Monster Hunter has long been the king of the “hunting” genre it's responsible for creating, with countless games trying to emulate what Capcom achieved, but few really succeeding. But in 2023, one game managed to not only crack the formula but bring something truly new to the genre. This overlooked game embraced the adrenaline rush of tracking down fearsome beasts — but with a crafting twist. Now that it’s on Xbox Game Pass, hopefully, this underrated title will finally get the attention it deserves.
Wild Hearts comes from Koei Tecmo’s Omega Force, the studio primarily known for Dynasty Warriors and various spinoffs like Hyrule Warriors and Persona 5 Strikers. In other words, no one expected it to make a Monster Hunter knockoff. What resulted, however, is an equally gorgeous and fascinating title that has a unique aesthetic and one of the most inventive gameplay mechanics the hunting genre has ever seen.
There’s a decent story at the center of Wild Hearts, but just like with Monster Hunter it only exists to serve as a vessel for the various mechanics and fantastic gameplay loop.
You take on the role of a nameless hunter who’s left their homeland and traveled to Azuma, a location clearly inspired by Japanese mythology and folklore where massive monsters, called Kemono, freely roam. Your goal is to hunt down the Kemonoto to protect the city that lies at the heart of Azuma. While making your way there, you uncover an ancient technology known as “Karakuri.”
If you’ve played a hunting game before, you’ll be familiar with the basic gameplay. You have a selection of eight different weapons that all have combos, on top of using traps, recovery items, special moves, and more. Where things really get interesting, however, is with the Karakuri, a dynamic crafting system that you can use on the fly, both in and out of battle.
Karakuri works as a resource, letting you construct devices to aid in exploration, item location, combat, and more. To construct items, you need Karakuri Thread, which can be extracted from items in the environment, such as rocks and trees, as well as monsters.
During battle, you can place crates that help boost you into the air, letting you then slam down into the ground with an extra powerful attack. If you combine enough crates, you can turn it into a wall that can stop a charging Kemono in its tracks. There’s a wide array of items you can craft, torches to light your weapon on fire, chain traps to pin down Kemono, fireworks to stun targets, a massive hammer to slam down on a monster, and much, much more.
The whole Karakuri system feels so wildly vibrant and fresh to the hunting genre, made even better by the fact that the items you create are persistent and will stick around on the map until you leave it. This is especially great for non-combat items that let you create shortcuts, like ziplines or flying propellers.
Managing Karakuri and learning how to use them in various situations gives Wild Hearts a kind of strategic planning aspect that simply doesn’t exist in other hunting games. The crafting system adds phenomenal variety to the different builds and tactics you can create. If you want to support fellow hunters, you might want to focus on a ranged weapon like a bow, then support that with a Healing Mist Karakuri to keep your team healthy, or springs that will let you get around the battlefield quickly and escape danger.
The other critical piece about Wild Hearts is that it eases players into the experience much better than Monster Hunter, which tends to drop you right into things. At the same time, the variety of the Karakuri system makes it easy to get the hang of combat and gives you more options outside of simply learning the ins and outs of each weapon. Wild Hearts has generous tutorials, and slowly layers on new elements, weapons, and Karakuri, making sure players have time to learn the ropes.
At launch, Wild Hearts was unfortunately plagued by some substantial performance issues, especially on PC. And it didn’t have the same level of content many players would expect out of a Monster Hunter-like title. Luckily, both of those things have improved nine months later with a generous amount of monsters and new content added. Technical issues are mostly smoothed out on consoles, although PC can still be rough if you don’t have a powerful rig.
Wild Hearts may not dethrone Monster Hunter, but it does serve much better as an introduction to the genre for those who might have had trouble getting into Capcom’s franchise. It’s an incredibly newbie-friendly game, and the Karakuri crafting is absolutely one of the most inventive mechanics seen in any game this year. Omega Force stumbled on a winning formula that deserves to be played before it fades into obscurity once again.