Developer: Easy Game Station
Publisher: Carpe Fulgur, Valve Software
Japan - December 2007
North America - September 2010
Europe - September 2010
Every once in a while, a game comes along with a really interesting concept. A concept that you would love to see work, but which sounds like it doesn't have a hope in hell of making a good game. On occasion, though, as bizarre and "out there" as the idea is, the developer manages to weave it together to make it fit and make for a compelling and addictive experience. So much so that it sucks up your time well into the wee small hours.
Recettear: An Item Shops' Tale is just such a game. An odd mixture of anime characters, rogue-like dungeon crawling and business strategy, Recettear is surprisingly addictive, if a little short. Recettear starts out with the protagonist, Recette Lemongrass, in her home wondering where her father went and agonising about bills - a bit of an odd start to a video game, admittedly, but it sets up the premise nicely. She hears someone at the door, and the debt collecting fairy (it's as bonkers as it sounds) Tear answers, looking to collect on the loans made by Recette's father. Penniless and alone, Recette has no way to pay off her fathers' debt, but Tear makes a deal: if she runs an item shop, she can use the profits to service the debt. It's no coincidence that the title, as well as being a portmanteau of the protagonist's names, is also a pun on the word "Racketeer." Unfazed by the troubling news and with an enthusiastic cry of "Capitalism, Ho!", Recette sets about learning how to run an item shop for adventurers.
The main part of the game consists of sourcing stock and trying to haggle prices with customers. There are four main ways you can obtain stock - buying armour and weapons from the Merchant's Guild, items from the Town Market and sponsoring an adventurer to enter a dungeon and collect loot are available early on. Eventually, customers will also sell you unwanted items. This becomes useful, because while you can't haggle stock prices in the guild or shop, you can negotiate with customers for both buying and selling. Your shop is laid out into display cases, where you put individual items. A cabinet by the window is provided as a place to market your items, and management of this display will determine how many customers enter the shop.
The real key to success in Recettear though is the familiar market principles of 'buy low' and 'sell high.' Initially you get fairly cheap items you can sell in your store, but as the weeks progress and the debt payment you are required to meet each week gets bigger, the value and price of the new stock you can buy also goes up. This has the effect of pushing you to become more and more upmarket in order to make bigger profits, although you are encouraged to keep a diverse range of stock. Relying completely on expensive goods will limit profits because not every customer type will have a lot of money to spend, and every bit helps.
Haggling is the most important skill to master - you will be given a percentage of the item value, which defaults at full price. It's advisable to go a bit over the original price, but not get too greedy, since customers will usually only haggle twice before getting frustrated. You can double your money, which only happens during price fluctuations such as when an item gets extremely popular, which will flash across the top of the screen. It's a nice mechanic but you rarely get an advanced warning, so it's just a case of waiting for it to happen then rushing out to buy stock. There are other things you can do outside the shop, but the day is split into times of the day, and these are taken up if you leave, so you have think carefully whether it's really worth leaving the shop closed and missing out on profits. Anyone familiar with Rune Factory or Harvest Moon will recognise this need to manage time effectively.
Dungeon crawling is an enjoyable distraction of the hustle and bustle of retail. Its a useful way of getting items to sell, as you usually only need to pay for potions to outfit the adventurer you're sponsoring. You run into new fighters later in the game, and any new character you meet in this way will also begin frequenting your shop. Unfortunately, a distraction is all that the dungeon combat really feels like. The fighting consists of hack n' slash tactics, and in spite of adventurers and equipment having stats, you will usually be able to destroy most enemies with one or two hits by the time you get half way through the game, so long as you provide good equipment. It's nice to have a choice of adventurers too, but ultimately it's more of an aesthetic choice than a practical one.
As for rewards, you can only take a certain number of items, so it can be frustrating having to constantly drop things for new items. Experience points are a bit odd: they burst out into little gems you have to pick up on the dungeon floor. Ultimately, if you invest the time, you can get some very valuable items that will sell for a large price. You can also combine those items and make new ones, although the system for doing so is intimidating for all but the most hardcore RPG fanatics.
Recettear is replete with the sort of charming, upbeat music you would expect from a Japanese game, with liberal usage of wind instruments and the tinkling of piano. The dungeon music is mostly rock and techno, which is hardly surprisingly, but it suits the action. The dialogue is another aspect of the game in which the anime influence is strongly felt. Although the dialogue isn't fully voiced, anime-inspired Japanese exclamations accompany the dialogue every so often. As adorable as this is to begin with, this becomes grating after a while. Graphically, the game resembles titles such as Fire Emblem, and the sprites during dialogue occasionally express emotions depending on the situation. The dungeon, again, is the only real disappointment. Character models look a bit fuzzy, while backgrounds fail to inspire.
A good sense of humour is scattered around Recettear. Much of the humour comes from the interaction between Recette and Tear. The over-enthusiastic and incredibly naïve Recette obviously hasn't the slightest idea how to take care of herself and comes across as an endearing protagonist. Tear is less sympathetic but equally interesting in her mentor role, and there is a hint of a shady side to her dealings in the past within the story. Most other characters aren't given that much depth, which is a pity as they could have been interesting. In fact, the role of shopkeeper makes the game feel a bit out of touch with the goings on in the world outside the shop, especially since little background history is revealed.
Far more interesting though are the interactions between Recette and her customers. Shoppers will sigh in disappointment if you fail to meet their needs and adds to the tension of any potential impending failure when you need to sell an expensive item to meet your looming debt repayment. If that wasn't enough, Recette will utter a heart-melting groan. Fail in your monumental task to repay all your debt and you will be greeted by a 'Game Over' screen featuring a picture of poor Recette living in a cardboard box eating cat food. Which is in equal parts cruel, funny and a frightening social commentary on homelessness and repossession. Only a game made with as much attention to detail as Recettear could say so much in just one picture.
Recettear is an amusing dojin-soft game that will no doubt strongly resonate with gamers with a love of all things Japanese. The quirky, offbeat humour is as compelling as the protagonist is maddeningly optimistic. With such a creative mixture of gameplay styles and a challenging goal to complete, it's a pity that Recettear doesn't last a bit longer, although it's difficult to complain when it's on sale for so little - and wrapped in a neat bundle of crisp 2D anime visuals.
+ Sharp, well-presented anime visuals
+ Charming protagonist blurting out frequent amusing non-sequiturs
+ Unique take on the RPG formula
+ Engrossing and addictive
- Only lasts a few hours
- Dungeon-crawling falls flat
- Blurry sprites and boring backgrounds.
- Little reason to re-play the game