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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Recettear: An Item Shop JRPG's Review

In a nutshell, that's Recette for you. Cute, a bit airheaded, utterly adorable. I beat Recettear over Thanksgiving, though it's taken me this long to get down to a review of this simply delightful game.

The Basics
Recettear is a Japanese RPG released by Easy Game Studios, an indie Japanese game developer. It's been "localized" in America by an indie localization company, Carpe Fulgur. Localization is a form of loose translation that aims to take the original language's meaning and text and convert it into roughly equivalent dialogue that remains engaging and entertaining for the English gamer. And don't fret, purists: Carpe Fulgur worked directly with EGS to ensure that their intended meaning shone through to the localization.

Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale is the story of a cute little girl (Recette) who runs a magic item shop, in order to pay off the monstrous debt left by her adventuring father. And if I told you how much that debt was at the start of the game, you'd likely faint. Don't worry; it gets easier to pay off as the days march on...just like how in any good RPG, you wouldn't stand five seconds against the final boss with the character at Level 1. As the game marches on, Tear (the fairy loan shark tasked with helping Recette pay back the debt) watches over your every step, and we gradually get to see more layers to her unveiled.

It takes a rather unique approach among RPGs, of course. Much of your gameplay consists of buying and stocking merchandise to sell to adventurers, instead of being an adventurer on an epic quest. This rather tongue-in-cheek approach to the classic JRPG model is refreshing, and it makes for a fun take on the subject. It also makes for challenging gameplay, as eventually you have to balance all the little things which go into running a store. You have to keep track of customer preferences, to remember that those stingy little girls will love you forever if you give them selling prices near to the list price, or that the snobby rich girl is enough of a sucker to take goods at 140% of their base value.

The World of Recettear
If there's one thing I love about this game, it's the atmosphere. I know that some of you out there might have a dislike for the anime style, but I feel that it really truly works well here, especially being leveraged for the maximum cuteness level. It's sweet and likeable, bouncy and bright, rather like Recette herself. It's also an incredibly colorful style, just like the world found in the game. And by the way, it's a delightful example of memorable worldbuilding. The town which forms the basis of all the action in Recettear is populated by a great many distinct characters, and we meet them through brief cutscenes.

It's a method of storytelling that works well. You go to a location that's flashing (the cue for a cutscene), and you get a little scene with some of the characters in the world. It doesn't push forward an overall narrative, but rather has a sequence for each separate character thread. These little vignettes can range from the humorous (Charme the Lady Thief and her inebriated rambling in the Pub) to the heartwarming (Recettear thinking of Tear as a big sister) to the intriguing (hints at the backstory between the humans and the Fae), and they really help to flesh and pad out the game.

Thankfully, once the game ends, you get the option to continue playing in "Endless Mode", so that you can continue to unlock bits of story. There's plenty of stuff I have yet to run across, and the narrative explorer in me is intrigued. There's an entire character I have yet to really meet.

A Little Dungeon-Crawling
Recettear still does dip into dungeon-delving, because you can hire out adventurers to go delving for ingredients to make magic items with. This portion of the game is good and solid. It begins as remarkably difficult, and you have to watch your every step. Especially with those evil slimes. Eventually, especially when you sell better equipment to your chosen adventurer during the shop portion of the game, you can become enormously powerful, braving those critters with impunity.

The roster of adventurers is rife with variety: Louie the slow but reliable fighter, Charme the swift but fragile rogue, Caillou the frail but powerful mage, and quite a few others. In a rather brilliant stroke, the game makes you meet each adventurer, interacting with them before they let you hire them out. After working for that adventurer, you've got a good handle on just who they are.

The dungeon-crawling is optional, but I solidly recommend it as a part of the Recettear experience. The environments are rather cleverly designed, visually. Every dungeon is randomly composed out of the same basic components (square rooms and narrow halls), but the designers make each dungeon look different. One level is tunnels underground, while another is played out in Lothlorien-esque platforms and tree branches.

In Short...
Get the game. If you still aren't sure that it's your cup of tea, there's a very easy fix. At Carpe Fulgur's website, you can download what is probably the most extensive demo in existence. You get to play through an entire week of the game (the first week), with no other limits. You can play it through as many times as you want, save multiple games, and have all game features unlocked. It's almost a complete game in itself, and it's great as a glimpse of the foundations of Recettear. It keeps getting better from there.

Of course, now I'm headed off to work on stuff, including Paper Empires. Though I've also got an empire to steamroll over the world with in Civilization IV: Orbis (a mod of the Fall From Heaven II mod for Civ IV), and I've been playing Team Fortress 2 at night...which is great chaotic fun.

Gaming, ho!

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