For a long time, “Monster Hunter” had no rivals. Capcom’s action role-playing game carved a distinctive niche in the video game landscape, but as it grew in popularity, more games followed the path it blazed.
Bandai Namco tried to capture some of its magic with the “God Eater” series while Capcom’s title was a clear inspiration behind Phoenix Labs’ free-to-play game “Dauntless.” Although these efforts had their own take on the “Monster Hunter” formula, they felt more like copycats or odes to the iconic series than legitimate competitors.
ENTER ‘WILD HEARTS’
That changes with Omega Force’s “Wild Hearts.” Published by Electronic Arts, this hunting title puts players in the role of a player-created hunter who finds a mysterious object called Karakuri while wandering the land of Azuma. This object is absorbed into the body and soon the hunter is able to summon wooden mechanical contraptions at will.
It’s a long-lost technology, and with it, players have a tool that evens the odds when they hunt for massive creatures called Kemono. These beasts are grounded in real-life animals such as boars, wolves and eagles, but they’re infused with elements from the natural environments, making them look more like something out of “Princess Mononoke.”
As a hunter with this power, players become the champion of Minato Village, a once-flourishing outpost filled with Karakuri relics that no longer work. By helping its inhabitants, players bring life and hope as they fend off Kemono that have taken over the land.
HUGE WORLDS AND KARAKURI
The premise and fantastical Japanese setting give “Wild Hearts” an identity that stands out. Although it’s not as consistently beautiful as “Monster Hunter,” the maps are bigger, stretching out over what seems like acres. Dangerous flora and fauna dot the landscape and roam the grounds. Players will spend hours discovering hidden caves or fresh paths that they may have overlooked.
The size can be intimidating, but thankfully, players have Karakuri to help them traverse the maps. Players can build Flying Vines that create zip lines across ravines or up cliff faces. Players can establish camps for fast travel around key sites. They can even build a station for a Roller vehicle that helps them move around faster. What’s notable is that the objects players build last beyond a mission and that gives them agency to mold the environment in ways that they see fit.
Players can create camps or destroy them. The one governing factor is the Dragon Pits scattered around the map. It limits how much a hunter can build, but as they upgrade their assets, players can build more Karakuri to make their lives easier. It’s a bit of a “Minecraft”-ish element.
FINDING AN EDGE WITH KARAKURI
Karakuri takes on a bigger role in hunts. The Kemono easily outmatch hunters when it comes to size and strength, but the contraptions that players summon even the playing field. They can craft bulwarks that act as a shield so they can imbibe potions without being hurt or they can lay down traps to hold a monster in place so they can pummel them with weapons.
Omega Force does a good job at creating Karakuri tools that become essential to defeating some Kemono. Bulwarks provide a shield from attacks and they can be where players perform powerful jumping attacks. Other times, players will ne need fireworks to daze a flying enemy so that they fall to the ground.
With up to three players battling a creature, players will need to coordinate what Karakuri to build to take down a monster. Players can use bulwarks to funnel a monster into a trap or block their escape route. The tools are surprisingly fun to use and encourage creativity and ingenuity.
The other part of combat is mastering the eight weapons in “Wild Hearts.” They’re a diverse arsenal that players can power up using Kemono parts. Unfortunately, they aren’t as complex or as deep as the ones in “Monster Hunter.” They’re easier to learn, but once players master the few combos, many of them become boring to use as players button-mash the same moves repeatedly.
It’s one of the areas that “Wild Hearts” could have been broadened and polished. I really wished that the Omega Force allowed players to cut combos short in order to slide away. Without this, the controls feel too unresponsive at times.
A WORLD THAT FEELS DYNAMIC
Although “Wild Hearts” combat isn’t exactly stellar, it gets the other parts of the hunting genre right. Omega Force maintains a satisfying gameplay loop of killing monsters for parts and using those pieces to upgrade weapons and armors in order to fight tougher monsters. Alongside that, players can also upgrade their Karakuri via a skill tree. The game rewards those who improve their skill over time.
“Wild Hearts” adds more innovation by evolving the maps over the course of the campaign. As players advance the main story, the world changes as nature-infused beasts wander in and out of habitats. They’re so powerful that they influence the settings, so when an ice-covered Deathstalker visits the Spirit Isle, the tropical paradise turns frigid with snow and frost. Elsewhere, a Kingtusk could bring a springlike environment to the frigid Fuyufasagi Fort.
The impact makes the world feel more alive and dynamic even if the Kemono themselves surprisingly don’t interact with each other.
With that said, “Wild Hearts” infuses the genre with new ideas, and the game establishes itself as legitimate competitor to “Monster Hunter.” The benefit of a rivalry is that it pushes competitors to be better, and with “Wild Hearts” on the scene, “Monster Hunter” will have to up its game if it wants to keep its crown.
3 stars out of 4
Platform: PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X and Series S, PC
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