'Wild Hearts' Review: Welcome to Kemono Hunter

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Electronic Arts

Originally, the Monster Hunter games started out as niche action RPGs that took a whole lot of time to wrap one's head around. It was only when an AAA game budget and more streamlined gameplay mechanics got applied to Monster Hunter: World that the series garnered its biggest success to date. Thanks to a steady stream of updated content, massive expansions, and an equally good sixth mainline entry, the art of hunting down roaring behemoths as hefty warriors has been mastered by Capcom. There have been a number of similar titles that have adopted the winning formula of Monster Hunter over the years, such as Toukiden, Dauntless, and God Eater. Another contender has now come to the stage to showcase its own brand of monster hunting. Now with all that being said, here is my Wild Hearts review.

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'Wild Hearts' Review

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Electronic Arts

Wild Hearts takes place within a wondrous realm called "Azuma" that features elements of ancient Japan - the game's sweeping soundtrack, bustling town & gorgeous outdoor locales, and cool instances of NPCs belting out Japanese sayings within their English exposition all do a great job of encompassing those aforementioned themes. From an art design and audio standpoint, I love everything Wild Hearts brings to the table. Each biome looks amazing and differentiates itself from the others, which helps repeated excursions to those large areas keep from feeling stale since you'll usually spot something new the more you explore them. On the soundtrack front, traditional tunes that are lifted from the era of feudal Japan are sublime. Picking up random materials, sneaking up on smaller animals to either kill them or pet them (I choose that second option more than the first one, by the way), discovering helpful Tsukumos, and engaging in drag-out brawls with massive monsters are all compelling instances accompanied by thematic music. The presentation of Wild Hearts is immaculate.

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Electronic Arts

Wild Hearts' resemblance to Monster Hunter is readily apparent as soon you go on a hunt in pursuit of the game's intimidating "Kemono" creatures. As soon as I came up against a rampaging rat with one of the most vicious tail whips I've ever been hit by, I knew I was in for a challenging yet boisterous adventure. Like Monster Hunter, your custom hunter can head into battle with two allies for exciting hunts against a litany of mighty beasts that combine elements of real-world animals and otherworldly characteristics. Clashing with a raging boar that can sport flaming horns and stamp the ground hard enough to shake the foundation of the battleground is an instance of the epic encounters you'll engage in. As expected, you'll get to arm yourself with all manner of melee and ranged weapons - you can take the fight to your massive foes with oversized katanas, hammers, wagasas, bows, etc. The weighted feel of the combat feels significant and makes all those moments of landing powered-up attacks that stun your beastly foes more memorable.

The main mechanic that helps Wild Hearts stand apart from Monster Hunter is the introduction of "Karakuri" tools. The basic versions of those buildable items come in the form of boxes, torches, wing gliders, and more that add another strong strategic element to the battles at hand. Working in conjunction with your allies and using your assortment of basic Karakuri to gain the upper hand on each creature yields a ton of player satisfaction. Constructing a massive wall, watching a beast smash into it, and proceeding to climb up that wall to leap into the air to land a debilitating blow on your incapacitated foe never gets old. Unlocking new basic Karakuri over the course of Wild Hearts' lengthy campaign in the form of battle tools and "Dragon Karakuri" objects that are better suited for camping areas keeps things interesting.

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Electronic Arts

Like Monster Hunter, you'll be entrusted with taking down each monster and acquiring pieces of their fallen bodies in order to gain the materials needed to create/upgrade your equipment. The addictive loop that comes from finally besting a new beast and getting your hand on new items that go into unlocking new weapons and armor remains fun from start to finish when it comes to your Wild Hearts journey. You'll be able to embark on side quests and attempt to complete assorted tasks all the while in order to get your hands on even rarer materials and raise your stock even more amongst your fellow hunters. It definitely feels good to pop up with newer pieces of armor sets during multiplayer sessions with other hunters that haven't unlocked them yet.

Now I will admit - on the storyline front, there's nothing all that memorable to get attached to here. Wild Hearts keeps it really basic in its approach to storytelling by presenting an outline where humans' daily lives are now being disrupted by the presence of Kemono. And as the plot keeps rolling along, things never escalate beyond the point of "angry beasts are disrupting the natural order of Azuma and its people." For everyone that has thrown themselves into Monster Hunter and games of its ilk, you already know you're not playing those games for their astonishing storylines. And that same sentiment applies to Wild Hearts. That's not a huge knock on the game per se, but it's definitely one that I have to mention.

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Electronic Arts

My biggest gripe with Wild Hearts is its overall technical performance. It became clear to me that this game needed a bit more time in the oven before it ultimately launched. I can never get over how the long hair attached to certain helmets clips right through the rest of my character's body during cutscenes. And while running around each locale, I was regularly treated to some shocking visual hiccups. Shadows clip in and out of the environment as you move the camera around to see if your eyes are playing tricks on you. Bouts of slowdown and frame drops kick in from time to time when all the onscreen action gets a bit too intense to handle. Graphically, Wild Hearts looks decent enough. But when you stand it up next to Monster Hunter: World and even Monster Hunter Rise, it definitely falters a bit in that department. While putting this Wild Hearts review together, I couldn't help but think that it needed a few more months of fine-tuning in order to greatly improve its lackluster technical performance.

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