It took some time for Wild Hearts to finally sink its fangs into my gaming heart. As is the trend with games in this genre, the opening does not deliver the greatest first impression. The graphics seemed wonky, I didn’t understand why I was moving around or who I even was, and several minutes of explanation from a mysterious stranger shrouded in mystery speaking of mysterious mysteries didn’t bring any sort of enlightenment.
So did I finally see the light? Could one of the worst first impressions in gaming history somehow be redeemed? To my surprise at the time, it sunk its jaws in deep and refused to let go. Though I am not quite sure why these Monster Hunter types insist on bringing out the elevator music band to start each symphony, the heart of the show tends to have much more to it than can be seen, even after several hours.
What is a Monster Hunter?
But wait, what is a Monster Hunter type? Is Wild Hearts a new Monster Hunter game? Boy does it want to be. There are so many ways that Wild Hearts blatantly borrows from (rips off) Monster Hunter that I started a list, adding new entries as I encountered them. When I realized I was spending more time writing entries on the list than actually playing Wild Hearts, I opted to simply share some of the more pertinent ones.
First, let’s describe what a Monster Hunter game actually is for those that may not know. Quite simply, Monster Hunter is a game series in which you hunt huge monsters with an arsenal of melee and ranged weapons which all handle completely different from the last. In fact, discovering the weapon that works best for you is one of the joys of the series, and each can make the game feel like an entirely new experience.
Though Monster Hunter games are not technically labeled a genre yet, there have been other titles that tried to recreate the formula. Entries such as Dauntless, God Eater, and Toukiden came close to the original recipe, but none of them have outright stolen the formula and slapped another title on the box. In much the same way that Mcdowell’s has the Golden Arcs compared to McDonald’s Golden Arches in the movie Coming to America, there were enough Monster Hunter systems heisted by Wild Hearts that it could very well be mistaken as the next entry in Capcom’s best-selling series.
It got to the point where I was expecting each “borrowed” system just like I would for a Monster Hunter game. The words just happen to be different. Instead of hunting monsters, you hunt kemono. Instead of Palicos, you have robotic orbs called tsukumo to assist you. Instead of taking on five sub-quests at a time, you take on up to five jobs. The Monster Hunter series certainly has more overall depth to it, but almost every system present in Wild Hearts runs parallel to its counterpart found in Monster Hunter.
When setting out to make a game in the unofficial genre of monster hunting games, it makes sense to take inspiration from the very best. But Wild Hearts is still its own game, and it differentiates itself in a variety of ways. Not the least of these ways are the tools that are ever-present in every aspect of the game.
These tools, called karakuri, provide a sort of Fortnite aspect to each hunt, as well as being prevalent in the story. At first, you will have very limited options regarding these tools, but as you hunt kemono, sometimes a moment of inspiration will occur. The kemono will be in a certain position or attack pattern, and the action will slow immensely while button prompts appear on the screen. As you press the button sequence and learn to build something, you will get to see that karakuri’s direct effect. This is a brilliant system that not only showcases the new tools, but shows you exactly how and why it exploits certain patterns and behaviors in the kemono. It feels somewhat reminiscent to those moments in Mega Man games where you figure out which weapon works against the bosses, and what once seemed insurmountable becomes much more manageable.
Karakuri come in three forms: basic, fusion, and dragon. Basic karakuri include a total of six different tools, such as boxes to climb on, springs to launch off of, and gliders that propel you through the air. These require a resource called “thread” that you can find by harvesting certain rocks and trees dotted around the landscapes. You can ready up four of these basic karakuri at once, and the four you choose directly affect which fusion karakuri you may conjure.
Fusion karakuri are utilized by summoning a specific combination of basic karakuri. When you have a moment of inspiration, you are shown the combination of basic karakuri needed to build a fusion karakuri. These fusions can be a number of interesting devices, including traps and harpoons to momentarily hold down a kemono, giant cannons that will deal immense damage and topple over a kemono, or giant bulwarks that will stop a charging kemono in its tracks, knocking it out for a bit.
Dragon karakuri are the final type, and these are systemic creations that rely on dragon pools found throughout each area. These structures provide utility beyond fighting prowess. Tents, campfires, drying racks, towers to locate kemono, forges, personal baths, fermenting barrels, and many more are among the unique contraptions that you can eventually build.
There is a decently deep cooking system where you forage items and then craft an assortment of dragon karakuri to turn certain ingredients into others, granting food items with even more benefit. You may consume a certain amount of food items during each hunt, and these can be the difference between victory and defeat, especially regarding the tougher kemono.
Before the depth of food and other systems could try to sway my original sour opinion, however, the battle system was already flirting away. Sporting an array of eight very different weapon styles (though only five are available at the start), there is a lot to master for many different styles. The feel of the weapons connecting is a bit lacking, but each weapon is nonetheless quite fun to use. There are a number of resources and meters to consider depending on the weapon, and a number of strategies exists for each style.
Many smaller creatures skitter and slither about each of the four main areas, and fighting them is never more than a slight annoyance, even for the toughest of them. An interesting thing to note is that you can pet most of them if you sneak behind and don’t aggravate them, and doing so will grant an item that is different than what you would get for slaying them. Also, you can learn to build a dragon karakuri that is a cage, allowing you to have a small creature as a pet that will periodically grant unique items.
Learning to Hunt
But these aren’t what you signed up for with Wild Hearts. You want to know about the big ones. The mountains with teeth. The embodiments of terror that keep children from their pleasant dreams. And these monstrosities absolutely deliver.
From the earliest hunts in the game to its final moments, you have to stay on your toes. Much like Monster Hunter, you have three lives per hunt, and each life can be thwarted in a heartbeat. Even when you are properly equipped, most kemono can end you in two hits, and certainly three in nearly all cases. Some even have dastardly moves that will put you six feet under with just one hit if you aren’t geared specifically to withstand a certain element.
Thankfully, each kemono has plenty of tells before their moves, and you will learn these quite quickly. A failure to see something coming is rarely the issue; a failure to properly avoid something is almost always the case. See, when you begin an attack animation, you are committed for the duration of that attack. Some weapons are quicker than others, but none of them can be canceled during the action animation of a move. So if you begin to attack, but the kemono suddenly leaps back to begin an ultimate lunge of death, all you can do is hope your Will is updated and in place, because you won’t be able to avoid the pain to come. As such, learning when you can counter and when you need to wait for such opportunities becomes a key strategy.
When you do take a hit, there are a few ways you may heal up. Your primary means of healing is healing water, of which you have a set amount, though you can increase your maximum amount, and you can find more doses scattered around each map. The next healing method comes via your tsukumo, which will sometimes activate a healing mist that will gradually heal you. Finally, you can learn to create a healing karakuri that will provide gradual healing, along with one that will cure negative status effects like burning or poison.
There is a nice overall assortment of kemono to take on, but it is not as great a number as in other such games. The number is around two dozen or so, and several of the kemono are variants of each other. Still, I never had an issue with the number since there is enough variety that I was always excited to see what was up next.
Excited, that is, until the final few kemono. Once you get toward the end of the game, be ready for a test like none other as you run the gauntlet of the toughest minions found on the wrong side of the River Styx. These things do not let up, and they introduce some delays and confusing attack angles, giving you a lot to learn during your first few failures. If it gets too tough, you can always request assistance from others, but the pool of shared lives is always three, so be careful not to let your team down by perishing.
Should you decide on multiplayer, you will be in for a treat as the synergies that exist between weapon styles and karakuri options make for some creative brilliance. Cycling between traps, walls, and launchers while each character builds up the means for their weapon’s ultimate is an engaging experience that is some of the most fun you may have in video games. But the anguish of trying to hold on while a kemono is on its final breaths, yet failing to do so, hits harder than many games you might play.
Being the sadist that I apparently am, I opted to only play multiplayer against kemono that I had already defeated. Much like every other game I play, I wanted to first finish Wild Hearts by myself. Therefore, these maniacal masters of mayhem only had me in their sites, and the balance of trying to go solo against the final couple of kemono felt like the game hated me.
This is a perfect opportunity to get into some of Wild Hearts‘ misses for me. One somewhat nitpicky miss is how the kemono behavior is handled: the game assumes multiplayer is what each kemono will face, so each kemono move set tends to rely on area of effect moves. In fact, nearly every attack a kemono has will either be a dash forward, taking out all comers in its path, or some sort of projectile or slamming attack that hits a much wider range than it might appear, along with unleashing some sort of briefly-lingering area of effect in the process. As the kemono attacks, it will turn and track the player it is focused on, making your initial positioning almost inconsequential compared to timing your dodge when the blow lands.
Now, I said this was nitpicky because there is nothing wrong with doing this since that’s how the game was made to be played, of course. But certain tactics from other games needed some fine tuning from me when it came to dodging certain moves. And the nature of the lingering area of effect from many moves make it so timing a dodge must also be combined with a directional adjustment to avoid the active attack radius once the dodge’s invincibility frames end. Plus, that radius isn’t always advertised well enough. Since the toughest kemono rely on a killer cocktail of such moves, it can be frustrating when you think you did everything you could to be safe only to instead get demolished.
Of course, properly learning each kemono’s attack patterns and behaviors alleviates much of this gripe. Also, I do think the challenge is important, making the preparation of the hunt hold nearly as much gravity as the hunt itself. However, some other issues exist that cannot be explained with a “git gud” cry of wisdom.
The first of these will be apparent from the moment you start playing. The graphics are not exactly the best. And while the graphics can certainly look quite good due to the amazing graphics design and aesthetics, the initial settings may take some adjustments to get just right. The HDR wasn’t on from the start for me, and turning it on delivered a pickle of a puzzle to solve in order to get the game looking just right. I played it on Xbox Series X, so I’m not sure if these issues are pervasive across the other platforms, but it certainly was an adventure where I played it.
Next comes one of my bigger issues with the game: while utilizing the tools (karakuri) is a joy when it works, the game often gets hung up on what you want to do in a variety of ways. Normally, you press a combination of buttons, and the correct karakuri is conjured. This works fairly well on perfectly flat ground. However, you will rarely be on perfectly flat ground, and even slight deviations can cause some frustrating results.
It is not unusual to quickly press your buttons only to find Frankenstein’s concoction of springboards and stakes stacked up on different levels of the landscape around you. Also, if you play online, you must build things slower than usual, or else the game will start making assumptions on your intent. And they tend to be the most nonsensical assumptions you could possibly imagine, not producing anything resembling a fusion karakuri. When you realize you’ve used the last of your thread to create a child’s playroom disaster instead of the harpoon you were hoping for, frustration will likely set in.
Another somewhat strange occurrence is that the game doesn’t quite keep your karakuri in the same place each time you visit the areas. See, whenever you conjure karakuri, your creations stay where you built them until you or a kemono destroys them. At least, they mostly stay there. Some of your karakuri can shift slightly, for instance making wires that you once used for quick traversal over a broken bridge instead slide you underneath said bridge. Also, sometimes ingredients you had in a storage container might go missing. I like to think a stray kemono might have made off with my goods, and that may be the case, but it’s far more likely that a bug occurred .
Alright, now let’s bring this ship back to port the correct way. For all of the vicious barking I’m doing, Wild Hearts is still a fantastically fun game. I wasn’t kidding when I stated that it can be some of the most fun you may have in gaming. That is a possibility, especially when you and some buddies hunt a kemono well together, and everything seems to go perfectly. Wild Hearts is, in many ways, a game that harkens back to the “good ol’ days” of gaming, when being fun is all that mattered. You won’t find some meaningful story here. On offer is a tale of kemono migrating to sacred lands for unknown reasons while a hunter (you) with super powers, who would perish should the source of said super powers ever break, tries to hunt them down to assess and control the situation. Trying to make sense of the world you’re hunting in will only result in confusion.
But that would be missing the point. One does not play Wild Hearts for the engaging yarn it spins (yarn would be wasted on this thing). When you boot up Wild Hearts, get ready for the fun! Well, not for the first few hours, of course, but once you get beyond that yawner of an opener, the game begins to show you what it’s like to have fun with a game, again. If you allow yourself to become immersed in the gameplay of Wild Hearts and its systems, you’ll get much more out of it than you will initially realize. Because, for all of its irritations and faults, one thing Wild Hearts has in spades is, ironically, a lot of heart. And once you take the time to tame this kemono, it won’t soon let go of your own.
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