Perhaps you've played a game before where you've taken on the role of a hard-boiled adventurer?
A great slayer of monsters? A hero who towers above the little people?
Well, it's time to experience life from a slightly different perspective - that OF one of the little people!
Recettear is a game about Recette Lemongrass, a young girl who finds herself in the unenviable position of having to pay back her father's debt! With the assistance of the fairy, Tear, she's going to open an item shop in her home and try to raise the money she needs to pay off her father's bum loans! Play the market, or grab an adventurer friend and go dungeon-diving yourself to find something nice to sell - the choice is yours, but time is ticking!
The Review! Artwork:
For a game as challenging as it is, the overall graphical theme for Recettear can be summed up as "cuteness." Stylized, fresh-faced paper doll characters are combined with petite sprites with adorable mannerisms. Recette's Store and dungeons are constructed from 3D polygons, while the characters are represented by sprites with simple animations, similar to Xenogears. Animation runs up to 60 fps, with nice basic textures, lighting, and fog effects up to a 1280 x 960 screen resolution. While not a graphical powerhouse by any means, Recettear charms with its little touches: Sitting behind the store counter and watching people walk by the shop outside, sometimes stopping to take a look at your display items, or in Recette's idle animation in dungeons, bouncing up and down with excitement, as though she doesn't realize the danger she's in (and she doesn't). The most noticeable flaw in the game's aesthetic is the limited number of character and monster models, as you tend to see clones of the same people, or color swapped versions of monsters. As each character and monster type calls for a different strategy in either salesgirl- or swordsman-ship, it's somewhat understandable to use a common set, although some greater variety would be nice.
Text: Carpe Fulgur turns in a strong debut performance with Recettear. Localization is strong throughout, with no noticeable errors and a strong sense of humor. It's very easy to see silly but endearing catchphrases such as "Capitalism, ho!" or "Yayness!" entering the nerd lexicon. In jokes and references fly fast, and while some are groaners, you'll soon find yourself distracted by a new, funnier joke. The script hits the right balance of being goofy enough to be enjoyable, but never so much as to undermine the integrity of the characters. Instructions and tutorials are clear and to the point, so that learning how to play is a quick and painless process. I wish Carpe Fulgur would have translated some of the lines characters say in the middle of combat or at the start of dungeon floors, but it's difficult to see how this could be done without interrupting the flow of play.
Audio: Voice acting for Recettear is available in Japanese only. The acting is strong overall, although in fairness, there's very little material in Recettear that would truly put an actor's skills to the test. Special mention must be given to Recette's seiyuu, who manages to nail the right mix of cuteness, naivete, and earnest diligence. Recette's nervous laugh when she's over her heard and her excited shout when she places an item on the shelf do a great job of communicating her personality to the player. Music is pleasant with a few standout tracks, but like character models, there is a need for a greater variety. When advancing deeper into a dungeon, I was greeted with what seemed to be a "happily walking around the town" song, which dispelled any menace the dungeon design was trying to cultivate.
Packaging: As Recettear is only available by direct download, there is no packaging to review.
Recettear is controlled with the four arrow keys, and five buttons. In towns and in your shop, you primarily use the arrow keys to move around, one button to mean "yes", another to mean "no" or "cancel." Most of the action in the shop and town is controlled via a menu system that is very intuitive, although there are also tutorials to assist you in learning the basic functions. In the dungeons, you again use the arrow keys to move around, with one button to attack, one button to use a special move, and a third to switch between available special moves. Blocking and critical strikes occur automatically, if you're lucky enough. Dungeon combat doesn't have any kind a rhythm : It's a brutal free for all where the first being to bash the other's head in lives. Being unused to the keyboard for game control, I found it impossible to advance in the second dungeon due to the frenetic pace of the combat. I plugged in a Xbox 360 controller, assigned the button configuration in less than a minute, and found that it worked much better for me than the keyboard. I'd definitely recommend use of a gamepad or controller for Recettear, unless you plan on making all of your money playing the market and avoiding the dungeons altogether.
Content:(please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Young Recette Lemongrass wakes up one morning to find a fairy loan-shark in her house, and learns that she has to pay back a huge loan taken out by her irresponsible father. To this end, Recette converts her home into an item store, as her hometown serves as a hub for adventurers who wish to challenge the nearby dungeons. Recettear is often described as an "item shop simulator," and while true, until you actually win the main scenario, it's better to think of it as a "pay back Recette's loans before she ends up on the street" simulator. As much fun as I had with Recettear, it's much more challenging than it looks, so you are advised to save often.
All action in Recettear takes place in three locations: In the item shop Recettear, in the town of Pensee, or in a dungeon. Almost all money is earned within the item shop, while you meet characters and can gain new items to sell in the town and dungeons. Each week, a set payment of the loan is due, which gives you seven days to gather the money. Each day is divided up into four time periods. Rather than having a clock running throughout the entire day, as in Harvest Moon, time can be considered a currency you exchange in return for specific results. Mad dashing about isn't required to make the most of your day: Careful scheduling and planning ahead is the name of the game. You only have 28 time periods per week to earn enough money for your payment, so wasting a day can mean the difference between solvency and living in a cardboard box.
To begin with, running your shop is fairly simple. You set up items to sell on your shelves, putting the most attractive pieces on the display case by the window to attract buyers. People will approach you with items you're interested in, you can haggle the exact sale price. Each customer type, such as the old man, or young girl, has a difference price point they're looking for, so you have to experiment. If you sell items to a series of customers in a row, you'll get combo points, which helps to raise your merchant level. However, haggling might get you more money in the end, so there's a tradeoff between profit and salesmanship, and it's up to you to strike a balance that works for you and Recette. As you gain in merchant levels, new opportunities will open up. Customers will try and sell you goods, or place orders for certain kinds of items for pickup at a later time. Eventually, Recette can expand and redecorate her shop, allowing her to sell more items to new and different types of customers.
In town, you can purchase items for sale from the market or merchant's guild. As your merchant level increases, you can also start fusing items in the merchant guild, allowing you combine item drops from the dungeons into new and more powerful equipment for sale. The other important thing that happens in the town are the various cutscenes that take place throughout the town's buildings. If a cutscene is going to take place, the name of the place will flash, so there's no wandering around aimlessly waiting for things to happen. Most of the cutscenes are just for amusement or character development, but sometimes, new adventurers or characters will be introduced, so it's worthwhile to check out what's going on around town when you set out to the market or guildhouse. Also in town is the Adventurer's Guild, which allows you to hire an adventurer to take you out to a dungeon. Going to a dungeon uses up two time units, so it's an immense investment, and one not taken lightly.
Dungeons are randomly generated mazes of enemies and treasures, with bosses and return points every four floors. Once you've returned to the town from one of these points, you can use that as a starting point on a future trip, allowing you to go deeper and deeper into the dungeon on successive trips. In this way, it's very similar to Persona 3's Tartarus. Dungeons in Recettear can be brutal. Enemies will attack you in groups, and booby-traps are sprinkled liberally throughout. You should not be surprised if, when you enter a new room, there is a rockslide that could hit you two or three times if you're not careful. It's best to be prepared and cautious, with plenty of healing items on hand. The danger of the dungeons is worth it, however, because any items found in the dungeon can be sold at 100% profit. Only a limited number of items can be brought back from the dungeon, however, so it's very important to be selective in what you carry.
You'll start out with Louie, a basic swordsman, although as the adventure progresses, you'll acquire a quick thief, a powerful magician, and a martial arts master, among others. Combat is swift and brutal. You're not made invincible if you get hit, and neither are your enemies, so fights are decided in a few quick blows. Extra damage is awarded if you hit an enemy from the side or back, or if you execute a successful counterattack. If you fight a series of the same enemy in succession, you'll get a combo that allows you to gain more experience. Each time you gain a level, you get an automatic refill of your health and magic, which is a wonderful relief every time it happens. This is because death is not an option. If your hero runs out of health, you are kicked out of the dungeon, and you are able to only return with one item. In going into the dungeon, let's say you brought an excellent sword and armor set to help your hero, as well as a few healing food items. You fight through 14 floors, and gather around 15,000 pix worth of items. Unfortunately, you're killed on the 14th floor by a gnoll. You only get to take 1 item back, and all other items, whether you brought them into the dungeon or not, are forfeit. You still lose 2 units of time, and your adventurer's guild fee. Thankfully, however, you get to keep your experience.
In a game about successful wheeling and dealing, it's surprising to be offered such a rotten deal. Only the most scrupulously honest players would want to agree to such a waste of time. Everyone else will be skipping through the first death cutscene, choosing a random item to bypass the select screen, and loading from a save. I feel as though Easy Game Station should have just killed the player character and gone directly to the load screen to save time. Other options are also possible: Maybe taking five items back, or being able to return to the floor of your death to recover your items, or having the adventurer be out of commission for a day. The way it is now, the player has no incentive to play by the "rules" unless he wants to risk missing a crucial payment. A sequel or update needs to offer a better deal that at least makes the player weigh the option of restoring carefully. Aside from this glaring flaw, the dungeon and shop systems complement each other quite well. They work in parallel, and as you become more adept as a shopkeeper, you're able to sell better equipment to your adventurers. As your adventurers can explore deeper and more valuable dungeons, you get better loot to sell, and so on. The penalty for death in a dungeon stands alone against a set of well designed, complementary mechanics, and I can't help but mark down the score of the game because of it.
Once you have finished the main story, to repay Recette's father's debts, you are given two options to continue. First is a survival mode that will continue to jack up the payments owed each week until you fail, to see how long you can last. Second is Endless Mode, which allows you to explore additional dungeons, and expand your shop as large as you can make it. With the initial story itself taking 10 to 20 hours to complete, Recettear offers many hours of playtime.
In Summary: If you come into Recettear expecting Fallout 3 or Final Fantasy XIII, you're certain to be disappointed. However, if you understand that it's a charming and clever item-shop running sim combined with a light dungeon crawler, and that idea appeals to you, Recettear is an absolute must buy. It's everything an "item shop simulator" needs to be, with some extra surprises on top of it all. And at only $20, you're more than getting your money's worth. Aside from my problems with the unbalanced penalty for dying in the world's dungeons, it's an altogether auspicious debut for both Easy Game Station and Carpe Fulgur in the US market. Very recommended.
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