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.
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:
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.
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?”
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.
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.
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.