Wild Hearts is fantastic. I had long been waiting for a game in the genre that Monster Hunter created to come along and take a more serious approach to its world. You will take on the role of a Kemono Hunter in the fantasy region of Azuma. Across various hunting fields, you will use the power of the Karakuri, a Green Lantern-style glove to create machinery out of thin air. This creation system invigorates the game with a sense of grand scale and utter absurdity that I love. EA and KOEI Tecmo have teamed up to bring us the no-uwu-allowed hunting game of my dreams.
The game starts with your character on a journey. You are a hunter of Kemono (Beasts), and you come across a vicious frost wolf that quickly kicks your teeth in. Saved by a mask-wearing, tail-having mysterious figure you’ll be greeted with an incredibly deep character creator. It’s a thing of TERF nightmares as you can mix any face, body, hair type, and more with reckless abandon. I am terrible at creating characters but I’ve seen incredible likenesses done by those more patient. You can change your character’s appearance later in the game with an upgrade as well if you just want to jump into the action. Once you’re done tinkering with your looks you’ll find out that there is an item implanted into your heart that allows you to weave Celestial Thread. This thread powers the world of Azuma and its rampaging beasts.
The game’s plot centers heavily around this thread, where it comes from, why are the monsters drawn to it, and how can you use it to protect the town of Minato. Minato is your hub world, and it’s gorgeous. Full of character and characters, you’ll spend a lot of time here in-between hunts on the mainland. The area you’ll be visiting most often is the forge, where a basic armor system and massive weapon crafting tree await. While the game apes shamelessly from Monster Hunter at times, it always puts its mark on things. The weapon upgrade path is dense, with eight different weapon types available. Each of them plays differently, and you can craft multiples as you, please. This lets you focus on damage types that work best against certain monsters based on familiar elemental categories like fire and water.
The same goes for your armor system, as both require drops from slain monsters and can be mixed and matched to give you the best chance in combat. There is a lot of storytelling in this game, and unlike Monster Hunter it feels adult and never veers toward the goofy nature of that series. The writing is solid, with only rare attempts at humor. It never becomes a dull or sour affair, and the world created here is a fantastical mix of Japanese history and American influences. Sadly, I only received the review code 3 days before the embargo. Despite putting over 30 hours in I feel like I’ve just scratched the surface of this title in some ways. From what I’ve seen of the story it stays intriguing and that’s more than I have gotten out of the genre before.
The true mark of any good hunting game is the gameplay loop, and Wild Hearts has one of my favorites. It doesn’t have the decades of fine-tuning that Monster Hunter does but it’s a ridiculously fun title. Each of the eight weapon types plays drastically differently, and I found myself favoring the Katakuri Sword and the Claw weapon mostly. X and Y are your main attack buttons with the right trigger being a modifier of sorts depending on what you use. For the sword, RT can be different attacks depending on the combo, but with the claw weapon, it’s always used for digging your claw into the monster. This starts up a crazy dance as you can dash and double (or even triple) jump your way around like a greased-up meth head. If you prefer harder-hitting weapons there is a greatsword to get your inner Cloud Strife on, or a massive hammer if you’re part of Bonk Gang.
Breath of the Wild style climbing is here as well. If you hold the right bumper and press A to jump you can briefly hold onto and climb various environments or even the monsters themselves. It’s like a light Dragon’s Dogma. The biggest differentiator for Wild Hearts over other titles in the genre is your Green Lantern Kurakiri gauntlet. Using Celestial Thread, which is a constant pick-up or drops from your hunting companion Tsukomo (more on that later), you can create objects out of thin air. Every few new monster types the game will give you a pattern. Hold down the left bumper and use one of the face buttons to put down a certain object type. X are crates you can climb and jump off of. B are springs that send you flying 15 feet in the air. A are gliders that you can pick up and take off twenty feet into the air with, and Y are braziers that can set your weapon aflame for extra damage.
Certain combinations will create massive items, like putting six crates down in a 3×3 pattern creates a massive barricade. Watching a 50-foot-long boar slam its head into one and go flying up in the air while being knocked dizzy is a hilarious and incredible sight. Putting down three springboards in a vertical line creates a massive cartoon-style hammer that slams down for huge damage. Hit a Sugerglider-based monster while it’s on its perch and watch it tumble down and open itself up for combo attacks. This system allows for the best counter to flying enemies that I’ve seen yet in a hunting game, as you can create a firework bomb that goes up and blinds flying creatures. Few things in life are more satisfying than having a purple crow get stunned right as it was going in for the kill.
The healing system is robust, as well. Your main heal is a 3-second long animation that has you drinking healing water, which you can replenish in various ways around the environment. Your Tsukomo is a hunting companion wooden robot that you’ll meet early on. This little guy will throw crates at enemies, taunt them to keep the damage off of you and drop healing totems that shoot a green mist into the air. You can also craft one of these healing sprays yourself if you put three of the glider Kukari in a vertical line with the A button. Upgrading your companion is done by finding other ones out in the world and getting old cogs. You can take these cogs and use them at your campfire, which is part of another massive and incredible system.
The game’s opening tutorial teaches you the basics of its open-world crafting system. Each hunting area is its own biome, with various monster types, endemic life, and items to find depending on the game’s chapter. Even after 30 hours I’m still on chapter two, and I don’t know how many there are yet but the change to each area is most “higher difficulty monsters are here now”. The zones are well crafted, featuring tons of verticality and density. You’ll need a lot of the objects found in the environment to upgrade your gear. To aid you in this as well as hunting are multiple items you can craft at a whim. First, you will find the various Dragon Pits dotted around the map. Each one has a series of upgrades to power it up, which allows you to place more items down. Items you can place down vary from Tents, which become fast travel and respawn spots, to campfires which let you choose a new hunt target or level up your companion. Hunting Towers will scout the area around them and locate any Kemono nearby. One of my favorites are the lines you can shoot. Once placed down you can aim these as high or as low as you’d like and then ride the zip line in either direction. Movement is key in the game and your dodge is extremely powerful. When timed right it can negate damage from almost any attack, even ones that obviously hit and move your character.
Most of these items can be upgraded in your main leveling tree. Every time you complete a quest or defeat a monster you’ll get currency. The number of items you can spend it on numbers in the hundreds and can be entirely new items to create, adding more health potions to your character, and upgrading already unlocked abilities. It’s a massive system that looks like it will take hundreds of hours to fully unlock. The same goes for all the various weapon and armor types. The weapon tree is enormous and tied to story progression, much like a Monster Hunter title. The armor tree is more straightforward but has hidden depth in its human and monster variants for certain items. You can choose to alter an item to its human or monster form once the original piece is made. Doing so will change its appearance and alter the stats and passive buffs it offers.
All of these different elements combine to make an incredibly satisfying gameplay loop. The combat can feel a bit unfair at first. Once you’ve learned the enemy’s attack patterns it gets better, though I still found a few enemy variants to feel cheap. Those darned Lavaback Monkeys’ attacks never stop when they’re enraged! For a first effort from a team famous for their far different feeling Dynasty Warriors series this combat is stunningly good.
Graphics and Music
Wild Hearts offers up two graphical options with the familiar sludgy looking and feeling thirty fps mode, and the far better feeling but fuzzier looking performance one on hand. I would highly recommend turning off motion blur as soon as you can. The implementation here is far too heavy and it made the tutorial’s snowstorm look like a weird thick rain on my screen. It was nearly impossible to see through. The best part of Wild Hearts is its sense of scale. The levels are huge and have monsters to match. Texture work is hit or miss though, as is the world geometry. You can move, jump, fly, and climb into places you were never meant to see and when you do things look BAD. I got stuck a few times as well, though a few minutes of desperate rolling and jumping freed me. Character models, especially their faces, are fantastic. The eyes in particular look far more lifelike than another recent title, Hogwarts Legacy. There are a lot of different clothing types for you and your fellow NPCs and the art style is gorgeous. I did have some graphical issues with the physics of dresses and other items. There is a lot of clipping and some weird visual artifacts. My fire sword did not like my cold weather outfit, which was a shame as they were key to beating several bosses. Every time my sword went in front of my outfit it left a smeary trail of effects in its wake.
The world itself features stunning art design and some really ugly textures. The ground can look like a 360-era title, often. In combat, it never detracted from the experience for me, but it was impossible to not notice it while exploring or during certain cutscenes. It’s not a gorgeous game technically, but it’s good enough to have the art style carry it.
I played with an English dub, which is a no-no in Monster Hunter. Thankfully both the writing and voice acting in Wild Hearts is excellent. Japanese characters are voiced by people with Japanese accents. The American-looking and sounding character (with the incredible name of Suzuran) had a matching accent as well. It’s far different from the typical everyone is American and over-the-top stylings of Monster Hunter’s dub and it is a huge improvement. The music keeps up with sweeping Studio Ghibli-sounding tracks that match the setting and grandeur of the combat perfectly. I found myself running around in low-level fights just so I could listen to the music a little longer before finishing off my target with a ridiculously stylish cutscene. Everything goes to black and white as you do a unique final attack and the beast utters its last agonized breath. Boy that got macabre, and the fact that all the endemic life in the areas twitch until you “finish them” with a hold of the left trigger reminds me why I never wanted to work in the meat packing industry.
The game was stable as can be with zero issues or crashes. It also features up to three players in online co-op. I got into a few matchmade sessions and things ran well. Knowing modern gaming though I’d wager we see some server issues once the game launches in full.
Wrapping Things Up
Wild Hearts was low on my list for 2023. After spending 30 or so hours with it I’m stunned. It is an incredible first effort from the team at Omega Force. Mixing Monster Hunting with Green Lantern crafting works beautifully. I hope this series is around for a very long time, because this game is excellent.
Review code provided by EA PR
Xbox Series X
- Fantastic Combat
- Green Lantern Powers!
- Incredible Music
- Excellent English Dub/Translation
- Satisfying Gameplay Loop
- Balancing Issues with Certain Enemies
- Occasional Ugly As Sin Textures