Wild Hearts Review

Wild Hearts Header

I assume that most game mechanics are hard to copyright. What would the world have been like if Nintendo had trademarked jumping on enemies’ heads? Or if Namco got paid every time a character ate in games thanks to Pac-man’s prodigious appetite? Namco’s loading screen games were actually patented – you can find them in Ridge Racer – and that stopped everyone else from doing it for a couple of decades. On the strength of Wild Hearts, Capcom might be wishing it had trademarked some of their Monster Hunter mechanics, because Omega Force may have just beaten them at their own game.

That might be hyperbolic – it’s almost certainly inflammatory – but Wild Hearts is the freshest-feeling hunting game we’ve had in a while. Some of that is simply because it doesn’t have twenty years of legacy features to include, starting afresh with the basic core of Capcom’s esteemed series and then riffing on it in a variety of new ways. It’s not quite as comprehensive as Monster Hunter World, or as instantly dynamic as Monster Hunter Rise, but Wild Hearts is the best hunting game we’ve ever had without a Capcom logo on the loading screen.

The major addition to the formula is the Karakuri; organic mechanical devices that fuse with a hunter and allow them to conjure contraptions and constructs out of thin air. They come in many forms and utilise Celestial Thread, and the only limitation to how many and what you can build in battle being how much Thread you can carry at once. This means that you need to plan and utilise them at just the right moment, and while things start out simple they get increasingly more complicated.

You begin with a crate. It’s a wooden box, and you can stack a bunch of them on top of each other and then jump off them. This is good for climbing steep cliffs, or leaping at a Kemono to bash them with your weapon, but it’s hardly what you’d call dynamic or exciting. However, as your knowledge expands, you learn to craft more basic forms like a bouncy spring or a helicopter glider. Then things get really interesting when you learn to combo those basic Karakuri together to form defensive walls and traps, or create more offensive options like bombs and cannons. It’s an interesting new wrinkle in a well-worn formula, and like Monster Hunter Rise’s Wirebugs, the Karakuri add something meaningful and fun, while giving hunters a host of ways to approach an encounter. It shakes up the hunting formula like never before.

Wild Hearts Karakuri construct

That’s cemented by the familiar-but-different range of weapons your hunter carries, beginning with the Karakuri Katana that can transform into a whip when charged, through to the ranged artillery of the Cannon. I’ve been a Great Sword user since forever, and it’s been really satisfying to learn a batch of new weapons, with the Bladed Wagasa – a deadly umbrella that can parry enemy attacks – and the Katana sure to be popular new favourites. They’re easier to learn than Monster Hunter’s various alternatives, but when you’re mixing them with the Karakuri, you’re never short of options in combat.

The Karakuri aren’t just there for offensive options though, and there’s a lovely secondary use to them that has you building up your own camps with a huge array of different creations. You start off with just a tent and a campfire, but you’re soon adding food storage and drying, a workbench, radars for tracking Kemono and then all sorts of useful things like giant fans that can lift your hunter into the air, or ziplines to speed across the whole island. When you join up with other hunters you’re taken to their version of an island, so you can utilise all of their tools while you’re there and have a gander at how they’ve designed things to assist their hunts. Multiplayer has been seamless throughout the review period, and asking for assistance or joining up with others is a doddle via the regular portals across each landmass.

Wild Heats wolf fight in co-op

Wild Hearts places a great deal of emphasis on the natural world, mixing animals from the real world with natural aspects like fruit and vines to create some truly idiosyncratic creatures, ranging from the delightful – who wouldn’t like a red squirrel with raspberry antennae? – to the obnoxiously vicious. Seriously, the Lavaback makes Monster Hunter’s Rajang seem like a mildly annoyed furry little fella. The creature designs are fantastic – I love how they meld nature with animals from the real world to create these immense Ghibli-esque creations – and they feel more realistic and grounded than those in Capcom’s bestiary. Gaze awe-struck at them for too long though and they’ll repeatedly attempt to flatten you, and you’ll swiftly be aware of the healthy challenge they offer. The window for error seems smaller than in Capcom’s series, and that’s not always helped by a slightly wayward camera, but the hunting thrills remain intoxicatingly strong as you try to take them down so you can construct a fancy new pair of shoes.

The marriage of the real and fantastical plays into the world of Azuma itself. Once you’ve made it through the expansive introduction you unlock access to Minato Village, your hub and home for the foreseeable future. It’s a very Monster Hunter-y place, with shops, a blacksmith and various important people to talk to, but the narrative places it in Shogun-era Japan, with discussion of the wider world’s political problems making it seem as though this is a forgotten corner of the globe that has been pushed from memory. It works really nicely, and the setting is sold by the emphatic voicework and quality character models – you should, of course, set it to Japanese for true authenticity. The overarching tale of monsters changing their hunting grounds and unexpectedly attacking, while revitalising the village and its people, is familiar but there are some surprising moments of poignancy and thoughtfulness.

It feels unfair to constantly reference Monster Hunter, but it’s nigh-on impossible to consider Wild Hearts without matching it against Capcom’s series. So much of what’s on show here is straight out of the same design manual, and anyone that’s enjoyed Monster Hunter will undoubtedly get a kick out of Omega Force’s take on the genre.

There’s some really nice alterations to the underlying formula as well, including the ability to create your own camps and a weapon crafting tree that lets you shift across its many branches rather than straight up the trunk, accumulating different skills from each new blade that can be passed on to the next. It means that in the endgame you might well have a weapon that bears the same name as someone else’s, but they’re unlikely to be identical. It’ll make for some extremely interesting min-maxing for those who’re into it, and the best build videos are going to be something to behold!

Wild Hearts world exploration

Even when you’re fighting solo, you’re never truly alone, as you can befriend a Tsukomo to fight by your side. These spherical little doohickies are hidden throughout each area – there’s 50 of them to find on each island – and the more you find the more you’re able to upgrade your personal companion. They can chuck you some Celestial Thread if you’re running low, drop an area of effect heal, or even distract the Kemono when you’re in real trouble. Finding these guys is also a fun little distraction as you’re exploring each area, and their clockwork wooden clacking is certainly preferable to the mewling sounds we’ve grown accustomed to from Monster Hunter’s Felynes.

The monster in this particular room is PC performance. It’s been questionable at times during the review period, and it seems to be down to the game engine causing a bottleneck with some brands of CPU. We’ve been assured this is being worked on – there’s a day one patch due – and after an initial patch things did improve, but it’s a shame that features like DLSS and FSR are ‘on their way’ rather than ready at launch. PS5 performance is much stronger, and right at this moment that seems to be the most reliable place to play. It’s a disappointing caveat to what is otherwise a hugely enjoyable experience.

Capcom may well have created the hunting genre with the original Monster Hunter game, but Omega Force have been along for the ride at various points with the Toukiden series. Wild Hearts feels like an amalgamation of the two franchises, with the fundamental mechanics of Monster Hunter remaining utterly familiar while the Eastern-led setting pays homage to Toukiden’s tone and storytelling rather than to Monster Hunter Rise. References and touchstones aside though, it’s absolutely its own beast.

Wild Hearts has proved to be an immense surprise. It navigates the line between well-worn ground and exciting new innovation immensely well. It’s the best non-Capcom hunting game we’ve ever had, and a hugely enjoyable action RPG in its own right.
  • Karakuri creations invigorate the Monster Hunter formula
  • Seamless co-op team ups
  • A compelling world and setting
  • PC performance bottlenecks pre-launch
  • Inescapable comparisons to Monster Hunter
Written by
TSA's Reviews Editor - a hoarder of headsets who regularly argues that the Sega Saturn was the best console ever released.