Wild Hearts: The Kotaku Australia Review

Wild Hearts: The Kotaku Australia Review

I’d like to formally apologise for my review of Wild Hearts taking a million years to come out. It’s a game that my feelings have changed the longer I’ve sat with it, and it’s not even because of the game itself. I shouldn’t like Wild Hearts, but I do.

Wild Hearts is essentially Koei Tecmo and Omega Force’s foray into a genre in which Capcom’s Monster Hunter is considered a beacon, a gold standard. In saying that, it’s hard not to compare Capcom’s work to Koei Tecmo’s. That is, of course, if you’re familiar with both.

I’ve never played a Monster Hunter game at length, and I’m not going to pretend as if I have, either. I gave Monster Hunter World a go when I discovered you can have a little friend that’s a cat. I enjoyed the character customisation, but it didn’t grab me. Looked great, but in the end it wasn’t for me.

Based on that alone, it would probably make sense if I didn’t feel much of anything about Wild Hearts. And hey, normally I mightn’t! But alas, I took on the task of reviewing it for this website, so I did my darndest with it and had a pretty good time in the process.

Editor’s note: Proud of u — David.

If you’re in the crowd of “Why would you review this game if you’re not familiar with Monster Hunter and games like it?” I’ll give you this: Nobody else put their hand up to review it, and it intrigued me! If you want an opinion from somebody who’s a big Monster Hunter head, I’m sure you’ll be able to find it literally anywhere. It’s a popular game!

The context here is vital because I’m probably not going to make as many references to Monster Hunter as one might expect. The developers of Wild Hearts have said themselves that their game is influenced by the Capcom series, so that’s already obvious. All I’ll say is, compared to the little bit of Monster Hunter World that I’ve played, Wild Hearts definitely sets itself apart.

Kemono Hunter

Pretty! Very pretty and beautiful! (Image: EA / Koei Tecmo)

Alright! Now that all that is out of the way, let’s get into what I liked about Wild Hearts.

Wild Hearts throws you into the world of Azuma, a land inspired by feudal Japan that features beautifully-crafted buildings and vast blooming areas of nature. In these lands, you’ll find the kemono: large, sometimes even giant beasts that may look like animals you’ve seen before, but clearly have infused with the world around them. They now, in turn, influence the world around them.

First things first, Azuma is pretty. I found Wild Hearts to be visually breathtaking. From the in-depth character customisation that goes into sweet, sweet detail to the flora-infused fauna that you’re tasked to bring down, everything just looks so lovely. Even the detailed designs of the karakuri and buildings made me go, “Wow!” I love Azuma.

I’m a real sucker for a good character customisation tool. I’ve been spoiled by RPGs and life simulators, and now I actively keep character customisation in mind when I come into a game that doesn’t put you in the shoes of an already-established character. I found Wild Hearts to have just the right amount of customisation to do two things: make something beautiful, or make something ugly as hell. This is good to me.

wild hearts
Beautiful, horrible hog. (Image: EA / Koei Tecmo)

Then there’s the kemono, which come in the forms of giant rats, giant hogs, giant wolves, and giant deer bunnies. Those last ones are my favourites. I love them deeply. As somebody who loves to pet animals in games, being able to pet non-threatening giant creatures was a real treat. Then there are the ones that you actually have to slay, and they’re a whole other story.

Heart’s a mess

Point blank, period, while playing Wild Hearts, it immediately became obvious to me that this game is made to be played with others. When I started it, my PlayStation account was deciding not to link with my EA account for some odd reason, so I took that as a sign that I was meant to play the game alone. I soon learned that it seemed like nobody is really meant to play Wild Hearts alone.

I straight-up abandoned it for a bit. This huge fucking hog kept sending me to the shadow realm. I didn’t want to play anymore and found myself wondering why I even agreed to give this one a go. It wasn’t until one of our Kotaku AU readers Solaris Wesson (shouts out!) actually hit me up after I mentioned the game on the Kotaku Australia Podcast.

They told me a few things that immediately made my experience way better. Firstly, I linked my PlayStation account to my EA account on the PlayStation website rather than through the QR code that the game provides, and that allowed me to go online and have randoms join my game. It immediately made the game less infuriating, and I was finally having a good time with the actual monster-hunting aspect. That being said, starting off alone definitely got me used to the system, so maybe it was a good thing.

Then there was the damage drop-off with the bow. So in Wild Hearts, there’s a myriad of weapons that you can use when fighting kemono. I decided to stick with the bow for a few reasons. Firstly, I could stay the fuck away from the giant creatures trying to kill me. Secondly, the bow has a very cool system of one type of arrow firing lots of little shots that cover the enemy and the other type of arrow firing one big shot that blows all those little shots up. Big damage.

The thing is, if you’re too far away from the beast, there’s a considerable damage drop-off. When I say considerable, I mean shots that are normally worth 15 damage are now worth 1 damage if you’re too far. Maybe I missed where the game said this, but it was pretty annoying to have to find it out from outside the game!

That being said, once I got my head around that little point and then had people around me to help fight the kemono, my experience of the game changed dramatically. Not only is it fun as hell with friends (or strangers!), but it feels like everybody is doing their part. You, the other hunters, and… the tsukumo.

The tsukumo are my friends

That’s my little friend! (Image: EA / Koei Tecmo)

Oh, how I love the tsukumo. Those round little guys are so important to me. At first, I thought they were simply funny little friends. However, they actually end up being supremely helpful, especially if you’re making the brave decision to go it alone. Sometimes they’ll attack the kemono, sometimes they’ll distract the kemono, and sometimes they drop karakuri thread to help you build. They’re great. I love them a lot.

Speaking of karakuri thread, this is where Wild Hearts really sets itself apart from Monster Hunter and, one could say, even leans into Fortnite territory. That’s not a read, that’s not a critique. It’s actually a very interesting choice that I think does wonders to make Wild Hearts feel like its own thing.

The karakuri structures that you build in the game work in a variety of different ways. Some of them exist to set up camp (tent, campfire, drying rack, smithing station), some of them exist to move around the world easier (flying vine, glider, roller), and some of them exist to help you fight kemono (bulwark, pounder, star bomb).

I know this is such a weird thing to bring up, but I really loved the visual designs of the karakuri. They felt like this really special fusion of feudal-era design and futuristic, which was very pleasing to me. When it comes to their use in the game, I found myself constantly building stuff during battles once I got the hang of it. At first, it feels a little clunky, but then you get used to it and it rocks.

So, what don’t I like, then?

I needed more heart, actually

wild hearts
Gorgeously designed, but not very well written. (Image: EA / Koei Tecmo)

I care very little about the story of Wild Hearts. The baseline plot point of “big nature-fused creatures are taking over the world” was enough to get me interested, but I found what came after it to be pretty meh. It didn’t ruin the game for me, but it definitely didn’t leave me wanting to hear from any and every NPC. The NPCs are actually pretty forgettable! The weird mish-mash of English with random Japanese words thrown in felt a little goofy, if I’m honest!

And yes, even though I said earlier on that I was having a great time with it once I got people to play with me, it bothered me a little that the game feels almost torturous to play alone. That considered, I may very well just be bad at video games. But even if I was, it felt like there could’ve been some enemy scaling so that playing alone is a viable option, rather than the worst option. Sometimes people want to play games on their own!

In terms of performance, I played Wild Hearts on PlayStation 5 and didn’t run into any performance issues. The only technical issue I really fell into was my PlayStation and EA accounts not linking at first, which is literally the only way you can play online. While I’m aware that the PC version had performance issues, I didn’t have any problems in my playthrough.

So what’s the verdict? I’m the kind of person that loves a good story in a game, doesn’t care much for open worlds, prefers to play games alone, and has never played a Monster Hunter game fully before. In theory, I shouldn’t like Wild Hearts. But oddly, I do.

Wild Hearts, while having a real take-it-or-leave-it story and a somewhat irritating reliance on co-op and multiplayer help, is a really lovely-looking monster-hunting game filled with unique creatures and cracking contraptions. It’s a game that rewards you once you get the hang of it and looks good doing it.

As somebody who’s enjoyed Wild Hearts, I’m finding myself wanting to give Monster Hunter another try again. If you’re a Monster Hunter fan, I’d recommend giving Wild Hearts a go! It’ll keep you busy until the next Monster Hunter comes out.

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