One of my favorite aspects of a game is the progress that you get to make. Starting out with limited equipment and weaponry, and becoming incredibly powerful by the time the credits roll. Whether that growth comes from a fully fleshed-out arsenal, incredible strength, or the ability to laugh off any attack it’s good to see your progress. Wild Hearts has all of the above and more but does it manage to stand out in the genre?
Wild Hearts does an amazing job of setting the player up with about as much context as they’ll need to understand the world early. The kemono are giant beasts that used to be peaceful and now terrorize the town of Minato, Minato used to be an advanced cultural hub but since the Celestial Threads of the town dried up they’ve been sitting ducks to kemono assault, and the Hunter that is your main character has the power to summon and craft these threads to create unique mechanical creations.
All of the above, including at least two or three introductory hunts, occur within the first two hours of the game setting up not only the state of the world but the motive for you to stick around and help the town and the means to help them . What follows for the story is a series of quests to restore the town to its former glory and to ensure the residents of Minato will survive to see another day. Realistically though, the only thing that the players really do to save the city is going out and kill kemono for their parts.
The story is light and pretty generic, clearly just a vehicle for slaying monsters even as it reaches its peak. The reasons for why new kemono kept showing up throughout the story could always be explained away as they were hunting more Celestial Threads. That I helped fill the town with the very thing the kemono were after made me more confused as to why I did it in the first place.
A portion of the story that was particularly rough was listening to the direction of the English VO. English sentences would be broken up with small bits of Japanese, characters shouting ‘arigatou’ or ‘ikuzo’ with Japanese intonation and pacing to return to English a moment later. It all felt like listening to a 90s dub of an Anime where the writers were finding it difficult to find more dialogue to match mouth flaps.
The kemono, and by extension the hunting of the kemono, is where Wild Hearts rightfully shone. The kemono themselves were a sight to behold, right until the end each kemono reminded me more and more of a creature pulled straight off the screen of a Studio Ghibli film. Some of the late incredible kemono include a fire-summoning peacock and a beautiful agile tiger that creates powerful tornadoes of golden sand. The majesty of the creatures is almost enough to distract you from their ever-incoming attacks.
Some of the kemono return with alternate forms giving them a different range of abilities such as the Kingtusk, a boar with the power of wood, getting a variant known as the Icetusk. Only a few of the kemono have these alternate forms but each isn’t just a simple palette swap, instead, these alternate forms will have enhanced attacks that will have new elements to them. You’ll know the same weak points to go for, but don’t expect anything else to be the same. There are also more difficult variants of each kemono getting the title ‘Mighty’ or ‘Volatile’ but these will just require you to get stronger to defeat.
The fights with the kemono themselves were relatively straightforward. Find it on the map, and deal enough damage to it to fell it. You’ll learn kemono movement patterns and attack tells, quickly dodge roll out of the way of damage and then rush in to attack. Wild Hearts has a good weapon selection and upgrade system, as well as its unique karakuri creations to really set it apart from the rest of the genre.
There are eight weapons that you’ll be able to take on the kemono with. While you start with a basic katana, very early on in the game you can craft five weapons, with the remaining three locked behind progression. Each weapon has a completely different playstyle associated with it. The katana has you leaping in for quick slashes or diving from the sky to leave a large cut in your foe, while the bladed wagasa (umbrella) instead favors a more tactful mind with fast timing required to parry and smack away these giant beasts.
While there are certain side-quests that promote the player alternating between weapons it’s well worth spending some early game testing out the weapons to see which is the best fit for you. Each weapon also has its own expansive upgrade tree where you can not just upgrade its damage, but also any elemental strengths or weaknesses and abilities it might have.
By charting a specific path through the upgrade tree you can also pair together upgrades to come away with an even more powerful weapon. By the end of my time playing the campaign I had a weapon that was not only more likely to remove the limbs of a kemono but an ability from a prior upgrade that I could carry over that would boost my damage after removing a limb. These kinds of synergies are all over the upgrade tree.
The most unique aspect of Wild Hearts comes from the karakuri. Machines that you can create in or out of combat that allow you to get the upper hand in combat, or traverse the world in style. In combat, you can take up to four different karakuri types with you. These are simple devices such as a torch, crate, glider, or springboard. On their own they allow you to add fire effects to your attacks, or launch out of the way of an oncoming charge. Even in world traversal, these simple creations will be your best friend, but by combining them you can transform them into even more powerful objects.
When slashing or parrying just isn’t enough you can conjure large explosives, strong walls, or even a turret that will grapple a kemono for a short amount of time. These creations have a wide variety of uses that force you to constantly be thinking about which of the karakuri you wish to take into combat, and how you might want to create combinations to give you an upper hand in combat. For the Torch’s ability to be used not only to create a giant bomb that a charging enemy could detonate but also for creating a firework that would immediately take a flying kemono out of the sky that’s one that never left my equipment.
By defeating kemono you can also upgrade and create all kinds of other karakuri. This can mean your fire slashes have a better chance of igniting your foe or your fireworks have a larger range, but can also unlock different cosmetic and collection karakuri. Some of the basic materials that you’re required to obtain over the game like Ore for crafting or Fish for cooking can be automatically gathered by creating new karakuri to harvest them. So much of Wild Hearts starts as labor and by the end of the day is automated to the point that you don’t need to worry about those resources.
In Wild Hearts you can also venture into the world as a party of three. Wild Hearts does multiplayer right by allowing players who are at the same point in the story to progress together. There’s no leaving anyone behind, or needing to repeat quests just so everyone has a chance to have that fight happen in “their world”. This multiplayer is further enhanced by the game’s cross-play allowing anyone to team up whether you know each other or not.
Unfortunately however with multiplayer’s reliance on a peer-to-peer connection for all the benefits it might have it can be a very frustrating experience. While playing in a friend’s world, both on PC through the EA App, I was suffering from frequent input drops. When mashing the attack button to get as many sword swings out as possible the drops weren’t noticeable. When needing to combine multiple karakuri to create powerful fusions I was noticing objects being summoned in the wrong order, or not at all.
Wild Hearts Review | Final Verdict
Wild Hearts remains extremely faithful to the formula set about by its predecessors. A village is in danger and it’s up to you and your ability to hunt, slay, and wear the remains of your targets to become more powerful and take on larger creatures. If that sounds like it’s your kind of thing then you’re likely still going to enjoy Wild Hearts. Where Wild Hearts really elevates itself is the karakuri crafting system. Whether as base building blocks or combined into large machines, there’s a karakuri to perfectly complement anyone’s style and to make them feel as large and powerful as the kemono they face.
TechRaptor reviewed Wild Hearts on PC using a copy provided by the Publisher. It is also available on Xbox Series X|S and PlayStation 5