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Wild Hearts Review

A Monster Hunter-like That Has Heart, But No Spirit

Garrick Durham-Raley Posted:
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Have you ever wondered what a Monster Hunter game would be like if the developers of Dynasty Warriors tried to make one? Yeah, me neither. Yet that’s precisely what Omega Force and Koei Tecmo sought out to do in the unabashed-imitation that is WILD HEARTS. Published as an EA Originals title, WILD HEARTS tries to emulate the success of Monster Hunter by putting their own spin on things. But unlike the spinning claws of Zhang He amidst hundreds of Yellow Turbans, it never quite managed to hook me during the 38 hours I spent with it. Here is our review of WILD HEARTS.

The Wide World of WILD HEARTS

WILD HEARTS copies the Monster Hunter formulae to a T. It offers interesting monster designs, mission-based hunting quests, an elaborate weapon upgrade system, and resplendent outfits resembling the selfsame monsters they’re crafted from. Its story is based in a fantasy land called Azuma, which largely resembles Feudal-era Japan. What really sets WILD HEARTS apart from its Monster Hunter inspiration is the ability to construct on-the-go mechanisms, or karakuri, during hunts that can help navigate the environment or even set-up devastating attacks when utilized. It’s not entirely unlike constructing ramps in Fortnite to gain an elevation advantage. Unfortunately, the karakuri isn’t enough to elevate WILD HEARTS to the heights of success that it strives for.

When you’re not out in one of the four season-themed zones hunting the kemono, or monsters, you’ll spend a lot of time in the hub town Minato. Like the kemono and karakuri – everything in Minato is rife with Japanese influence. The people in this town also frequently interject Japanese into the conversation, which would be a fantastic way to learn a new language if it wasn’t for the fact that they’re almost entirely one-word interjections like “wow” or the occasional two-worded “thank you” (technically still just one word in Japanese). Perhaps these one-liners wouldn’t be so apparent if the voice actors didn’t all sound like they were being forced to enunciate their English. I will admit that I very quickly changed the spoken language to Japanese in the settings because of this.

When you’re not chatting up the locals and learning new vocabulary, there are also a plethora of side quests to take on. Unlike Monster Hunter, there's no billboard to undertake quests. Instead, these can be selected through the map in the main menu once you spoken to the requester. There are additional side-objectives given by the Fisherman Guild that reward extra coin and materials. They’re often your usual run-of-the-mill fetch-type quests, like collect 15 wood or hunt 2 kemono, but they eventually progress into more interesting activities such as trying out the different weapon types for a certain number of hunts. It might seem forced, but it’s nice to see WILD HEARTS try to promote dabbling with the other weapons. You never know what you might end up vibing with unless you try it.

Karakuri Krafting

Karakuri, which literally translates to ‘mechanisms’, are probably the most interesting elements that WILD HEARTS introduces, and certainly offers the most versatility in terms of changing-up what would any other way be a repetitive gameplay loop. As the hero, you possess an ancient knowledge that allows you to craft karakuri in the blink of an eye using a mystical resource known as ‘Karakuri Thread’. Which, as it turns out, can be gathered from not-so-mystical trees and rocks. There’s a limit to how much thread can be carried at once, so topping off your stock in-between – and oftentimes in the middle of – battles will be crucial to avoiding dangerous situations.

The karakuri split into three different types: basic, fusion, and dragon. The basic karakuri include stackable crates that hunters can leap onto and jump off for special falling attacks, as well as for navigating up tall cliffs around the four different zones. There’s also a spring that launches hunters forward, and a glider that can be crafted even mid-air for safe landings of an otherwise fatal plunge. New types of karakuri are learned throughout the story, and some missions even require specific karakuri to be assigned in the menu before starting.

Fusion karakuri are combinations of the basic types to produce an altogether new construct, such as stacking six crates to make a bulwark that stops a kemono’s reckless charging attack. Often, new fusion karakuri are learned in the heat of battle while facing off against a particular kemono as it uses a special attack. WILD HEARTS takes this opportunity to effectively slow-down time like a Quick-Time Event, and instructs on building a new fusion karakuri to counter the oncoming attack. It’s a neat practical-use teaching opportunity that aids in the success of first-time hunts against new kemono monsters, and one where it actively promotes utilizing that new skill in real-time.

The Dragon karakuri are special, permanent structures that are more akin to base-building in the survival genre, like in Valheim. You can set up a Camp karakuri nearly anywhere in a zone, which acts as both a starting point for launching missions and a respawn location in case you die. Another permanent structure is the Hunting Tower, which scans a large radius around it and marks any nearby kemono roaming around to hunt. There is an entire skill tree for learning new Dragon karakuri as well as enhancing some of the basic and fusion ones – like making the crates and the bulwark able to withstand more damage. Additionally, several types of cooking karakuri can be learned, which let you utilize the abundance of natural resources found throughout a zone in order to make dishes with a temporary stat-increase. This system alone can get pretty in-depth, like turning vegetables into vinegar with the pickling jar, and then using that vinegar to spice up some meat cubes.

But my personal favorite karakuri is the Flying Vine, a deployable zip-line that makes getting around easy. You can set up a veritable network of Flying Vine karakuri to zip around on. That said, there is a limit on how many Dragon karakuri can be set up as they’re dependent on a source of energy from ‘Dragon Pits’ scattered across a zone. Once accessed, these Dragon Pits can be upgraded using materials found both in the environment and from slain kemono, essentially creating a money-sink (or material-sink in this instance) for loot that could elseways be put toward crafting weapons and armor. But once installed, these Dragon karakuri persist throughout the entirety of your campaign. So you'll always have a home away from home.

Kemono? Bah, Kemono!

The monsters, or Kemono, in WILD HEARTS comes from the Japanese word for ‘monster’ (bakemono) and even borrow characteristics from Japanese mythical creatures, such as the Ragetail that spins and whips its tail around like the weaselly yokai kamaitachi. The elemental properties that they exude go further than Monster Hunter though, as kemono can alter or modify the environment to suit their nature, such as the Ragetail sprouting a gigantic peach tree that will knock hunters back or the Fumebeak that spits acid and coats the ground with purple poison puddles.

There’s a total of 21 kemono in total – a number significantly less than that of the most recent Monster Hunter Rise, which debuted with 34 at its launch and has since nearly doubled that. Many of which, like in Monster Hunter Rise, are sub-species of the same kemono – making the number of unique kemono closer to a dozen. While these kemono are fun and interesting to hunt down initially, the lack of variety coupled with a slow-paced narrative make for a tedious tasklist of needing to repeatedly fight the same enemies.

Similarly to Monster Hunter, the kemono will eventually evolve into what is essentially a “high rank” equivalent through story progression. These ‘mighty’ kemono aren’t any different than their “low-rank” counterparts outside of buffed stats to make them hit harder and survive longer, often drawing out fights to twice the length of their previous counterparts. It would have been nice to see some new movesets, but it appears that those were reserved for their respective sub-species instead. There are some additional sub-species that appear as part of the end-game which require farming tokens from zone-specific kemono in order to unlock. These ‘Deeply Volatile’ kemono are the hardest fights in WILD HEARTS and require a full team of 3 to take down, but offer rewards in the way of powerful talismans that offer passive bonuses when equipped – much like ‘charms’ in Monster Hunter World.

Weapons and Armor: The Real End-Game

Defeating these ‘volatile’ and ‘deeply volatile’ kemono are only possible with the right gear, however. After all, it wouldn’t be a Monster Hunter WILD HEARTS game without powerful weapons and armor to back you up, right? In WILD HEARTS there are a total of 8 different weapon types, 3 of which are locked behind story progression. The first five you start out with are the Katana, Nodachi, Bow, Maul, and Bladed Wagasa. After completing chapter 2, there are also the Hand Cannon, Claw Blade, and Karakuri Staff that become available. The Katana is much like the Longsword from Monster Hunter, but after building up the gauge the weapon can transform into a deadly whip-blade, hitting multiple times per attack. Not only is this the starting weapon you’re forced to use initially, but it’s a darned good option for end-game as well.

The Nodachi is essentially the Great Sword. The Maul is the Hammer. The Hand Cannon is, contrary to its name, a massive two-handed cannon. The Claw Blade is fast and features a claw to hook onto kemono and swing around. The Karakuri Staff is an interesting transforming weapon that turns from a staff, into tonfa, into a fuma shuriken, into a spear, and when fully charged up can turn into a gigantic heavy-hitting greatsword. Meanwhile, the Bow is… well, it’s a Bow. But it’s the Bladed Wagasa that stands out specifically as a new weapon type without comparison to Monster Hunter.

This traditional Japanese umbrella features retractable sharp blades that slice into kemono the way that only Japanese steel can do: with style. I felt like a murderous Mary Poppins hungry for blood as I twirled through the air and stabbed down with the umbrella, then spun away and constructed a stack of crate karakuri to leap off of and slowly descend safely outside of the kemono’s retaliatory attacks. It’s both a hilarious addition to the roster, as well as a great nimble alternative to both the Nodachi and Maul’s slow-going attacks.

Upgrading weapons gets even more crazy and was truly a joy to experiment with. The weapon upgrade trees in WILD HEARTS don’t follow a strict branching path – with one weapon eventually branching off to make different versions, which then can branch off further. Instead, the upgrade paths behave more like a spider-web, with some branches crossing over or even letting you go opposite a branch’s path. It’s like a nodal structure where each upgrade has its own unique passive abilities and interchangeable ones. If you upgrade a Nodachi with an attack boost for instance, you can upgrade to another node and inherit that bonus. It lets you play with optimization by circumventing the traditional pathways and pick-and-choosing which bonuses you want to carry over. It’s an ingenious system that has the potential to produce insane customization options, especially if any future content updates add new weapon nodes.

Sadly, it’s the armor variety – or lack thereof – that brings down WILD HEARTS’s entire gear-hunting game. There’s a smattering of default armor sets to choose from, which essentially double when “high-rank” kemonos are included, but the armor customization pales in comparison to the weapons. Eventually in the story, armor sets can be upgraded to either “human” or “kemono” aspected, which offer a boost in defensive stats and unlock additional abilities depending on the aspect. However, my gripe with these upgrades is that most armor sets already lean towards one or the other, so there’s really no diversity in trying to craft the “human” version of a set that has “kemono”-locked abilities. Some sets do have bonuses for either pathway, but I feel that these should be included on every armor set so that there was some conflict and options for deciding which path to take. In the end, I just chose to wear whichever armor had the highest defense rating, but I feel like Omega Force could have done so much better for armor sets.

Post Launch Plans

That said, there are two upcoming content updates for WILD HEARTS in the near future. The first drops in March, which adds both weapon and armor variations as well as more high-difficulty quests to undertake. The April update includes new kemono and ‘Deeply Volatile’ kemono, even more weapon and armor variations, new karakuri, a weapon and equipment enhancement system, and additional quests. These all sound great, but I can’t help but wonder if this wasn’t all planned content for the base game already. Given the cadence of back-to-back content updates, and the lackluster kemono quantity at launch, it feels like EA and Koei Tecmo forced WILD HEARTS to launch earlier than the developers at Omega Force would’ve wanted. It makes sense when you consider both Koei Tecmo’s and EA’s fiscal years end in March, giving this full-priced title some time to garner sales before they have to report earnings.

This becomes even more likely when you take into account the state that WILD HEARTS has launched in. Since the beginning of the EA Play trial of WILD HEARTS leading up to its launch, I have encountered a slew of optimization and performance issues on PC. Both my laptop with an RTX 3070, and my desktop PC with an RTX 2080 Super, struggle to run WILD HEARTS at a consistent 60 frames per second. Even at the absolute lowest settings. The only effective setting that improved performance was using the built-in ‘Upscaler’ option, which reduced the resolution by at least 50% and still struggled with frame-rate issues. My experience Online has been even worse, often dropping my framerate to the 20s and 30s for no reason. Additionally, for some reason playing Online also drastically reduces the game speed, often making it look and feel like I’m playing in slow-motion.

Final Thoughts

There was an update that just recently went live on Tuesday, February 21 – 5 days after launch – that addressed a CPU throttling issue and other performance bugs, but I haven’t seen any increase in performance on my end. I am glad to see that Omega Force is at least hearing and responding to feedback about the state of WILD HEARTS if nothing else, but sadly this is just feels like another example of being rushed to release way before it’s ready.

Although WILD HEARTS puts up a valiant effort to capitalize on the success that Monster Hunter has found in the West these past few years, it still leaves a lot to be desired. The most disappointing aspect is how bogged down it is with technical issues that prevent a seamless online co-op experience. A lot of the joy in hunting monsters is being able to do it with friends. Despite featuring cross-platform play, I preferred to play WILD HEARTS alone rather than be bothered with the slow-downs that I encountered. It shows great promise with their weapon types and the upgrading mechanics, but ultimately WILD HEARTS feels like an unfinished product. I hope that the upcoming content updates can turn that around. In the meantime, I’d look elsewhere for getting that next hunt in.

6.0 Okay
  • Fun and Deep Weapon Customization
  • Building and Implementing Karakuri is Fun
  • Lackluster Armor Upgrade System
  • A Lacking Diversity of Kemono Monsters
  • Rough Optimization and Performance Issues


Garrick Durham-Raley

Garrick is a doting father of two and devoted husband. When he's not busy playing Final Fantasy XIV, he can usually be found drifting between a dozen different MMOs. His favorite game of all time is Diablo II and he is trepidatiously excited for Diablo IV.