However, even though this new IP is mostly standing on the shoulders of Capcom’s giant beast, it does offer some original ideas of its own.
These new concepts, however, while welcome, don’t often work perfectly, and it’s this combined with the game’s other limitations that make Wild Hearts merely a good Monster Hunter alternative rather than a viable first choice.
Set in a fantasy world inspired by feudal Japan, Wild Hearts revolves around ‘kemono’, enormous beasts which have been infused with nature and have mutated into powerful monsters as a result.
It’s up to the player to hunt down these kemono, partly to help the people of Minato, a small village the player encounters not long into the game which serves as your central hub between hunts.
The kemono themselves are fairly well-designed, if not quite as imaginative as those in Monster Hunter. The majority of them can easily be related to real-world creatures – there’s a rat one, a pig one, a gorilla one etc.
While there’s clearly been quite a bit of work put into making them look particularly ferocious, put them side-by-side with some of the more weird and wonderful creations in Capcom’s series and it does feel rather on the safe side.
This doesn’t matter if battling them is fun, and for the most part there’s some satisfying combat to be had. It feels a little slower than Monster Hunter and there isn’t quite the same feel every time you land a blow, but there’s still gratification in toppling one of the big guys and getting a load of hits in while numbers fly out of it.
Most of the battles are fairly formulaic, with scripted moments that determine how much damage enemies take before they run off to the next location to trigger the second and third part of the fight. Having to chase after them makes for an entertaining, epic feel the first time you encounter each monster, but – as we’ll get to – the first time isn’t the only time, and that’s the issue.
While the battles are mostly entertaining enough, the game does have a habit of throwing hefty difficulty spikes at you. It’s not long into the story before your 1-star and 3-star fights suddenly turn into a 6-star one against a giant wolf which will have most players turning the air bluer than the icy armour that covers it.
“While the battles are mostly entertaining enough, the game does have a habit of throwing hefty difficulty spikes at you.”
This is further exacerbated by the fact that many of these beasts have one-hit kills that are clearly designed to keep you on your toes and make victory feel all that more satisfying, but are scant consolation when you’re hit with one 15 minutes into a fight, lose your last life and have to start all over again from the first phase of the battle.
In a press event shortly before review code was distributed, Wild Hearts co-director Kotaro Hirata said he felt the game would appeal to both “casual and hardcore” players. If you read that anywhere else, dismiss it – it’s nonsense.
With no difficulty setting, you get what you get here, and what you get is a series of increasingly lengthy, difficult boss fights. Which is brilliant if that’s what you want, but if you don’t fancy yourself as a monster-hunting pro and were hoping for some assists or an Easy mode to get you through the story, forget it.
The trickiness of its battles aside, the one thing Wild Hearts has that separates it most from Monster Hunter is the addition of what it calls ‘karakuri’. These are gadgets that you unlock as you progress through the game, and can be summoned at will by holding a shoulder button and pressing a different face button.
Some of these karakuri are quite basic – a springboard block you can stack to climb to get extra height from your jumps, a flaming torch you can use to light areas and apply a fire buff to your weapon – but eventually you can combine them to make ‘fusion karakuri’.
These are particularly nifty, but can be quite complicated to pull off in the heat of battle. The extremely useful Chain Trap plants a gimmick on the floor, and when the monster runs over it they’ll be temporarily restrained in place.
But to conjure it you have to generate four Crate karakuri and two Stake karakuri, which on Xbox means standing still, holding LB and pressing A, A, X, A, A, X. Obviously the trick is to find that brief period during battle where you can afford to stand still, but it can still be frustrating, particularly when you’re 15-20 minutes into an epic battle and you mess up a single button press, leaving you exposed.
There are eight weapons to eventually unlock and choose from, and while that may not sound like a lot they do vary wildly in how they operate, meaning there’s a proper learning process involved in mastering them all.
“There are eight weapons to eventually unlock and choose from, and while that may not sound like a lot they do vary wildly in how they operate, meaning there’s a proper learning process involved in mastering them all.”
The Karakuri Katana sword you start with is probably the most straightforward, with standard swipes, thrusts and combos that get the job done, though it does also have a power meter that, when filled, lets you turn it into a sort of glowing green chain that does extra damage.
The Maul, meanwhile, is your typical ‘power’ weapon, which takes a lifetime to swing but can do huge damage. This is made more interesting with the addition of a timing system, where hitting the trigger at a certain point after each swing lets you chain moves together for even more power (though obviously this is only really feasible when the monster is stunned).
Then there are ranged weapons like the Bow (which can be fired horizontally or vertically) and a big chaingun type thing which requires you to place and then stand near an energy source to make sure it keeps firing at a reasonable rate.
As you progress through the game the weapons you unlock get less conventional, such as the Claw Blade (which lets you grapple onto larger monsters and cling onto them) and the Karakuri Staff (which is a nifty little transforming weapon that can change into five different forms).
The fact that each weapon controls so wildly differently means that players are likely to find the one that best fits them and decide to stick with it as often as possible.
Inevitably, though, some monsters are easier to defeat with certain weapons – the giant version of the Kingtusk pig, for example, is best handled by grappling onto it with the Claw Blade, while the eagle-like Amaterasu stays in the air a lot, meaning you really do need a ranged weapon to tackle it properly.
This would be fine were it not for the fact that each weapon in the game has its own skill tree, and in order to enhance it to a level that gives you a better chance in battle – especially later in the game when the monsters get more powerful – you have to collect a bunch of materials, many of which come from specific species.
This means a fair amount of grinding in which you replay previous monster encounters, with battles that have the same beats and phases each time, so you can defeat them and collect the parts you need to upgrade your weapons.
This can be a bit underwhelming, because the monster fights are far less exciting the second, third and fourth time around when you’ve already figured out how to beat them and the same set-pieces play out.
Luckily, each weapon’s skill tree is identical, which in some games would be considered lazy but is beneficial here because it reduces grinding – and the need to fight the same battles over and over again – to some extent.
That’s because one way to quickly upgrade a weapon is to completely undo the upgrades you’ve applied to a different one, which gives you back all the items you used up.
Because each weapon has the same skill tree and requires the same items for each upgrade, this means you can – for example – strip all the perks off your mega fire-enhanced Bladed Wagasa (spiked parasol) and apply them to your Nodachi (giant blade thing) instead, should the battle call for it.
Ultimately though, your mileage with Wild Hearts depends on your tolerance of deliberately difficult boss fights, occasional one-hit kills undoing 15 minutes of battling with a single swipe, and the need to encounter the same creature far more often than you would in a Monster Hunter game.
“Your mileage with Wild Hearts depends on your tolerance of deliberately difficult boss fights, occasional one-hit kills undoing 15 minutes of battling with a single swipe, and the need to encounter the same creature far more often than you would in a Monster Hunter game.”
The fact we’ve continually compared Wild Hearts to Capcom’s title throughout this review may seem unfair, but the reality is that it’s the standard that has been set, and therefore such comparisons aren’t just inevitable but essential.
Given that Monster Hunter Rise has 46 large monsters – and that’s before you take into account the Sunbreak expansion, which added even more – versus around 15 here, the fact that Wild Hearts does at least attempt to mix things up by presenting different mutations of each creature doesn’t really make up for the comparative lack of variety.
Its saving grace is its karakuri system, which – while fiddly in the heat of battle – introduces some interesting tactical possibilities and should give experts a fun set of tools that lets them experiment with the best ways to take down each beast.
Koei Tecmo promises that there’s free content to come in the future, which is promising. Despite its downsides, there’s still a solid foundation here for a game which, a year or two down the road, could have increased its monster count while maybe throwing in a few new features designed to make the process less frustrating for newcomers.
Monster Hunter remains the king of the jungle, then, but if you’ve thoroughly exhausted everything Capcom’s series has to offer and you want to see an alternative take on it with an interesting gadget-themed mechanic, Wild Hearts should keep you busy for a while, as long as you’re up for its challenge.
Wild Hearts is a solid enough first attempt at taking on the Monster Hunter crown, but its occasionally frustrating battles, its rather small number of monsters and the fidgety nature of its admittedly inventive gadget system mean you have to put up with a fair degree of irritation if you want to see it through.
- Only eight weapons but they each feel very different to use, which is great
- The 'karakuri' gadget-building system is fiddly but opens up plenty of possibilities
- Only around 15 monster species, variations aside
- Requires quite a bit of grinding and replaying old battles to upgrade
- Lack of difficulty options means less experienced players are essentially shut out