I haven’t played a Japanese RPG in years. I haven’t been able to finish one even longer. But there was a time when the JRPG was the pinnacle of my gaming world. Games like Secret of Mana and the Final Fantasy series were some of the most emotionally fulfilling gaming experiences of my youth. At some point however, the JRPG formula’s evolution couldn’t keep up with my ever growing interest in gaming. The plot lines grew stale with one too many rebellious, amnesiac protagonists fighting to save the world from an effeminate horror/freak of science (ok, that’s the plot to FF7, whatever.) I got tired of the same turn-based, random-encounter combat, the endless grind to gain just a few more levels. I moved onto to other things.
So when I saw the free demo on Steam for the strangely titled Recettear with its big headed anime characters, I more or less ignored it. When I finally read the description a few days later and saw it was a game where you ran a JRPG style item shop, I was almost annoyed with what seemed like such a goofy concept. When I finally downloaded it out of boredom, I was hooked. It seems enough time has passed. I can enjoy a Japanese RPG again!
Well, let’s clarify that. Recettear is indeed an item shop management sim, with a relatively simple buy low/sell high economic model. The game also features an equal part Diabloesque dungeon crawling rpg. As the games protagonist, the ever cheerful and hungry Recet, you will meet various adventurers who visit your shop to buy gear. As you get better acquainted, you can start accompanying and funding these dungeon delving rpg archetypes on their adventures. In return, you get to keep all the loot they find to sell in your shop, often times to the very same adventurers.
As you can see, Recettear is already different enough from the traditional JRPG to warrant some attention. As a hybrid of the sim and rpg genres, it becomes a surprisingly rewarding title. The two styles compliment each other well, and break up any monotony you may experience with either on its own.
The plot is simple. Recet wakes up one morning to find a stern fairy named Tear in her bedroom looking for an outrageous sum of money loaned out to Recet’s missing father. Tear informs the young lady that if she can’t make the loan payments, then the fairy will have to repossess the house (perhaps too realistic a plot considering the housing market collapse here in the states.) But don’t worry, for Tear has a plan that will keep everyone happy. She suggests converting Recet’s home into an item shop similar to the hundreds, nay thousands, of such shops we’ve all visited in countless video games.
Thus you start with a small space, a few display tables, and a pitiful amount of Pix (in game cash-money.) Each week you have to make a payment which increases in value. By week five, you will have to earn half a million pix just to keep going. This can quickly seem overwhelming, if not for a clever gameplay mechanic that starts the game over after a failed payment, but with your inventory and experience intact, giving the player a leg up over their last incarnation. I didn’t realize this until my 3rd re-start so I was actually able to beat the main challenge on my first game “loop.”
Every day you have four “slices” of time in which to stock up on goods, sell various items for profit, walk around town talking to the locals, or go adventuring with one of the local wannabe heroes. They fill various rpg archetypes such as swordsman, thief, mage, cleric, archer and so on. As far as I can tell, there are a total of eight different adventurers, two of which are only unlock-able in the late game. Each adventurer has their own fighting style which greatly changes how you fight the swarms of monsters in the dungeons.
The monsters are varied and evolve their abilities along side those of your heroes as the game progresses, keeping the action tight and challenging. And challenge you they will! The rpg portions of the game don’t allow you to save mid-dungeon. You have to fight your way through five levels of frantic action before getting a chance to leave with all your loot. Should you fail before finding an exit, you loose almost everything you found. The agony of a lost stash is thus contrasted by the thrill of discovering some new treasure, or even better, a previously undiscovered ingredient for the games crafting portion.
Did I not mention Recettear has a crafting element as well? Selling generic loot to the locals is one thing. Selling a custom made Uncle Sam hat is… well kind of weird actually, but par for the course considering this games somewhat zany tone. Fusion, as it’s called in the game, involves combining dungeon loot and store bought items to create more powerful and unique items with which to attract more rich customers into your store. I usually can’t stand the tedium of grinding to collect ingredients for this sort of thing, but thus far I’ve been having a blast with Recettear’s crafting system. Its simple, straight-forward approach encourages exploration of the system’s potential, without making it the crux of the gameplay. And as long as you pay some attention to what you need, you can always come back from a successful (meaning you didn’t die) dungeon dive.
When you make all your payments, the game opens up a free-play mode that can be much more relaxing then the frantic rush to make payments in the earlier part of the game. It also allows for a bunch of new content that was likely missed in the earlier segment, plus new characters that only come around post-game-end.
Finally, the games tone and writing are particularly noteworthy. If the premise of running a JRPG item shop doesn’t make it clear, Recettear is a bit of a spoof. A comedy that can appeal to young and old alike, with the more adult jokes being disguised well enough in innuendo to be interpreted as kid friendly when needed. Most of the jokes and writing deal with the absurd, and will often sweep in the unexpected at the strangest of times, leaving me laughing out loud in my seat time and time again. It can get a bit cutesy as Japanese games, anime, and manga often do, but a consistent tone and excellent English localization keep the plot scenes running smooth. You could very easily skip most of them if you so choose, and wouldn’t miss out on any crucial information. You would however miss one of the most endearing qualities of Recettear.
In fact, the game is only available in English thanks to a new indie localization company called Carpe Fulgur, who’ve done a good enough job to warrant a shout out. The dialogue is easily understandable by people unfamiliar with Japanese pop culture, while maintaining enough of it to keep a great balance. I can only hope that this game is successful enough in the western world to encourage more products from them.
The game most reminds me of Princess Maker 2, not for gameplay so much as for style and menu systems. Both have a sim and an rpg element to them. Both feature young female protagonists, though Recettear keeps it much more tasteful. If fans of PM2 are anything like me though, they will instantly fall for Recettear.
This is a surprisingly deep and complex game with great presentation and even better writing. It encourages a one-more-turn mentality to gameplay almost on par with the Sid Meier’s Civilization series (you know what I mean if you’ve ever played those.) It has so much more content I haven’t even gone over, including store customization and merchant class leveling. Changing rule sets for dungeons, fluctuating prices in the market, and even marketing through the use of window displays. At $20 it’s practically a steal!
Recettear is available on Steam, Impulse, and other digital distribution sites. The original developers are a Japanese company called EasyGameStation. I would encourage anyone who is a fan of this sort of thing to get a copy immediately, help support the localization team, and hope for more great titles from Japan in the coming years!