Under Your Radar: Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale
Now that I’ve gotten you in the proper mood, it’s time to cover the first game on this segment in a while. Localizations of Japanese indie games were once unheard of, but Carpe Fulgur decided to take a chance and localize EasyGameStation’s title, Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale (RECETTEAR~How to Start an Item Shop~ in Japan).The game managed to break the 6-digit sales ceiling that most indie developers never do, and gave EasyGameStation more revenue than they ever earned before.
The game’s premise is simple. In what appears to be a fantasy version of France, Recette’s father runs off to become an adventurer, leaving Recette on her own. A while later, a fairy named Tear turns up at the house, claiming that her father had left behind a huge debt and went missing after a fight against some sort of powerful enemy. Recette has to pay off the debt, quickly, or she loses her house. So Tear suggests she open an item shop. Much to Tear’s chagrin, Recette names the shop using a portmanteau of their names that’s easily possible to misread as “racketeer” (not even close if you do now how Recette’s pronounced, though – Hint: the C makes an S sound).
Now, while it’s all cuteness from there, the game is in no way easy. Gameplay sounds simple enough, you buy items at wholesale or from customers, put them on the shelves and haggle the prices, sometimes going into dungeons with an adventurer to explore them in a style reminiscent of old 2D or current handheld Zelda games with randomly generated dungeons. Add the daily news changing the prices or demand for certain items, and you have a solid set of mechanics. The mechanics are (mostly) functional and balanced (with a few rather glaring bugs and bits of laziness here and there). However, the tutorial (also the source of the main complaint people have – the tutorial’s takes too long) blatantly teaches you stuff that’s bad practice.
They tell you to make as much of a profit as you can off of one sale by haggling. The game, however, rewards you far more for giving yourself low profit margins compared to the character’s budget and their personally acceptable mark-ups. You’d think that selling an item to the generic man at 125% of the base price is a good idea, but selling it at 105% will increase your reputation, thus giving them a bigger wallet later, and increase the amount of time that they wish to haggle. I can almost guarantee that most people lost at least once from taking that advice.
Not that you want to haggle regardless. You get far more experience from making several customers in a row happy with your first offer. Not only does that mean offering a good price, but sometimes characters will complain about prices they’re fine with anyway. This will break your combo for no reason at all and cost you a ton of potential experience.
In addition, during the main story, diving into dungeons isn’t usually a very attractive idea. You tend to be unable to afford a single day out of your store while you rush to barely make the week’s minimum payment. In what may be a blessing or a curse, you get sent back to day 2 with everything but your current money and story progression if you fail. I’d think this would seem nicer if, firstly, the game didn’t become a joke after doing that once or twice, and secondly, the tutorials weren’t reset with everything else.
Another few minor issues appear in how everything assumes you’ve yet to pay off the debt in conversations unless you’re accessing something only available in Endless Mode. In addition, a lot of the things that characters can say during transactions feel canned due to the uncanny valley effect from getting it almost right. For instance, a character may remark:
This is a precious family heirloom.
When selling you an item. This can and will apply to stuff like ham sandwiches. A lot of unfortunate implications can come up from reading into the stuff they say, such implications that some parents are being too neglectful to get their kids food until they annoy them hard enough, that a male character was masturbating using an (explicitly female according to the description and equipment restrictions) sailor suit, that a character is a nudist (thank God they at least wear clothes when shopping), etc. Characters can also remark stuff like:
This was good shopping.
When all they did was sell you stuff. Also, in an obvious attempt to prevent you from specializing (to which I must ask why they won’t let you specialize), characters will ask you at the counter for items of a certain type. This includes asking for a book when you have a bunch of weapons and armour taking up all of your shelves, or asking for food when a lot of your shelves have food on them.
Customers also never buy more than one item unless they’re either buying a second item from a vending machine, or they place an order ahead of time. This would have been a great way to spice things up a bit, by making just one character walk in and clear out your shelves in contrast to the already existing possibility of getting a huge swarm that buys nothing.
The adventurers you can hire will show up at your store. They’ll always equip what they buy, if possible, but not only do they demand lower margins for stuff they can equip, they will equip an item in place of another if even one stat would increase. This can lead to characters downgrading their weapon and losing 30 in both offences because the weapon they bought had 3 more magic defence. At the same time, it also means that you can suit up your adventurers (who will never get better equipment unless you sell it to them or use up your limited dungeon bag slots to bring stuff in) by offering them the strongest weapon in the game for 1 pix (the lowest possible amount of money you can charge). This is actually quite a viable strategy if the adventurers in question can’t afford the weapon/equipment normally.
In addition, during the dungeon adventuring, your character is a 2D texture on a plane, but most of the other characters are in differing quality levels of 3D, not to mention that experience is received by gems that drop of monsters and move to your location. For some reason unknown to me, they gave these gems colliders, to they can get stuck around corners if you move around too much before all the gems move to you, costing you experience you earned (since they disappear after a short time if they don’t reach you). Speaking of the dungeons, the requirements for some of the later ones require a guide or sheer luck to find. That’s too bad, since one of the post-game dungeons is the real end to the story, tying up nearly all loose ends, including the whereabouts of Recette’s father.
Another glitch occurs after upgrading the store to have two showcase windows. You can put items on the shelf space by the window to let people on the street see it, thereby letting people know about major items in your store (and customers have a higher chance of buying these items than anything else). Both of the windows come with a 4-space shelf that should all count for this (as is shown by the one you start with having all of them work). The second one, however, has a glitch that makes one or the other end of the shelf not get counted no matter what you do, decreasing your amount of potential showcase items after the upgrade from 8 to 7, which can be a big deal and is just overall annoying after everything else worked decently enough.
But enough about stuff they almost got right. They got a lot of things spot-on or well enough to work quite well. While you can’t see your current relationship with any given character, characters will typically react to good deals by bringing more money when shopping. Though some live on perpetually small budgets or won’t accept big mark-ups, there are also characters who have more money than you could possibly every ask them for, and will happily take huge mark-ups. Funnily enough, the most extreme example of a character that happily takes big mark-ups is Alouette, who’s the daughter of the owner of the world’s equivalent of Wal-Mart and introduces herself as your rival. As smug as she acts, she never acts as your rival at any point and is more of a best friend than anything. There’s also another character who tries to sell you things at 500% of their base price, and won’t accept less than 200%. That character’s just a complete annoyance.
The difference between these characters’ budgets and buying patterns ensures that you have to set up your shop’s mood (changeable using wallpapers, flooring, different shelf designs and changing the stuff being showcased – kinda makes me wish they enabled modding) carefully to maximize the chances of any given character showing up. They did a good job of balancing who appears under what circumstances (Alouette and the girl who tries to overcharge you for items she’s selling both have a higher chance to appear if your shop looks expensive, for instance), meaning that very few setups on the extreme ends have distinct advantages or disadvantages. That said, it’s altogether smarter to stay near the middle and only slightly poke into any given direction, giving you a decent chance of everyone appearing, therefore having far more customers walk in than with anything on the extremes.
Furthermore, there’s an ever-so-slightly deeper plot than you’d think if you don’t go through dungeons often. I can’t exactly say what the stuff is without spoilers, however, but I assure you it’s there. Recette’s also a lot smarter than she seems to be, most of the time, with her random knowledge on several different subjects, she could probably be considered a lazy genius who hides it by acting like a generic moe little girl who simply does things according to how fun it sounds.
I must also thank Carpe Fulgur for their stellar translation job. They weren’t exactly on the dot with it (some things, such as Recette’s catchphrase, have no equivalent in the Japanese script, and one character’s name was changed to a homonym because they decided the name’s pun was stupid and didn’t even look like a name – I agree), but it works extremely well.
At the end of the day, blemishes and all, the game is a solid, slightly addicting experience that could simply be better if given more time to be cleaned up. While it’s by no means perfect, it’s worth a look. It’s available in English on Steam, though it’s exclusive to Windows.