Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale PC Developed by Carpe Fulgur Released in 2007
Hooray! Assuming you are actually reading this piece on the day it goes up, then today is my birthday. If you’re joining us late, it was December 4th, good day overall, there was some cake, but that’s not really the point right now. Since we ended up releasing Stian’s review of Ratchet & Clank 2 on his birthday, a game he was very passionate about, we came up with a little tradition to use our birthday as an excuse to talk about games we are really, really obsessed with. And for me, no game better fills that definition than Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale.
Pay debt or die
In Recettear you have the honor to play as the cutest character in gaming history: Recette Lemongrass, a young, quirky girl that used to live with her father in the medieval fantasy village of Pensee. I say “used to” because her father has actually left the village to go on an epic adventure, leaving Recette to take care of the house. Unfortunately, or perhaps tragically, dad never did return from his adventure, and even worse, he took out a massive loan to fund his adventuring equipment before leaving.
The Terme Financing Company is now looking to get their money back and has dispatched Tear, a female fairy with a knack for business and administration, to get it back for them. Realizing Recette would never be able to cough up the money though, Tear shows her sympathetic side and instead helps Recette set up an item shop to raise the money she needs to pay off the debt and secure a future for her in Pensee.
While Recette is the obvious star here, being an absolutely adorable protagonist with an energetic, ceaseless optimism towards anything that comes on her path, Tear is not far behind. The twist to her character is that she really does care about Recette’s well-being and often acts as a big sister or mother figure to her, but has no real choice in regards to the debt. If Recette can’t grow her business enough, then Tear is forced to abandon her and sell off Recette’s house. While Recette herself rarely brings it up, many supporting characters will point out this tension and it’s interesting to see how often Recette defends Tear, knowing Tear would, in the end, not be able to return that favor.
Besides the goal of raising enough money and the strong chemistry between the two leads there is a cast of secondary characters, mostly adventurers who have come to Pensee looking for quests or the local townsfolk. When hiring them to raid the nearby dungeons or while visiting locations around town you’ll be treated to little scenes that vary from small, comedic exchanges to important character arcs. Witnessing these helps unlock new characters that may then visit your shop, cleverly linking a gameplay benefit to discovering more about the story.
If I may say one thing, however, it is that many stories are not really concluded. There is a big event happening in the dungeons that you discover as you delve deeper and deeper, but that is entirely optional and fortunately you can continue to explore it after the debt has been paid. The same does not go for several character arcs and mysteries that are left open to debate, which may be either a positive or negative depending on how you feel about such endings. Personally I would have loved to find out for sure where Charme the Thief came from, yet the lack of a Recettear 2 means that question may go forever unanswered.
Story score: 10/10
Be on the receiving end of the “vendor trash” for once
“An Item Shop’s Tale” is exactly what you get with this game, as the core gameplay literally revolves around you running the item store in Pensee. You put items on the shelves, open up the door, and people come in and buy the stuff they want. Naturally some items are more likely to sell than others depending on what people you attract, so filling up your shelves with alchemy ingredients may lead to a lot of people coming up to your desk to ask if maybe you also sell normal food.
When a customer wants to buy an item they’ll show it to you and ask for a price. You can sell it off for the base value, but if you want that debt paid anytime soon you’ll want to add some mark up. This is where you experiment with what kind of price a customer might be willing to pay, at the risk of scaring them away altogether. Even though the game doesn’t tell you about it, there is a customer appreciation system in place where they will start bringing more money if they had satisfying experiences with you earlier in the game; this is almost a must approaching the end when the debt payments become absurdly demanding.
To refill your stock you head out into town where you can buy stuff on the market or in the guild. The game will constantly show announcements which inform you on what items are popular and when specific kinds of items are expensive or cheap, so even though you need to invest in your stock, you can gamble by buying lots of expensive items when their price decreases and hope it normalizes or even increases soon. Alternatively, you can head into the adventurer’s guild where you hire adventurers for a small sum of money.
Hiring adventurers is almost an entirely separate game all of its own. You head into multi-floored dungeons with boss battles every five floors. You control your character with the arrow keys and can do simple attacks and switch between several special moves that cost SP to use and which you unlock more of as you level up your adventurer. Dungeons are randomly generated and thus randomly spawn monsters, treasure chests, and special events like traps or story moments. All the loot you pick up is free for you to take back to the store, but the big risk is that, if your adventurer is defeated, he or she will retreat with only a single item that is not their own, making the whole venture a waste. This especially hurts if you loaned them powerful equipment that they then lost.
While it is definitely functional, dungeon crawling does tend to drag on as you can only make an exit every five floors, similar to the item worlds of Disgaea. The randomly generated nature of these dungeons and the fact you move a bit too slow for the large, late-game mazes to stay fun for the long periods of time you are expected to spend in them further drags this portion of the game down. I found myself yearning to return to the store, but even after five floors and the gruelingly hard boss battles at the end, if often still feels like you only found a handful of worthy items, pushing you to carry on. After all, beanies and worn swords aren’t going to pay the bills.
What I really appreciate in the game’s design is in how many ways the dungeon crawling and store running overlap with each other. Adventurers are your most prominent visitors in the store and if you sell them equipment they can use, they will actually start to wear that. This makes it potentially interesting to sell them incredible equipment for a steal, just to make sure they will be better equipped next time you make use of their services. You’ll also need to find certain people in Pensee by visiting places at the right time to unlock new dungeons or achieve other tasks in the store to proceed.
In fact, the game is filled with clever design, like how the furniture in your shop affects it atmosphere, which in turn attracts a different demographic to your store. You can also take a risk and pick up odd stuff instead of treasure, because this is the kind of a game where an entire suit of armor takes up the same inventory space as a bit of rabbit fur; these kind of items are generally worthless for the store, but can often be used in the guild to fuse them together into valuable items with variable stats that are decided by the quality of the resources you put into them.
I could go on for hours about all the little design choices I like and it’s great to have a game that offers a unique concept (running an item store in an RPG) and still gives it so much polish and debt even though it had no examples to compare itself to. Running the store is lots of fun and it gets really tense when a deadline approaches, you are just a few thousand pix short, so your last few hours have to go exceptionally well. Especially when all the cheapskates then come in trying to sell you all of their old trash.
Gameplay score: 9/10
A masterpiece in cuteness
Though I already awarded Recette the title of “most adorable character in video games”, I think the entire game would probably rank highest in a “cutest games ever” list of some sort. Recettear really is a feel-good game for me, filled to the brim with adorable character portraits that show different emotions, hilarious dialogue, upbeat music, and voice-acting so spot-on it took me a while before I realized it was just amateurs. The Elven archer Tielle, for example, often shouts “SHOOT” in Engrish and her voice was so akin to Yukari Tamura that it gave me flashbacks to Lyrical Nanoha.
Regardless of the situation, Recettear manages to present itself excellently thanks to good use of sound-effects and spoken lines. Dialogue sequences use these to prevent scenes from being just a long scroll of quirky text and dungeons feature some nice theme songs that are inoffensive enough to not get annoying while looping for the duration of a dungeon dive. During dungeons there is also a lot of spoken dialogue between the adventurers and Recette, with her worryingly asking if they are hurt or cheering them on. It’s all in Japanese, though I know an English fandub is out there somewhere, but that just benefits the game in my opinion, as it’s not as evident that the same encouragements are re-used as often.
The actual sprites used in the game are of high quality too, using a nice style of pixel art that is remarkably detailed and brings out all the small touches that make the character designs so unique. Louie’s iconic muffler is a good example, but it’s also details like that which prevent the game from featuring accurate weapons and armor. The sprites are always the same and what’s the point of letting me craft hilarious hats, but not showing them on the character?
Presentation score: 10/10
I can’t stop…
After finishing the game, watching the last few cutscenes, and getting a “true card” from the adventurer you hired the most, there are a few different paths available to you. With the debt repaid you can simply keep running the store like you always did without any sort of overarching goal, which also means you can continue exploring the dungeons where you last left off and finish the storyline found there. You can, however, also do a New Game+, which has its own interesting benefits.
New Game+ will restart you back on day 2 with the debt returning, but you’ll keep all your inventory and customer relations. This makes it much easier to get through the game and focus on advanced features like the fusing and managing store atmosphere. The adventurers whose true cards you have received in past runs will also be available right from the start, making it kind of useless if you ended up getting Louie’s card. There are also two survival modes, normal and hell, that challenge you to stay in business while the debt increases to impossible levels, with the latter even going so far as to reset all your progress. This doesn’t affect the main game at all, so playing survival does not overwrite your regular save.
The core game is fun enough to make this a fun game to just boot up every once in a while and run the store for a bit, but being able to relive the story with a little less challenge is nice as well. Of course, if you prefer to take on the debt the fair way, then making a new save is also still possible.
Extras score: 10/10
Man it felt great to talk about this game and I hope it was just as fun for you to read my thoughts on it. It should be no surprise that this title walks away with a recommendation, though I will say it’s a game that requires some determination and resistance to stress to handle. Don’t expect your first attempt to carry you to the end of the game and remember that having to restart will give you some nice bonuses that make it easier on you.