Despite this, what we’ve seen so far of Wild Hearts gives us reason to believe that it could be one of next year’s most solid offerings, as long as it can sort out some of its performance issues.
Developed by Omega Force – the Koei Tecmo division best known for the Dynasty Warriors games and its various spin-offs – Wild Hearts still doesn’t stray too far from the historical East Asian setting it favours in most of its games, even if this time it’s less tied to actual real-life history.
It’s set in a fantasy version of feudal Japan, where the player has to do battle with just beasts called Kemono, who are each infused with nature in some way. They aren’t a million miles away from Monster Hunter creatures, essentially.
The similarities to Capcom’s game don’t simply end with the concept of taking on large creatures. The player can also choose between a variety of distinct weapons, each offering a different play style. Each discipline changes the way battles are fought. from the katana sword to the bow and arrow, from the umbrella-like ‘bladed wasaga’ to the unique Staff weapon which can transform into five different types of weapon.
What’s more, certain enemies are easier to defeat with specific types of weapon, encouraging players to experiment with different options, rather than choosing a single favourite and sticking with it for the duration of the game. It may be clear where Wild Hearts is getting its initial inspiration from, then, but that’s not to say the game is entirely without its own unique ideas that could potentially set it apart from the Monster Hunter series.
Perhaps the most obvious of these, and the one EA was most keen to highlight when we went hands-on with a brief section of the game earlier this year, is the introduction of ‘karakuri’, a series of tools you can craft and add to the world, where they remain permanently until they’re removed or destroyed.
While some of these karakuri are decorative it’s the ones that actually serve a purpose during gameplay that are most interesting, especially given they can be spawned instantly during the heat of a battle (as long as you can get used to the slightly fiddly in-game karakuri menu system).
If you’re struggling to cope with a monster continually charging at you, for example, you can use the crate karakuri to quickly spawn a giant box or, even more useful, quickly spawn a stack of them.
You can then try to attract the monster over to the boxes and get it to charge at you again, at which point you can leap out of the way and force it to clatter into the boxes, stunning them. Even better, as you climb up the stack while this happens you can leap off at the last minute, delivering a powerful, crushing mid-air blow on the stunned beast.
Karakuri are a fun addition to the gameplay and the player earns more of them as they progress on their journey, from a torch that lights their way to a springboard that lets them dash forwards quickly, Sonic-style. The fact some of these remain permanently on the land means there’s also the potential of some interesting ways to Home Alone certain parts of the stage to trap unsuspecting beasts.
As we say, the only issue we have with karakuri is that the act of selecting them seems a little fiddly from what we’ve played so far, so it remains to be seen if Omega Force plans to fix this before the game is released.
“The handful of Kemono battles we took part in were genuinely thrilling and contained some really impressive set-pieces, and when everything worked like it was supposed to it was clear that EA and Koei Tecmo are onto something here.”
The only other thing we’re mainly concerned about at this point is the game’s performance. When we went hands-on with the PC version in early October – mere weeks after its surprise announcement – we were left impressed with the general gameplay, but very concerned about the performance, which was extremely choppy, even when most of the settings were reduced to lower detail levels.
By all accounts, not all publications suffered this, but we know of some others who did, meaning that unless these issues are resolved – not to mention the numerous not-insignificant bugs we encountered – the game could be in for a slightly rocky start, at least on PC.
In terms of the actual game concept and mechanics, however, things are looking positive for Wild Hearts. The handful of Kemono battles we took part in were genuinely thrilling and contained some really impressive set-pieces, and when everything worked like it was supposed to it was clear that EA and Koei Tecmo are onto something here.
Ironically, the only thing it may have to compete with is Monster Hunter itself, with news that a port of Switch and PC title Monster Hunter Rise is coming to PlayStation and Xbox consoles in January 2023, followed by the Sunbreak expansion later in the year. But hey, we’ve always got room for more than one hunt.