Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale is one of my picks for sleeper hit of 2010. It piqued the interest of several RPGFan staff who, after playing the demo, were instantly hooked by this adorably charming item shop sim/dungeon crawler hybrid. It reminded us of Gust games such as Atelier Annie: Alchemists of Al-Revis in all the best ways. I even forced myself to uninstall the demo so I wouldn’t get burnt out on it prior to release – it was that addicting. I did not expect to love Recettear as much as I did since it breaks no new ground nor does it excel in any one area, but the whole package makes this game truly greater than the sum of its parts.
Players follow the trials and tribulations of young Recette Lemongrass, a carefree girl who lives with her adventurer father above a neglected item shop. One fine day, Recette is rudely awakened by Tear, a businesslike fairy from Terme Finance, who wishes to collect on a massive debt owed by Recette’s father, who kicked the bucket during an adventure, the details of which remain sketchy. Recette is rightly shocked by all of this, but the even-keeled Tear proposes that she’ll partner with Recette to reopen the item shop to pay off the debt. So now Recette and Tear are the proprietors of the newly launched item shop “Recettear.” Although Tear is none too happy with the name or Recette’s ditzy nature, she still somehow clings to a glimmer of hope that the girl will straighten up and fly right.
That is basically the gist of the story, save for some subplots here and there. Although Recettear is a game harbored more by its gameplay than its story, which generally keeps players focused on Recette, I would have liked to see some of the subplots expanded upon. For example, I thought the rivalry between Recette and Alouette (the wealthy heiress of the Big Bash chain of item shops) would result in periodic showdowns during public bazaars, such as how rivalries worked in Princess Maker. Again, the somewhat loose subplots do not hinder the game’s addictive nature in any way, but they definitely could have been expanded upon.
Addictive gameplay is truly what drives Recettear. Basically, Recette has five weeks to pay off daddy’s debt and every week, the payment amount increases. The only way to get a Game Over is to not meet that weekly payment, and it’s actually worth getting a Game Over for a couple of reasons. One is that the Game Over screen is achingly cute. The other is that the game loops again in a New Game Plus fashion where Recette’s current stock and statistics are intact, except for her earnings, so that she can raise funds more quickly. I went through 3 loops before completing the main game because some payments were challenging to meet the first time around. Skippable cutscenes aided in speedily blazing past previously seen content, and never once did I feel bogged down by the potential repetitiveness.
The more Recette wheels and deals, the more experience she gains, and as her Merchant Level increases she can customize her shop in various ways. Changing the wallpaper, installing new floors, moving display tables around, upgrading display tables, installing vending machines, and even expanding the store allow players to create a shop truly their own.
One thing Recette always needs to pay close attention to is the daily news ticker that dictates market trends. For example, if the cost of metal decreases, Recette will have to sell metal good, such as plate armor, at a loss rather than a profit. Players definitely need to pay attention to the market when figuring out the optimal items to sell in order to meet the week’s repayment goal.
In order to stock her shelves with the right stuff, Recette needs to buy various items, from weapons and armor to food and books, at the wholesale markets, display them in her shop, and haggle prices with customers (some of whom can be quite stingy.) Sometimes a customer may not want something specific, so Recette will need to suggest items to them. Sometimes a customer may come in to sell an unwanted item (as RPG heroes do), so Recette needs to negotiate those buyback prices too. Sometimes customers may special order items (i.e. “Can you get me 2 weapons in 3 days?”) so it’s up to Recette to fill those orders and be present at the store that day for the customer to pick them up.
But what does Recette do outside her store? Well, each day is divided up into four periods and Recette can spend a period at a time manning the store or gathering supplies in town. If she decides to hire an adventurer for dungeon crawling, that takes up two periods of the day. At the adventurer’s guild, Recette can hire an adventurer, loan them equipment, and go dungeon crawling with them. Recette and Tear are untouchable by monsters, thus players control the adventurer in the randomized dungeons. Dungeon crawling plays out in classic action-RPG style and is certainly fun. If the adventurer dies, Recette and Tear can bring him/her back to town but can only carry back a limited number of items, be they treasures or a loaned item.
Prior to the latest patch, the dungeon crawling felt unbalanced in that the early dungeons were too punishing, but later dungeons were cake, owing to one adventurer becoming a tank. With the patch, dungeon crawling feels more intuitive. In my initial playthrough, I did not go into dungeons that much since the reward was not worth the time commitment, and time was certainly of the essence to pay down daddy’s debt. I found myself more tunnel-visioned into manning the shop, which was fine since doing so was my favorite aspect of the game. Of course, after the main arc, bonus content such as Endless Mode and Survival Mode open up so players could continue their addiction at more relaxed or more intense paces. Endless Mode meant doing more dungeon crawling because I didn’t have the “time is money” monkey on my back. Survival Mode gave Recette a challenging monetary goal each week that she had to meet, and it gets very intense very quickly.
The game ranks highly in the areas of cuteness and charm by virtue of its aesthetics. The polygon environments are brightly colored, the chibi sprites are endearing, the character portraits during dialogue scenes are appropriately expressive, and our heroines are the most adorable shopkeepers in town. The game offers plenty of options to tone down graphical effects for slower computers (dungeon crawling creates the most slowdown) but even with graphical handicaps in place, the game still looks nice. There isn’t much music, but what’s there gets the job done. The tunes are delightful, catchy, never overbearing, and endurable for long periods of time. It’s certainly better than the music coming through the stereo at the average retail store, that’s for sure. The introduction’s and end credits’ vocal songs were my favorite pieces, especially the end credits theme. There were a few Japanese voice clips here and there, such as Recette cheerfully greeting customers, but nothing significant in the way of voice acting.
To say that Recettear came out of nowhere and completely blindsided me, in a good way, is an understatement, and others who’ve played the game feel the same as I do. When I was at work, I counted down the hours till I could come home and play Recettear. While playing Recettear, I kept chanting the mantra, “Just one more hour” but one hour turned into several and I often found myself up past my bedtime playing it. Although I completed the main story arc in around 10 hours, I continue to play the game on Endless Mode to trawl more dungeons, further experiment with shop decor, and basically play the game at a relaxed pace with no repercussions. If these are not the marks of a good game, I don’t know what are. I urge people to check out the demo and don’t be surprised if you get as hooked as I did.