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Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale (PC) artwork

Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale (PC) review

"Recettear: An Item Shop Game is the surprise success of 2010, and deservedly so. Itís a homebrew game that, when published by what was little more than a fan base, quickly turned the part-time publishers hobby into a full time job. It doesnít just exceed expectations: it rewrites them."

Anyone coming in fresh to Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale is going to be in for a surprise. This little Indie game from Japan probably doesnít sound like much of a blast, and itís not aided by coming from a country big on train timetable simulators and sandbox racing games that score you points for staying within the speed limits. Letís cut to the chase: itís not what you're expecting. Youíre expecting a kind of shop-based sim that pokes fun at the conventional RPG tropes, and youíll be right to. -- the hub of the game is indeed a shop that caters to all manner of everyday villager and adventurer alike. But rather then spend all your time selling off Broadswords +2 and beginner-level wooden helmets, Recettear dares stroll into the unexpected. Itís a dungeon crawler, a business sim and an adorable anime package all rolled into one.

Fact is, even on the merit of what youíd expect, Recettear stands strong. Left in the lurch after the disappearance of her father, Recette is left to fend off the repayments of all the various loans he took out, forcing her to turn her home into an impromptu item shop. This is done at the bidding of Tear, the authoritive fairy sent from the finance company to collect on the debt. The two make an alluring team right away: Recette is your typical anime pre-teen girl -- ditzy, clumsy, a little slow but adorably charming while Tear plays it straight-laced and serious. Things start off slow: youíre unable to charge right in and sell off top-line merchandise, so have to make do with loaves of walnut bread and the odd cloth hat.

Business, then, is slow. Not many people clamour for the immediate purchase of old capes and rusty daggers, so you start life clawing your way into relevancy. Your converted shop has a few ways to pull in the punters: should you manage to procure an item of worth, you can display it in the front window to try and draw people in, or you can try and build up repeat custom. Cranky old men and whiny young girls prove hard to cater to; neither have a lot of cash but still want the world, and even offering some items at cost will fail to impress. Young adults are easier fare, often biting at inflated prices should they find something they truly desire.

Running the business evolves as the game progresses. At first, you have a basic stock and the ability to haggle, but your skills are weak and your customers unconfident in the fledgling store. Successfully selling these items not only builds a regular customer base, but levels up your shopkeeping skills, giving you more chances to haggle and eventually allows you to play with the dťcor of your shop. You can do everything from changing the look to appeal to certain demographics (like trying to walk the line between classy and gaudy) to ordering an extension so you can display more items.

While your stocks will steadily increase in value, keeping the store ticking over to pay the increasingly large weekly bills is only a part of the game. Sooner rather than later, youíll start stumbling upon adventurers buying up armour and weaponry for their jaunts into neighbouring dungeon crawls. The first of these is Louie. Poor, hapless Louie.

In another kind of RPG, Louie might very well be your protagonist. Heís very green, kinda simple, but overly noble and courageous. Heís also awful with money and tends to lose whatever wealth he gains almost immediately, leading him to constantly look for hand outs while scavenging scraps of food. Recette meets him while heís trying to enrol in the Adventureís Guild, and offers to be his sponsor, meaning sheíll pay for him to take on the entrance trial, and heíll fork over any items he finds in his travels.

Here, things switch from a sim to a randomly-generated dungeon crawl where youíll control Louie as he beats up slimes and kobolds for free experience and level ups. But his main role is to be a pack-donkey and leave each crawl dripping with loot. From the corpses of slain foes and obligatory treasure chests can come anything from half-melted golden statues to clumsy bows to surprisingly fresh apples. Should he escape a dungeon alive (or conscious in this case: beaten adventurers are returned to the outside world unharmed, but minus the vast majority of their swag) whatever he brings with him is sent directly to the shop to sell on to unsuspecting yokels whoíll buy their foodstuffs unaware that its previous owner was a venomous mass of tentacles.

Soon, the little touches in Recettear become more and more prevalent. When Louie comes to shop for items, anything you sell him becomes a permanent equip, forcing you to decide between net profit and the gearing up of your adventurer. You might have to break even if he wants that new silver armour or knightís helm, but it means a hardier warrior will be at your disposal. Other adventurers are recruitable too; youíll either meet them inside ongoing crawls or while exploring the town Recette calls home. Each day is split into four different time slots and, at any time, Recette can spend one of these to leave the store, restock on supplies and have a good wander around, visiting locations such as the park or the tavern to keep up on current events. Charme, the lady thief, might be found getting wasted at the bar while you could bump into studious child-scholar Caillou, in the chapel.

Employing different adventurers to go on crawls changes up your options radically. Louie is very much your expected hero, complete with a big pointy sword and the ability to swing it around in a dangerous manner, while Charme employs a mixture of daggers and speed. Caillou, on the other hand, is a completely different beast, relying on huge magical energy reserves and special attacks like ice and fire spells. All these characters have a special criterion that needs to be met before you can use them; Louie falls into your lap, but youíll need him to give Charme a good whooping as she attempts to rob you blind before you win her respect. Caillou needs a difficult order filled while others lurk out there somewhere, waiting for you to find them.

But, behind everything else, thereís a mountain of debt to be paid. Each week becomes increasingly harder, especially with the host of distractions that Recettear smugly displays. Soon, youíll gain the ability to take advanced orders from loyal customers, make your own unique items in the fusion workshop and have the chance to buy and sell according to fluctuating stock prices. At some point, distracted by the lights and surprised by the mammoth jumps in debt repayment, you will fall behind and Tear will show some small regret in throwing Recette out of her family house and confining her to weep uncontrollably in a soggy cardboard box stored in the belly of a forgotten alleyway. Then, itís a soft reset back to Day 1 of her adventure, with all existing stocks and levels kept as were. If gives the girl more and more chances to succeed every time she dooms herself to failure.

This last touch is perhaps the best, and itís one that continues to keep Recettear relevant. No work goes unrewarded and, when you reach the stages where the shop can be expanded, or when you can start to buy in premier goods, itís never forgotten about or filed away to a dusty corner. Itís there. The work you plough into outfitting and levelling your motley crew of adventurers remains watertight and relevancy is never abandoned. That thereís always something to do is and, even in failure, itís never an ineffectual waste of time.

Recettear: An Item Shop Game is the surprise success of 2010, and deservedly so. Itís a homebrew game that, when translated by what was little more than a fan base, quickly turned the part-time publishers hobby into a full time job. It doesnít just exceed expectations: it rewrites them.

EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (November 27, 2010)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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espiga posted November 27, 2010:

Letís cut to the chase: itís not what your expecting.

WQ would be appalled.

Seriously though, nice review! I was looking at this one on Steam just the other day and was wondering if it would be worth a purchase. You've sold me on it.
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EmP posted November 27, 2010:

You should get it. You should get it right now.
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zippdementia posted November 27, 2010:

Oh., there's more for her to be appalled at than that!

But I agree, it's a great reccomendation.
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SamildanachEmrys posted November 28, 2010:

Good review in general, and it does a good job of putting across the appeal of a game that could easily seem completely offputting. I smiled at the descriptions of the rubbish you have to sell early on, such as 'the odd cloth hat'. Nicely done.

The review drags a bit towards the end though, so I think it could do with a little trim. There are also various typos or spelling errors that I'm not feeling pedantic enough to point out, though a couple of things need mentioning:

scourging up food from whatever seems to be growing nearby - I don't think it's possible to 'scourge' food. I'm guessing you might have been going for 'scrounging' but I'm not sure.

That thereís always something to do is approached: that itís never an ineffectual waste of time. - I really don't know what you're trying to say here. I don't understand the sentence.

The long and the short of it is I think the review needs a trim and polish, but is generally good.
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EmP posted November 28, 2010:

Thanks all for the catches. I've gone back an made a number of corrections as well as chopped about 200 words.

This one was a little rushed in to make the RotW deadline. There wasn;t any reviews in for the week when I started work on it, but, yeah, it could have done with another day of proofing. Hopefully, it's all worked out well in the end.
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SamildanachEmrys posted November 28, 2010:

Good stuff. The new version feels much tighter and flows better. I'm reasonably sold on the game too.
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overdrive posted December 02, 2010:

That game does look interesting. When I saw this review, my brain flashed back to the one part of Dragon Warrior IV ó the parts of Taloon's chapter where you worked at the store to gain money. Boring stuff that was basically people coming in and buying/selling stuff until your boss gave you 30 gold and told you to go home.

This game seems about 100 gazillion light years beyond that primitive prototype.

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