Wowee. Who would have ever thought they’d see a project like Wild Hearts? Koei Tecmo’s Omega Force, working together with EA, to offer up their take on the monster hunting game. I was sceptical – Omega Force is a development studio specialising in Musou games for most of their existence, so whether they could take on a genre like this was up for debate. But after a considerable amount of time with an early build of Wild Hearts, I’m happy to admit that I was so wrong. Wild Hearts is gearing up to be my favourite monster-hunting game – even more so than Monster Hunter – because it offers a fast-paced combat system that feels endlessly playable.
Wild Hearts puts you into the role of a hunter in a fantasy world based on feudal Japan called Azuma. Your sole purpose in life is to track and hunt the Kemono, beasts infused with the elements of nature (think a giant boar with a garden growing on its back). The game’s general premise is similar to other hunting-style games – venture out to defeat Kemono, make better equipment, and defeat even bigger Kemono. It’s simple but effective and takes clear inspiration from games like Monster Hunter and even Omega Force’s own Toukiden games.
What’s immediately more noticeable about Wild Hearts is its systems. It’s undoubtedly the fastest-paced, action-orientated game of this ilk I’ve played. Don’t get me wrong, I liked Monster Hunter, especially in the early years, but those games had a much slower and systematic approach to their combat. Wild Hearts feels closer to games like Nioh or Ninja Gaiden, and as a result, feels a lot more newcomer friendly.
But there’s an aspect of Wild Hearts that really separates it from others. The Karakuri system. In the world of Wild Hearts, your hunter is the only person able to use this technology lodged in your body after a fateful encounter with a dangerous Kemono. It’s an ancient technology that allows you to build structures at will. Basic building blocks allow you to climb to higher heights, but you can also build giant walls to block a charging Kemono or even fuse them together to create large hammers to stun larger Kemono.
You’re probably thinking that this sounds a bit like building in Fortnite, and to be honest, it is a bit like that. But the way Wild Hearts leverages this system – whether in combat or just to traverse the world more effectively – separates it from the games pulling inspiration. There is some real potential here to see how different players will use different Karakuri in battle and to be able to bring together differing strategies on hunts.
I say bring together because Wild Hearts has a very robust online system. Up to three players can go on hunts or even play the entirety of the story from beginning to end together. You can play solo, too, of course. What I like about Wild Hearts is that it allows you to play however you want. If you need to track down a specific Kemono for specific parts, you can matchmake specifically to hunt that one. If you feel like helping someone, you can jump into an area solely to help people. It feels like there are many options to approach your hunts, and these hunts scale with how many players you bring in.
I’ve alluded to the faster-paced combat system being the main difference between other hunting games and Wild Hearts, owing to its diverse range of weapons. There are around eight different types on offer in Wild Hearts, with elemental affinities assigned to each to add an air of strategy to your selections. In a Q&A with one of the producers, it was also confirmed that there would be over 200 variants of weaponry and that there will even be a transmog system, so you can customise your look and keep it as you improve your gear.
But what of the weapons? It’s hard to correctly detail with such an early build, but each weapon seems to have the depth of a character action game like Bayonetta or Devil May Cry. The Katana, in particular, not only has a full set of combos but can also be extended into a segmented whip sword which then inherits even more combos. As another example, the bladed umbrella – my favourite – offers great aerial manoeuvrability for those battles when you need to stay off the ground. Similarly, it has different move sets depending on whether you’re on the ground or in the air.
Mixing the various weapons systems with the abilities and mobility that the Karakuri bring you leads to some pretty fun and exciting battles. In one of my later battles in the build, I used my umbrella to weaken one of the Kemono before building a Karakuri to catapult myself onto its back. Worried about not landing the jump, the umbrella offered me a bit of a hover-jump to better calculate my fall. Then, landing on the Kemono’s back, I could destroy a weak point to temporarily down the beast, allowing my co-op partners to go in and cause massive damage. It’s just one example of how a battle can play out in Wild Hearts, and it’s exhilarating and even more exciting, considering that this was all done with early-game equipment.
It would be wanton to talk too much about the presentation of the build that I played, given that it was an alpha, but I do want to talk about the artistic direction of Wild Hearts rather than its performance. Obviously, things are still starting to come together, but I really loved the variety of biomes that I was able to see in Azuma. Similarly, the monsters are all beautifully designed. The idea of creating them to reflect the intersection of flora and fauna has paid off – these are some beautifully designed creatures that look like they’ve been pulled from mythology.
I tried pretty hard to come up with any concerns that may have been raised after my time with this early build of Wild Hearts, and it was quite hard to do. It seems to be doing things in all the right ways – even in the Q&A session, it was confirmed that there were “no plans for microtransactions,” but if there were, it would be “purely cosmetic.” Even if it did, there seems to be plenty on offer here. I suppose it will be seen if the game will continue to be expanded with major expansions – and whether the Kemono variety is kept up from beginning to end. Still, regardless, I just can’t wait to see what else Azuma has in store for me come February.
And that’s really where I stand right now, having come away from having played Wild Hearts. I just want more. More time with the game, more monsters to hunt, and more gear to craft. It has come out of nowhere and has really engaged me – whether it be the genuinely fantastic fast-paced combat system or the clever implementation of the Karakuri building. It all comes together to offer something I can’t help but be excited about. Wild Hearts has only just shown me the tip of the iceberg, and I can’t wait to dive into it and see how much more it has to offer.
Wild Hearts launches on February 17th 2023 for PC, PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S.