The EA Originals imprint is fast becoming one of my favourites. First Unravel, then It Takes Two, and everything in between. The latest, Wild Hearts, is an unexpected collaboration between Koei Tecmo and EA and my favourite. Hunting down fantastical beasts in a wide-open world inspired by Feudal Japan is a great concept, and Wild Hearts has a few tricks up its sleeve that separates it from the rest. It has a few issues that begin to emerge the more time you spend with it, but overall, it’s a strong debut for what will hopefully become a new franchise from an unexpected collaboration.
Wild Hearts takes place in the world of Azuma, a land inspired by Feudal Japan overrun by a strange beast that locals call the Kemono. Each Kemono is a beast fused with nature and inspired by Eastern mythology. Imagine boars with gardens growing on their back or gorillas with lava coursing through their veins. Wild Hearts’ premise is simple – you’re a hunter who must bring balance to the world of Azuma by slaying the Kemono. It’s a simple premise that provides a reason to go out and hunt the Kemono, but while some of the battles are wildly cinematic, don’t expect Wild Hearts’ story to blow you away.
Then, the premise of the game is similar to games like Monster Hunter or the developers’ own Toukiden series. You’ll travel through Azuma, either solo or with friends, hunting the various Kemono. They’ll drop loot of some sort, you’ll regroup, create better weapons and armour, and go after even bigger Kemono. It’s a simple premise that doesn’t need much shake-up, but Wild Hearts does do things a little bit differently to distinguish itself from its contemporaries.
The most obvious difference is the presence of the Karakuri. In the plot, Karakuri is a mystical force that allows you to summon ancient technology mid-battle to help slay the Kemono. In terms of gameplay, it allows you to build structures during battle, ala Fortnite, to assist you in exploration and combat. Springs to cover great distances, walls to block dashing Kemono. Even giant hammers to deal massive damage. There’s a whole bunch of Karakuri, and more on the way, but it’s the sheer variety of them that opens up the combat to all kinds of approaches that you’d not even be able to consider in other games.
This does give off shades of games like Fortnite, but I wouldn’t let that put you off if that’s never been your thing. Building the Karakuri mid-battle, either for yourself or for friends to utilise, is an incredibly satisfying and easy process. You could technically play without them, but the game would offer a greater challenge than it already does. But why wouldn’t you? The Karakuri have effects that I’m not even sure are intentional but helpful – some can be used to cancel animations and offer a faster flow to the game’s combat.
There are over twenty different types of Karakuri, some of which have multiple uses. It’s a system that really changes how you approach your hunts. Some are simply reconnaissance tools, allowing you to highlight a certain Kemono you might be hunting. Others are highly damaging weapons or bombs. Some even enable your hunter to travel long distances in Death Stranding-esque ziplines or catapults. There’s a lot on offer here to think about before you even consider the weaponry you’ll be using. And that’s before you even begin to fuse them to make even better constructions with wilder effects.
Weapons in Wild Hearts give to you at certain points in the story and feel simpler than what you’d expect from games like Monster Hunter, but that’s not a slight against the game. While combos are arguably simpler than most players would be used to, every weapon in the game is a joy to use and grasp. There are around eight weapons to master in Wild Hearts, each unique, offering different playstyles to ensure most players find something that suits them.
My obvious favourite is the Bladed Wagasa, a fast-bladed umbrella specialising in parrying and aerial combat. But other weapons behave differently to what you’d normally expect – the bow, for example, is all about stacking arrows and then “detonating” them to deal massive damage, rather than just a simple ranged weapon. Some are more technical than others, like the shapeshifting spear, but there’s a wide and varied enough selection.
Your weapons and karakuri are essential, but your preparation is vital to conquering the more difficult hunts of Wild Hearts. Early on in the game, I admittedly wasn’t paying a lot of attention to resistances in my load-outs, but a fire-based enemy absolutely destroyed me and sent me back to the drawing board to better equip myself. It feels a lot more purposeful and highlights just how important it is to get your build right before charging into battle. Something I recommend to anyone reading – make sure you use the food system. Going into a battle well-fed will offer you buffs that can be the difference between success and failure.
Your builds are important, too – as there are numerous sprawling skill trees to drop points into that’ll provide you with different skills to utilise on your hunt. There’s a deceiving amount of flexibility here, as your path through a skill will determine which skills you’ll “inherit.” This means that while two players might be at the same point on the skill tree, they might have inherited different skills and thus have different builds. Essentially, it means more flexibility in how you approach your builds to complement your playstyle. As things get increasingly complex, especially in the post-game, you’ll want to craft suitable enough armour or weapons but also make sure you’re looping around the tree to inherit the best skills. It’s early days, but the meta feels especially strong.
But be warned that Wild Hearts can be a bit of a grind, if not more so, than Monster Hunter. During my lengthy time with the game, I fell victim to numerous bottlenecks where I’d have to go grind a few more hunts to get the gear that I wanted. It’s something that I’m sure fans of games like Monster Hunter are used to, but it does feel a little bit more egregious here. On the other hand, hunts are, on average, shorter than Monster Hunter and the combat is so fun that it’s less of a grinding feeling despite properly being one.
But I’ve yet to talk about the Kemono, the beasts you’ll actually be hunting. Each is beautiful to look at, existing at the intersection of flora and fauna, but they’re all terrifying to battle. The Emberplume, a ferocious peacock, is my favourite, but there are around twenty or so Kemono to battle across Wild Hearts. As mentioned, some of them are a little more cinematic in their approach, but overall, it’s a nice variety. It’s a little bit of a shame to see some of the Kemono recycled towards the end of the story – for example, using a creature with an ice element rather than lava – the variety here is pretty good, even if I am keen, and left wanting more.
Thankfully, the game performs well online. The drop-in and drop-out options are seamless, and you can request help during a hunt with the hold of a button. There are traditional ways to invite people – like travelling to a certain point to summon them or whatever – but being able to do it on-the-fly is a nice touch. Similarly, progress is shared across all players, so you can play the entirety of Wild Hearts with two other friends if you wish. It can be a challenging game, so you’ll want someone by your side, even if the fights scale slightly with more players.
So then, to presentation, Wild Hearts is less consistent. Across my time with both the PC and console versions, there was notable texture pop-in and inconsistent framerate issues during more intense battles, even when playing in performance mode. It’s a shame, too, because the art direction is absolutely stunning – Azuma is a beautiful world filled with vast biomes inspired by the seasons, and the Kemono are beautifully designed. But the further you get into the game, the worse the performance gets. Hopefully, this can be optimised and fixed as time goes by, but for now, if you’re very sensitive to performance issues, then be aware that Wild Hearts isn’t perfect just yet.
I came away from my time with Wild Hearts last year excited to see more. Now, after experiencing the whole thing, I still feel the same. That’s not because Wild Hearts isn’t satisfying; it’s because the world that Koei Tecmo has crafted and the concept of the Kemono still has so much more potential that I hope we’ll get to see with expansions or perhaps even a sequel. But for now, Wild Hearts is the perfect jumping-off point for what will hopefully become a new franchise that spans many years to come.
Wild Hearts' unique Karakuri mechanics and skill systems do just enough to offer a new take on the tried-and-true monster-hunting genre. While there is some inconsistent performance across all platforms, Wild Hearts bewildering bestiary of unique creature more than makes it worth a look.