"Imagine choosing what I want to be?"
Open worlds are consistently constructed with power fantasies in mind, so to take this genre — that excels when you're adrift, guideless, confronted with daunting expanses of a world unknown and the frightening amount of options that comes with that — and frame it as an introspective coming of age story feels revelatory despite being the most fitting narrative choice to make with that mechanical foundation.
And, yeah, the game takes a lot from the Breath of the Wild school of design, but it a has a deep understanding of what made that great (it guides you almost entirely by landmarks silhouetting the horizon; is confident on its vistas and history as a reward in itself; understands the value of empty areas as negative spaces; and never center stages repeated activities), so it can stripe away core aspects of that formula and not only make it work, but find its own essence.
Despite Luis Antonio's outspoken desire to push the medium forward, he wasn't able to conceive of a game that would give form to deeper meaning, instead making a story dominated by it's game mechanics — which resulted in uninspired puzzle box storytelling and shock value —, while the cinematic framing actively crippled the satisfaction of play by adding too much poorly conceived friction in the player's interactions with the game.
(also, there's a bit where the protagonist looks at a window while it's raining and says "heavy rain" and you can't convince me the director is not your average david cage enjoyer)
The main Monster Hunter series' strict focus in monster slaying for the sake of more monster slaying always felt a little repetitive for my taste in game progression, so transferring its other qualities to a jrpg, that's usually more interested in story and adventure, sounded like something I could enjoy, but Stories 2 didn't really find a way to escape its originator's core sensibilities. Every single story mission in this game has the exact same anatomy, and although the elements that composes them are successful overall, it can't hold a fifty hour game.
Combat does a great job of keeping you engaged by having many moving parts that you always have to pay attention to in order to succeed, translating well to a turn based system the different types of weapons present in a group of hunters and how much the monsters communicate through animation on the main series. Making your monsters attack independently of you is a nice touch of unpredictability that also works well to make them feel more like living things — the occasional bad choice will be counterbalanced by the times they predict an enemy attack and go against their nature to assist you —, but the overreliance of the combat in the weapon triangle do make them feel somewhat interchangeable.
While not in combat you will be exploring an extremely bland and lightly designed landscape with very few things to see or do, that doesn't even share the gleaming cel shaded look of the characters and monsters, exhibiting instead flat textures with muted colors, making you respect even more the work on lighting and shaders that goes into something like botw.
This game is clearly aimed at younger audiences, so its hard to want too much from its story, but if you're in that wavelength, it works just fine. The player created silent protagonist can be a little awkward, as it is palpable how much they have to work around to accommodate that in many different occasions (there's this specific scene when you're in danger and some other character is running for your aid and you see it in their face and feel it in your bones with years of watching stories that they desperately want and should be screaming your name, but they can't, and just look at you and groan a bit, it cracked me up), but the rest of cast in the wholesome friend group is exactly as energetic or stoic or collected as I'm sure you can imagine, and deliver all the power of friendship you could possibly want — with the added understanding of those bonds when put in perspective to our fleeting human lives, which I'm not sure how will track with an audience that was just born into this world, but ok. If anything, the animators worked really hard so you would have something pretty and cool to look at when the cutscenes kick in.
Great use of platformer design applied to a floaty movement set and free form environment, creating a different but just as satisfying type of challenge that is more focused on precision than dexterity.
It also might be the most gorgeous game I've played this year. The levels and world map are apparently inspired by Copenhagen, but it looks as if the city had been translated into a microscopic space, existing in this surreal, colorful and astir state, flowing in an endless white background.