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'Boot Hill Heroes' Gives Westerns a Japanese Touch

If you grew up on a steady diet of both spaghetti Westerns and the "Final Fantasy" series, developer Experimental Gamer has, curiously, designed a game just for you. "Boot Hill Heroes" combines an Old West story with a Japanese role-playing game (JRPG) aesthetic and gameplay system.

"Boot Hill Heroes" is a trilogy, and Tom's Guide had a chance to go hands-on with its second installment at PAX East 2014. This indie game is still very much a work-in-progress, but anyone interested in the premise should be pleased to know that the game makes the odd genre hybrid work — mostly.

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We started by taking control of a party of well-worn Western archetypes: the precocious Kid, the saloon gal Rose, the hard-bitten Doc and the enigmatic Native American Moon. As befits a JRPG party, each one possessed different skills in battle. The Kid, for example, excelled at inflicting negative status on enemy combatants, while Moon could heal party members.

The party arrived by train in Silver Spring City, and proceeded to tick off every box on the Western checklist. During our half-hour or so with the game, we fought outlaws, outfitted our combatants with stylish hats, explored a honky-tonk saloon, explored Doc's tragic past and confronted snake oil salesmen at a medicine show.

A JRPG is only as good as its combat system, and "Boot Hill Heroes" has one that's both creative and problematic. Combat is semi-turn-based and relies on a constantly refilling action bar. Each party member has access to four different skills, and each skill consumes a certain percentage of your action points.

The strategy in "Boot Hill Heroes" comes from managing four party members and making rapid decisions: Would you rather hack away at a foe with quick shots, or consume a larger chunk of your action bar to damage multiple foes or revive fallen party members?

The combat is fun, but often too fast and frenzied. It's easy to make a mistake in the heat of the moment that could upset the whole flow of battle. However, you can mitigate some of the challenge by playing cooperatively. Assigning control of one or more characters to friends is as easy as pausing the game and selecting which controller gets which characters.

The game is also not quite ready for prime time. The final enemy in the demo, known as the Surgeon, could completely heal himself an indefinite number of times, leaving us at a stalemate. The developers assured us that the fight would be more balanced in the final game.

"Boot Hill Heroes" isn't for everyone, but its target niche audience will likely be able to forgive its shortcomings in light of its unique concept and creative gameplay. The first game in the series is already out for $7.49 on the PC, Xbox 360 and Vita, while the second game will release in fall 2014 at a similar price.

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