Wild Hearts may sound similar to Monster Hunter and other hunting-style games, but its focus on building gadgets in a world steeped in Japanese folklore and feudal-era Japan helps it stand out. Like Monster Hunter, you track down big game, craft new armor and weapons, and do it again. But this otherworldly take on Old World Japan, full of giant mythical beasts, is an immensely satisfying playground to exist in thanks to excellent weapon play and one important addition: powerful technology you can create on the fly while hunting. .
The game’s kimono, monsters named Wild Hearts like venomous crows, pigs the size of houses, and other animals inspired by the folklore of Japan to kill and kill, quickly hooked me. The variety of weapons, from the katana to the bladed wagasa (basically an umbrella you can lobby with) to the tried-and-true hammer, all feel unique and enjoyable.
But the Karkuri technique is at the center. Your hunter gains the ability to quickly build crates, springs, torches, and campsite equipment. Soon you can stack three springs on top of each other to create a giant hammer to knock the Spinelider out of its reach (or whack a kimono). Kingtask, the massive boar, build enough boxes while it’s charged, and you send it flying back. Flying enemies aren’t scary enough when you can launch fireworks at them.
The karakuri technique adds an enjoyable and frantic aspect to your offense and defense. Rolling and sliding work in a pinch, but you must learn to roll with a spring to survive. Or how about using that spring to propel yourself forward for a slash that will take down a monster. The gadgets at your disposal are not only fun to use but important aspects of the game. One component going wrong could mean a boar on uneven ground. This is extremely frustrating, but thankfully it doesn’t happen very often.
However, another aspect is even more troubling and a constant challenge: the camera. Locking onto an enemy works best, but even then, you can find the camera pointed at your stalker and a few shots when you viciously attack a Kimono that’s out of sight. Wrestling with the camera shouldn’t be such a big problem in a sport that requires so much precision.
The game shines when you can join a friend or two in online missions. When your prey is distracted you have more time to build up a karakuri or go for a katana combo. With that said, Wild Hearts is an enjoyable and manageable solo experience. While playing alone, I ran into a wall with the boar, but switched to a bow, applied some upgrades, crafted new armor, and got past it. Whenever I met a challenging new kimono, new upgrades or weapons usually did the trick. And for better or worse, I could climb temples and trees with a bow to rain arrows hard enough at a monster and stay out of its range. It is cheap, but in some areas you can win through this prolonged strategy of attrition and guerrilla warfare.
It is essential to use your environment while hunting. Players can find new sites through Dragon Pits to build permanent dragon karakuri, such as fast-travel tents, fishing gear, gadgets for finding kimono, food storage, and more. Ziplines, gliders, and fans make travel a breeze, and they last for each subsequent hunt so you can reuse them. These permanent structures give the feel of living in an ancient bamboo forest. An area’s waterfront property becomes a small fishing industry for your hunter to make money. You slowly begin to dominate the hunting grounds, and your progress seems solid.
The environments themselves are wondrous and evocative. Like the bamboo forest above, the diversity and creativity in each area can be distracting. More than once, I got lost on my way to a kimono because I just needed to see what was around a corner, at the top of a hill, or in a cave leading to an old temple. Small pieces of lore are scattered around the areas through scrolls or notes, telling the brief history of a wrecked ship or why the Creepers have reclaimed an entire city and temple. These bits of lore were much more engaging than the game’s story.
Wild Hearts has an extensive story, but it’s mostly forgettable. You help a stoic warrior full of tall tales in search of his next sip of sake and others in Minato City, but it failed to hook me. Ancient technology, a mysterious figure, beasts ravaging the human world – we’ve seen these tropes before.
The gameplay matters most in Wild Hearts – it’s fresh, chaotic, and breathless. It doesn’t re-invent the hunting genre, but it does enough with karakuri gadgets and arresting locations (not to mention the myriad ways to traverse them) to give the genre a fresh and welcome perspective. A stronger story would have been welcome, and the camera leaves a lot to be desired, but Wild Hearts is a deeply engaging experience even with these flaws.