Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale Review

Originally Posted on September 10th, 2010: Link.

Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale has already made its mark by being the first Japanese indie title to appear on Valve’s Steam software. Because of this, it has been getting a good amount of coverage, being featured on its front page, and even receiving a pre-order discount for those willing to give the relatively unknown title a try. Seeing as how these past couple of months have been pretty dry in terms of RPG releases, I felt compelled to give the game a try. After a good experience with the demo available on Steam, I took the plunge and spent money on a game I still knew very little about. Read on to find out if that was actually a smart move or not!

The story begins with a bespectacled fairy named Tear, an agent of the Terme Finance Company, the owner of the item shop that the story revolves around, trying to wake up the lovable young lady Recette Lemongrass (yes, classy name, that). It turns out, Recette’s father borrowed a loan from the bank in order to finance his expedition to the top of a volcano to fight an evil dragon. However, he disappeared, and now Tear has come to collect from his only living family member, his daughter Recette.

In order to pay back the loan, she will have to engage in good ole child labor by converting her home into an item shop to aide all of the passing adventurers on their journey to be lost at the top of some volcano. So what does Recette call it? Why, Recettear, of course! After all, they are partners, and partners love blending their names together to create hard-to-pronounce titles for games — I mean, stores!

The first task given to you is a request from Tear to find items to stock inside the store, for they have nothing to sell in the first place — a basic requirement for any retail environment, certainly. Once you leave the store, you are presented with a full view of the town. On the top left of the screen, players can track what day it is, and how much money (or “pix”) they currently have.

To the left of the day counter, the game will tell the player how long a certain action will take, such as traveling from one side of town to the other. It becomes obvious immediately that time plays a very important factor in how the game is played out, offering another element of strategy into what is already shaping up to be a complex set of systems for the game. There are four separate times during the day: Morning, Afternoon, Evening, and Night. What you can do and how long you can do something depends on what time of day it is. For example, certain shops/areas are only open during certain times of the day. Also, you can have your shop open four times during the day to help sell goods at a faster rate. Returning to the shop regardless of how you spent your time outside of the day also spends up a portion of the day. Simple? I thought so, too.

After leaving the store, the first place the player is directed towards the Merchant’s Guild where, after a short conversation with the Guild Master, Tear asks Recette to purchase no more than 10 items in order to provide stock for the store. The guild houses your common fare of armor, weapons, and other equipment, while the store market provides things like food and more general items.

However, in order to get the harder-to-find items that these two places won’t provide, you have to venture outside of town to do some dungeon crawling (a staple in any RPG, certainly). You can also find another customer around town who may be selling these items. The shop also buys your items, but since you do own an item shop, it is inherent to stick to selling things at your own store for maximum profit. The game takes extra care in reinforcing that mindset, to make sure that anything that isn’t a necessity should be sold at your shop.

The guild shop also provides a feature called a “Merchant Level”. Every time you prove successful in buying, trading, or selling items, options become available for Recette to redecorate or even expand the item store, as well as become privy to some of the higher ticket items available at the guildhall. Later on, players will also be able to identify mystery items they find on their travels, and even be able to fuse items together to create materials that wouldn’t normally be found. Finding and following recipes is the name of the game in this regard — what you put in the furnace reflects what you get out of it.

After returning to the store, Tear informs Recette that it is very important to find that certain layout for your recently-purchased items that will appeal most to the customers. Items next to the window, for example, will be seen by anyone passing by the store, and as such, need to be the ones that are the most likely to encourage them to walk into your store. Whatever is placed there will reflect the business as a whole.

Likewise, the look of the store also comes into consideration. After selecting Tear, you’ll be able to choose the option “Store Atmosphere”. A graph appears, showing where the store ranks in terms of looks based on four dimensions: Plain, Light, Gaudy, or Dark. The idea is to, of course, get it as close to the center of these quadrants as you can to attract more people and more willing customers.

Now, let’s get to the actual selling aspect of the game. Every time you placed an item out for sell and a customer comes in looking to buy it, you are shown the item that they are wanting to purchase along with a base price. You are then asked to give a price you feel is reasonable; like any retail store, you are looking to sell it above the base price in order to make a profit after, for exampke, purchasing it from the guildhall at that base price.

If it’s just right, you have a sale on your hands. Price it too high however, and the customer will simply walk out. However, if you are close to the price they are looking for, you then begin to negotiate. Some might be looking for a better price, while others may be just testing the waters. Depending on how long the customer has been shopping at your store, you are able to haggle for longer periods of time before they decide one way or another. Certainly, there a lot of risk / reward to be found in this game.

Sometimes, you will receive a “News Flash” in the game at the top of the screen letting you know if the price of a good has gone up or down, showing that the market changes retroactively over time. It’s a really neat little feature that takes into consideration the laws of supply and demand. Sometimes, an item may go scarce, and that makes it the ideal time to sell a good for a higher price to take advantage of that situation. Over time, though, supply might finally start to catch up with demand, and the price will return back to normal. It’s macroeconomics 101 — how cool is that!

Overall, the goal is to sell the best items you can at maximum amount of profit for each item to your customers in order to gain more respect from the customers. From there, the game goes into scenes where it begins to really establish its characters and their motivations, and the game really starts to open up to something actually trying to earn its value.

At the end of the day, you are given a list of the items you sold, the items you bought, the profits made, and the difference in score (or, the experience you earned towards your next merchant level), along with a rating, such as “Needs Improvement” or “Exceeded Expectations”. Every week, Recette will be expected to make a payment towards the loan (Who do you think you are, Tear — Tom Nook?!). As the store becomes more succcessful, the payment will increase as well, sort of a graduated repayment plan for you college students out there. This is basically the whole point of the game: find/buy items, sell them for a profit, and continue to make payments on your loan until it is completely extinguished.

During the adventuring excursions, Recette is able to recruit fellow adventurers at the pub or from the local Adventurer’s Guild to go dungeon crawling to search for more items to discover and sell at the store. The pub tends to hold more daily, general quests, while the Adventurer’s Guild calls for much bigger, much more lucrative quests.

In order to recruit someone, you are first expected to get to know them a little and learn more about them to become their friend. After all, not many people would be willing to go and help a complete stranger. One of the ways to get to know a few people who may help a sister out is when they come to shop inside the store, or by helping the adventurer find that certain item they are looking for, or even by providing the necessary items and equipment to help them complete a quest.

Recette and Tear personally will be playing no part in these battles in the dungeons, but instead will be supplying your mercenaries. You will be taking control of the adventurer as they fight and pick up items. In the main menu, a new selection appears to check the Status of that person that includes their stats, their level, their equipment, the number of adventures they have been on with you, and the number of defeats they have suffered.

Unfortunately, something I noticed is that if you try to save the game while inside a dungeon and try to reload, you instead appear back in town and have to go through the dungeon once again in order to get back any items you may have earned along the way.

The combat plays out like any 3D-roaming kind of game. On the bottom left of the screen, you can see your health, SP (or Skill Points), experience bar, and level for your character. The bottom right tells you what level of the dungeon you are on. Attacking is done with a simple press of the attack key, while another performs that adventurer’s special move (such as a spinning slash) that sucks up SP. Where you attack your enemy also plays a part, like an attack to their back dealing more damage than one from the front, and a counterattack being much more damaging. You will also encounter traps, such as falling rocks or chests that spawn multiple enemies instead of an item.

It reminds me of the older Ys games in that the proximity you are to your enemies and the pattern of their attacks plays a big part in the player’s survival — make certain you are not caught up in their movements, and you will come out of it just fine.

The dungeons are completely randomized for each level, so it wasn’t unusual to find myself dropped right in the middle of a swarm of enemies or instantly triggering a nearby trap. It tends to be a bit of a challenge sometimes, especially if my character was low on health, but to me it is actually a welcome addition that keeps this game from being a complete bore in the fights.

If during battle, your fighter becomes injured, they become a burden to carry back, and thus, you will only be able to take a single item with you. This means that those 6 walnut breads and 8 candies you brought along with you are all pretty much thrown into the trash, so be sure to bring only what you need in case something unexpected happens. In later dungeons, however, red doors start to appear on certain levels that let you jump in and out of the dungeon at will with all your items without having to start back at the beginning. The only downside is that this will end the current contract with the adventurer, and you will have to rehire that person or someone else in order to proceed back into the dungeon.

It can become rather frustrating especially when you are reaching the higher levels of the dungeon and a sudden incident causes your person to die, and you are stuck with only a single item to show for that past hour or so of dungeon crawling. It tends to throw a wrench into the whole operation by bringing a unusual level of difficulty. If you manage to die on these runs without any real big-ticket items to show for it, you have an upcoming payment to make on your loan after an unsuccessful run at the dungeon (which sometimes won’t let you try again for a couple of days afterwards) means you might be scrambling to get the funds together at these inopportune moments.

Things become dramatically more challenging in the last couple of weeks in the game where the demands are much higher and the opportunities are not really presented: time management is key to being successful at this game, to say the least. If you fail to make the payment at the end of the week, the game resets itself back to the second day, the day after you officially set up shop. You keep the items in your inventory, the items on the shelves of your shop, and the adventurers keep their levels, but you have to start all of the quests over from the beginning, which can be pretty frustrating especially if Recette is even a few pix away from making payment.

At the beginning, finding out what key does what took a little getting used to. For example, the “V” key drops the camera to a lower view of the store (from a 75 degree angle to a 35 degree angle, essentially).

The “W” key opens the main menu, where you are able to see a full view of the calendar with important dates circled and explained. At the beginning of the game, the only date highlighted was Payment Day, which is apparently when the next payment for the loan is due. On the right are the different menus: Items, Encyclopedia, offering descriptions of all the items you have come across in the game; Options, where you can control Music, Sound, Voice, Message Speed, and can toggle Unread Text Skip; and Save, which offers up to 100 slots for you to record your progress (I am sure that in the game such as this, creating different saves as you mold the item shop is essential in case you want to go in different directions).

What I began to notice as I was playing this game was that for a lot of the actions, it would describe it such as “Button 3: Item Details”. It wasn’t until I had to take a break from the game that I noticed there is a Configuration tool separate from the program itself. Inside, you are able to map the keyboard controls, and it even offers support for Gamepads. It even lets you choose hotkeys for quick actions. There are also a wide amount of graphical options to change and toggle, including the FPS limit for those on a slower computer, screen resolution (up to 1280×960, so don’t expect HD visuals or 16:9 widescreen support), and most interesting, the ability to change dungeon-only or store-only settings if there is a particular part of the game you want to play more smoothly.

I don’t think I have ever encountered a title that offered that kind of option — I guess I also have not played too many games quite like Recettear. It’s a welcome feature. However, it would have been nice if the game was updated to reflect these key changes, because I had to keep going back to the configuration tool to remember just what actions I had mapped to my controller.

The entire game is still voiced in Japanese, but the language is pretty much regulated to a few sighs, exclamations, and short bursts of exposition here and there, with the majority playing out like a visual novel of sorts. outside of the language and the design, there is no real cultural barrier to be bothered by for fans of the genre. The voice acting itself is actually pretty good and I didn’t find any characters that I harbored any ill feelings towards in that regard. The dialogue flows smoothly in the translation as well, with each character having their own distinct personality that shines through the text boxes (for example, some of Recette’s quotes are “Capitalism, ho!” and “Yayification!”). The same can be said about the music, which is also pretty much forgettable looping synthesized fare, but keeps the charm locked in throughout the game.

Another issue I had with the game is that it enjoyed breaking the fourth wall a little too much, whether it was telling me to use the Action key , with a confused Recette in confused form, or to consult the “custom.exe” program to alter my button configuration (maybe I should have read that before I took a break). It’s a bit of a pet peeve of mine, especially when writers love to just turn it into a joke by making everyone else listening in on the conversation fake bewilderment. Thankfully, this hardly ever crops up, so it never becomes much of a nuisance to deal with.

The graphics themselves are, of course, very simple and nothing to really write home about. The majority of the conversations feature still drawn pictures of the characters with text boxes, and any movement or combat is done with polygonal figures that you might find on an older game. However, I like to put this game more in line with Nippon Ichi’s Disgaea games, in that even if the graphics aren’t the best, it offers a deep enough customization system to more than make up for that affliction. Likewise, both the design of the monsters and characters are unsinspired, but lend themselves instead to the overall look of the game in its light-hearted feel.

Throughout much of this game, I could not help but have this stupid grin on my face. I have played many RPGs over the years, and I gotta say, I always entertained the thought of being one of those shop owners that helps adventurers on their way to greatness. What this game does and excels at is bringing that exact concept to fruition, and does so in a deep and robust manner.

All of these factors are very compelling, and make the game actually look intelligent in its approach. It makes me think that they have all of their bases covered for the things that would be taken into consideration when opening an item store. I could not help but feel quite pleased from this realization, and for someone like me who has a university degree in Marketing with a Retail focus, that’s saying a lot.

For a $20 game, you certainly won’t be getting a game with the best graphics or the highest production values, but if what you are looking for is a well-made item-crafting, store-running, dungeon-crawling mashup with plenty of charm and humor, fan appeal, and high replayability, Recettear just might be the game for you for the money — so long as you can bear the sudden upswing in difficulty.

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