I’m no stranger to the hunting RPG genre. Through these fantasy adventures, I’ve learned numerous ways of tracking targets and taking them down utilizing skills across a spectrum of job classes. I understood the necessity to gather useful parts of my prey for materials to create and craft new weapons for future hunts. The Omega Force-developed Wild Hearts instills this sense of rediscovery of the genre by offering a familiar, but unique take on the formula. Across each hunt, lies a satisfying and memorable experience that defines its own path.
Wild Hearts focuses on a single hunter traveling from their homelands. Driven out by samurai and trying to find some way to earn money for survival. It’s not long before they encounter one of the local Kemono, a beast that rules over nature, twisting the area to fit their needs. Saved by a mysterious musician, they awaken able to conjure Karakuri devices made from celestial thread. Now they must protect Minato, a small village by the sacred mountain the hunter now calls home.
The opening of Wild Hearts’ story tends to focus on finding a specific Kemono that either disrupts the environment or hinders progress. However, once players open up Minato, the goals become more specific, such as finding a way to reactive the dormant Karakuri or escort villagers to a location.
These story segments require the player to explore a hunting region without taking on a quest, helping make the story feel connected as you won’t be able to take on any quests until you find that particular monster during exploration segments or a side quest from one of the Minato townsfolk. Further, this makes the game stand out when compared to its contemporaries.
The monster designs are an interesting mixture of animals and environments. For example, the Ragetail, one of the early Kemono, is a giant rat mixed with flowers. The design is simple enough; players can see the familiar characteristics of a more mundane rat, but these added designs make it out to be fantastical and, in places awe-inspiring, as if nature itself was rebelling against humanity.
Sadly, as a new IP, players will see the same Kemono frequently as there isn’t as much of a roster to pull from, and depending on grinding habits, players will, of course, dedicate a significant portion of time to hunting the same monster for parts. Still, each hunt is vastly entertaining as monsters get stronger as you progress, thanks to the Karakuri and weapons adding variety to each encounter.
Firstly, the Karakuri has two classifications: Dragon Karakuri and simple Karakuri. All of them linger in the environment, and players will find that anything they build will remain even when traveling between Minato and the various regions. The significant difference is the resources that each use.
Dragon Karakuri pulls from the natural resources around the area, and this energy is drawn from Dragon Pits that players must activate to gain more resources for a region. Each time players build a Karakuri, it will take away from one of the elemental energies from the area. For example, a hunting tower is helpful for finding Kemono and places of interest, and building one draws water ki from the area. Once ultimately tapped, making Karakuri is restricted until the player destroys their previous creations or activates another Dragon Pit, including camps.
Players can make these camps with the use of Dragon Karakuri anywhere on the map that they would like. However, these structures will drain their resources heavily, creating a fast travel point and another spot for revival when the player faints. Counteracting this issue are areas that are designated as destroyed camps. These camps reduce the cost of creating a tent and a camp for the player, increasing the number of camps while allowing the player to decide if they need another one elsewhere.
On the other hand, the simple Karakuri are standard structures like boxes, springs, gliders, and torches. Each has a specific function designed to aid in combat, like jumping higher or dodging attacks. These tools teach the player to look out for ways to use the correct Karakuri to counter the next oncoming attack. Eventually, one will be able to form fusions of each Karakuri.
Fusions have a specific function. The wall, for instance, can stop charging kemono and provide cover to players when healing. In contrast, the spring mallet does massive damage and can destroy specific structures that kemono creates. Utilizing these fusions is vital to a successful hunt, as specific abilities can drain hunters’ health in an instant if they are not careful. This includes managing their reserves of celestial thread.
Players can find the celestial thread in the environment and can mine this resource from rocks and trees. As a result, an interesting dynamic is created where the kemono destroys the nearby trees and spawns more celestial thread, allowing more Karakuri generation. Additionally, as fights continue, kemono will have parts breaking off them, exposing an open wound.
Players are able to climb beasts to draw out any celestial threads from the wound, stunning the monster briefly and upgrading the player’s reserve of threads for a limited time. This relationship creates a snowball effect as players chip away parts from the beasts. Further, they can generate more fusions to chip away even faster, making solo hunts challenging but viable.
Each weapon feels distinct, ranging from reasonably balanced like the Karakuri Katana and the Bow to heavy hitters like the Maul and Kodachi. Their meters fill with different actions forcing you to adapt to a specific playstyle to maximize the potential of each weapon. Their variety and range ensure players have their own niche in a battle. That way, everyone isn’t stepping over each other while fighting.
Each weapon is also reasonably cheap to encourage players to try them before committing to a play style. The only downside is that all weapons aren’t unlocked until the second chapter. This second round of weapons offers more options to define your playstyle, but not having access to them until you have already committed to another weapon type can discourage switching to these new offerings.
However, there is a satisfying sense of progression that comes from having them unlocked, while some other titles in the genre can make players feel like progress can’t be made without spending hours and multiple hunts for a single weapon. The Dragon Karakuri contributes to this sense of progression. Seeing new unlocks added to the available offerings can be exciting and let players think about ways to implement each in different hunts.
Each system works in tandem to deliver a fast-paced hunting experience that finds a way to be unique in this genre. When considering the developer’s previous hunting IP, Toukiden, Wild Hearts can be seen as an extension of those systems. Although story development isn’t as prominent, character customization and world-building make every bout into the environment exhilarating. Still, repetitive hunts do weigh on the late hours of the experience, but a varied requirement structure does well to mitigate the sameness the hunts can sometimes project.
There are multiplayer options to take on hunts with friends. I feel this is where the most excitement happens, regardless if you can play solo. Teaming up with two others and taking down these beasts instills a sense of victory every time. With the added option of cross-play support, friends can easily join the hunt without too many hurdles. As you become more acclimated with traps and equipment, new ways to approach combat opens up, adding experimentation and improved strategies to each hunt. Further, the sense of speed only heightens the experience as you dodge attacks and find an opening.
Wild Hearts has so much to offer. From the striking monster designs, distinct weapon variety, and engaging combat, hunters will have a new favorite game to join up with friends and take down enormous foes. Outside of some dips in pacing in the later hours and a few repetitive encounters, there is little holding this game back from becoming a new name in the genre.
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