Spaghetti Western that needs more sauce.
A western JRPG might be an oxymoron in terms of gaming descriptors, but Boot Hill Heroes fits the bill regardless, with its Wild West setting and influences from some of the most well-thought-of JRPGs on the planet. Even though Boot Hill Heroes is the second release to grace the Nintendo Switch, it is actually to be the first installment in the series. While that may be odd, all things considered, finally getting to see the origins to round out the story is a positive, but this entry fails in most of the same areas its sequel, Boot Hill Bounties, does.
Beginning like most good westerns, a duel between good and bad with a town’s future on the line has the local sheriff going toe-to-toe with the leader of a gang. Following this ugly contest, the crime syndicate is finished (for now), but the life of the hero has ended as well. Years later, we take over as Kid, the child of said sheriff who must get a job in order to aid his single mother in keeping the homestead from falling to the bank. Life couldn’t be that simple, however, as he gets mixed up in trying to take down the gang his father died valiantly to try to stop so many years ago, along with a ragtag group of companions. Doses of humor help out, but all in all, Boot Hill Heroes is filled with tropes that have been done to death by the western genre, where the biggest surprise is that the protagonist is an actual child. Pair that with regular typos in dialogue and shallow characters, and you have a disappointing entry in a rarely used storytelling setting.
Feeling and looking like most Super-Nintendo-era JRPGs, Boot Hill Heroes follows that up with a combat system and UI that matches up as well. Definitely heavily inspired by Earthbound, this title holds onto much of what makes games of that caliber great, while failing to correct that retro jank. Besides menu navigation and movement being rough around the edges, the combat works perfectly fine. Utilizing a timer-based attack and dodge system, Boot Hill Heroes lets you plan special abilities and powerful strikes out while letting you correct course based on the enemy AI’s decisions. Even though it’s nothing to write home about, it’s probably the most enjoyable part of Boot Hill Heroes.
The item and equipment systems are the most unique portion of Boot Hill Heroes, with a stylish set of hats determining your special skills, and tons of random junk littering the world for you to gather and sell. Other than your hats, however, most of the items you use are mostly generic, drag-and-drop additions based purely on stat-boosting. It felt like nearly every screen had something available to pick up, but pairing the pixelated graphics with no real way of distinguishing decoration from usable items, you’ll find yourself doing a lot of running around spam-clicking on things constantly, which feels genuinely retro—in a bad way.
Even though the pixel art in Boot Hill Heroes is good, it couldn’t be described as great in terms of modern indie standards. Another example of something that won’t blow your mind, this one holds true to the style of SNES JRPGs, while not going above and beyond to wow the audience. On the flip side, the soundtrack is great. Filled with chiptunes and western set pieces, it really pairs well with the otherwise bland main course.
Boot Hill Heroes, though an honorable attempt to make a retro RPG in the rarely-used Wild West setting, fails to hold up to modern standards. It also isn’t a close enough homage to let those misgivings slide. A fine combat system and an on-point soundtrack aren’t enough to get past the bland gameplay, trope-filled story, and old-school jank.