'Wild Hearts' Fixes the Big Problem 'Monster Hunter' Never Could

Despite its egregious technical performance, when everything is working 'Wild Hearts' creates a uniquely cohesive monster hunting experience.
A large ape with lava pluming from its back screams in the face of a hunter wielding a katana.
Screenshot by Koei Tecmo.

The kemono I am hunting, an apartment-sized boar called a Kingtusk, rears its impossible mass into the air, and, in its wake, a root system blooms. The tendrils of wood interweave with one another and, spearlike, obliterate the walls and springs I had been dancing between moments before, other trees, too, are turned to splinters when faced with the hungry roots. My body, though, is already high in the air, connected to the Kingtusk by a tightly woven steel cable embedded in the spirit’s rootskin hide. 


I pull the cable taught, and fling myself past the weaving trunks and vines beneath me. My body turns with the momentum until, whirling and fire kissed, my knife meets the Kingtusk’s side. I travel the full length of its body like this. Then, I hurl myself back into the air, and hang there in the space above its tail. I pull the cable taught again, and hurtle earthward. Knife meets tail, carving a deep wound. I hit the ground, and my steel cable does the rest of the work, cutting through root-bone and barkskin, severing the spirit’s tail. The Kingtusk reels, and, after a moment, our dance resumes.

Wild Hearts, developed by Koei Tecmo and published by EA, is not always this graceful. It lacks the polish and precision of Monster Hunter, the series from which it openly borrows its basic gameplay loop of hunting monsters and turning them into gear to hunt other monsters. This lack of polish and precision is only exacerbated by the game’s poor PC performance, which manages to consistently undercut what should be Wild Heart’s best moments. And yet, when everything is working, Wild Hearts is more mechanically, narratively, and aesthetically cohesive than Monster Hunter has ever been.

A massive, root-covered boar roars at the sky beneath a massive cherry tree, blossoms slowly falling around it.

Screenshot by Koei Tecmo

Wild Hearts is built around “karakuri,” a long dormant form of technology that your character is slowly returning to the world. Your weapons are karakuri. The watch towers and ziplines you fill the environment with are karakuri. The Fortnite-esque building blocks that you rapidly assemble in the midst of combat are karakuri. This ancient technology runs on and interacts with a material called “celestial thread,” the same material upon which kemono, the massive spirits you hunt, survive. 


At the beginning of the game, the karakuri have been asleep for a long time, following a disruption in the flow of celestial thread. Your character finds a “seed,” which integrates karakuri (and celestial thread) into their body—awakening the lost technology around them. In gameplay, this manifests as your character’s ability to build things from celestial thread, which fall into two categories: basic karakuri and dragon karakuri. Basic karakuri are primarily used for combat and traversal, which is why they’re temporary and easily broken. Dragon karakuri, on the other hand, are more permanent additions to the game’s world, ranging from tents to ziplines. These karakuri are not generally used in combat, rely on a different resource from celestial thread, and rebuild themselves when destroyed. Effectively, they become a limited form of basebuilding, allowing you to customize your version of the world to your particular needs. When other players visit your world in multiplayer, they use the karakuri that you’ve built for them.

In combat, basic karakuri can be used for traversal or utility. You can jump off crates to gain access to unique aerial options, or use springs to fling yourself at kemono. However, in addition to their standard forms, basic karakuri can be combined into more complex machinery. Three springs stacked on top of each other, for example, creates a massive hammer with which you may bonk your target kemono. Six crates create a wall, which can stun kemono that charge into them. The building is quick, and surprisingly intuitive, and quickly became an essential part of my approach to hunting kemono.

Three hunters stand in front of a massive, ice-covered wolf. The feather clad hunter in the foreground draws a large bow, while another hunter stands ready to draw his katana in front of the beast. The third hunter extends a hand, signaling a harpoon to fire at the wolf.

Screenshot by Koei Tecmo

Your choice of weapon is, of course, the other essential part of hunting kemono—and interesting weapons have become something of a hallmark for Koei Tecmo. Wild Hearts has the standard katanas, greatswords, hammers, and bows that one would expect in a monster hunting game, but it also includes odder, more interesting additions like bladed umbrellas, multi-part staves, and claw blades. My time with the game has been spent alternating between the parry-focused bladed umbrella, which gains power with every successful block, and the claw blade, which allows for brutal aerial combos at the expense of defensive options.

Weapons are, on the whole, snappier than those in Monster Hunter. When you press a button, the attack happens, as opposed to Monster Hunter’s half-second windups. Because of this, Wild Hearts operates at a much faster pace. It also utilizes a simpler combo structure. Weapons in Monster Hunter, the charge blade and switch axe in particular, can have some pretty expansive movesets—nothing in Wild Hearts comes close. Instead, weapons are differentiated by their approaches to combat and the resources they operate upon. The claw blade gains power with every hit, while the umbrella only shines if you learn to master its parry.

This is not to say that Wild Hearts’ weapons feel perfect. The aforementioned umbrella, for example, has a very tight parry window, coupled with a high stamina cost and an almost two-second long animation, during which you are completely vulnerable. Missing a parry should have consequences, but the penalty for doing so is so high that it can feel overly punishing. 

A boar covered in growths of plant matter like roots, moss, and bark roars at the sky, while a hunter looks on from the foreground, holding an umbrella.

Screenshot by Koei Tecmo

This is exacerbated by the kemono’s frequently deceptive attack animations, which hang in the air for a second longer than you expect and cover a significantly larger area than you realize, resulting in missed parries and occasionally lethal damage. The frustrating ambiguity of your enemy’s attacks is true of every weapon, but the bladed umbrella’s extremely high risk, average reward playstyle suffers the most. Coupled with the game’s severe performance issues on PC, and you have a recipe for disaster. The bladed wagasa is the worst example, but several weapons (like the claw blade) become unusable when the game (frequently) starts running in slow motion.

Opposite your weapons and karakuri are the kemono, which have consistently excellent designs and combat mechanics. Each species feels unique and engaging. The kemono you hunt are massive, powerful spirits, and they use that power to reshape the world around them. Every kemono is tied to an element, or aspect of the environment, and their attacks become extensions of that fact. For example, a Ragetail, when furious, will swing its massive, club-like tail into the air to summon a large tree. Gritdogs, on the other hand, integrate their ability to manipulate the iron present in the earth to bring forth spears of metal beneath your feet. 

This makes the kemono feel closer to your hunter than the monsters of Monster Hunter. Humans and kemono alike reshape the environment using celestial thread. The game leans into this aspect of its world by allowing you to develop your armor along two paths: the human and kemono paths. Both versions are made from the same kemono, but have slightly different stats, aesthetics, and skills, and wearing enough human or kemono armor can bring out additional abilities in your gear.


All of this contributes to what may be Wild Hearts’ greatest achievement over Monster Hunter, its ability to resolve the narrative tension of the hunt. Wild Hearts is set in Minato, a small, forgotten corner of an otherwise war-torn world. Rival clans battle over territory and succession rights, brutalizing both each other and the very ground upon which they walk. This has, in time, led to an abundance of refugees and those who refuse to participate in the war machine. Your hunter is one of those people. In a brief conversation with another character, they ask why you left your home to hunt kemono, and you are offered two options: “I don’t want to talk about it,” or “Because they asked me to hunt people instead.”

A circular part of a hunter's gauntlet spins, with neon green celestial thread trailing behind it, coloring the surrounding air.

Screenshot by Koei Tecmo.

The kemono, like the people of Minato, are fleeing the lands blighted by war. Starved of celestial thread, they attempt to expand their territory, closer and closer to human settlements. They are not cruel, and neither are the people of Minato, both are victims of a violent machine. The game’s narrative revolves around trying to find a way to live, in spite of this tension.

Monster Hunter Rise is built around a village under threat by territory hungry monsters. The difference is that the ecological catastrophe facing Minato has a material cause, produced by human hands, unlike Monster Hunter in which environmental destabilization is the result of a particularly powerful predator. This relationship is significantly less antagonistic, and it shows in the mechanics themselves. Monster Hunter Rise’s unique mechanic involves defending your village from massive hordes of monsters by building traps and engaging them en masse at the walls of the city. Wild Hearts puts its focus on the process of building a relationship to, and presence in, the environment itself via karakuri.

Karakuri operate on and shape celestial thread, the very thing that kemono need to survive. But Wild Hearts does not see these as mutually exclusive ends. Reawakening ancient karakuri allows the flow of celestial thread to resume. This not only returns life to the small village of Minato, but gives the kemono the celestial thread they need to stop aggressively expanding their territory. In the world your character is trying to restore, humans and kemono engage in a complex, symbiotic relationship. The kemono allow the natural environment to prosper, while humans maintain the flow of celestial thread throughout the world via hunting and the development of karakuri. Through this relationship, the distinctions between the built and natural environments begin to break down.

This is not a particularly deep story, nor is it told with much grace. However, in the face of ecological catastrophe it comes to a more interesting and cohesive conclusion than Monster Hunter ever has. It reminds us that our current, endlessly extractive relationship to the environment is not a product of the inevitable conflict between man and nature, but a result of human systems built by human hands.