Wild Hearts review – fantastic beasts and where to fight them

Wild Hearts review – fantastic beasts and where to fight them

Playstation 5, Xbox Series, PC; EA/Omega Force
This wonderfully weird creature-hunter has an unending supply of memorably unhinged, massive foes; it may not be an all-timer but it’s fun while you’re fighting

Wild Hearts.
Like a fever dream … Wild Hearts. Photograph: EA/Koei Tecmo/Omega Force

There’s something undeniably cool about Capcom’s ongoing creature-hunter series Monster Hunter: in our world of mundane capitalism, it offers a return to violent, heroic days of yore, where it’s just you, monsters and a great big sword. Yet try as I might to heed the call of the hunt, my heroic ambitions are consistently foiled by walls of text and hours of slaying the same embarrassingly tiny lizards. I thought Monster Hunter and its ilk just weren’t for me – but then I played EA and Omega Force’s wonderfully weird Wild Hearts.

An eyebrow-raising collaboration between the publisher of Fifa and the creators of Dynasty Warriors, set in the land of Azuma (inspired by feudal Japan), it’s like a fever dream. This realm is ruled by giant mythical beasts known as Kemono, coated in moss and flowers, and these once-peaceful creatures have inexplicably become enraged. The hapless Azumians aren’t having a great time with these skyscraper-sized rapscallions, and it falls to you to sort things out.

Unlike the game it’s unashamedly influenced by, Wild Hearts makes its world feel both mysterious and approachable. Where Monster Hunter bombards you with menus, EA’s take is happy to let its world do the talking, throwing you headfirst into its fantastical setting. As you climb and slash your way through lavish locales, its sprawling and overgrown world hints at life within a wider civilisation, inviting curiosity in a way that the closed-off hubs of Monster Hunter don’t. It’s a fun-filled onboarding that immediately lets you get to the good stuff – and then things take a turn for the weird.

Giving the hunter-gathering of Monster Hunter the middle finger, Wild Hearts imbues you with the powers of construction; branded as the mystical art of “Karakuri”, collecting magical thread allows players to build Fortnite-esque structures mid-battle. With everything from wooden walls that block gigantic tail lashings, to a hurriedly botched-together trebuchet hammer at your disposal, it’s a fun and extremely silly mechanic.

It gets more farcical: while townsfolk rebuild a hubworld midway through the game, NPCs insist that they are now unable to harness Karakuri, despite heaps of construction going on behind them. Who knew you could be gaslighted by an entire video game? These odd contradictions are the first of many narrative missteps in Wild Hearts, but when it comes to the core creature combat, its designers get a lot right.

Fever dream … A scene from Wild Hearts.
Macabre Pokémon? A scene from Wild Hearts. Photograph: EA/Koei Tecmo/Omega Force

Unlike the more mythical-feeling monsters in Capcom’s caper, Wild Hearts’ combatants look more like macabre recreations of legendary Pokémon. From demonic six-eyed boars to spore-coated rodents, each ferry-sized foe is memorably unhinged – including a giant flying squirrel that shoots water and shrieks like a dolphin.

Like Destiny before it, more important than the tedious narrative are the player-led stories; while you won’t remember a single NPC’s name, you will remember you and your mate finally toppling the fearsome Amaterasu on your fourth attempt. Or that time you somehow built a ridiculous tower mid-attack and glitched your way back into a battle that seemed all but lost. And really, you’ll need to call on a friend, because solo play quickly loses its charm. Thankfully, matchmaking here is a world away from the abstruse Monster Hunter, allowing players to quest with friends and strangers alike at the press of a button.

When you’ve upgraded its array of alluring weapons – standouts include bear claws and a transforming stick – Wild Hearts’ wacky ways click satisfyingly into place. As you grow stronger, encounters become predictably big, with developer Omega Force’s Dynasty Warriors experience translating into suitably loud and flashy on-screen showdowns.

Where Monster Hunter chucks system after system at you, almost willing newcomers to rage-quit, Wild Hearts drip feeds its glorious nonsense in a refreshingly patient way. The only caveat: it’s patience that you’ll need to repay in kind. While the battles shine, Wild Hearts drags you out of the fun at every other opportunity. As your wounded quarry limps away toward the next battleground, a lack of mounts make the journey tracking them a pace-killing slog. Downtime between fights is even worse: players must engage in an endless series of excruciating conversations before being sent back into the wilderness.

Never boar-ing… Wild Hearts.
Never boar-ing… Wild Hearts. Photograph: EA/Koei Tecmo/Omega Force

While there’s a lot to like about this world, its characters certainly aren’t one of them – all the proper-noun-filled nattering will have you skipping more than a triple jumper – and the game’s camera is pulled in bafflingly close. Its claustrophobic view can make tackling these titans exasperating, especially in tight-knit environments.

These aren’t small quibbles, yet despite its flaws, I’m still having a great time with Wild Hearts. Thirty hours in, and I’m patiently slaying beast after beast, pining after that next enticing weapon upgrade and shiny armour set.

EA and Omega Force’s unlikely venture succeeds by being the perfect entry point to the hunter genre. This is the accessible radio single to Monster Hunter’s prog album odyssey: it’s silly, flawed and probably not destined to be an all-timer, but if you’re in the right mood, my god is it fun. Whether it’ll continue to dig its talons into me remains to be seen, but after years of frustration, I finally feel ready to dive further into this once-impenetrable genre.

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