Sometimes aesthetics mean everything.
I’ve always been interested in the phenomenon that is Capcom
’s Monster Hunter
series. The idea of a gameplay loop that involves hunting to gain resources for better gear for greater hunts, ever-repeating, set in a fantastical world with dangerous beasts that transcend archetypal tropes or expectations of videogame fodder, set into a functioning ecosystem… I mean, phwoar
. On paper, it’s an amazing setup, and to be the hunter in that scenario is like a
But for reasons that fall into a few categories, not the least of which is led by that series skirting a more, for lack of a better term, ‘kiddie’ tilt, I couldn’t get into Monster Hunter.
My first few forays had me fighting the mechanics and controls, others had me baulking at a deep story I’d somehow missed from other entries leaving me lost and lore-watching, rather than absorbing. Others still were so far removed from that OG ‘on paper’ setup that it felt like something entirely new (this is the Capcom way), and thus that
forever dream just became white noise.
And then along comes the most unexpected of alliances and a teaser for a hunting game that ticks all of my previous boxes in Wild Hearts
announcing a project with Koei Tecmo
’s Omega Force
(a frontrunner for studio with the best name, ever) was… not in the stars, as they say. An outlier transaction, on the face of it, but digging a bit deeper this partnership benefits both parties in unique ways, while bolstering and leveraging the strengths of each. It’s not the first time EA has dropped interesting partnerships -- last year’s The Game Awards Game of the Year, It Takes Two
, being a prime example of what can come of the "EA Originals
"Wild Hearts’ setup is a mixture of Ancient feudalistic Japan, fantastic beasts and a nature strikes back sentiment, with a bit of The Witcher thrown in...”
“We had been working on the title long before EA came into the picture,” says developer, Omega Force, via translator. “We had been developing it and got it to a certain level where we were able to show EA and they said they would love to be a part of it. And that’s how we came to co-develop with them.
“In terms of our partnership, EA [has] left a lot of the creative elements to us as they really respected our direction. And they were able to take what we had created and give us feedback on how an international audience would view it.”
That aesthetic alluded to above, we can’t help but think the higher-ups at EA were just as blown away and intrigued as us. Wild Hearts’ setup is a mixture of Ancient feudalistic Japan, fantastic beasts and a nature strikes back sentiment, with a bit of The Witcher thrown in, only through an Eastern lens, for good measure. The end result is a game that doesn’t hesitate to go big early, at least in my limited hands-on time with it, and certainly one that quickly has the player realising its full potential early.
“When we set out to design the world of Wild Hearts we basically made a chronology of what kind of elements we wanted to see in this world,” Omega Force tells us. “And at that stage we decided that we wanted it to be the same world that you and I live in; it’s our
world just with these kemono (the beasts) living in it.”
”Doing this feeds into the resource-gathering part of the game which includes a mixture of materials from the world you can mine and gather, as well as what you garner from felled beasts in successful hunts...”
As is the case in Monster Hunter, crafting is a big component to Wild Hearts, though here you can also craft mid-combat with the game-changing Karakuri, which I’ll get to in a moment. And crafting is a huge driving point to not just being more powerful and capable, but for also dominating the landscape. Early on in my hands-on with the game, I saved a woman at the mouth of a clearing that featured an abandoned, overgrown village. Once you revive her she tells you she’s a blacksmith and will reward your efforts with good work. Once you set up her field smithing station, you can go about getting new weapons or bolstering the ones you got. Doing this feeds into the resource-gathering part of the game which includes a mixture of materials from the world you can mine and gather, as well as what you garner from felled beasts in successful hunts.
“There are not a lot of titles in the hunting game genre, however, there are a lot of stand out [games] that we as creators really love and [that] we’re big fans of,” the devs tell us when ask about inspiration in the space, and what they saw as gameplay gaps in the relatively lite-on genre. “There aren’t any (games) that specifically inspired us or are inspirations, however, what you mentioned about [where we see any] gaps is in crafting -- we definitely saw the ability to bring crafting into the hunting genre [in a more] dynamic [way] and [how it could be] more enjoyable.
“Many games in the action-RPG genre allow you to craft, however, we think that our game is unique in the sense that you’re crafting in the middle of a battle; you're crafting for the battlefield during
a fight. And so that aspect makes it unique.”
What Omega Force is talking about here is the aforementioned Karakuri -- a magical item in the game that is a sort of Swiss Army tool for the player, that initially begins life as a box, then a series of boxes before you begin to realise the full potential of it. The cuboid beginnings of the the Karakuri has a bit of folk-lore attached to it from real-world Japanese history, which is neat.
”As an item used often in combat, running out of thread while you’re in the thick of it isn’t conducive to a Sunday forage and therefore not overly helpful...”
“When we were developing the game and we wanted to bring in the crafting element, we first had basically a box,” Omega Force reveals. “And you just set it on the field and that was it. But we started to think that we’d like to see more movement out of it and “karakuri” has a bit of a history in Japan as these small devices that are made of wood and have the ability to be manipulated, and so we wanted that kind of a… variable, adjustable experience out of the karakuri in our game.”
Within, use of the magical item requires thread as a resource, and you can only utilise it so many times before you need more thread, which in my playthrough was easy enough to find out in the world. However, as an item used often in combat, running out of thread while you’re in the thick of it isn’t conducive to a Sunday forage and therefore not overly helpful. To this end, management of its use and usefulness, as well as your overall reliance on it, in combat, will become a key aspect to how you build on your playstyle. It’s systems like this with no defined parameter for use that make games of this nature so engaging, and I can’t wait to play with it more.
As far as how it worked in combat, the Karakuri allows you to build out things like a platform to leap from (engaging a devastating overhead attack), a Bulwark to act as a wall to stun your prey, a spring to escape a greater distance should you need to top on health or even manage a minor bit of mid-fight forage, and more. As a kind of modular placement, though, each one is destructible (though upgradable), which feeds into just how
you choose to manage it all.
”We felt like this was the best approach for a hunting game, and so in terms of the story you won’t just keep hunting over and over again, and there is a beginning, [middle] and end story arc...”
And as a game that relies heavily on resources, gathering, management and crafting, the space on offer, at least again in my limited time with it, was fairly tantalising; filled with essential and just enough mystery to feed out the game’s ‘nature strikes back’ story.
“It’s not a sandbox,” the team explains. “Basically what we’ve chosen to do is “zones” or limited stages. We felt like this was the best approach for a hunting game, and so in terms of the story you won’t just keep hunting over and over again, and there is a beginning, [middle] and end story arc that flows through the game -- similar to what you see in an action-RPG. And as you’re going through that story you’ll naturally encounter certain creatures that you’ll have to fight. There are also side-stories; side-quests that the player can pursue. They (you) can go off hunting… just free hunting, and in that sense the player’s able to enjoy a longer [playtime] with the game.
“The zones we’ve set up are also quite large. So there’s an aspect of [exploration] that will be enjoyable to the players [within those].”
The map I played around in was full of things you could tell would be expanded upon in the final release, and teased a deeper, fairly connected world. Much of my The Witcher vibes came from the world at large, and its kemono aspect, not at all dissimilar to how monsters exist in Geralt’s world, but can also come en masse due to different magics and interruptions to the usual life-flow of things.
“When designing Wild Hearts we wanted to use universal motifs so that gamers around the world would have an easier time playing,” Omega Force says. “And so we wanted to take something that everyone knows and what we came up with was a fusion of animals and nature. For example, the rats in the game… there’s also wolves and [these are] things that we’re [all] familiar with but are just a little bit different.”
”The whole thing feels like a franchise-in-waiting with huge potential for transmedia exploitation...”
Art-direction, in direct response to my point about aesthetics, is so on-point here, the whole thing feels like a franchise-in-waiting with huge potential for transmedia exploitation. But I’m getting ahead of myself. First and foremost, Wild Hearts is a hunting game with its Eastern-developed sights set on the Western world thanks to EA’s coming on board. And it ticks another box that’s fairly important in modern gaming, though one that I don’t hold so dear -- co-op.
In fact I didn’t get a chance to experience the game in cooperative play, which generally sees upto three players be able to hunt together. Crossplay is an out-of-the-box aspect, too, which EA has confirmed, while also telling us it won’t matter where any player is in the story as it’s all drop-in, drop-out. For the
loners out there like me though, playing the game solo as a single-player experience was also heavily factored into its design.
“Of course in the hunting genre, multiplayer is extremely important, so we had that in mind when we began to develop,” Omega Force concludes. “However, we wanted to have a good balance of the ability to play in either solo or multiplayer.”
Wild Hearts is scheduled to release fo PC
and Xbox Series X|S
in February of 2023. Stay tuned to AusGamers for more on what is shaping up to be the most significant entry in the hunting genre in some time.