What do you get when you combine JRPG and Business Simulation? Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale. Featuring a one-of-a-kind system of bartering and classic, Zelda-esque dungeon crawling mechanics, Recettear is innovative and thoroughly entertaining. Being in debt never has been so fun!
While it starts out like your typical JRPG – waking up after oversleeping and neglecting your newfound responsibilities – you are quickly thrown into starting your item shop.
In this game you play as Recette Lemongrass (right in the above image), an airheaded yet endearing young, cute girl inheriting the debt from her father’s loans after he goes missing in his recent pursuit of adventuring. Tear (left), your companion, is a bespectacled fairy who presents the alternative of paying off the debt with an item shop business instead of having your house repossessed (forcing you to literally live in a box, which you can actually see as a “Game Over” screen if your business is unable to make you enough money for your weekly payment.) This dynamic duo is the driving force behind the game’s story: their exchanges are amusing and adorable.
Starting out – your store is completely bare. Tear, however, explains nearly everything behind running business. Her pocket-tutorials are quick, straightforward, and immerse you into the business simulation mechanics of the game. Even on my first demo playthrough, I was able to completely comprehend how the item shop was supposed to work and was even able to make the first payment on time! The game is kind in how it lays everything out for you. (On a plus note – demo savegame data can be copied and pasted into the retail game’s directory and loaded up from there, allowing you to carry over your demo’s progress!)
As you get past the tutorial phase and get your store into a semi-functional state, you are introduced to both the “Adventurer’s Guild,” the gateway to the game’s dungeon crawling mechanic.
Mind you, it is not Recette herself who takes up the role of adventuring. At the “Adventurer’s Guild” you meet a young adventurer, Louie, who has yet to start his career. Tear suggests that you and she accompany him in his “test” to become a member of the guild, offering your services as a supplier of food and equipment while retaining loot that he finds. Essentially, the “test” doubles as a dungeon and a tutorial to the combat mechanics of the game.
As I’ve said, the combat system is very much like that of classic (NES and SNES) Legend of Zelda. It is very fluid and I’ve had little problems with it.
Enemies are varied and you have to take different approaches in dealing with them so you aren’t always just charging and mashing the attack button. In fact, there is even a special attack button that you can use in a pinch (limited by the game’s equivalent of “magic points.”) As you level up (you can speed up the rate at which you earn exp through chains of slaying the same type of monsters,) you unlock different kinds of special attacks – the first new one being a ranged attack. You can also align yourself with different kinds of adventurers as the game progresses, presenting new game mechanics to keep the gameplay from being too repetitive. Overall, however, after meeting my first non-default adventurer, Charme, I tended to stick with her and neglected the adventurers I unlocked after. I felt that speed-wise (you can double tap a directional key to sprint) and special ability-wise, she was the most convenient to dungeon crawl with. Eventually, I leveled her up to a point where I could play through the dungeons effortlessly.
Adventurers aren’t the only ones who level up as you play – Recette also has her own Merchant Level. You can raise your Merchant Level as you make more successful transactions – in fact, if you make these transactions consecutively (without a customer protesting your rates) in one session of bartering, the rate at which your Merchant Level increases also rises.
Between the item shop and combat mechanics, the game can be a challenge to play during your first playthrough – it can be difficult to find loot from dungeon crawling (which takes half of a game day) and manage your item shop to make money to pay off your debt. While you don’t necessarily need to dungeon crawl in order to succeed (the Market and Merchant’s Guild sells you items at slightly cheaper rates compared with the base price which you can charge customers an extra percentage of,) it can be advantageous – especially in procuring treasures and ingredients (predominantly monster drops.)
Ingredients can either be sold or fused (an ability unlocked at an early Merchant Level,) to create superior and more expensive items. This is useful for equipping your adventurer companions (they can actually visit your store and you can sell them equipment they will permanently use without having to fill up item slots in your dungeon crawls) with better quality weapons, armor and accessories. It can also be effective in making large sums of cash per single transactions. I thought this system was fleshed out quite well – it’s nice to see some sort of lasting effect on the game world with transactions by selling equipment to adventurers.
On the other hand, there are also some weird quirks with how the item shop works. Some customers have their sprites repeat and there are scenarios where the Merchant Guildmaster appears as a customer and buys some item he sells at the Merchant Guild for very cheap for 130% the base price. These quirks aren’t gamebreakingly drastic, however, and can be easily overlooked with how expansive the shop mechanics can be.
Like the world’s economy, Recettear’s world faces the issue of unpredictably fluctuating prices. After you progress past your first week’s payment, you are soon introduced to the “News Feed” – which covers how certain items or item types are doing in the world market. Ideally there can be a demand for items such as armor, allowing you to sell your cheaply purchased armor from the Merchant’s Guild at 200%+ rates. On the other hand there can be market crashes in which items may sell cheaply at the Merchant’s Guild and the market – however, you will also have to barter those same items at percentages under the base price. I believe this element of business simulation mechanics is what helps keep this game both challenging and engaging. It forced me to be very careful about some of my purchases.
While I said that I completed the demo in my first playthrough without failing, I cannot say the same about my retail game’s playthrough. The last week’s payment is especially demanding and I did not make it. The game can be rough but somewhat generous at this point. While you get the “Game Over” screen of Recette having her house repossessed and living in a box, you shortly afterwards wake up from it as a dream – you are back in day one, but your store is still furnished and you still have all your items prior to the “Game Over.”
Having completed the game today, a lot of it is still fresh on my mind. Even after paying off your debt, your are allowed to continue running your store in an "Endless Mode." You also unlock a "New Game+" and "Survival Mode," the latter of which being a mode in which your weekly debt payments are endless. These expanded modes provide for great replayability! I myself will definitely be playing more of Recettear in order to find even more adventurers and unlock even more dungeons while running the item shop.
Selling for $20 on Steam (and two direct-download distributors which I cannot recall from the top of my head,) Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale is worth every penny!