In 2017, Koei Tecmo released Nioh, featuring one of the most unique takes on the Soulslike genre we’ve seen.
Now, it looks like the studio is doing the exact same thing with wild hearts and the gender that Monster hunter popularized
wild hearts is the product of a rare partnership between EA and Koei Tecmo, and after a few hours of hands-on experience with the game, it’s clear that both companies are fully committed to bringing something new and unique to the hunting genre.
If you’ve played a Monster Hunter game, you’ll immediately become familiar with the basics of wild hearts. The main loop of the game involves hunting giant monsters, called Kemono, and using the supplies you get from that to craft new weapons and armor, allowing you to hunt stronger monsters. The demo I played gave me access to roughly the first 3-4 hours of the game, going through the first few story beats, tutorials, and the first three main Kemono.
Like nioh, wild hearts the game takes place at a fast pace and there is a heavy emphasis on traversal. As long as you have a jump button, your character will automatically jump over things like logs and rocks. There’s a clear verticality to many of the environments, and you can grab onto and scale cliff walls and a few other objects. To balance experience, you have a stamina gauge that depletes over time. In some cases, you can also jump on and climb over monsters, using a powerful attack on a weak spot to deal heavy damage and stagger the creature.
Where wild hearts it gets really fascinating with its robust crafting system, using an ancient device called the Karakuri. This mystical tool allows you to instantly conjure items, both in and out of combat. Think of something like the Rune system of breath of the wild but in a hunting game format.
The Karakuri brings a tremendously dynamic advantage to combat, allowing you to conjure crates that you can stack, climb, and use to launch into a devastating aerial attack. There’s also a trampoline that you can use to avoid enemy attacks, move quickly around the environment, or launch into a combo. Near the end of the demo, I also unlocked a torch that I could walk through for a fiery slash attack that also ignited my weapon, allowing me to deal extra damage. Even more, you can build additional gadgets based on how you stack the crates or other Karakuri items you build. For example, building a three by three grid allowed me to erect a barrier that could stop a Kemono charging dead in its tracks.
To use the Karakuri, you need to gather “Karakuri Threads”, which can be easily collected from items in the environment or enemies. In addition to combat items, you also unlock a wide range of craftable camp items, such as a forge to craft new gear, a campfire to cook, or a rope launcher that can create zipline shortcuts. Throughout the map, you can find “Dragon Pits” that can be upgraded using resources, which in turn allows you to place more crafting items.
What’s really interesting is that all the Karakuri items you place are persistent and won’t reset when you travel back to camp or anything. This means you can reliably set up shortcuts or place helpful items like signs to guide you. This also means things like crates and springs will still be there, still giving you more traversal options during combat. In a way, the whole system is vaguely reminiscent of the build options in death stranding.
Interestingly, there seems to be a wide range of uses for Karakuri, as during the Q&A roundtable, EA Originals Executive Producer Lewis Harvey mentioned that there is a Karakuri paddle shovel that you can put in the water, which will collect fish. and other resources automatically. You can pick up later. Other Karakuri can also be used to “ripen and cook” their ingredients at camp.
While the Karakuri is by far the most interesting. wild hearts is doing, there are also many other aspects to delve into. I like it Monster hunter, you have a variety of weapons to choose from that have different combos, abilities, strengths, etc. The demo gave me access to a katana, a huge two-handed sword, a bow, a giant hammer, and an interesting leafed umbrella weapon. Each weapon has light attacks, heavy attacks, and special attacks that can be combined, but the Karakuri is also related here. For example, the katana has a gauge that fills up as you deal damage, and once full you can use “Karakuri Unleashed” which drastically increases your range and damage as you upgrade your katana.
There is a big “nature” theme in the different Kemono in wild hearts, as the three main beasts I fought were integrated with plants that also played into their special attacks. The giant boar-like Kemono could sprout vines from the Earth, while another could spit sap that would coat my character and slow me down. The three Kemono in the demo felt incredibly varied, and hopefully the full game can maintain that kind of variety. At the same time, EA indicated that different Kemono can meet and interact in interesting ways.
The build I played is obviously early, and the experience was definitely rough in terms of graphical fidelity and assets. That said, the feudal Japan-inspired setting is already doing wonders, and the world of wild hearts it looks gorgeous. Fighting a Kemono in a giant field of flowers or a bamboo forest feels appropriate, especially when the creature can tear through the forest and send debris everywhere.
wild hearts it’s made an incredibly strong first impression and I’m honestly blown away by how unique the entire Karakuri system feels. It’s an excitingly experimental system that already looks set to provide a wealth of options. Being able to craft and place items in the middle of battle can seem a bit tricky at times, but it also brings a whole new dimension to hunting games that I hadn’t even thought of before. The hunting genre can be a tough sell for anyone not yet invested, but wild hearts it could be different enough to attract a new wave of gamers.
wild hearts launches for PS5, Xbox Series X|S, and PC on February 17, 2023.