Shopkeepers are an adventurer’s best friend. They sell the essentials for traveling and surviving, and buy all the junk cluttering your inventory, never asking where any of it came from. This potion from an enemy soldier, that trinket from the home of a rich nobleman, priceless artifacts from a dungeon, old candy that’s been stuffed in your pocket since the journey’s beginning, and those unneeded synthesis materials from wiping out the local bird populace. They take it all without question, give you money, and bid farewell.
While some games give you the chance to sit behind the counter for a while and haggle with customers, like in Digimon World, none do so quite like Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale. It combines a deep store and item management system, RPG elements, dungeon diving, and cute characters for an addictive game that will steal hours of your life away.
The game follows Recette, a naïve young girl who has been living alone for weeks, awaiting the day that her adventuring father comes home. One day, a loan shark fairy by the name of Tear visits and informs Recette that her father took out a rather hefty debt with the Terme Finance Company before he left. Now Recette is saddled with a soul-crushing debt and it must be paid off in its entirety soon or she will be forced to play house in a cardboard box. Since selling off her organs would be inadvisable, Tear suggests that Recette open up the first floor of the house as an item shop. This way she could raise money to pay off the debt, chipping away at it with weekly payments while still having a roof to live under. Jumping at the idea with enthusiasm that only a child could have in the face of hardship, Recette decides upon a name and the portmanteau Recettear item shop is born.
It starts off a tad slow, giving a bulk of tutorials during the first day and several others over the following weeks depending on your merchant level, broadening the options of what you can do and how the local economy can shift. All of the tutorials are skippable and for the most part they show simple concepts (press up to increase the price, press down to decrease, take advantage of price increases, etc.), but it’s worth listening to Tear for a bit to learn how high or low to go or how time is managed. The right prices offered for buying or selling items will make your customers happy, although they start out with only a little cash to spend so you can’t really price gouge anything early on. The more customers in a row you send off without a scowl, the more experience you get and the higher your (unseen) reputation levels with them become. The experience goes towards your merchant level which affects many things from what the local shops will have on display to store expansions to how much your customers can spend. At some point they may even accept paying 300% of what something is worth if your reputation is high enough. It’s crazy.
What kind of customers you get depends on what items are on display and how you have decorated the store. Flooring, rugs, and wallpaper can shift the atmosphere of Recettear attracting little girls with little money or con-artists or certain adventurers. Each day is divided into four segments for morning, noon, evening, and night so you can open for business up to four times a day. Visiting any of the locations in town wastes a segment of time, although you can visit everything from the market to the adventurer’s guild and only a fourth of the day will pass.
After a while the game stops holding back on the various responsibilities of being a shopkeeper. Prices fluctuate, people place in orders, and the weekly payments only get higher.
During all of this, new faces will be showing up around town and more likely than not they will be potential adventurers that can be hired. Each adventurer has one or more requirements to fulfill before they hand over their card. After that you can hire them out to explore dungeons, which are pretty diverse. There are four randomized levels of a common theme (like caves, forest, treetops, or ruins) with monsters and traps aplenty. On every fifth floor is a boss whose weakness must be quickly figured out and exploited while you try to keep from dying. Sometimes the weakness isn’t apparent and you have to wait for your chance. If you are successful, you will have the chance to exit the dungeon. While you can leave with all of the items you’ve collected, you have to decide: wrap things up now or keep pressing further into the dungeon for treasure. The dungeon theme and music change up every five levels so there’s little monotony to be had. However, if the adventurer’s HP drops to zero, you can only choose one item to bring with you in your retreat out of the dungeon. It’s a tough decision. You’re on a constant schedule to gather items and sell them for profit. Do you keep going and risk death for capitalism or stop and safely go home with what you have? On the upside, your adventurer keeps the levels that he has gained should the worst happen, although the entire purpose of going into a dungeon is to gather items to sell so your best choice would be to just quit and reload a previous save.
Now, let’s say you get an awesome weapon and you want to permanently equip it to your favorite adventurer. You can’t manually equip anything to them outside of dungeons. Instead, for them to upgrade their equipment, they have to buy it off of you in the item shop. Whichever item they want when they come in is a bit randomized as is the order in which people come up and purchase something. If you get lucky, the adventurer will grab the better equipment on display, ask if you have something in that item’s category (sword, scarf, etc.), or put in an order for equipment they can use. If all else fails and you still want them to have better stuff, you will have to bring it into the dungeon with you, meaning less room for treasure.
Unfortunately, due to the increasingly large chunks of debt that you have to pay off each week, you may not be able to pay off the debt in full by the end of the month. When that happens, it is game over. Recette is cast out on the streets and wakes up in her bed like nothing ever happened on Day 2.
Yes, in the event of failure you will be sent back to right after the initial tutorials with all of your items, your current merchant level, whichever expansions to the store you managed to buy, cleared dungeon floors, and the adventurers get to keep their equipment and levels. It’s sort of like new game plus except when you clear the game you get immediate access to whomever you hired the most before paying off the debt through their “True Card”, and the expansions aren’t carried over.
Other perks to paying back Terme Finance include extra modes of play. In Endless Mode you can dungeon dive to your heart’s content and take your time acquiring adventurers, but the whole point of running an item shop is rendered moot. Collecting money means nothing unless you’re saving up to buy a ton of items before starting a new game plus to get another True Card. You also unlock Survival Mode (normal and “Hell” variations) wherein you have a debt that you can never fully be rid of. Any True Cards that you’ve collected can be used, which is particularly useful if you want a certain character right off the bat.
Throughout Recettear there is an absurd amount of shout outs and references from various sources like Persona 4, Harry Potter, The Godfather, and many, many others. They are mostly found in item descriptions and more than a few are spilled by Tear, but they don’t interfere with the excuse plot or charming characters. If anything the references give a good laugh regardless of whether or not you know where they came from.
While not incredibly fancy, the 2D sprites for the characters as they walk around are cute and the 3D dungeons are on par with graphics from the PS1 so that the quality between characters and environments doesn’t stretch too far.
The music is all right and it’s refreshing to constantly hear new music every so often while going through a dungeon.
There’s not much to note on the game’s cons. Monotony may set in during Endless Mode when money doesn’t mean as much, but several loose ends about some characters are tied up if you manage to keep going. If exploring starts to lose its appeal, then switch to another adventurer. They all have a specialty, like blocking projectiles or running quickly, so they all play a little differently from each other.
On the surface Recettear may seem like a shallow doujin game about buying and selling goods, but underneath the adorable characters and colorful world is a deeper system of management. Granted, it does take time to get to that point while being eased into every aspect of being a shopkeeper. A unique experience, Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale is quite a treat for those who enjoy prospect of running their own store (without as many bills).