Over the years, we’ve seen countless monster hunter games in various genres with multiple different mechanics. Some have failed miserably and disappeared into the abyss, whereas some others have been the staple in the gaming industry. The epitome of monster games has to be Monster Hunter. With EA‘s Wild Hearts, the developers attempt to recapture a similar magic formula to win over hearts and minds.
There are monsters aplenty, in various forms and sizes, some of which are easy to kill to pick up a couple of resources to add to your inventory. And then there’s the Kemono, a group of massive monsters that take over the lands, terrorising its inhabitants and destroying the environment around them.
At its most fundamental requirement, defeating these Kemono is the game’s main premise. However, that’s a gross simplification of how much effort it takes to achieve hits. While there are many different types of Kemono to battle, each has a unique fighting style and elements of attack, which means you have to adapt your own fighting style, weaponry, armour, and even the use of resources.
Collecting these various resources allows you to build different types of Karakuri. Building these Karakuri requires a specific resource known as a thread. Several mechanisms are utilised to farm the resource, including chopping down very specific trees, mining-specific rocks or attacking a spot on the Kemono which can drop some Karakuri to use.
The types of Karakuri in EA’s Wild Hearts can include crates, springs, torches and even flying contraptions. Each of these can be stacked to build something more impressive. Building six crates (a 3×2 stacked row) creates a wall barrier, which can be used to block advancing beasts and leaping off the top to deal an extra powerful blow. Each Karakuri has its own capabilities in Wild Hearts, with some assisting directly in an attack while others create easier paths across the terrain.
There are also eight different main weapons to utilise in EA’s Wild Hearts. Each of these are unique, having both positives and negatives, which you’ll need to navigate for the specific job at hand. You start off with the basic katana, which is nimble on the draw but relatively low in power, to begin with. You can scale up to a bow-and-arrow early in the game while then having much broader approaches like the hammer and even an umbrella. The hammer is quite slow but deals some of the biggest blows in comparison. And don’t take that umbrella (also referred to as the wagasa) for granted – it’s one of the most useful weapons in the game, granting you the ability to parry some attacks, which can be a lifesaver.
One of the more useful, non-attack Karakuri is the Hunter Tower. Once you’ve unlocked this, you can upgrade it by collecting a certain number of specific resources. These will assist in finding various objects you’re looking for. At its most basic, it will help you locate the Kemono in the area. Once upgraded sufficiently, you can use it to locate more Tsukumo. The Tsukumo is a type of assistant to you, which sometimes assists in distracting a Kemono. Upgrading the Tsukumo requires you to befriend a lot more of them, which then allows you to carry more resources into battle, and improve your attacks and defence.
And this leads to the battle itself. The general beasts that run around in Wild Hearts in their numbers are relatively easy to defeat for resources. Often, with a powerful enough, upgraded weapon, all it takes is a single blow. But things are far more complicated as you progress through the game, having to fight your first Kemono and then with things only getting harder from there.
As each beast has different strong points and different types of attacks, you have to be prepared how to defend sufficiently. Going in for the attack is all about the timing. But it’s your defensive strengths that really separate the men from the boys here. Running headfirst with the best possible weapon isn’t going to help you much. A few heavy blows and you’ve been killed, having to restart at the nearest checkpoint. You’ll then have three attempts to kill the Kemono before the battle is lost completely, and you’ll have to restart the battle from scratch. At times, with a battle lasting more than 30 minutes to an hour, it can be tiring to fail near the end and have to redo it all over again.
This is why strategy is key in EA’s Wild Hearts. Technique is key. The right weapon and armour are vitally important. You don’t need to choose between which Karakuri to take into battle, as you can build as much as you like, provided you have a sufficient thread to craft it or gather a few extra to add to the battle. What is interesting about the Karakuri is that you can build them around the attack area and even the entire map. Unless the Kemono destroys them, they’ll be available throughout the game. So, you can plan a battle area and plan out where to run and take shelter or perform the next wave of attack.
The battles often times take place in two or three areas. Once you’ve angered a beast enough, it’ll start to change appearance. This means that it becomes more violent. It will then either attack you with more vigour or, if you’ve injured it enough, will run away to another part of the map to commence with the follow-up battle. Towards the end, in full rage mode, its damage is more severe, and you’ll have to be even more on your guard, avoiding direct attacks. Minimising damage is key to victory, while aiming for its weak spots to gain additional damage will definitely assist you in defeating it much quicker.
Beyond the beast battles in Wild Hearts, there is also a broader world to explore and somewhat of a basic storyline. The latter is fairly straightforward. You’re an unnamed hero in feudal Japan, traversing the world of Azuma. There are four main islands to explore, three of which have Kemono residing among the great landscapes. The fourth of these is the island of Minato. Very early on in the game, you meet a brother and sister who were attacked in the forest. You set out to help them, which, in turn, leads you to their hometown.
Here, on the island, you get to stack some resources, pick up a few side quests, explore the area, and, most importantly, upgrade your equipment. Upgrading your armour and weapons is crucial in the game, especially as you progress. Other than this, some of the other upgrades provided are only aesthetic. Items like ornaments for your clothing add little more than appearance changes.
The side quests in Wild Hearts take up a bit of time, but ultimately, I didn’t find them very useful. They’re meant to showcase the struggle the town faces being surrounded by the Kemono in the region but are nothing more than collecting quests. They become tedious at times, apart from the select few that specifically advance the plot of the story.
The final aspect of Wild Hearts I’d like to discuss, although there are plenty more to discuss, is the graphics and open-world environment. The map isn’t huge in comparison to many other modern games, but it is large enough for these beasts to traverse the map without crossing paths with a second one in the process of a battle. These worlds are incredibly detailed and resource-rich. They’re filled with plants and animals that can sometimes be collected as well. The skyline is beautiful both during the day and night-time. And while you’re lost in its beauty, you encounter very detailed and scary-looking Kemono, which have also been carefully crafted.
There’s a lot to take in on EA’s Wild Hearts. It’s not a slow burner, but it is also not something you’re going to be powering your way through in haste. Crafting Karakuri takes time to master and can be the difference in the end when battling with the Kemono. Mastering your fighting technique in Wild Hearts also takes time, while studying each of the Kemono and being prepared for battle is equally as important. It’s quite a bit of a learning curve, to begin with, but once you get the hang of it becomes thoroughly enjoyable. But escaping those early game difficulties and annoyances will take some time.
Wild Hearts is one of the many titles from the monster hunter-style genre – but one that actually works. From the rich dynamic of upgrading your hero and his abilities, weaponry and armour, to the crafted fighting styles. Going into battle headfirst isn’t going to win you the rewards you desire but crafted battle plans. All of this adds to the game’s dynamic, creating an engaging experience overall.
Crafting a variety of Karakuri is a great dynamic
Very good visuals across the map
Difficult to beat Kemono create an enhanced fighting experience
Always great to experience a version of feudal Japan
Playing through the early release was a bit on the glitchy side
A steep learning curve won’t be to everyone’s taste