Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale is a unique game as far as Japanese Fantasy RPGs go. Instead of playing a hero who is trying to save the world you adopt the role of a humble shopkeeper in charge of one of the item shops that players of such games frequent to stock up on supplies when tackling a quest. The game was developed in the land of the rising sun by EasyGameStation who sold it at Comiket (basically Japan’s version of Comic-Con.) Fledgling publishers Carpe Fulgur translated the game for an international audience hoping to sell a few thousand copies online via services such as Steam (where I discovered it.) It has however exceeded all expectations with sales of over 140 thousand at the time of writing. Let us take a closer look to see why the title has amassed such a faithful cult following.
When the game begins we meet Recette Lemongrass a young girl (I’m guessing around eight years age) who is living home alone. I suppose I should be shocked by this, but being a fan of Japanese games and anime I am not too surprised. Their media is chock a block with stories of youngsters whose parents are nowhere to be seen and no one bats an eyelid. Evidently child negligence isn’t a big deal over there in Asia. I have no idea where Recette’s mom is, but apparently her father disappeared after setting out on an adventure. His last whereabouts were on top of a volcano where he was facing off against a dragon. Gripes, I hope he packed some after sun to moisturise his skin because fiery dragon breathe and molten lava is liable to leave some nasty burn marks.
Within seconds of the game loading up Recette is visited by a fairy named Tear who is working for Terme Finance. It appears that Recette’s pop owes the company a large sum of money and it is now time to cough up the funds. Unfortunately for the young Lemongrass her piggy bank savings aren’t going to be enough to cover the bill so she is in danger of losing her home. Tear suggests that Recette convert her house into an item store to sell goods in order to pay off the debt in weekly instalments. Recette agrees and names the shop Recettear (a combination of Recette and Tear which worryingly sounds like racketeer.) Thus the partnership between an upbeat human girl and business savvy fairy, with a knack for cursing in French, was born. Time and the player’s economic skills will tell if the business venture pays off.
Although Recettear’s graphics aren’t state of the art, I am surprised by how good they are given the reasonably small download size of the game and the lack of budget the developers had to work with. At the shop there’s lots of menus to navigate, but they don’t become an eye sore as the text is decorated with colourful icons, well drawn backgrounds and anime style portraits of the characters that grab your attention during the story segments. When you go dungeon exploring things look far less flashy, but are still appealing to fans of Japanese animation. Small chibi versions of the characters are presented from an aerial vantage point similar to the old Zelda games. There’s a large cast of characters, monsters and items so the artists responsible for the title must have been busy.
It’s a similar story in the sound department. What we get is nothing out of this world, but the package we get is competently put together and gets the job done. In game sound effects are kept to a minimum so it falls to the soundtrack to keep your ears’ attention. I have no complaints with the music which for the most part comprises of upbeat tunes which work well with the light-hearted tone of the game and colourful graphics. Carpe Fulgur have done a superb job translating the Japanese text and injecting their own humour to replace gags that don’t work during the switch of languages.
Although the in game text has been translated the same cannot be said of the spoken dialogue. I guess this is understandable as hiring actors to dub the game into English would have been a lot of work and made the release unprofitable (we are talking about a niche indie game after all.) I personally don’t mind though as the game doesn’t have too much voice acting. I don’t understand Japanese (heck my teachers would say I haven’t even mastered English although I feel that I rite veri gud) the tone adopted by the actors when delivering lines along with the accompanying text is more than sufficient to convey the emotions of the characters. I much prefer having the original Japanese track with subtitles over lacklustre English speaking actors who only got the gig as they work for cheap (check out stuff like the original Resident Evil for perfect examples of laughably bad voice acting.)
Forget getting a business degree because it turns out that running a shop isn’t all that hard. All you have to do is buy goods from the local store and guild, display them at your shop and then wait for the customers to come in. When a shopper finds something they like they will ask you how much it costs and it is time to haggle. You ideally want to sell items for more than their base price, but you cannot get too carried away. When asking for cash you have to balance making a good profit with keeping your clientele happy. Overcharging will scare off customers so I found it best to mark-up prices by around ten percent. In the short term you make less income, but it pays off in the end as happy customers will return and next time they will be willing to buy more expensive stuff.
How much a customer is willing to spend varies from person to person and as the shopkeeper it is up to you to deduce what price range to set. You can for example squeeze more dough out of the wallet of the middle aged man than say the paltry allowance of a little girl. To keep things interesting customers enter the store not only to purchase goods, but sell them as well. When they offer something for sale you must once again haggle to try and pickup the item on offer for the best price possible. You can acquire new stock to sell for around fifty percent of what it is worth by being savvy with sellers.
Running the shop is fairly straightforward, but on the back of your mind you should be aware of the looming payment deadline. The first repayment is easy enough to meet, but the amount you have to pay back increases every week that passes. If you fail to match the amount Tear is asking for it is game over. Poor Recette ends up living on the streets in a cardboard box and you are forced to restart the game from the very beginning. I had to replay the game four times before getting the hang of it and finishing the story. Starting from scratch may sound frustrating, but it isn’t too bad. Although you lose all the money you acquired in the next game you start with all the items you had bought in your previous run and retain any upgrades you unlocked which makes things easier. My advice for someone who finds themselves in a no win situation is to blow all your cash on stock. You won’t be keeping the green when the game ends so you may as well load up on items that transfer over into the next loop.
For those of you that think that running a shop isn’t too exciting Recettear provides you with some good old fashion dungeon crawling to satisfy your appetite for action. Recette can hire an adventurer, who the player directly controls, to battle through near by dungeons. Loot that you find from chests and vanquished enemies that lurk there go into your storage and can be sold at the store. For the modest fee of hiring an adventurer you can load up on free items unless you happen to die in which case you lose most of the things you picked up. Dungeon crawling isn’t the most effective way of gathering items, but it sure is more exciting than walking to the market to buy things.
The levels you fight through are randomly generated each time you enter and are packed with traps to avoid and monsters to beat up. Every five levels you get the option to return to town to sell your ill gotten gains, providing that you can best the boss monster guarding the exit. The simplistic combat system reminds me a lot of the old school Zelda games as the action is shown from an aerial vantage point. Your adventurer can defend himself with a regular attack or a special move that depletes his SP meter. I try to save the special moves for emergencies, but if you want to be more liberal with the flashy attacks you can always eat snacks to replenish your SP.
As in most RPG games your adventurer levels up once he or she gains enough experience points which are earned by defeating creatures. Levelling up increases the character’s health points (so they can take more damage before passing out) and SP meter. Other attributes such as attack power and defence are affected by the equipment they wear. Adventurers can upgrade their gear by buying it from your store or alternatively you can lend them some armour and weapons for the dungeon run. Just be aware that the items you loan out have to be kept in the backpack which has a limited space. Lending out a lot of equipment reduces the space used for storing items you harvest from the dungeons.
When Recettear was released it got nominated in a number of end of year awards and after playing it I can see why. I’m giving it full marks because it is one of those wonderful games that is simple on paper, but addictive once you pick it up. The game’s story isn’t too long and can be beaten in a few hours, but that isn’t too bad as many players have to replay it a couple of times after suffering a game over. For me the real game actually started once you complete the story as you no longer have to worry about repaying the loan. Free from that burden you can then concentrate on unlocking new adventurers, levelling up, decorating your store, exploring the town to view funny cut scenes that give some insight on the main characters and so on.
Beating the game also unlocks a survival mode that challenges you to see how long you can last before the debt repayments are too much to cope with. Although the main story is short there is plenty of end game content to keep you occupied. I’ve clocked in twenty five hours at the time of writing and expect to play many more hours before getting bored. Hopefully the success of Recettear will lead to more independent Japanese games getting translated as there is a market for them. I definitely recommend trying out the demo to see if it is something you would enjoy. The full game is ridiculously cheap, considering how many hours of gameplay it offers. From time to time you can find Recettear as part of the generous Steam sales so even a little girl can buy it with her pocket money… shame she can never afford the weapons I have on sale at my in game store.