Video Game Review from the Vault: Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale

(Posted to my Facebook page on June 28, 2015)

“Capitalism, ho!” – Recette

Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale is a game created by EasyGameStation in 2007 and localized in 2010 by Carpe Fulgur and is one of the most unique RPGs I’ve ever played. Its concept isn’t entirely original, and harkens back to those old flash games on the internet where you would run lemonade stands, only with more swords, crippling debt, and fairies. Hmm… maybe I should start from the beginning.

You play as Recette (Pronounced like “Wreck-It,” I believe. Based on a joke they make early on, it seems to be the pronunciation that makes the most sense), a young girl who lives alone after her father left several months ago to become an adventurer and promptly disappeared on one of his adventures. But one day, Recette is visited by a mystical quirky fairy who tells Recette of her destiny, convincing her to pick up the sword and go out to rescue her fath… PFFFFT, just kidding. This fairy (Named Tear) has a clipboard and informs Recette that she’s in debt to the bank! Yay! The fairy explains that Recette’s father disappeared on his quest after taking out a large loan, which now is falling on Recette to pay, with the bank threatening to seize her house if the debt isn’t paid. Tear, however, has a solution: convert the house into an item shop and work to pay off the debt; Tear even offers to help assist in running the shop. Recette dubs the store “Recettear” after the newly forged partnership and the two begin a month-long journey to repay this debt…

If I had to describe the mechanics to this game, I’d say it reminds me most of a blend of elements from Animal Crossing, Harvest Moon, and various dungeon crawling roguelikes. That may sound confusing, so I’ll explain. As you run your shop, you’re responsible for keeping the shop supplied with goods to sell and attracting customers. You attract customers by decorating your shop and by displaying items in your window. Once you get customers, you have to sell them items, haggling with them to get the best possible price. You’ll buy items from them, take orders, offer suggested items, and restock your shop once supplies get low by purchasing them from the market or by going dungeon crawling. “But Jack!” I hear you cry “You just got finished telling us that Recette isn’t an adventurer!” Very attentive of you, imaginary reader! You dungeon crawl by hiring adventurers to go to the dungeon for you where they’ll battle monsters in search of sweet, sweet loot to sell back at your shop. Not just any adventurer will fight for you, however, and you’ll need to gain an adventurer’s trust before they’ll give you their precious adventurer’s card and allow you to dungeon crawl with them. It’s fairly beneficial to do this as well, as you’ll find that each adventurer has their own strengths and special abilities, such as the durable warrior who can deflect ranged attacks with his shield. In addition, these adventurers will visit your shop, so stocking up on quality weapons and armor to sell them is extremely beneficial, as it will make them much more effective in the field later.

Now I know what you’re thinking: This game sounds hella boring! Sitting around in a shop selling stuff certainly sounds kind of dull, but you’d be surprising how immersive it can get and how absorbed you become in this little shop. I think it comes down to a combination of the aforementioned games: Harvest Moon (Creating a business and maintaining it), Animal Crossing (A huge goal of paying off a debt that seems too big for you at first), and the dungeon crawling games (Changing things up with good ol’ hack ‘n’ slash). On top of that, there’s just a charm to the game that can make it a blast to play. It’s pure, undeniable fun; the most important aspect of any game.

The characters are all interesting and help add to the strategy of the game. You need to learn which customers are willing to shell out extra, which are stingy, which heroes to offer bargains to (So they can get better gear), and which will flat out try to rip you off (Don’t worry, there’s only one, and she’s rather obvious about it). The heroes you recruit have interesting backstories to explore, and the NPCs themselves do as well. The city you run your shop in really seems to come alive, and you find yourself becoming absorbed in the little stories that pop up here and there, interactions between the adventurers and so forth.

There’s a real sense of progression as you slowly raise your merchant level to unlock new bartering techniques, new items to buy at market, new crafting recipes, dungeon crawling upgrades, shop upgrades, redecorating your shop, getting new, more valuable treasures to sell, increasing your relationship with customers (Which gives them bigger wallets and can allow you to sell them items at higher percentages) and that, along with the interesting game mechanics and pressuring deadlines makes this game extremely addicting. My run just through the base five weeks took over 15 hours, and on top of that you can continue after the main campaign to unlock new heroes, dungeons, story points, and goods that weren’t previously available. On top of that, there’s still New Game+ (Starting again from the beginning with all your stats and goods still intact), Survival Mode (See how long you can continue to pay off a never ending series of payments), and “True” Hero Cards to unlock, which allow you to take that adventurer into dungeons from the very start of playthroughs. For such a small, cheap game, there is a surprisingly huge amount of content here.

Now, at this point in the review, I would like to offer a few gameplay tips for anyone interested. This may seem really random and off-topic, but I assure you it is not, as one of my biggest problems with this game is its crummy tutorial. Namely, Tear’s advice is mostly wrong or… rather, misguided. Firstly, she encourages the player to haggle with customers to try and sell it for about 130% of its base price. While certain customers can be persuaded to take this price right out of the gate, many will turn their noses up at it and storm out of the store angry, making turning a profit very difficult and building reputation difficult. Early on, it’s best to try to charge customers 110%-120%, which they’re more likely to accept. You can also experiment with price ranges on certain customers to learn which ones you can push a little higher and push that percentage a little higher once you do get a higher reputation with certain customers. On top of that, another thing Tear is flat out wrong about is how she encourages you to haggle to get better prices. While it’s true that certain customers can be pushed to buy for a little more with some haggling, the small monetary gain isn’t worth it; you want customers to accept the first price you offer them (But you still want to charge enough to actually make a profit). The reason for this is that if a person accepts the first price you give them, it begins a combo, giving you extra experience to level up Recette’s abilities. The bonus multiplies and caps out pretty high. Without using this method, it takes much, MUCH longer to level up, which can make the game seem like much more of a grind than it actually is. Those tips make the first run much, much easier. Also, I did say “First run” because if you don’t have enough money at the end of a week, that’s it, you get a Game Over. However, don’t get discouraged and quit, because after the Game Over screen, it will reset you to day 1, but Recette keeps all of her experience and all of the merchandise that was in the shop when the Game Over occurred. As such, if a deadline is coming up and you know you won’t make enough money, it can be a good idea to quickly run out to town and spend all your money buying more merchandise for the next run because you do NOT keep your money. Getting through the game on the first run is also very difficult even for experienced players, so don’t get discouraged if you get a Game Over or two.

Next, I should mention the music. Bad… bad isn’t the right word for it. It’s very grating, which might actually be worse than bad. The game plays this very bland, slightly annoying loop pretty much start to finish. There are a few loops depend on where you are, but trust me when I say it’s a good idea to mute the music and put your own on via Pandora or Spotify, because it can make the game much more annoying than it needs to be with bad, repetitive music.

In addition the art and graphics… again, bad is the wrong word, but they seem somewhat bland and uninspired. The backgrounds aren’t anything spectacular, the pixel art is just okay, monsters in dungeons look very goofy with their out of place 3D models, and on a whole, the game just isn’t very appealing to look at. The exception are the character portraits you see during normal conversations, which do look nice and are quite imaginative, but otherwise, this isn’t the prettiest game. I don’t normally harp on this, especially on what is basically a 2D pixel art game, but the problem here isn’t so much the actual quality of the art and animation itself, but rather the style. It goes for a very, very generic high fantasy. While there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s something that, even back in 2007, had been done to death and there was nothing original done with the style. I just wish the artist had taken the time to really flavor the world in a way to make it visually memorable.

So in the end, while the tutorials, music, and visuals fail, I’m able to mostly forgive that for how engrossing and utterly unexpected this game was. I’m not joking when I say it’s the most original and interesting game I’ve played since Papers, Please. If you have the extra scratch, head on down to Recettear and pick it up; I’ll put in a good word, I’m sure they’ll give you a good deal.

I give Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale a 4 out of 5.

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