Recettear: An Item's Shop Tale is a Japanese-developed game featuring anime-styled artwork, a bouncy soundtrack and some dungeon delving in the spelunking spirit of the Mystery Dungeon series. The most unusual aspect of this downloadable game, however, is its emphasis on elements associated with a business simulation.
Working for a Living
As a young girl who must pay off her absent father's debt, you'll manage a store that sells weapons, armor, food and similar supplies to support the town's adventurers. And it's precisely the shop management features that make this game worth a look for sim fans. It's no Capitalism, but Recettear is nevertheless an addictive game that captures the basics of retail with a sense of whimsy and humor.
Your goal is to pay a rather large sum of money to the Terme Finance Company, whose agent is a no-nonsense fairy named Tear. That's right, a fairy. You play as Recette Lemongrass, an excitable girl who seems a bit too energetic for someone essentially forced into the life of an indentured servant.
Recette must raise a specific amount of money each week or else the Terme Finance Company will repossess her house and cast her off into the streets, alone and penniless. Tear is there to ensure Recette understands the business world, introducing new play mechanics to you along the way. To make ends meet, Recette's home is converted into a shop filled with empty display cases.
The first order of business is to procure items to sell by visiting the town's merchant's guild, which offers items at wholesale prices, and then place the items inside your store's display cases. Initially you'll only be able to afford basic items such as dented swords or rusty armor, but by selling more and more items to customers, you'll gradually increase Recette's merchant level, enabling her to buy better things to expand her business.
Fighting for Loot
In addition to purchasing items from vendors in town, another way to obtain items is to hire adventurers to explore the nearby dungeons. This phase of the game is played like a traditional action role-playing game, with you guiding the selected hero in real time from an overhead perspective. You'll first equip your adventurer with weapons and armor, then explore multiple floors filled with a variety of goofy looking enemy types. The combat is extremely basic, but the monsters can be tough, so acquiring better items and gear is important.
Both Recette and Tear will follow behind your selected hero, scooping up items left by defeated foes. The dungeon crawling aspect can be tedious -- the randomized layouts involve progressing through many different floors that all look the same -- but you can take a break and leave a dungeon after five floors. If the hired adventurer dies in the dungeon, you lose all of your items and must leave.
You can only heal a limited number of times too, adding to the sense of dread (and excitement) when trying to locate the stairs leading to the next floor.
If the dungeon aspect doesn't appeal to you -- and to be fair, the limited moves and nondescript environments make for a repetitive experience for those not enticed by the promise of shiny baubles -- you don't have to go on constant expeditions to earn a living. You can acquire items the old fashioned way, by dealing with suppliers in town.
Let's Make a Deal
A surprising amount of thought has been placed in the business phase of the game, which involves showcasing "good" items in front of the window, haggling with customers over prices, taking advantage of supply and demand, upgrading your shop's decor, and much more.
Each customer type, from gruff old men to demanding young girls, has a target price in mind when they see an item they like. You then have to determine how much over the base price to sell the item for. It doesn't pay early on to gouge customers, either -- not only will you risk them storming out the door, but they won't "like" you enough to purchase higher-priced items down the road.
So you have to develop positive relationships with your clientele, building a sense of trust by giving them deals now and then to ensure a sale. When a customer accepts a price, the payment explodes into a burst of coins that get sucked into your merchant level bar in the corner of the screen. It's silly but oddly satisfying to hear the ka-ching sound of money being converted into experience.
Of course, you ultimately have to run a profitable business, no matter how much a customer begs and pleads. Your deadline never waivers and the payment keeps growing more and more significant with each passing week. You'll have to manage your time as well as your inventory, planning out your day to be as productive as possible. Each in-game day consists of a limited number of turn-based actions. Opening up shop, for example, uses one unit of time, while venturing into dungeons uses two units.
The presentation is a throwback to later Super NES and early PlayStation titles, with 2D character sprites, simplistic animation and static backgrounds. Dialogue sequences involve large character portraits "sliding" in and out of the foreground, and you have to constantly tap a key to advance the conversation. (You'll also have to read some corny lines like "stop calling him seedy -- he's not a plant.")
Recette's youthful exuberance, evidenced in audible squeals, is comical. Though she routinely uses ridiculous expressions such as "capitalism, ho!" and "kay kay," you can't help but be drawn in by her enthusiasm. The visuals are as bright and colorful as Recette's sunny disposition, but the music is on such a short loop that it's guaranteed to become an earworm. The anime-influenced art style may not be for everyone's tastes, but the gameplay is strong enough to look beyond the aesthetics.
While some will have issues with the presentation, more will have problems with the control scheme, at least early on. The game does not feature mouse support, so everything is done via keyboard controls. And the keyboard controls don't use standard keys, either, since "Z" is used to initiate actions. If you have a wired Xbox 360 controller, you're in luck, as it's recognized right from the start and works great. You can also alter the input commands with a separate application that comes bundled with the game.