Wild Hearts is an action RPG that many are comparing to the popular Monster Hunter series. And it’s easy to see why: This title features a similar, Japanese-centric world of swirling magic that sends your feudal-era hunter against impossible, gigantic creatures.
The game sets you down in the heavily wooded land of Azuma, a place cursed by a plague of huge beasties called Kemono. Those creatures wander this world, consuming the environment and dominating the land. And if humans are to survive—especially in the isolated city of Minato—it will be up to your male or female hunter to seek them out and exterminate them.
Of course, this is no easy task since those magical beasties are massive hybrids of animal, plant, and mineral components which can bowl your tiny human over in a heartbeat. So you must use your hunter’s magical skills to set up a base camp, where you’ll respawn after being KO’d in combat. That HQ is also where you’ll rest and build new weapons and armor from gathered materials. Then it’s off to master your Karakuri abilities.
Wild Hearts’ Karakuri system lets players gather “threads” from rocks and trees and build wooden devices that can help them in their underpowered hunt. The karakuri constructs can be as simple as creating large crates that allow your character to scale tall, rocky walls, as well as enabling him to leap higher and land more damaging blows. With experience, those basic structures can be pieced together to create defensive bulwarks; specialized springboards and zip lines; kemono-sensing towers; and bomb-tossing traps, among other things.
Your hunter can also choose between a handful of different specialized weapons that he or she can learn to master. Those include a standard katana and bow; and more exotic weapons such as a bladed umbrella, a staff that evolves into other weapons and a slow-but-heavy-hitting maul that looks much like a barrel on a stick.
Each of these eight weapons appears deceptively plain at first glance and use. But they become much more complex and powerful with well-timed strikes and in combination with the Karakuri system.
In addition, your hunter can encounter a robotic helper called a Tsukumo. As you find more of those basketball-sized helpers and upgrade your befriended robot, the Tsukumo becomes an invaluable source of distraction and added attack while the huge beastie foes are trying to pound you into mush.
Wild Hearts is designed as a series of vast land zones populated with Kemono. The zones are vibrant and graphically impressive. The challenge of figuring out how to best the ever-more difficult and dangerous creatures is exciting.
Those zones are packed with collectibles and resources as well—such as healing items and crafting materials—that add another building dimension to play. Some fun narrative scenes pepper the game, too, setting up your character’s heroic save-mankind actions.
The Kemono each have their own distinctive look, roaring sounds, imposing size and unique fighting style—from fiery, ground shaking stone apes to snarling icy wolves to building-sized, plant-covered wild boars—and they are never easy to fight.
But these creatures also have breakable limbs and weak points that must be discovered and pinpointed in the midst of battle. And even though some weapons have defensive, parrying abilities, the timing requirements are extremely strict. So, the challenge of beating these creatures can be very frustrating at times, especially for younger players.
The battles we see aren’t bloody, but they are frenetic and frenzied. Your character will die repeatedly in combat, then respawn in your home base. There is some dialogue discussion of alcohol and a character drinks sake. The world at large is permeated by an unexplained sense of magic—from your own rechargeable creation skills to the hybrid monsters you battle.
The challenges in Wild Hearts are many, but there’s a lot to enjoy in this T-rated realm of monsters and hunts—especially if you don’t mind fearsome creatures screaming in your ear.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.