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Wild Hearts Review: A Fine Blade That Only Needs A Little Sharpening

EDITORS' RATING : 8 / 10
Pros
  • Building mechanics add a unique strategic twist to monster hunting
  • Fully immersed in its feudal Japanese setting
  • The claw blade is everything
Cons
  • Camera creates some fatal flaws
  • Need for precision can seesaw from rewarding to frustrating
  • Technical issues prevent the concept from reaching its full potential

An Xbox Series S code was provided to ZaaZ for this review. "Wild Hearts" is available now for PS5, Xbox Series X|S, and PC.

The monster hunting genre can be an elusive prey. The alpha of the species is no doubt Capcom's "Monster Hunter" due to its years of refinement and addicting cycle. The genre was initially a niche time-sink as early "Monster Hunter" trained fans to love repeated grinding and developing muscle memory for the toughest foes. Lately, in an effort to appeal to a wider audience, the focus has been on quality-of-life streamlining and exciting new mechanics. "Wild Hearts" infringes on this territory by trying to both introduce novel ideas and bring back the demanding challenge of old school hunting.

Hunting is a fading job in the feudal Japanese region of "Wild Hearts." Fearsome creatures called Kemono dominate the wildlands with their ability to change the ecosystem. The last bastion of hunters is Minato, a coastal city where clockwork-style gadgets called Karakuri once fended off Kemono and added daily convenience. But Karakuri are powered by celestial energy, which mysteriously eroded from Minato some years ago. Enter the player character. Your hunter gains the ability to magically conjure Karakuri, which arms you to take on Kemono that have now entered the realm of legend.

Gameplay-wise, this plays out as quick building like "Fortnite" while also minding your positioning like "Monster Hunter." There are many moments where that all clicks — imagine summoning a boxy lantern that opens up into a helicopter just before a giant rock ape shoots lava at you, then plummeting down with a flying sword slash. Yet many other times, the most fearsome monster in "Wild Hearts" is the camera.

Building a better world

"Wild Hearts" expertly establishes its ancient, intruiging, and deadly world within 20 minutes. After meeting the plant/animal fusion Kemono, a masked stranger appears at your campfire speaking of ominous future events and your potential role in them. This stranger, and many others you'll encounter in Minato, speak with Japanese accents in the English dub. They'll even throw in a few Japanese phrases for good measure. It does wonders for immersion and stands in stark contrast to the majority of games that will use feudal Japanese settings but have the actors speak with anime-style enunciation, such as Octopath Traveler 2.

There's gameplay reasons to get invested in the world too. The Karakuri devices you create allow you to zip-line around the map, prepare food for stat buffs, or erect a wall to rebuff a charging Kemono. Some even stay around after a hunt's end, becoming permanent fixtures. There's a sense of returning investments as you build your own system and experiment with different Karakuri combinations. Karakuri are the secret weapon that sets "Wild Hearts" apart from other would-be "Monster Hunter" rivals.

In fact, "Wild Hearts" is at its best when it isn't trying to be a "pure" monster hunting experience. While most weapons play similarly to "Monster Hunter's" offerings, the Claw Blade is a very unique standout. Its special ability is to dig the claw into the Kemono's hide, tethering it to the hunter. This tether allows for air dodges, rapid-spin attacks, and a move where you fly towards the Kemono. If you build up enough hits before the Kemono can break your tether, you perform a potent finisher. The whole aerial dance feels like what an "Attack on Titan" game should be and it's the most enjoyable combat experience in "Wild Hearts" by far.

Bring your best or perish

There's an ongoing complaint in the "Monster Hunter" fandom that the games just aren't hard enough anymore. The developers of "Wild Hearts" seem to be in agreement. The Kemono hit hard if your gear isn't totally up to snuff, and even then, you often need precise timing to counter their big moves. When you hit that wall, and you will, there are two choices: grind or get very good.

There's not much to say about grinding that hasn't been said already. Some love the satisfaction of getting that one rare drop after hours of effort. Others are turned off by the idea of repetition being the core gameplay. While "Monster Hunter" fans are used to the grind, know that "Wild Hearts" is closer to classic "Monster Hunter" on the spectrum of how long that grind lasts. It basically requires you to fight the same Kemono over and over again, so get used to using your Karakuri effectively.

Using Karakuri is where the "get good" part comes in. Going back to an earlier example, one of the first Karakuri builds you learn is combining six boxes to make a bulwark. The aim is to wait for a Kemono to charge, swiftly pop six boxes into existence, and watch as the Kemono slams headfirst into the wall. Yet even this simple trick, doesn't seem so simple to pull off in practice. All too often, the Kemono closes in before six boxes can be built, resulting in massive damage to you instead of a cool trap. This could very well be a skill issue, but it feels more like the difficulty curve is too steep.

Past performance does not guarantee future results

While difficulty is often subject to preference, it's worth noting that "Wild Hearts" has no settings for it. It does, thankfully, have some robust accessibility options. But everyone will be faced with the reality of no easy or normal mode. It's a reality where you can be fighting a certain Kemono for the fifth time and still be flattened by one attack. Or one where you build your trusty spring Karakuri to fly away from an impending blow only to get caught on an errant ledge and lose a life. Add to that a camera that is fixed closely on your hunter, which often loses sight of Kemono or drowning you in the larger boss monsters, as well as performance issues on some platforms (the Xbox Series S version ran well, but rough textures did make it harder to see those errant ledges).

Even with these rough bits, however, "Wild Hearts" has sharp fangs. Karakuri add fun movement options and dynamic ways to attack, even if they sometimes fail to work as intended. The setting is captivating in a way that allows for creative new weapons down the line. Hopefully "Wild Hearts" sticks around, because it might just grow into something that can one day challenge "Monster Hunter's" dominance.

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