Wild Hearts (Xbox Series X) Review
Since its official announcement in September 2022, I’ve been ALL IN on Wild Hearts. When you take a setting inspired by the Edo Period of Japan’s rich history, and you combine it with huge threatening beasts that want to end your life while you try to end theirs, you have nailed a recipe for success. Monster Hunter has walked the path of slaying massive beasts for nearly two decades so Wild Hearts can run, and it does so with style.
A Tailor Fit
Welcome to the land of Azuma, where human society is scarce, and the land is overrun by fantastical creatures called Kemono. The Kemono are a fusion of nature and wild beast, and are a great threat to humanity, and it is up to you, the main character, to stop them. After a NECESSARY tutorial and a run in with the beast that graces the cover of Wild Hearts, the Deathstalker Wolf, the player is shot straight into the bloodstream of a full-fledged character creator to give players a stylistic choice on how to build their ideal hunter, and my power-trip hungry hands were anxious to see what it had to offer.
The choices are varied to the point of truly being able to make a completely unique character that flexes right into the fabric of the game, and the developers went the extra mile to insert your creation into the game’s cinematics. A title that gives creative freedom to the player—similar to the Create-A-Shepard from Mass Effect—while not sacrificing immersion is a huge accomplishment.
Advancing on this focus on individuality, the player can select their own Kemono hunting weapon from a rack of Japanese-inspired weaponry. From a variant of a traditional Katana called the ‘Karakuri Katana,’ which when used effectively turns into a monstrous serpent sword pulled straight out of Renji’s hands from Bleach, to a Bladed Wagasu umbrella, there is a playstyle for everyone that breaks the mould on how a weapon should act.“Monster Hunter has walked the path of slaying massive beasts for nearly two decades so Wild Hearts can run, and it does so with style.”
Even those that prefer to swing a huge Maul for maximum carapace crushing power have a horse in this race. The varied playstyle and customization options only become more varied as the game progresses, truly making it feel as if the player is evolving with their character, but so are the monstrous adversaries.
A World Torn
The characters the player meets along their journey across the many Kemono riddled biomes of Azuma have personality, and they’re all particularly useful. Natsume (not the game company) plays the role of a friendly blacksmith who can upgrade your armour and weapons as you continue hunting, for a fee and materials of course; Ujishige is an alcoholic jealous has-been Kemono Hunter who has funny dialogue, and means well, although he continuously makes references back to how he ‘was the best!’ Kōgyoku is the regular shop owner, but there’s more to her than meets the eye, as relations are strained between her outsider upbringing and the local residents of the hub world.
Small details separating these characters add a layer of realism and depth to the setting, although the happy-go-lucky blacksmith attitude and mysterious shopkeeper tropes have been utilized MANY times before. They work really well here and add familiar padding to an unfamiliar setting. Speaking of which…
Minato, Hub of Hunters
The hub world of Wild Hearts is a small quiet town called Minato, which was once a thriving technology-filled centre for its inhabitants, now deadlocked in a life-or-death battle against the Kemono menace. This is where the player’s base of operations, and place of rest is. A lot of titles (looking at you Dolmen) overlook this area of gameplay and just paste stuff together to have everything useful in one place. While Minato does do this, it does feel like a hub with life, and the constant reminder that ‘another player is in the hub’ makes the whole environment feel less lonely.
Minato offers quests, main story advancements, a place to upgrade weaponry, and is basically the Kemono Hunter equivalent to a Tarnished Round Table Hold from Elden Ring, or Destiny 2’s Tower. This is also frequented to turn in quests and retrieve new ones. With the gorgeous scenery and home-feeling music aside, Minato does its job admirably without feeling cramped or confusing to navigate. What Wild Hearts does best though, is its battle system and its new Karakuri System to utilize tactics in order to remain triumphant over the Kemono.
Karakuri, Man’s Best Friend
Wild Hearts employs the Karakuri System for hunters to traverse the landscape easier (so everything isn’t just a walking simulator), and to fight off gigantic Kemono that would otherwise make quick work of you. There are basic Kemono such as stacks of boxes that can interrupt a charging, lighter Kemono, or a torch which can imbue a hunter’s weapon with fire damage, but when they’re combined in combination that’s when the real fun begins. The combined versions, or ‘Fusion Karakuri’ can form formidable offensive or defensive capabilities to drive back Kemono in specific instances as well.
Upon my travels, after finding out the Bladed Wagasu is key for survival, I happened upon an unfriendly and aggressive boar Kemono called Kingtusk. While fighting it, it charged at me and time slowed. This is where the game introduces the fusion aspect of Karakuri. By making a wall of crates two-wide and three-tall, a thick wall called a ‘Bulwark’ appeared in front of it. The Kingtusk SLAMMED into the Bulwark, destroying it, and comically ejecting the boar into the air while it writhed and collapsed into the ground. A hunter could then get sweet revenge and snag some unpunished counter attacking here.
After the first instance of using a Fusion Karakuri, the player can use them at any time, and must determine the perfect point of battle when to use them. An anti-air firework fusion composed of three basic torch Karakuri standing straight, can stun and ground-flying Karakuri with ease. Building these costs thread, however, a vital resource for survival. A hunter’s success can be based solely on the usage of this thread in battle, and the constant tension of almost running out removes the feeling of being Superman quickly.
The aspect of fusion Karakuri is where the title shines the brightest, a Bulwark has multiple uses: a hunter can block a massive projectile, impede a charging enemy, or even climb off it to make a diving attack. How a hunter uses these different Karakuri is where the gameplay reaches its peak. After almost dying against a large crow Kemono called a Fumebeak, I used a Bulwark to stop its execution diving attack, and it got STOPPED with force. These small moments of victory are Wild Hearts treasure, a true feeling of overcoming a massive obstacle with quick thinking and solid effect response.
There are also Dragon Karakuri that help the player navigate the massive biomes housing the Kemono. A Flying Vine propels the player across the landscape, and can even attach to Kemono that are fleeing after being wounded. Luckily, this device can shoot the player against gravity, making it the best way to traverse the landscape in a pinch. Although the Karakuri System sounds confusing, the team over at Omega Force did a stellar job at explaining without holding the player’s hand. A round of applause for solid tutorials, without staying after last call.“Wild Hearts is an unforgiving game for those who hope they can button mash their way to the top.”
While giving Kemono a beatdown, their carapaces fall off when you go for the glowing weak spots on their body. When the carapace hits the ground, the Kemono staggers, and they drop much-needed crafting items. The feeling of exploiting these weak spots is habit-forming, and it’s just another attention-to-detail aspect that makes Wild Hearts a great title.
Wild Hearts is an unforgiving game for those who hope they can button mash their way to the top. Kemono are worthy adversaries, and you will die often, but if a hunter uses the Kemono’s weaknesses, the environment, and Karakuri to their advantage the beasts can be overcome. While the difficulty might not be for everyone, it does pose a deep enough challenge to give seasoned players a run for their money. Wild Hearts doesn’t have a difficulty setting, and this is for the best. The game was designed for players to overcome obstacles after all.
Hunters can join games with each other at the bat of an eye, and cross-platform as well. Joining a game is as easy as selecting the quest or hunt you want to embark on, and queuing in. The multiplayer runs SMOOTH, and finding a game is easy and VERY fun. Matchmaking, or waiting for a game can deter some lone wolves from trying co-op, but I would IMPLORE everyone to try hunting together. Coming up with strategies in a group is fun, and the community was very helpful in my experience. Players can have groups up to three large, and while the framerate chugged at the most demanding points, it resolved itself in seconds, and it didn’t affect gameplay at all. Wild Hearts is plural for a reason.
There are a few shortcomings in Wild Hearts, however. The player cannot change weapons on the fly, they must visit a blacksmith station, or an NPC to change gear. This is a massive oversight with a game that promotes looting bodies; an option to switch weapons mid-combat given a Kemono’s many unique weaknesses to status/attack type/element should have been given. The storyline is also under shadowed by the exciting gameplay, it feels just a tad too generic and doesn’t keep up with the awesome gameplay.
Travelling everywhere on foot is cumbersome in the beginning stages, as it just takes too long to get anywhere, and it feels slow (only at first, before you gain access to upgraded Karakuri). Lastly, with a game that has incredible difficulty, being only given three respawns, and then you lose hunt progress is a crime. Spending 40-45 minutes on one fight, just to have progress torn away, feels cheap. The player is given three attempts though, so this may be a me problem, but when playing co-op with a less experienced player, this is a bad design choice.
Wild Hearts is a bold step for Omega Force, a title in a genre that seemed to be ruled by Capcom with it’s Monster Hunter series. While the inspiration is obvious, Wild Hearts changes the formula and refines it into a completely different beast that can stand on its own four legs. While the story lacks polish and just feels like a push forward, everything else in Wild Hearts is fine-tuned to create a well-oiled and fantastic game experience that has hours and hours of content, and then some. A potential new series that can not only go toe-to-toe with Monster Hunter Rise, but perhaps even dethrone it. A must-play action title.
* This article was originally published here