Let’s be honest, we’re all tired of being big damned heroes who save the world from the forces of darkness, right? Slaying dragons, hurling balls of fire that wreak havoc on our enemies, and decapitating foes with a vorpal blade is old helmet. True heroes with an adventurous spirit want to live the exiting, suspense-filled life of a village item shop owner, right? No? But that’s just what you get to do in Carpe Fulger’s 2010 offering (released in 2007 in Japan) developed by EasyGameStation – Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale. It sounds like a bad D&D meme, but this premise has produced a surprisingly complex and enjoyable RPG experience. Capitalism, ho!
The Story. You play Recette, the daughter of a village’s item shop owner who is massively in debt (820,000 pix) to a loan shark. He disappears before payday, and the collection agent, a fairy named Tear, offers you the chance to avoid being thrown out on the street and living in a cardboard box. All you have to do is take over dad’s shop and pay back the debt in one month’s time.
Though a serious story, there is a good bit of simple, innocent humor in the form of the occasional pun. And let’s not forget that the main characters’ names, when pronounced according to in-game dialogue, make the word “Racketeer”, which is a snarky pun on the main premise of the game.
Mechanics. The main mechanics used in Recettear will be those familiar to RPG players.
However, the “talk” mechanic replaces combat as the frequently used mechanism for gaining experience. Why? Because every successful sale or haggled purchase earns you experience points. And that’s what you spend the majority of your time doing – buying and selling goods.
Each week, you have a quota of money you must earn and pay back to your loan shark fairy friend – or else you will find yourself on the street. Each week is divided into seven days, and each day is divided into four time slots. You can spend your time buying items (when the Market and Merchants’ Guild are open), adventuring as a hired hand, or running your shop.
But it gets more complex as you continue your journey to financial freedom. You have to acquire items to sell, which means that you must regularly visit the Merchants’ Guild and the Market in order to obtain stock. And they have limited stock and can set the prices you have to pay. Eventually, you will gain two more options of acquiring stock: haggling with customers who want to sell you their used items (including used food – don’t think too much about that) and hiring members of the Adventurers’ Guild to loot dungeons for you. Hiring adventurers, which can only be done with the Guild is open, brings a more familiar action-rpg experience where you guide the adventurer through a dungeon. Succeed, and you gain lots of stock to sell. Fail, and you lose both potential stock and time during the day.
The dungeons are the most boring part of the game, honestly. The levels get repetitive, and the monsters are basically palette swaps of earlier monsters – there are four variants of the classic slime for instance. But adventuring isn’t the point of the game – it’s simply a way to get stock (including rare magical items) for your store.
The game mechanics shine when you are in your store. You have to plan your interactions with customers carefully. Charge too much for an item, and you run the risk
of driving them away. Charge too little, and you run the risk of not meeting your weekly goal. Also, some customers will haggle over prices, others will not. You don’t always know, which is how it often works in business. At the end of each day, you’re “graded” on how well you did. And, like the real world, you can do well and still fail to meet your goals.
Graphics. The graphics are bright and clear. The character designs have a cute manga vibe that’s not too childish but not over-the-top. Perhaps they’re a bit too cartoonish for a serious tale, but a lot of JRPGs use that style, so it’s no big deal. Even by today’s standards, these are pretty good graphics, considering that they’re now a decade old. The characters are clearly distinguished from the backgrounds and the animation is fluid. I have no complaints on this front.
Challenge. Let this serve as a warning: this game is hard! If we take each week as a “level” to beat, then the first week is pretty easy, but the difficulty skyrockets after that without warning. That’s not a bad thing, because, that’s business. Also, I like a good challenge, but the sharp increase in difficulty is surprising.
Final Thoughts. Recettear is a surprisingly fun game built on the premise of exploring the life of the truly unsung hero of the RPG world – the Item Shop Vendor. It has mechanics that are more complex and challenging than one would initially think, and, because the game relegates combat and “adventuring” to secondary status, it gives players a chance to break from traditional RPG formulae with a rich, interesting storyline. For those wondering, the game does not present itself as either a glorification of capitalism or as a critique of said economic system. While I would have liked the game to go one way or the other, that would be a more difficult game to make in order to be as charming and engaging as Recettear is. In this game world, capitalism simply is, and Recette must learn to live within this system’s rules. It’s challenging. It’s charming. It’s fun.
Rating. 3.6 out of 4 Bats with Money Bags.