Back in October we gave you a small taste of what you had to look forward to in the most recent endeavor from Koei Tecmo and Omega Force. Now we’re back to give you the final verdict after all we’ve been through in the beautiful land of Azuma. Wild Hearts is a new kind of hunting game that breathes life into a genre that’s been dominated more or less by a single franchise. In this game, you’ll harness ancient technology that you’ll need to master as you fight to restore balance across the region.
No time is spared throwing you into the fray as you’re quickly put face-to-face with a massive ice-covered wolf called a Deathstalker. Your interaction with the beast proves almost fatal, with matters made even worse when the ground below you gives way. But your life is spared when a small seed is woven into your soul, giving you access to a mystical power that allows you to tap into the essential essence of the world, the Celestial Thread. The Celestial Thread is a life-sustaining technology that has many uses across every facet of life in Azuma, both for its human inhabitants and the Kemono that roam the land. These nature-infused beasts used to live peacefully, but are now on a rampage as their source of the Celestial Thread is being mysteriously disrupted.It’s your job, of course, to figure out the mystery and save the day.
Every part of Wild Hearts pays homage to the days of feudal Japan and Japanese folklore. In Japanese, kemono means “beast”. If we extend this to bakemono, we have a preternatural creature, a creature that is beyond normal or natural. The Kemono in Wild Hearts are nature-infused preternatural beasts; they have undergone a unique evolution, and are able to modify their environments using the Celestial Thread to suit their needs, and to help them fight against the hunters. Kemono come in all kinds of shapes and sizes, from a small squirrel with berries on its head to a massive — and I mean MASSIVE — rock bear. Kemono are divided into size classes, but I feel like one is missing because we go from Giant Kemono to Small Kemono with no Medium Kemono option. Once you see them, you’ll see what I mean when I say the Kingtusk and the Ragetail do not belong in the same category. The Earthbreaker deserves a category all on its own.
Fighting the Kemono will feel familiar to those who’ve ventured into the monster hunting genre before. Each beast has its own special attacks and mannerisms that you’ll have to learn and navigate, but after you’ve gone a couple rounds with each one, you’ll start to be able to predict what their next move will be. When a Kingtusk is about to charge at you, it’ll start clawing at the ground, and when it stands up on its hind legs, you better not be beneath it when it comes back down. Some attacks are harder to avoid than others, but that’s why you have to remember to utilize the different Karakuri at your disposal.
The Celestial Thread isn’t just a life force, it is also what powers the technology around Azuma. However it has sat mostly dormant for years because no one has the power to wield it, until now. Back to our Japanese culture lesson, karakuri are mechanical devices that assist with performing a task. There are also Karakuri dolls, which are mechanized dolls that were popular in 17th to 19th century Japan. In Wild Hearts, you’ll use the Karakuri to go toe-to-toe with the Kemono as you shape it into different tools, weapons, and other devices that will give you an edge in combat.
Basic Karakuri are helpful tools that will assist you in exploring hunting areas as well as trying to avoid dangerous attacks by the Kemono. You can craft crates to help you scale a cliff, springs to launch you out of harm’s way, and so much more. Fusion Karakuri merge different Basic Karakuri together to create something that offers protection, such as a Bulwark to prevent the Kingtusk from charging at you, or stunning a flying Kemono with a Firework. Dragon Karakuri are specialized weapons and devices that draw on Dragon Pit energy to build. These include the Flying Vine, which is a zipline Karakuri that helps you to bridge large gaps, and the Training Bear, which allows you to practice using a new weapon before putting it to use against a Kemono.
Dragon Pits are found throughout each region of Azuma and can be upgraded multiple times, allowing you to craft more and more Dragon Karakuri. It is very important to find and upgrade the Dragon Pits for one big reason, respawn points. Among the available Dragon Karakuri is the tent, which is where you will respawn if you are defeated by a Kemono. They can be placed all over the map, giving you the ability to fast travel around the area in pursuit of your quarry. I recommend placing a tent next to as many Ancient Tree Wells as you can. Trees around the map glow from the Celestial Thread. You can place wells at these trees that will then refill your healing water. Place a tent, campfire, workbench, and ingredient processing rack in as many of these places as you can so that way you’ll always be prepared to launch back into the fight.
Karakuri can be unlocked in a few different ways. On the battlefield, you may be suddenly struck by inspiration (indicated by a quick-time-event series of button presses) and unlock a new Karakuri in the heat of the moment or after defeating a Kemono, you’ll be notified of a new Karakuri available to you. There is also a Karakuri tree where you can unlock additional Karakuri as well as Karakuri skills (increased durability, etc.) and various skills like the ability to carry more healing water. The tree can be accessed by hitting your map button and then going to the next tab on the right on the screen that pops up. From here, you’ll be able to view all of the Karakuri and skill possibilities, of which there are so many more than I expected, with brief descriptions of each as well as a guide to crafting each Karakuri. You unlock Karakuri and skills in the tree by redeeming the corresponding amount of the indicated currency that you’ll earn during your fights with the Kemono. The Karakuri that I am most excited to unlock that I somehow haven’t yet discovered is the Roller, which allows the user to traverse great distances quickly and can also be launched into a Kemono. Make sure you’re not in it when you do that, though.
While Dragon Karakuri rely on Dragon Pit energy to be crafted, the Fusion and Basic Karakuri rely on Karakuri Threads, a material that you have to farm around the map and reload after using. Various rocks and trees can be struck to get Karakuri Thread, but sometimes those will be running thin, especially if your fight with a Kemono is going a little long. If you’re like me, you fumble crafting your Karakuri and it goes to waste as it’s quickly destroyed by a well-placed body slam.
You have to stand in place to craft Fusion Karakuri, otherwise you end up placing random crates, springs, and torches everywhere that do nothing to block the Kingtusk charge or smash a Kemono in the face. Kemono sometimes get smart, too. If you’re using the same Karakuri repeatedly it may be able to get out of your traps or around your barriers unaffected. Although, I have found it remarkably easy to spam a 3-crate Karakuri tower with a particular bow attack over and over again.
But not all is lost if you can’t find a tree or a rock to smash for some threads, as long as you have Tsukumo! If you tend to go down the collecting rabbit hole, listen up, you’ve got something else to collect. Tsukumo are spherical creatures scattered all over Azuma. You should befriend as many of them as you can find, because the more of them you collect, the more you can upgrade them. Tsukumo act as your AI companion in solo play. They can attack, provide healing, and help you recover Karakuri Threads. At those campfires you’ve placed all over the place, you can enhance Tsukumo’s Attack, Defense, Assist, and Threading capabilities, which means Tsukumo will heal you more, help do more damage when it can, give you more threads, and even increases how many threads you are able to carry.
When you’re running, gliding, and zip-lining around Azuma, listen for the clinking cogs of a jumping Tsukumo to find them. I found some stuck behind a wall of vines, but you can free these little buddies by placing a torch close by and striking the vine with the fire effect it puts on your weapon. You’ll see the Tsukumo you’ve found at your camps and they’ll also operate any Hunting Tower Karakuri you place, which helps you to find your target Kemono.
You’ll have quite the arsenal of weapons at your disposal to start with, each basically acting as a ‘class’ type. The Katana is your standard swordsman class, though with an obvious Samurai flair, you’ll slash your way through any foe. The Nodachi sword is like a Tachi sword with a very broad blade. There’s also a standard bow which, like I mentioned before, can be used to cheese your way through a fight when paired with a stack of crates. You have a large hammer called a Maul, which I feel is very aptly named. Probably the most fascinating of the starting weapon options, however, is the Bladed Wagasa, a parasol with blades fixed around the edge of the canopy. The Wagasa is by far my favorite weapon, being the most elegant and deadly weapon available. Ok, maybe it doesn’t do the most damage, but the attacks you can perform with this crazy umbrella are absolutely insane. Pairing this up with the Karakuri results in truly devastating attacks. There are additional weapons that you’ll unlock later in the game, but I’ll leave those as a mystery for you to discover.
All of the weapons have a crafting tree, much like what the Monster Hunter games use. You get materials from your excursions and fights with the Kemono that you can then use to create a ton of different variations of each weapon type, including different elemental types. On top of that, some of the weapon upgrades come with special “skills” of a sort that will boost certain aspects of battle. There are hundreds, and I mean hundreds, of possibilities as the trees aren’t linear. The branches are all interconnected, so you could craft an absolute abomination of a Wagasa. With as many hours as I put into Wild Hearts, I barely even cracked the surface on all of the available options.
Armor crafting is quite simple, on the other hand. There is a different set of armor for each of the Kemono you defeat. Some have elemental resistances for when you’re going up against critters like Deathstalker and the Lavaback, but you don’t need to think as much about your crafting.
Combat can be a bit challenging at times, especially when a Kemono becomes enraged. The Deathstalker in particular gave me quite some trouble. Thankfully, you have the option to invite friends to fight alongside you. Wild Hearts supports up to 3-person co-op play and is also cross-platform. You can join up with other players in a few different ways: at campfires you are able to search for an online session for a particular hunt, you can request assistance at the start of a new hunt, or you can join someone else’s hunt from one of the many portals lit up around each area. It may seem like it’s going to be confusing and stressful, as it has been for other entries in the genre, however it couldn’t be any simpler than what’s stated. Just click a couple buttons, and you’re ready to party! However, your Tsukumo will not join you on co-op hunts, so you’ll need to be more careful when deploying Karakuri and carefully monitor your health. When in co-op play, you’re not out when your health reaches zero — teammates are able to revive you. However, if you get downed multiple times, the timer for your team to revive you is shorter. If you get fully KO’d, you’ll be sent back to camp and you’ll have to trudge your way back to the fight.
The land of Azuma is a wondrous sight to behold, with lush forests, steep canyons, summer beaches and icy peaks for the Kemono to call home. Perched on an island just off the mainland is Minato, the bustling city that will act as your home throughout your time in Azuma. Here you’ll get to know more of the colorful cast of characters, like Natsume, your blacksmith, and Suzuran, the scholar who helps conduct research on recent events. Starting off you’re not able to use Karakuri in Minato, but thankfully you gain the ability later on because Minato isn’t small. Minato stretches from the ocean all the way to the top of a cliff, and you’ll be all over the city as you receive your orders, check in on townsfolk, and prepare for your next hunt. You have a house all your own where you can rest between bouts and enhance Tsukumo. There are even training grounds for you to experiment with different weapons and Karakuri.
Minato is by far one of my favorite ‘home’ towns in any game. The traditional Japanese architecture and the layout make the city fun to explore. The game itself is so well designed, from the buildings to the landscapes to all the creatures and Kemono, and you can view it in all its splendor from the top of the closest mountain or cliff.
The game performs beautifully on any platform (we had the opportunity to check the game out on PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X, and PC) with minimal disruptions, no pop-in, fast load times, and gorgeous lighting and textures. Never once did we experience any crashes or severe lag spikes.
An easy trap for monster hunting games to fall into is repetitiveness. You go back and forth to the same location and fight the same foe over and over again because you need to grind out the next gear set or gather materials you just can’t get to drop. Some monster hunting games force you to go back to town before embarking on the next fight. While some of your fights will have you going back to Minato, you’re not always teleported there automatically. Sometimes you can continue wandering and fighting additional Kemono and gathering resources, or collecting all of the Tsukumo. Most of the hunts aren’t timed either, so you’re free to roam about for a while before you actually head off to your target, though the game will definitely remind you of why you’re there so as to move the story along.
One thing I wish was actually in the game was an actual quest log, particularly for active quests and townsfolk requests. Aside from when you open your map and look for the main quest marker, there’s really no indication (that I’ve seen) of objectives to be completed. Sometimes your main objective disappears from the screen, which is probably to keep the HUD cleared so you can see more around you, so having a quest log or screen would come in handy here.
Accessibility is always on people’s minds when checking out games nowadays. Wild Hearts has a good amount of accessibility options available, including different input support for those who prefer controllers when playing on PC and adjusting text size on-screen for dialog and (some) menu text. That feature came in handy for me because I can barely read what’s on the screen directly in front of me. And I’m trying to write a review right now! Unfortunately, the text size adjustment didn’t apply to all text, so I occasionally had to get up from the couch to stand in front of the television to see what the description of an item was or what the notification was that popped up.
Wild Hearts brings a uniqueness to the monster hunting genre that keeps the experience feeling refreshing. The Karakuri and different weapon options are very fun to experiment with and present interesting combat opportunities. Overall, Wild Hearts capitalizes on what made monster hunting games so much fun in the first place while still giving fans of the genre a new reason to get excited and dive back into the fight.
- Easy drop-in/drop-out co-op with cross-platform
- Game performs beautifully on all available platforms
- Karakuri and weapons are fun and exciting to learn and use
- Game doesn't feel repetitive
- No actual quest log (unless I just missed it)