Background: “So! I have an item shop! And stuff! And it’s cool and awesome!”
Recette is a young, naive, and perpetually happy little girl who lives in a town which happens to be an adventuring hub due to its close proximity to the nearby dungeons. Her father, like so many other locals and travellers was lured by the call of adventure, and set off to make his fortune. Unfortunately for Recette, before he left he took out a rather large loan with the Terme Finance company and even more unfortunately, he doesn’t seem to be faring very well on his adventure since he hasn’t returned. Tear, a fairy who works for Terme Finance has come to collect on the debt – which is, of course, wholly beyond the means of Recette to repay so her house is on the brink of repossession. Luckily this is the point at which things finally begin to go Recette’s way, as Tear has a cunning plan to get back Terme’s money without Recette losing her house. Since the house is prominently placed within this adventuring hub, with a gloriously large window onto one of the main streets, it would make a perfect Item Shop! Each week, Tear will collect an increasing amount of money from Recette until the debt is paid off. To keep from living in a box, Recette must ensure she has sufficient funds in hand at the end of collection day. To achieve this, you’ll engage in a combination of dungeon diving to find items and store simulation to buy cheap items and sell your stock for a healthy profit.
Store Simulation: “Capitalism, Ho!”
At the heart of Recettear is the “buy low, sell high” mentality, and it’s up to you to achieve this without pissing your customers off. Though each item has a base price, the trading aspect of the game is based on bartering and if you start too high you’ll never sell anything. Indeed, selling something at a price which the customer accepts immediately without pushing you for a discount can be more beneficial than trying to squeeze every last penny out of them as you will receive a “just bonus” experience bonus which helps you to level Recette’s merchant level more quickly. If you offer close to the amount the buyer was hoping to pay, you’ll also get a “near pin” bonus for additional experience. As you gain levels, more options become available to you, such as the ability to buy from your customers, take advance orders for items, or go to the merchant’s guild to forge new items in a process known as fusion. Fusion allows you to upgrade items using ingredients that you find on your dungeon dives, so collecting the worthless seeming junk ingredients can definitely pay off as the new items created are much more powerful and expensive! The levelling element and the new abilities that are unlocked along the way make the game much more in depth than it first appears and time management becomes critical. For example you might be running low on stock but have an order to fulfil that day, making it difficult to find time to get out of the shop to restock. You need to ensure you plan your time well as every day counts, especially towards the later stages of the game.
Loops: “I just… think I saw something nice in my dreams…”
Should you fail to hit the repayment amounts set by Tear, the game will loop and restart, putting your funds and the story back to the beginning. Although you need to advance the story again with the passage of time to do things such as unlock the dungeons and be able to use certain adventurers, things like your dungeon save points and adventurer’s levels do remain as they were once that part of the game is available again. And although your funds are depleted, all of your items remain in stock and the timeline is set back to day 1 so it’s actually much easier to complete the story if you fail and find yourself having to start over again. Being only 2% off the week 4 target on my first loop, I was a bit annoyed to come so close and find myself in a cardboard box at the end of the day so it was a nice surprise initially, but actually it kind of takes much of the challenge away. Still, it makes the game completable without being very hardcore.
Combat: “We help Mr. Swordsman clear the dungeon.”
To engage in combat, Recette must first get a member of the Adventurer’s Guild to provide her with their card. This allows her to hire that adventurer; since she’s not a member of the guild and is too weak she cannot directly engage in combat herself. Adventurers have their own equipment which they can purchase from you – so be careful what you sell to them. On occasion they will try to buy something that actually downgrades their gear so you might want to get rid of them by offering outrageous prices, or alternatively they might come in keen to buy something which would be a good upgrade, so in that instance make sure that you price it at a level at which they’ll be willing to purchase the item. It might be in your interest to take a loss! You can of course take gear from your stock along to lend to your adventurer, but this takes up valuable item space and since you can only carry 20 things along at once, it’s far more beneficial if they own the gear themselves in the first place.
The dungeons in Recettear are randomly generated, and are full of enemies who have unique abilities and characteristics, which keeps combat fresh and enjoyable. Once you enter a dungeon you can’t leave until you reach a door, one of which appears every 5 levels. However you’ll first need to defeat a boss to get access to the door. Each boss, like the normal enemies, is unique which makes it exciting when you come up against a new one for the first time. If your adventurer is defeated whilst in a dungeon, you can still take one item along with you but only one rather than the usual 20.
Like Recette, adventurers level up as they gain experience fighting, thus gaining more hitpoints, spellpoints and new abilities. One of the best ways to get XP is “chaining” which involves killing a chain of the same enemy type over and over. I mention this specifically because the game doesn’t actually explain the concept anywhere as far as I found, so it took me a while to figure out what was causing the “chain” graphic to pop up. Especially in the early dungeon levels, this is a great tactic to use because the variety of enemies is much less than later in the game, so it’s much easier to make chains.
Controls, Graphics, Sound etc: “Button 3? Custom.exe?” –Recette, “Focus, Recette. Your life is hard enough to control as it is.” –Tear
In terms of controls I used a gamepad and felt the gameplay really benefited from doing so; it certainly lends itself much better to a controller than keyboard (mouse is not used). With the keyboard, moving diagonally is tricky whereas with the controller thumbstick it’s seamless. By default, the movement is also with the arrow keys rather than asdw which most gamers will be used to, though this can be remapped. It’s definitely clear that it was designed for console. The score given below is to reflect both types of controller. For keyboard alone it would probably only score a 4 for its awkwardness but I’d say the controller raises this to an 8 or 9.
The graphical style will obviously appeal to some more than others; it’s a very typically Japanese cutesy anime style. It’s a shame that there is not more animation involved in the cut scenes, but it is in keeping with the style. And it’s not as twee as it seems; the gameplay is refreshing and will keep you hooked for some time. The audio is, in all honesty, a bit irritating after a while – the music, whilst enjoyable and fitting to the game does get old after a few hours and the gleeful Japanese phrases are cute but do get annoying when you’ve heard them 100 times. Still, again it’s fitting to the genre and for an indie release the standard is more than acceptable.
Carpe Fulgur is the new localisation company which is responsible for creating the amusing translation from EasyGameStation’s original Japanese indie game to the English version. The characters are charmingly brought to life and each is charming in its own way, from the cheapskate Louis, your first adventurer who is always complaining about being skint (but actually becomes one of your best customers if you treat him right), to the drunken thief Charme who loves trying to get a rise out of the always very “proper” Tear. Without their humour, the game would probably have fallen flat in the Western market so all credit to Carpe Fulgur – we look forward to seeing their future work! The only small criticism I had of the localisation was that their throwing in the odd French word, such as Tear’s frustrated cries of “Merde!” or referencing Recette as Mademoiselle Lemongrass felt a little out of place. English with the Japanese style I can of course get past for the sake of being able to understand it, but throw in references to another random language and it just feels a bit off. Still, this is a small point and doesn’t detract much from Carpe Fulgur’s excellent work.
Final Verdict: “Exceeded Expectations!”
With its delightful mixture of store simulation and dungeon crawling adventure RPG elements, Recettear is a refreshing twist on the usual adventure style RPG. It’s funny without being annoying, addictive without being too repetitive and has deceptively deep gameplay. Overall, Recettear is a charming game, well worth the money!