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Wild Hearts’ take on monster hunting takes a unique approach to its beasts

The natural world of Omega Force’s competitor to Monster Hunter is part of the fight too

Michael McWhertor is a journalist with more than 17 years of experience covering video games, technology, movies, TV, and entertainment.

Developer Omega Force is best known for its line of Warriors games (Dynasty Warriors, Hyrule Warriors, et al.) but the Koei Tecmo-owned studio’s next project returns to a genre it last flirted with a half-decade ago with Toukiden: monster hunting. Wild Hearts, which Electronic Arts is publishing, takes the style of game popularized by Capcom’s Monster Hunter and gives it a few twists, letting players take on massive creatures mutated by their natural environments and throwing in a bit of tower-defense mechanics.

On Thursday, at The Game Awards, Omega Force and EA showcased more of the creatures called kemono that are coming to Wild Hearts. There’s an ice-infused wolf named Deathstalker, a hawk infused with maple trees and sunlight known as Amaterasu, and tiger named Golden Tempest that’s infested with roots and gold dust.

The creators of Wild Hearts told Polygon in an interview over Zoom earlier this week that their kemono monsters were designed to be believable, despite their seemingly magical nature, and frightening, in terms of their aggression and will to survive.

The design of kemono started with the game’s boar creature, a beast with giant tusks and an abundance of eyes that is infused with the trees of its surroundings. These wild animals are affected by their environment, and they, in turn, affect the environment around them, Wild Hearts art director Yu Oboshi told Polygon through a translator.

A giant ice and snow-infused white wolf snarls at a trio of attacking hunters in a frosted forest in Wild Hearts Image: Omega Force/Koei Tecmo/Electronic Arts

“The boar was the first kemono that we conceived,” said Marina Ayano, another art director on the game. “[Wild Hearts] has several themes, like the threat of nature and animals, how they fuse [together], and in the process of designing the boar, we considered many ideas, including a yokai style or a fantasy-oriented style. But we wanted to maintain the boar’s rawness and its infusion with nature.

“The original kemono [form] is shy, but as it mutates, it becomes more aggressive. We wanted to maintain the elements of the original animal and the elements of nature, once we finalized the boar, other kemono followed suit.” Ayano noted that the art team took inspiration from ukiyo-e artwork, hanafuda cards, and religious shrines and temples to create its unique enemies.

Game director Takuto Edagawa said that in the world of Wild Hearts, kemono are naturally occurring creatures. “There’s something that has allowed them to evolve over time, and become infused with nature,” Edagawa said. “This is normal in their world — that was the design intent behind it. They are your enemy in the game, but not a clear-cut villain. They’re fighting for survival too; what they want is against the interests of the humans in the game.”

A giant porcupine infused with crystal spikes face a samurai in a golden forest in Wild Hearts Image: Omega Force/Koei Tecmo/Electronic Arts

Edagawa said that Wild Hearts does not carry an environmentalist or ecological message “but there was the question of ‘What is nature to us?’ Nature is not aware of human beings, and what we do to it. We can have a positive or negative effect, but animals are not aware of it. Nature is circular — things come and go — and that is part of our story.”

Players will need to pay close attention to their environment as they battle kemono. In Wild Hearts, an individual fight may take to 10 to 20 minutes, with 15 being the sweet spot, developers said. A monster infused by nearby tree growth may be relatively calm and green, reflecting the verdant environment, and may transition to red, autumnal colors as it grows angry and nears death. Different environments may also change how kemono act in battle; a monster infused with ice and snow will behave differently from a variation of that same monster affected by wind and heat.

Don’t worry, though, arachnophobes. One thing players won’t face in Wild Hearts are giant bugs and insects, developers said. Instead, expect giant, angry, nature-infused apes, porcupines, rats, wolves, and boars when Wild Hearts hits PlayStation 5, Windows PC, and Xbox Series X in February.

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