As much as I like to rip Kickstarter every now and again, for its various dreams dashed and games that didn’t live up to lofty promises, the site has produced mutiple hits, insofar as video games I legitimately want to play and / or have played. I’m not always so quick to ‘back’ these games at the time, though, and one game I wish I would’ve backed is Experimental Gamers‘ Boot Hill Heroes ($4.99).
Billed by the developer and others as a sort of ‘Western-themed Earthbound1 / Final Fantasy / Chrono Trigger‘, the game is in fact all of those things, for better and for worse. To start, Boot Hill Heroes is a masterclass in RPG tropes; Underdog hero losing his father at an early age? Check! Saving the world from a menace only you are seemingly able to see? Check! Bizarrely-dressed team members2 that no one would take serious yet somehow wield incredible powers? Check! Grinding through fetch quests and long-winded conversations just to move the story along? Double check!
Of course, most of these are necessary evils / components to any worthwhile RPG. The important part is being able to corral all of these things into a cohesive whole, and the game does a decent job at that. Boot Hill Heroes has you playing as Kid, a young farm… well, kid, setting off to find a job to support your Ma, only to get wrapped up in a much larger adventure involving the nefarious Saints-Little gang3, a conspiracy-in-the-making involving a local Indian tribe, and plenty more colorful characters / situations along the way.
All of this is conveyed through a gorgeous and expansive overworld steeped in a heavy Western accent, featuring a Final Fantasy-style ATB system4 for its combat. Less turn-based and more reactive / frantic, it allows the player to run through several different styles and stances within the game’s unique ‘Vantage’ battle commands. There’s plenty of intricacies to pick up along the way, but generally, you want to anticipate the flow of battle, using ‘Vantages’ like block / dodge to avoid hits, then counterattack with your heavy hitters and offensive skills once you’ve tallied up enough points to do so. You’re free to execute and / or cancel out these moves as you please, keeping the fights fresh and evolving. Don’t misconstrue that as me saying those battles will be easy. Your enemies are tough and (mostly) smart, defending and attacking almost as well as a human player5.
Man, and I just got this awesome hat and everything.
To that end, the game rewards concentration and committment, handing out XP and items to make the next fight more manageable. As soon as you start to feel overwhelmed or lost, something happens to reel you back into the swing of things. You get a horse early on, letting you explore and move around a bit easier. Townsfolk have plenty to offer, both in narrative and side missions. Even your family dog is a loyal pup / teleporter6, doling out directions and saving your game at opportune moments, just another neat trick in a long line of surprising bits you’ll find.
And from the art on down to the music, it’s evident that developer Experimental Gamer cares a great deal about the game and the world it’s set in. Sure, the battle system and the characters and the story are well-done, but that attention to detail extends itself to the small, out-of-the-way stuff too. Nearly every NPC is thoughtfully-designed, with his or her own western-tinged dialogue blocks and backgrounds (it helps to talk to everyone too, as these people can sometimes grant you ‘status buffs’ that last for a limited time). Environments and towns are loaded with personality, giving this version of ‘The West’ its own cadence and feel, much as classic RPGs painstakingly introduced their lore to players and made them care about the characters they’d be spending dozens of hours with.
Hell, there’s even a downloadable card game companion if you’re into those sorts of things. Suffice it to say that Boot Hill Heroes really nails the look and feel of a classic SNES RPG / JRPG, which is a blessing and a curse. That is to say, it can be slow-going and obscure, almost too retro. Its we’ll-tutorial-you-as-you-play style, while helpful, doesn’t cover everything in exacting detail. There will still be some trial-and-error. Nor do things move swiftly. You’ll have to grind quite a bit, gathering tons of items (and selling them to make cash) and improving weapons to take on the bigger challenges. That plodding pace, both in terms of progression and storyline, can be a hassle at times, but the world itself is always interesting, always with something to see just around the next corner or boulder.
It’s been keeping me busy. I won’t even pretend to say I’ve finished or seen all of Boot Hill Heroes (I’m about five hours in, of what is titled as a ‘Part One’ of unknown parts), but the amount of effort and love and humor that’s gone into what I’ve played is clearly apparent. If any of what I’ve said before this (as well as any of those other titles I’ve name-dropped) makes sense to you or conjures up pleasant memories of RPGs-past, then Boot Hill Heroes will be a vital refresher as to why you played those games in the first place.
- I’ve never played Earthbound personally, but I hear / read good things. It’s on the bucket list, as so many things are. ↩
- Lots of hats to wear? Sooooo check! ↩
- The ones that killed your Pa. Right bastards they are. ↩
- ‘Active Time Battle’, to be precise. If you don’t know the term, see the middle-timeline Final Fantasy games for more info on that. ↩
- Although it’s not necessary or convenient, Boot Hill Heroes does feature a local four-player co-op, with each person controlling one party member. I doubt most people will ever make use of it, but hey, it’s a nifty feature if you have the means. ↩
- Seriously, this dog is like everywhere. It’s magic or voodoo or witchcraft or I don’t know what. I started calling him Mr. Omnipresent. I think he can read my thoughts. Send help. ↩