Monster Hunter Stories is a spinoff from the main series in the sense that Capcom has decided to change the basics of what we know of the franchise, this time giving us a different perspective on the world of hunting fantastic beasts. Real-time combat is gone in favour of a turn-based system; anime aesthetics replace the more realistic art style; there's no longer a hunter-prey relationship, instead, there's now a partnership between rider and mount; and finally, complicated mechanics have been swapped for something seemingly simpler...
The game features a renewed battle system, and in this system turn-based strategy takes over, featuring a rock, paper, scissors system. However, with more than 50 hours in the battlefield, we came to realise that it would be more apt to compare it with the modern variant: rock, paper, scissors, lizard, Spock.
Landing several successful attacks on your enemies causes them to fall, and engaging them when you're on your mount makes the special attack even more powerful. They have their own tricks, though, as some monsters can call upon allies, others have other ways to buff themselves or the hunter.
Sounds like a perfect mix to shape a strategy game, right? Wrong. The idea is gone for good as soon as the battle starts. You can tweak the genetics and attributes of your monster as much as you want, but in the end they will always act randomly unless you give them orders, but if you do that, the bond between both of you will weaken. It's a way of representing natural behavior, and the whole story revolves about the bond between monster and human, but makes it virtually impossible to work out a battle plan.
Knowing a little bit more about both your monster and the enemy helps. In the main Monster Hunter series, you must know your prey before initiating combat, by studying patterns, strengths, and weaknesses. So it is here as well, but when you face a new boss (or the same one with different behaviour), it's possible to go from having total control of a fight to losing your three lives and biting the dust in a couple of turns, and this is quite frustrating.
Luckily, this isn't a challenging game. The campaign mode is quite easy, although Capcom has some added challenges in store for advanced players, and the hard content comes after the game ends the first time. What comes after the credits will really make you sweat. We spent more than 30 hours on the main story, completing side missions, gathering eggs, forging equipment, and testing formations. After all that we found that the biggest challenges awaited us during the second run, and that a lot more remains to be discovered after completion.
Time goes by quickly if you let yourself enjoy the game world, but it gets boring when you try to follow the plot. It starts with a plague, a trio of characters who want to become Riders (horsemen), and a prophecy. As a part of this, the main character decides to leave his hometown and starts on a journey. The story isn't something that particularly stands out, as events don't always link together logically and you often question why you're doing what you're doing.