Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale – Review

Title: Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale

Developer: EasyGameStation

Publisher: Carpe Fulgur

Platform: PC

Genre: RPG, Simulator

Release Date: September 10th, 2010

Japanese games are often considered just a little too weird for the Western audience. Up until recently, it was mostly Square who dared try and breach the market with their wildly successful Final Fantasy series, but as time has gone on, more and more Eastern developers are getting their wackier games out into a Western market. Companies like Grasshopper Manufacture, developers of the totally off-the-wall “killer7” and “Flower, Sun and Rain”, are becoming more and more popular with English speakers. But that’s the problem; the language barrier. Thankfully, Carpe Fulgur, a young upstart localisation company, have stepped up to the challenge of getting lesser-known Japanese games to our Western computers. Their first project? Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale.

Recettear (pronounced “reck-ett-tear”, which, if said in just the right way, sounds like something totally different) is the story of a young girl named Recette, whose father has decided to up and leave in order to become a famous hero. Sadly, it seems Daddy wasn’t keeping up on his payments on the house, and now the debt collectors are knocking on the door. Enter Tear, a sarcastic, almost world-weary fairy, who suggests that Recette turns her home into an item shop for passing adventurers in order to pay off her father’s rather worryingly large debt in weekly instalments.

Which is all well and good, but by Recette’s own admission, she’s never worked a day in her life. Luckily, running the shop couldn’t be any easier. You begin by heading off to the market or trader’s guild to purchase items, or you can head off to a dungeon and pick up items (but more on that later). Then you return to your store, put your items on display, and open up. People walk in, have a gander at your wares, and offer to buy them from you.

It’s then up to you to haggle with them to make yourself some extra moolah. Obviously you could just sell them the item at its base value, which can earn you a small profit, but to really make some cash you have to get them to pay you more. Doing so is simple; the value of the item is displayed in front of you, and you adjust it with the up and down buttons accordingly. The game even tells you how much of a percentage mark-up you’re giving the item. The rough approximation for what a customer will pay for an item is up to 30% over its base value, but if you feel like really pushing your luck you can go higher. Still, don’t charge them too much, or you’ll lose and sale and crush Recette’s fragile little heart. They can always try and haggle with you to bring your price down a smidge, but the rewards for getting it right first time are well worth it.

See, as well as making money from a sale, you also gain experience for your “merchant level”, and as you level up you unlock the ability to customise your shop more, haggle with the customers for longer, and even have the customers attempt to sell you items. To rake in the major experience, you have to build up your “Just Combo”, which accumulates every time a punter goes for the sale first time, or you give them a good price for their item. Also useful for getting huge amounts of experience points is the “Near Pin” bonus, which is never explained, but from what I gather is achieved by selling the item for a near perfect price. If you have enough products in your store, as well as enough people, you can chain together a huge combo of satisfied customers, and gain a couple of levels in one sitting. It’s a wonderful system that is ridiculously simple with a quiet depth to it.

Of course, buying and selling isn’t the only way to make some hard green in the world of Recettear. To really get the dough coming in, you have to team up with one of the many adventurers that wander into your shop looking for goods, and do a bit of dungeon crawling. The reasoning behind this is simple; the items you find in dungeons can be sold in your shop for 100% profit. Not only that, but dungeons have items that might not be found through the normal avenues, and these rare items can be worth a huge amount. Thankfully, dungeon crawling is an extremely simple affair that will be familiar to anyone who’s played a game of a similar type.

You have one basic attack and one special attack that costs a certain amount of SP (sort of like mana), although as your chosen adventurer levels up they unlock newer and better special attacks. The aim is to kill as many enemies as you see fit, scouring the current floor for chests that may contain a shiny new item (or just trigger a trap) and the exit to the next floor, with every fifth floor being a boss battle that requires a little bit more strategy than your regular foe. You can only carry a certain number of items, so it’s up to you to decided which items are worth more than others, although handily the menu tells you how much each item will fetch back at the store. Even better, your adventurer may come into the shop looking to make a purchase, and any equipment you sell them will be in their possession forever, so it’s in your interest to make sure they’re well equipped, from the outset instead of bringing your stock with you into the dungeon. You can use the items on your adventurer to heal them or restore their SP, but really you can just employ hit and run tactics on a lot of enemies and kill them without much of a fight. Levelling up also refills your HP and SP, so as long as you keep your finger on the attack button you’re good to go.

Which leads me nicely to my first major fault with the game; the control scheme. While the directional buttons control movement, your “primary” key is the Z key, which, to anyone outside of Japan, is sheer madness. Worse yet, the game seems to assume that you know this from the outset (or have at least read the manual) and so only refers to the key in game as the “primary key”. This can be hugely confusing to anyone diving into the game without prior knowledge of the controls, particularly when you’re stuck on the main menu hammering “Enter” and nothing happens.

Another problem is that the game can be crushingly difficult if you don’t know what you’re doing. While combat is a fairly simple system, the financiers aren’t screwing around. Your first payment is for 10,000 pix (the in-game currency), which isn’t too hard to take care of, but the next one up from that is 30,000 pix, and the payments keep getting bigger and bigger. Thankfully, should you fail to meet your payments and have your home repossessed, you will be taken back in time to the first day and given the chance to start again, but with all your experience points still intact, giving you a chance to make even more money than might have been possible at the start.

One of the best things about Recettear is its abundance of humour. Carpe Fulgur have clearly spent a long time translating the rather wealthy script into something a Western audience would be able to understand, although obviously there are still some Japanese touches that had to stay part of the game. The characters are ridiculous and over the top in a charming way, with Recette and Tear acting as the stereotypical comedy duo, Recette being silly and naïve while Tear is the sarcastic, irritable type trying to keep her in line. The script is sometimes dangerously close to being a little too self-aware though; in one tutorial section, Tear makes references to keyboard buttons and the “custom.exe” file, which, naturally, Recette doesn’t understand in the slightest. Thankfully, this cheap attempt at a joke is overshadowed by some wonderfully charming moments, such as Recette’s speech about having to sell all of her organs to pay off the debt, and Tear’s banter with one adventurer about how “seedy” he looks.

Naturally, however, the script can get a little repetitive when it comes to selling products. The customers only have a set number of phrases, some of which seem bizarre even by JRPG standard. An old man, for example, will come to you with a longbow and proclaim that his daughter in law wanted him to buy it for her. Another similarly aged man will pick up some “slime fluid” and chuckle, ever so slightly creepily, that he was “looking for one of these”. It’s hilarious at first how absurd these statements are, but when the fifth elderly gentleman in a row (and believe me, the old men will become the most prolific customers you have) tells you he’s been looking for a candied apple, you start to wonder if there could’ve been a couple more phrases that they could say. Equally confusing are some of your customers; why exactly is the Trader’s Guildmaster coming into your store buying the items that you just picked up from him? If you try not to think about it too much, the process is a lot easier to swallow, but it can be a little weird.

The graphics are a true case of love-them-or-loathe-them. The cutscenes appear to be taken directly from a low-budget anime, with the cutesy manga drawings brought to life through a selection of limited expressions on characters faces. The characters in game are drawn in pixel form, while the environments and enemies are rendered in 3D, and while the graphics are full of colour and the world is varied and interesting, many people may still be put off by the cutesy, Japanese nature of the whole thing.

The sound is probably the biggest let down of the whole game. The soundtrack is quiet and generic enough to be easily ignored and instantly forgettable, and the sound effects aren’t anything to write home about. And if you hate the manga graphics, you’ll despise the random snippets of un-translated Japanese dialogue that are played during conversations, or when picking up an item, taking damage, etc. It’s understandable that Carpe Fulgur would not want to take away some of the Japanese elements that probably took EasyGameStation (the game’s true developers) so long to put in there, but at the same time, the high pitched wails of Japanese teens can get a little grating sometimes.

Pros

  • Simple trading and combat systems make it easy to pick up and play
  • Wonderfully funny script
  • Trading is deep enough to make haggling fun rather than a chore
  • Combat is fun, if simplistic

Cons

  • Manga-style graphics can leave some gamers turned off
  • Forgettable and repetitive soundtrack
  • Poor tutorial explains the controls but not which buttons do what
  • Repeated snatches of dialogue can become a little annoying

Summary

With it’s cutesy manga graphics, seemingly bizarre control system and somewhat annoying soundtrack, Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale may seem like a game that’s just a little too Japanese to be of interest to a Western audience. But strip away the graphics and you’re greeted by a simple but deep trading system, fun combat and a great script. It’s not for everyone, certainly, but if you’re looking for something that’s just a little bit more different than you’re used to, this is certainly worth a try.

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