I think I’ve decided to cover more indie type games than big AAA titles on this blog. Mostly because all that has been said on those huge games has been said, and I wouldn’t be adding anything. And also because I imagine those of you who like reading about games probably already know about the major titles and don’t want to hear me telling you what you already know. So, in that vein, today’s blog post is on Recettear, a weirdly titled game which I picked up as part of a Steam bundle (quick edit: I was told this hasn’t been in a Humble Indie bundle, I got it confused with Steam sales, my bad!) way back when. I think I got 5 games for £8 or so, which was an absolute bargain, especially because Recettear is worth all that and more. It currently retails for £12.99 on Steam which is a little dear, but if you see it in a sale, it’s worth a pick up. Alternatively, if you’re like me and weird and really love this odd genre of game, go get it now. I’ve put 40 hours into the game, and I’ve never even done the really end game stuff like some of the final dungeons. So yes, it might be a small indie game, but it will give you hours and hours of gameplay if you like it.
So what is this weirdly titled game with its super chibi anime aesthetics? Well, at its core, you manage an item shop. Remember how in every RPG, there’s a shopkeeper in every town who sells you weapon upgrades and potions? And how you could sell back your items for a fraction of what they’re worth? Well, Recettear puts you in the opposite position. Now you own an item shop and you are trying to pay off a debt by making money with your shop. You stock the fancy weapons, shields, armour and regenerative items (food, magic items etc.) and you are trying to ply them off on all these shoppers at the best price you can get. Every so often, people will offer you things to take off their hand, and in true RPG fashion, you gouge them for all they’re worth. Still, the game doesn’t force you to be a ruthless shopkeeper. You have to balance profit with customer relations. You see, if you give them a fair price, their rating of you increases and they start liking you more which means in the future, you can start charging them more and more.
The basic game play is this. A person comes up to the counter and asks to buy, say, an apple. A screen pops up and says the apple has a base worth of 100g, how much would you like to sell it for? You can then adjust the price and it tells you what percentage of the base worth you’re charging. Typically you want to charge around 120% of the base worth to earn some profit. Sounds simple, right? Well, not quite. The exact percentage you charge will depend on who the customer is. Is it a sweet little girl who doesn’t have much pocket money? Maybe you only charge 105%. Is it the rich spoilt blonde haired girl who has more money than sense? Better to try charging 150%. And like I said earlier, the more a type of customer likes you, the more you can charge them. People who you might only be able to charge 105% initially might eventually go up to 115%. What happens if you overcharge? Well, they might try to haggle. Or if you are way off your mark, they will storm off and you lose some relationship points with them. The way they storm off is rather comical at times, but it does make you feel just a wee bit guilty. When the little girl cries that your item is too expensive and now she’ll have to starve tonight, my little heart just breaks. Then there are other things which factor into your sales like random trends which mean everyone wants to buy gloves but avoid eating cherries. Balancing improving customer relations, maximising profit and taking into account changes in trends means that running an item shop is an action packed affair.
But this is only half of the game. The other half of the game involves hiring an adventurer to go explore dungeons to collect more treasures which you can then sell in your shop. When you embark on a quest, you assume the role of your chosen adventurer (and there are about a half dozen to choose from which you unlock through story events). The gameplay then changes to a procedurally generated rogue-like hack and slash dungeon affair. Each dungeon has multiple levels, and your goal is to find the teleporter which moves you to the next level. There are usually boss levels too which may be one giant boss or a gauntlet run of monsters. Throughout the dungeon, monsters drop loot and there are also chests to raid. If you complete the dungeon (or exit at one of the designated exit levels which usually appear every 5 levels or so), then you keep all the items you picked up. If you die, however, you lose your inventory and can only take home one or two items depending on your level. Dying is therefore hugely detrimental. It’s not uncommon to lose over 20 potential items to sell because you mistakenly take on a boss which was too hard. That said, the combat is fairly basic. The way you attack depends on your adventurer’s chosen weapon and each adventurer has a different type of weapon (sword, bow, knives, mage staff, brass knuckles etc.). They can also equip items you give them to boost their stats. But the cool thing is that these adventurers will visit your shop periodically and buy new equipment which is then what they use on dungeon diving quests with you. Therefore one of the cooler mechanics is to sell your adventurers good gear really cheap to make it easier for you to use them in a quest. Also, the more you employ an adventurer (because you pay them a flat fee to use their services), the more money they get which means the more they can spend in your shop. The two apparently different game mechanics really tie in together very well.
One of the strongest assets of the game though is its wonderfully written story. It’s not particularly deep or creative, but it is absolutely adorable. Recette, the shopkeeper you play as, is a naïve, young and idealistic girl who daydreams a lot and is rather flaky. Recette is hilarious in conversations, often completely oblivious to people insulting her or her shop, and is just completely young and innocent. She is accompanied by a fairy called Tear (hence Recettear?) who, for those who watch anime, is your typical tsundere type who tries to instil discipline in the young shopkeeper so that she can pay off her debt. The debt is an every growing burden on your resources. It starts off small, something like 10,000 picos (the game’s currency) but rises to a whopping 500,000 pico for your last payment. And you only have a week between each debt repayment. The debt mechanic is a pretty good way to impose a sense of urgency, to make you feel like you have to save this young girl’s livelihood by trying your absolute best to balance your time between dungeon crawling and selling items in the shop. If you can’t make a repayment, the game punishes you by making you start again from day 1. But you don’t lose everything, you keep all the items you had on display in your shop and in your inventory. You also keep your character relationship levels which means you can begin selling to people at higher prices straight away. Hence, even though you start again, you have much more at your disposal to have a better go at it the next time around. Given this mechanic, you should eventually be able to beat the game just through sheer perseverance.
You also unlock story events by visiting places in town like the church or the town square and as your reward, you are treated to delightfully funny scenes between Recette and the various characters in the world. You might stumble across a drunken adventurer in the pub who is giving terrible life advice to another more naïve adventurer. At night, you might be wandering the town square when a brutish demon lord decides to intimidate you; Recettear, oblivious as always, cheerfully explains that she owns an item shop and tries to persuade the demon lord to shop at her modest establishment. The translation team have done a really great job at capturing the whimsical sense of humour that the game has. The dialogues are sure to put a smile on your face. Furthermore, some of these story moments serve to unlock certain events like the discovery of a new dungeon to explore or clues as to how to employ a new adventurer. Many of them are just for comedic relief and do their part to flesh out the characters in Recettear’s world.
There are way more game play mechanics to cover that I could write about. I haven’t even told you about the crafting system, the shop system (yes you buy from shops at a wholesaler discount price to sell in your own shop) and the way you unlock new dungeons and adventurers, or the different kinds of things you face in the dungeons, or how your adventurers can level up, or how you as Recette level up too and unlock new features in your shop…the game looks deceivingly simple but under its cute exterior lies a rather complicated and in depth system. Every game mechanic feeds into the other ones, there is a real sense of cohesion between what you do in the dungeons and what you do in town and what you do in your shop. The game is well polished and I haven’t encountered any bugs in 40 hours of play.
If I had one criticism to make, some of the gameplay elements may get repetitive. Selling things to people can quickly become a fast-click chore on your half. But personally, I find the gameplay compelling enough for me to keep playing and keep wanting to do better and better. It’s a rather addictive formula. Buy stuff, sell stuff, find stuff, sell stuff, buy more stuff, sell more stuff etc. It’s a very satisfying feedback loop and it’s obvious when you’re doing well. Add that to the lovely and sweet story and the bright, funny characters, the game is just so much fun.
So if you think you’d enjoy this kind of game, there’s a demo available on Steam for you to try out. I hope you guys find it as fun as I do.