems to be a memory leak in the review build, as the framerate slowed down after a few hours of constant play, making the whole game play like it was trying to navigate through thick mud.
Worse still, there are no graphics quality options to improve performance. You can only prioritize framerate or resolution, not image quality or other metrics. If you focus on the framerate, the game is at least playable, albeit ugly, but if you choose the resolution, for some reason it looks even worse. I’m not sure if this issue can even be fixed via patches as the issues are so endemic that I don’t know if blanket updates can fix the core engine based issues. I’d like to be proven wrong.
Wild Hearts Review – The Verdict
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- Satisfying unique combat mechanics.
- A well told, well written story.
- Amazing monsters and fights.
- Important performance issues.
- Unforgettable music and environments.
- Less mechanical variety than other titles.
Wild Hearts is more than a laudable attempt to copy that monster hunter Formula. It’s a game all its own that leverages Capcom’s framework to do something unique and fun while retaining more than enough familiarity for seasoned hunters to pick up and do well. The game picks up on many of the clues that make monster hunter such an addiction for so many and understands where improvements can be made.
From the story and the karakuri to the kemono monsters themselves, Wild Hearts has some world class mechanics and writing behind it. It also falters in a few key areas, particularly when it comes to performance, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth your time and money. If you love defeating fantastical beasts of every shape and size, this time in a feudal Japan-inspired world there is no substitute.
Feature image via EA.