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How I became the real monster in Wild Hearts

Yes, you can pet the animals — and I’m furious about it

A Wild Hearts Gladefruit Hare in the wilderness minding its own business. It is utterly unthreatening. There are big sad eyes drawn on. Image: Omega Force/Koei Tecmo, Electronic Arts via Polygon
Jeffrey Parkin (he/him) has been writing video game guides for Polygon for almost seven years. He has learned to love just about every genre of game that exists.

In my defense, there were a lot of reasons to think that you couldn’t pet the animals in Wild Hearts.

It is, in the style of the Monster Hunter series, a monster-hunting game, not a monster-hugging game (though someone should really get on making one of those). As you play Wild Hearts, you hunt down giant monsters called kemono — a Japanese word that translates (roughly) to “beast,” by the way — using swords and hammers and magical mechanisms called karakuri. You hunt these deadly beasts terrorizing the land to carve up their carcasses for parts.

Sure, some of them are kind of cute in their own ways, but Wild Hearts co-director Kotaro Hirata told The Verge, “We didn’t want the players to feel bad when they defeated a monster.”

“We wanted you to want to fight them,” co-director Takuto Edagawa added.

So that’s what I did.

Wild Hearts player getting thrown by a giant pig monster. He’s looking at the camera as if to say, “Yep, that’s me. You’re probably wondering how I ended up in this situation.”
Decidedly not pettable.
Image: Omega Force/Koei Tecmo, Electronic Arts via Polygon

Broadly speaking, that’s what you’re supposed to do in Wild Hearts. You’re not supposed to (be able to) pet the monsters in a monster-hunting game. And besides, the kemono you hunt are nature-animal hybrid monsters who are bigger than buildings and full of homicidal rage — certainly not the sort of creatures who seem deserving of, or particularly receptive to, pets.

The game does differentiate between “giant” and “small” kemono. The giant ones are main-event hunts with all the best parts to cut off. The myriad kinds of small ones are roughly horse-sized and just generally populate the world of Azuma as you explore. Some of the small ones are vaguely indifferent to you as you pass, but others attack on sight. Call me petty, but that does not put me in the mindset to pet them (the attacking part, not the indifferent part; I have two cats, so I’m quite fond of small, indifferent creatures).

And, frankly, some of the small ones are just begging for a stabbin’. Like the Grassghoul Decapod here — just look at its picture and description:

A screenshot of the Grassghoul Decapod entry. The picture and description are not flattering. The words “Petted: 0” are crossed out and someone has written “IGNORE THIS” in red text with an arrow pointing to the “Petted” counter.
Pincers said to emit moaning cries of anguish.
Image: Omega Force/Koei Tecmo, Electronic Arts via Polygon

Nothing about that says, “Let’s cuddle.”

Now, someone more observant than I am might have noticed that “number petted” stat in the screenshot above. That should have been my first clue that I was missing something. But it wasn’t. What finally made me notice was a rabbit.

Well, 16 rabbits, actually.

The Wild Hearts entry for a Gladefruit Hare. There is nothing threatening about it, and yet, the number slayed is 16.
“A vicious streak a mile wide!”
Image: Omega Force/Koei Tecmo, Electronic Arts via Polygon

Nothing about the Gladefruit Hare says, “Fight me, bro,” but I happily hacked through 16 of them. Because that’s what you do in a monster-hunting game and the directors said they didn’t want me to feel bad about it.

But somewhere between the 16th and the 17th meat-filled bunny, the guilt crept in. I messaged my colleague Ari to say, “Hey, isn’t it weird how you have to kill all the cute animals too?”

A screenshot of a Slack conversation in which Ari Notis is not helpful at all. Ari says: “the game gives you a choice: pet or kill. which means... you MURDERED IT”
Ari is dead to me.
Image: Omega Force/Koei Tecmo, Electronic Arts via Polygon

He was not sympathetic.

Because, you see, Wild Hearts had tried to teach me that I could pet the small kemono instead of murdering them. Twenty. Hours. Earlier. The prompt, which popped up during the tutorial, was just hard to notice right there in the center of the screen like that. In my apparent bloodlust, I ignored it and instead chose violence every time.

A Wild Hearts hunter hiding in a bush next to a small kemono creature. There is a prompt in the center of the screen reading “pet,” but it’s really easy to miss so it’s not my fault. There are arrows drawn on to point to the word.
It could’ve at least flashed or something.
Image: Omega Force/Koei Tecmo, Electronic Arts via Polygon

I still maintain this wasn’t my fault. After I barreled past that particular teachable moment in the first few minutes of the game, it didn’t really come up again. You have to crouch and remain unnoticed for the “pet” prompt to even show up. But there’s not a lot of opportunity for hiding in bushes or stealthy gameplay in Wild Hearts.

And so, I had spent 20 hours obliviously slashing my way through so, so many animals I could have been petting all along — 136 of them across a dozen species.

The Wild Hearts entry for the Coralcoat Turtle. The number petted is zero and the number slayed is 21. The turtle has big sad eyes and a frown drawn on. Someone has written “I’M SO SORRY” on the image.
I’m the turtlepocalypse.
Image: Omega Force/Koei Tecmo, Electronic Arts via Polygon

So this is my confession and public apology for all the bunnies, turtles, and, yes, even the decapods I needlessly (and heedlessly) murdered. Tutorials exist in video games for a reason, and rushing through the Wild Hearts tutorial turned me into the real monster.

The next level of puzzles.

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