Tag Archives: JRPG

REVIEW: Boot Hill Heroes

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 GamersBoot 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.

Boot Hill Heroes - Screen

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.

Boot Hill Heroes - Screen2

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.


  1. I’ve never played Earthbound personally, but I hear / read good things. It’s on the bucket list, as so many things are. 
  2. Lots of hats to wear? Sooooo check! 
  3. The ones that killed your Pa. Right bastards they are. 
  4. ‘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. 
  5. 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. 
  6. 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. 
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REVIEW: Monster King

Monster King (80 MSP) marks the second JRPG I’m playing in as many weeks, Mortal Legacies (review) being the other. In a quick vote between the two titles, Monster King is the superior, though when taken against the whole of the indie RPG catalog, it falls somewhat short.

As the eponymous hero, you’re told that monsters have besieged the lands of… somewhere. It’s never elaborated upon. You don’t get a proper name or any speaking lines. You’re just told to fight. It doesn’t matter if you’re personable, as you’re not accepting sidekick applications. The whole setup is bare-bones. In every way, you’re lone wolfing it in MK

Combat is of course turned-based, via the typical menu selections; Attack & Magic, use a potion, flee a battle. In a nice gesture, you automatically equip the best weapon and armor for the job, and shops in the various towns will only sell to you if its beneficial for you (a completely foreign concept in our reality). Exploration is minimal. Outside of potions or new weapons / armor found in scattered chests, there’s not much to see. Mostly you fight random battles in the field, covering ground until you reach a bridge or bottleneck, at which point you’ll take on a boss for the right to pass, then repeat. So long as you’re well-leveled, battles are fast, if uneventful, though there is an interesting wrinkle.

As in Meat Loaf?

MK subscribes to the theory that ‘Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good monster at your side’, enabling you to first weaken and then add the game’s monsters to your armament, Persona / Pokemon style. The idea works well in practice too, adding a degree of experimentation to fights despite the expected ‘try fire vs. ice, etc.’ checkmates. Given the high cost of some magic, it’s an effective option once you’ve learned each monster’s weakness. And though you’re not rewarded with anything for doing so, there is a strange sense of accomplishment once you’ve captured the lot of them.

And that roster of creatures is diverse, if nothing else. Psychic rats. Brains in jars. There’s a Tree Killer (doesn’t kill trees, oddly) that is timber with an uzi, and a Not Ready, which looks like a pixel Quagmire (maybe it’s the prominent jawline). That’s worth a chuckle, though some of them are duds (Snowman, blah. Hover Dude, really?).

In terms of excitement there isn’t much, a few hours of old-school monster-slaying, but I found it charming. Grinding out progression, one character level and one stat increase at a time, evoked Dragon Quest for me (the first monster, Sludge, is an easy stand-in for a Slime). Nostalgia is a factor, sure, and it’s an innocuous RPG without much of a story (till the very end), but it moves swiftly and doesn’t overstay its welcome.

REVIEW: Mortal Legacies

Despite the allure of the bigger-budgeted, Hollywood-visuals RPGs, there’s plenty of market space left for independent role-players to set up pixelized shop. The Breath of Death / Cthulhu one-two, EvilQuest, and the upcoming Penny Arcade 3 are all good examples of indie development gone right. And while they can’t ever hope to match the look and scope of a retail release, I’m here to say they can beat the big guys at their own game, with quirky, original stories and / or characters that strike some chord with the player. It’s all about ideas.

Mortal Legacies‘ (80 MSP) box art (looks a bit like Desmond from Assassin’s Creed, doesn’t it?) seems to tease a darker, more modern take on old school turn-based JRPGs, though the truth is much duller. Assuming the role of blue-haired Valloc, you’re given a fateful directive (from your Mom, of all people), to explore the land of Elisia in search of the King’s lost crown and prevent the shadow from engulfing the world. Not that the world much pleads its case for salvation. It’s as bland as they come, and nobody has much to say to about it. From townspeople to party members, a sentence’s worth of exposition about does it. All the castle’s guards communicate via the Skyrim meme, which has seen enough use but to me never gets old.

What does get old is the combat. I realize the turn-based system is inherent to retro role-players, but here the random battles tend to come back to back a little too frequently, and you’ll constantly buff and restock those allies in your group with spells / attacks that hit multiple enemies, just to get the damn battle over with rather than necessity.

Casting Devastating Blow? Yeah, to Fun.

The game is too linear and too short to set up a decent plot or characters, with party members that fill every RPG support role stereotype (mage, rogue, priest), and have zero personality, backstory, or reason to be there. Same too for the quests and objectives. It’s all stuff you’ve seen / done previously (pirates, bandits, oh my).

You also level up at an incredible clip; on medium difficulty, it’s nearly every other fight. I’m sure good intentions were there (making it easier to pick up and play, and thus, more enjoyable), but the lack of proper balance favors the player in almost every battle, leaving the endgame devoid of any challenge or joy. The game’s brevity (hour+) is therefore a blessing. Beating the game unlocks a new mode that turns Valloc into a demon (no explanation given, and the narrative doesn’t change). With the weapon and armor you’re able to then equip, you’re over-powered from the start, which just highlights the game’s balance problems even more.

There’s no need to go on. With the absolute barest of character-building and story-telling frameworks in place, a cumbersome inventory, and frequent, protracted fights, it’s no surprise that Mortal Legacies is a completely skippable experience.