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How Wild Hearts’ building mechanics were inspired by Japanese puppets

Wild Hearts is heavily inspired by Japanese culture, as the game's directors explain to us

Wild Hearts isn’t Fortnite meets Monster Hunter. Yes, we all thought it when we saw people building structures before climbing them and diving onto monsters in the launch trailer, but once you go hands-on with the game it’s clear that could not be further from the truth. Wild Hearts is a fast-paced action game where you fight plenty of giant monsters while living off of the land and settling down in select areas.

The Fortnite-like creations you can build are Karakuri, and while you have Karakuri that have specific use cases in combat, there are multiple which you can use to climb walls, zipline through the world, or springboard over gaps in the environment. Stamina depletes fast when climbing, so having Karakuri by your side is essential to navigate the world fully. But there’s a rich history behind Karakuri Puppets in Japan, and that’s what the team at Omega Force wanted to evoke, as one of the game’s directors, Korato Hirata, tells GLHF.

The Lavaback is a vicious Kemono.

The Lavaback is a vicious Kemono.

“This game has a Japanese theme, and we wanted our crafting mechanic to blend naturally into the theme,” Hirata-san explains. “We wanted to enable players to move things around in the game, and it fit right in. Karakuri are a type of artwork that has the ability to surprise people, and that’s what we wanted to Karakuri in Wild Hearts to feel like.”

In real life, Karakuri puppets (or Karakuri ningyō) are unique contraptions that were invented in the 17th century, following the introduction of European clock-making technology (thanks, Wikipedia). These puppets move in intricate ways, such as picking up and shooting arrows, but underneath their detailed robes are a series of wooden cogs whirring away to replicate life-like motion. When you summon Karakuri in game and look closely, you’ll see cogs whirring away inside your own wooden contraptions.

Kemono monsters are huge in Wild Hearts.

Kemono monsters are huge in Wild Hearts.

There are also Dragon Karakuri in the game, which can be simple tents, campfires, forges, and more. Dragon Karakuri feel like permanent fixtures that mark your journey across the world – something that becomes immediately clear if you ever work with an online player that has filled their world with springs and ziplines. It feels almost like a survival game mechanic, but that’s not where the inspiration came from, as the game’s other director, Takuto Edagawa, explains.

“We wanted the player to create their own hunting ground, and their own routes through the world,” Edagawa tells us. “When it comes to games in the hunting genre, you tend to repeat the same process and routes, but we didn’t want it to be the same every time. We wanted the environment around you to change gradually as you embark on missions.” Being able to place campsites that act as fast-travel points in a game with as much monster chasing as this is a huge boon, and if you know which parts of the map are hard to read, then they’re perfect for a zipline – called a Flying Karakuri in-game.

You'll spend a long time playing before taking on the game's biggest beasts.

You'll spend a long time playing before taking on the game's biggest beasts.

It’s no secret that the inspirations come from a place close to home, but one of Wild Hearts’ most distinctly Japanese qualities comes from its localized dialogue. With English voice acting turned on, many characters will still start their sentences with Japanese words and phrases – just the obvious ones that weebs will have learned from anime – and that decision wasn’t made by anyone at Omega Force.

“Well, that was proposed by the localization team, and as a Japanese [person], when I hear Japanese words spoken by an English voice actor, I feel a bit strange,” Edagawa-san says with a smile. “When the localization team first proposed it, I didn’t know what to make of it, but they were so passionate about it, and they said that it would be received well by overseas fans – and in the end, I guess that’s what happened.”

The world is impressive.

The world is impressive.

The hub town of Minato provides the ideal place to get to know these characters over the course of your adventure, and Edagawa-san shared his favorite character with us, Ujishige, the former samurai that you meet near the beginning of your adventure. “He’s got a lot of personality and I think I can empathize with a lot of what he is.”

But the hub town also provides players with a new place to interact with the world, and in a different way. I askif the team have anything they feel people should know about Wild Hearts, and this is how I now know that if you place ziplines in Minato, villagers will actually start using them to get around. Consider that to be peak Wild Hearts trivia.

There are a variety of weapons to use in Wild Hearts.

There are a variety of weapons to use in Wild Hearts.

Karakuri were originally created as a form of entertainment, so it’s fitting that a game with such strong Japanese heritage can still keep us entertained in 2023. Wild Hearts is an excellent action game and a strong competitor to go against Monster Hunter, as we stated in our full Wild Hearts review.