“Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale” was a game that sparked my indie game (or “doujin soft” for you Japanese fans) radar when Steam had it as a “Coming Soon” game on top of spotlighting its pre-release. The game was produced by EasyGameStation of Japan with Carpe Fulgur doing the localization for the English speaking consumers online. On reading that the folks at Carpe Fulgur had much enthusiasm for taking passion in translating and localizing Japanese games in hopes of having them enjoyed worldwide, I knew there had to be a reason for them to translate and localize “Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale”.
Not to be deterred from the graphics, the game’s plot charmed me. You play as Recette Lemongrass and find that your father has not returned from adventuring out for treasure. The moment you make this discovery, a faerie named Tear comes knocking on your door mentioning that your father pulled a rather large loan for his adventure. Due to the contractual agreement of the loan, Recette must pay back her father’s loan as she is related to her father by blood. Poor Recette has lived a rather simple life as a child, so she’s naturally freaked out over the predicament. Tear then mentions that there is still time to repay the debt, but that will require Recette to get a job as a shop vendor. Recette, with renewed hope, begins turning her home to an item shop. Inspired by Tear’s help, she names the shop “Recettear” by combining both her name and Tear’s. The only question remains, are you brave enough to help her get out of her enormous debt?
There used to be an embeded media player here, but it doesn't work anymore. We blame the Tumbeasts.
This game takes up an interesting angle for an action RPG that has 2 sides. You have the shop managing side or the dungeon exploring side of the game. The shop managing side has the player using Recette on her daily duties of running Recettear in hopes of turning a profit to put towards her debt and purchases for the shop. The dungeon exploring portion of the game has you in control of an adventurer-for-hire who’s job is to help Recette obtain rare goods for the store, while balancing to come back alive with all of the loot. This portion has its own nuances that you as a player are in total control over and I will elaborate on these points much later.
Also, Recettear (as a game) has a time concept that is spanned over 4 segments of the day. Certain action choices or duties will take 1 or 2 chunks of time versus another action that may take that same chunk of time. This encourages you to carefully debate your choices before proceeding. As far as save management, the game gives you 100 save slots that you may save at almost any time you play. This does rely on you remembering to save on your own and if you forget you may end up having to redo several days over because of your mess-ups or blunders. At the end of each week, Tear does demand to collect the incremental debt that has been accrued and if you don’t have the full amount… You know the end of that tale.
The shop management side is quite deep. In this portion, you have a “Merchant Level” metric that measures your proficiency as a vendor and we will go over this metric later on. As far as stocking items for Recettear, you have several choices: 1) Spend money at the Merchant’s Guild or the Market to play the economy for sales on items and profit off of them later or 2) Hire an adventurer at a cost and scope out a dungeon to case it for loot that’s free to you. This is where you (as a player) decide on how to turn the incredible rising debt of Recette’s father into nothing while helping Recettear as a shop rise to fame. Should you choose to wander into town to go shopping at the Market or Merchant Guild, it will cost you 1 turn. The Market will contain your vanity items, books, food, and medicines. The Merchant Guild will sell you weapons and armor at wholesale prices to stock in store. Also, wandering into town is important as you will encounter story events with Recette and Tear that are very vital to you and can result in you getting the guild card for some adventurers.
The game starts you off pretty easy on shop management too at low merchant levels. On low levels, you start simple and you end up earning privileges as you level up your merchant skills. Recette earns experience points for every successful sale she earns from prospective customers and (later) purchases from returning customers. As you buy and sell items, you are able to haggle the prices out with your customers. This portion on scoring successful sales depends on how well you know your clientele. If you pick cheap things for children and price out things perfectly on the first try, the game will reward you with a “Just Bonus” that multiplies for every consecutive sale you earn.
This “Just Bonus” total can reach up to 128 XP when you chain up successful sales as I found out from the Carpe Fulgur forums. Of course, the number of consumers you have stopping in will be dependent on the high dollar items you end up showing off on your “showcase” area by the shop window. The more people you have perusing your wares, the more chances you have to maximize your chances to sell to potential customers. Shop presentation also becomes important later when you end up wanting to attract more customer to do more sales. The fun part kicks in once you gain high levels in merchant skills (with the level cap at 50) as you will find some days you’ll just wheel and deal in items for almost several days just to meet demands and profit off of the people. On top of that, later on you are able to fuse items together to form better items from some of the junk you may collect from dungeon running.
The dungeon exploring part is a whole different animal. To go about dungeon crawling you will need to hit up the Adventurer’s Guild to hire an adventurer. Know that before you decided to leave the store to hire an adventurer, dungeon crawling will eat 2 turns out of your 4-turn days. Also, there are fees to hire an adventurer which if you lack the money, you can’t hire your contract labor. If you have better weapons and armor in your personal inventory, you can even loan it out to your adventurer of choice. If you’re lucky to have the adventurer shop your store for better gear, they will have it equipped. After preparations are done, you will be given the choices of dungeons to explore for treasure.
On entering the dungeon, you are presented with a simplistic action RPG interface of an HP/SP meter with the Menu key opening up your main menu with a character sheet, inventory management, and etc. You then have your basic controls of movement, attack, skill/special attack, and skill selection and you’re off to explore away. With how complex the shop part was, you didn’t think the dungeon portion would be simple, did you? There’s a chain concept, but that is more based on killing the same enemy in a series multiple times. There are 2 ground rules you must be aware of when you go spelunking. First rule is that every 5th floor, there’s (typically) a door back to town that gives you a chance to retreat and dump off your wares. If you’re brave enough to hit the next 5 floors, that’s a risk you have to be aware of before proceeding. The second rule is that if your adventurer is defeated, Tear and Recette can only take home ONE item from the adventurer’s inventory while everything else is lost. That includes any loaned inventory you may have given your adventurer, as that is lost completely too. The second rule makes you reconsider if that piece of food you found may be better in the adventurer’s stomach or if you absolutely need it in your store.
From the “hardcore or nothing” element of the dungeon crawling portion, I will personally advise you save before you hit up the dungeons. You’ll thank me later if you’re reckless like me. Of course, the inventory of the adventurer is small. They can only carry 20 total items and if you loaded them up with new gear, you’ll find that you lose space for any replaced gear as the adventurer basically gets your better items on loan. This will make you think twice about gearing up your adventurers and what items you will want to grab from exploring. The ultimate reward for coming back alive is being able to keep all of the loot from your dungeon run. Combined the fact that when you do a successful run with a full inventory and with Recette’s limitless inventory gives you tons of back stock for the store.
I personally love Recettear’s challenge, even if it is a little bit on the “hardcore” side of things. It’s got the formula of a difficult “old skool” Japanese action RPG from my childhood. The shop management part is plenty challenging when you get more skills and abilities to make the store more profitable. Learning how to plan out your store and predicting your clientele’s spending habits will be the ultimate challenge for making profits. The dungeon exploration and treasure hunting portion make the thrill of nabbing rare items for fusion or sale fun as well as exciting. Even though you have to be conservative and understand your adventurer’s attack styles, the ultimate pay off is a treasure haul of (max) 20 items with a buy-in cost of the adventurer’s fee.
If you play the market, you’ll find a hard challenge in turning a profit from the random nature of trends and needing capital for a buy-in. The biggest challenge will be mastering both the store-front of Recettear and the exploration/gathering operation of the dungeon portion. The price of the game is a bit high but considering that the game has a lot of substance for an indie/doujin game. Completionists will possibly try to seek out every fusion recipe in hopes of getting a full completion under their belt. I will say that if you love difficult Japanese action RPG’s and can deal with occasionally needing to reload a save file due to certain events this game is right up your alley. If you’re on the fence about the game, download the demo and give it a try! The demo version takes you through 7 days of the game. The best part is that you can transfer your save file from the demo to the retail copy and continue the game from where you left off.
“Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale” will only be available for digital download purchase September 10th, 2010 on Steam, Impulse, and Gamer’s Gate for the retail price of $19.99 (and taxes/fees where applicable). As a rare act of courtesy, Carpe Fulgur is not lacing the game with DRM (digital rights management) to make the game easy to install, play, and make back-ups of. In a world where a majority of gamers hate DRM, Carpe Fulgur has chosen to listen to the gamer instead of publishing a game with potentially complicated activation processes. I’d like to personally thank Mr. Andrew Dice of Carpe Fulgur for providing a release candidate copy of “Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale” to be reviewed. I hope this will pave the way for any more localization projects they may take up as I would love to see more independent Japanese games to arrive in America.
[Images provided courtesy of Carpe Fulgur’s press kit, videos recorded from my personal PC]