Monster Hunter Rise has been one of my favourite games on the Nintendo Switch, even though I had never really taken to the franchise before that entry arrived. It is now available on Xbox too, with upscaled graphics. It’s a series that is hugely popular in Japan, gathering up quite the following on this side of the world as well, even receiving the Hollywood treatment with a movie starring Resident Evil’s Milla Jovovich.
Dodgy movie adaptations aside, there are not too many legitimate competitors to Monster Hunter’s almost self-built giant monster slaying genre, yet WILD HEARTS is here to make a change to that. Brought to us by EA who are publishing the game made by Omega Force (a division of KOEI TECMO), who’s previous work includes the Warriors franchise, Wild Hearts is releasing at the perfect time to snag fans of Monster Hunter Rise and Monster Hunter: World that may be thirsty for more.
Set in feudal Japan (samurai era). WILD HEARTS’ opening section wastes no time in teaching the basics of movement and attack. It also introduces you to the first small monsters that you must take down as you stalk your target. Upon approaching the beast, via stealth, the game presents a moral decision. Do you pet or slay the beast? This option was not one I expected, and as my target looked like a majestic stag I decided to pet instead of slay. This caused items to drop, delivering a nice touch to provide kinder options for dealing with the non-aggressive animals.
Slaying the giant real-life looking Pokémon-esque creatures will net you materials, creating new gear to boost stats and providing nice new looks. The customisation in WILD HEARTS is vast, and hours could be lost adjusting hair length, styles and even highlights. It’s one of the best character customisation suites I have seen, although, for me, a shaved head, beard and green eyes does the job every time. I am sure the internet will soon be filled with guides on how to make your favourite pop culture characters in the weeks to come.
Learning the ropes is crucial to playing WILD HEARTS and the mechanics are nicely drip fed to you as you make progress. Shortly after meeting the musician, who is very reminiscent of a Dark Souls or Elden Ring NPC, he tasks you with finding out what has caused a snow storm. It turns out it was a giant snow wolf. Here, dodging during battle will come into play and gives you a glimpse of the gameplay ahead, multiple waves of attack patterns that must be learned for each beast.
We need to talk about the twist in the so far very Monster Hunter-esque formula – the building. See, in WILD HEARTS your gauntlet allows you to build structures that can be used for traversal or during combat. It’s a strange and unexpected, almost Fortnite-like, shake up to the giant monster slaying genre, but one that feels right. Collecting materials and learning new builds is really addictive and each new addition shakes up the way you play and travel.
Conjuring the karakuri (objects) is actually more intuitive and fluid than the building in Fortnite, and can really turn the tide in battle, as well as assisting players exploring areas. Building a crate tower and timing a jump to attack enemies from above is ever so satisfying, as is the mechanic of building a camp anywhere to create a fast travel point; it is quite genius. Gathering materials is fluid and can be done on the go by tapping LT on items around the world. Even stopping to mine takes seconds to gather the material needed to craft or even put towards a new weapon.
Weapons start with the kitana sword and come with huge upgrade trees, customised to suit play styles. Learning to use each weapon is crucial in taking down tougher foes later in the game. Some may be weak to slash damage so a sword would be best, where others may be more susceptible to ranged damage; swapping to the bow would be key. Most interesting of all the weapons is the umbrella that works by focusing on the parrying mechanic; just be warned, it is definitely not one to start off with however.
WILD HEARTS has a robust cross-platform multiplayer experience and by sitting at any campfire you’ll be able to invite or join up to three friends in a party. Once players are squadded up, new tactics can be used to take down the monsters as weapon variety can be highly effective compared to trying a hunt solo with only one weapon. Each hunt allows three falls before you need to restart, getting easier with the enabled revive ability when playing co-op.
You can also befriend little sphere creatures that look like a combination of Samus’ morph ball form in the Metroid series, and the technology of Breath of the Wild. These tiny technological critters become your ally when playing solo and can be upgraded at a camp. There are several of them scattered around the world waiting to be found and climbing up cliff faces and exploring nooks and crannies throughout the various lands to find these tsukumo is a nice distraction from following main line quests in the world.
Talking of the world, unlike Monster Hunter, that of WILD HEARTS feels more fluid than open. In Monster Hunter you pick a target, then head to that area. In WILD HEARTS the monsters can roam and be almost anywhere on the map, and so combining exploration with the ability to build a camp to create your own fast travel points leads to a very different feeling, more fluid experience. To be honest, Monster Hunter feels very slow and sluggish in comparison, even with Monster Hunter Rise having new traversal mechanics of its own.
Last but not least is the star of the WILD HEARTS show – the monsters, or Kemono as they are called. These will be the focus of the gameplay loop and story as you slay them, collect their materials and craft weapons and armour using the gathered items. This is like-for-like with Monster Hunter, and so should you fancy a cool wolf like set of armour, you’ll want to start hunting those wolves. Like the idea of an avian styled piece of headgear? Get to hunting the bird-type Kemono. You get the idea and it’s a whole addictive cycle of risk and reward, taking down bigger monsters and upgrading your gear as you go. Each creature is ready to rumble and has a variety of moves to crush unprepared hunters.
Graphically, WILD HEARTS is a mixed bag, with a dynamic day and night cycle, as well as different weather conditions. At times it can all look quite beautiful, while other moments characters and environments feel ugly and rather last gen. There is a strange mix of premium and budget at play, as well as several frame dips that occur when facing larger monsters. Clipping of gear and environments is frequent throughout too. On the other side, stopping during sunrise and looking over a beautiful forest with fantastic lighting, almost begs for a photo mode.
WILD HEARTS is an easy game to recommend, especially if you found Monster Hunter unwelcoming. It’s hopeful that this is a new mainstay in EA’s roster and whilst monster hunting veterans may miss some of the other series’ more in-depth systems and complexity, we can only hope that WILD HEARTS is complemented by some DLC down the road, with new areas to explore, items to build and monsters to slay.
Between WILD HEARTS and the Dead Space remake, it is starting to feel like a revival of the EA brand from a time long forgotten. Let us hope this is the start of EA being more experimental and willing to take risks. WILD HEARTS is one for both fresh faces and hardened veterans, and should be seen as the first legitimate threat to Monster Hunter’s unopposed reign at the top.
WILD HEARTS is on the Xbox Store