Wild Hearts combines Monster Hunter and Death Stranding into one excellent RPG

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Building in Wild Hearts is nothing if not practical. You stack crates to make walls, combine torch-bearing columns into firework cannons, and pile jumping pads on top of one another to summon bouncing hammers. None of these contraptions take more than a few seconds to shape into existence. And more often than not, they can be the difference between life and death during particularly dangerous monster hunts. Practicality does not rob them of their importance.

These creations d on’t just offer temporary aid — they linger in your world indefinitely after you put them in place.

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Vines propel you across improbable distances and wind fans propel you to staggering heights, not just during the expedition on which you created them but in every one after that, too, making subsequent hunts faster and more manageable. Crucially, you can also place these aids in other players’ sessions, and they can place them in yours. In a game about venturing into the wilderness to hunt monsters, harvest their parts, and use them to craft stronger gear, it’s the social value of these construction mechanics that makes the largest impact. Like Death Stranding’s emphasis on communal striving in times of isolation, Wild Hearts urges you to not only help others, but to leave your footprint in their world as well.

I was skeptical of Wild Hearts at first, considering how closely it hews to the ethos of Monster Hunter. Past attempts to capture the essence of Capcom’s series, such as Dauntless, didn’t quite nail the core elements — the tension during battle, iconic beasts that are a joy to (inevitably and repeatedly) smack down, and a strong cooperative factor. The latter, for me, evolved from hunting with office co-workers in the break room in Monster Hunter Generations to banding together with those same friends remotely through Monster Hunter World and Monster Hunter Rise.

A player aims their bow at a wolf-like enemy in a wintery landscape in Wild Hearts Image: Omega Force/Koei Tecmo, Electronic Arts via Polygon

But this isn’t the first time Koei Tecmo’s studios have attempted to emulate the thrills of a titanic competitor — Team Ninja capitalized on the Soulslike frenzy with Nioh and Nioh 2, and Omega Force tackled the hunting-action genre itself with Toukiden and Toukiden 2. Seen as part of this throughline, Wild Hearts is a logical yet exciting proposition for the publisher.

Wild Hearts, as part of the modern wave of monster-hunting titles aimed at quality-of-life changes and streamlined tutorials, eased me into its complex cobweb of materials, mechanics, and statuses. Once I began sparring with some of the more grandiose champions of its roster, it became clear how Wild Hearts was adding to the foundation set by its forebears. I just didn’t expect a Fortnite-esque building mechanic to be at the center of the reinvention.

It can take a while to get used to it, but once it clicks, building on the fly in Wild Hearts becomes second nature. There’s an immediate satisfaction to creating a wall right before an enemy’s attack, leaving them stunned for a brief moment, or making them fall to the ground after a failed charging blow. Jumping crates can give you that one higher jump you need to dodge an upcoming lava eruption or poison cloud, before creating a glider in midair and floating to safety.

The player character crouches in a poppy field at dusk while hunting a monster in Wild Hearts Image: Omega Force/Koei Tecmo, Electronic Arts via Polygon

Thankfully, these tools don’t disrupt the trademark tension of the genre. Each of these constructions, called Karakuri, requires a specific resource cost called Thread. The limit can be upgraded over time, but if you run out of the necessary material in the heat of the moment, you can either escape the reach of your prey and go off in search of it, or perform attacks to vulnerable points in a beast’s body to extract a chunk of it.

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This alone is enough incentive to play cooperatively, as managing resources and deciding what to craft is expanded when up to three folks can pool their individual resources. You can help each other finish a structure if the other person ran out of Thread, or create a wall to defend someone who was stunned by a beast’s attack. All of a sudden, your other teammate is gliding above the monster while shooting a cannon, shortly before you time the creation of a wall to interrupt the beast’s ground slam, like a wrestler carefully placing a foldable chair at the exact spot on the mat that will do maximum damage.

Many of these constructions (specifically, the ones labeled “Basic Karakuri”) are temporary. Enemies are quick to tear things down during battles, even if you can upgrade them later on with increased durability. Dragon Karakuri crafts, on the other hand, are permanent. Instead of using Thread, they draw energy from Dragon Pits, which are located in different corners of the game’s four islands. Once you unblock them, you can spend their elemental resources to materialize bigger and more useful tools nearby. Witnessing islands become increasingly populated by these gadgets, even appearing as icons on the map, reminds me of Death Stranding’s shared worlds, in which players could build objects to help themselves and others. While playing in friends’ sessions, I’d instinctively craft objects as if they were my own, only to realize that those might aid my friends long after I departed.

A hunter surveys a jungle-like landscape with ravines and ziplines in Wild Hearts Image: Omega Force/Koei Tecmo, Electronic Arts via Polygon

There are some key differences — Wild Hearts doesn’t place dozens of players in one session, there’s no ability to leave “likes,” and its feudal Japan is a far cry from Kojima Productions’ dystopian United States. But there’s an endearing sense of community in knowing that a flying vine I’ve made, which allows for quick traversal across a ravine or a shortcut to the top of a mountain where a beast had retreated, could aid the next desperate passerby.

I can picture myself weeks from now, strolling among the creations, gadgets, and objects that my friends and I have left littered across our worlds, thinking back on these early days in Wild Hearts. These constructions are marks of solidarity in a game that could have been mere homage. Building in Wild Hearts isn’t just a mechanical conceit. It’s the pillar of its identity.

Wild Hearts will be released on Feb. 16 on PlayStation 5, Windows PC, and Xbox Series X. The game was reviewed on PC using a pre-release download code provided by Electronic Arts. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.