Following the completion of Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale, I decided to check out its spiritual predecessor: Chantelise: A Tale of Two Sisters. Going by a handful of screenshots, I expected something just as fun if limiting in movement. Without having seen the trailer or any gameplay footage, I made the plunge.
What awaited was a nightmare.
Chantelise began innocently enough. A girl named Elise relates a story, audio in Japanese with the subtitles in English, in which she and her sister Chante disobeyed their mother one night and went out while the moon was blood red. Chante was transformed into a fairy by a witch and for five years the sisters have been tracking down the hag to make her turn Chante back to normal. Busting shins may be in the future.
The player is given a look at how the sisters interact in present-day before switching to a tutorial. Controls are simple; no fancy techniques thrown in. The monsters don’t give experience points, but it is still a training area. Perhaps they haven’t any here like at the beginning of Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, or maybe it’s like Chrono Cross where you level up after every boss fight. Afterwards, the game seems pretty carefree and light-hearted with the sisters meeting an item shopkeeper and having a place to stay while they look for clues leading to the blasted witch.
Then you hit the first dungeon. A number of factors become quite clear as you advance through area after area. For one, none of the enemies drop experience. It would have been normal during training, but not a single darn monster in Chantelise has any. They only drop money and gems, the latter being used for one-time use spells. You can have up to six at a time, being able to use two of the same type at a time to increase the power of a particular element.
The reason the lack of experience is so distressing is that there are no levels in Chantelise. Elise has base stats in all categories, but the monsters keep getting tougher. You have to use a variety of equipment to gain an edge, or at least keep up with her opponents in terms in strength. Only two slots are open at the beginning though. It looks like you gain one additional slot after each boss fight, making equipment management slightly easier. It still requires a bit of strategy concerning which stats to increase or ignore as well as which abilities to make use of, like speed boosts or elemental damage added to melee attacks.
Another disadvantage to having no levels means, of course, that Elise’s HP, a measly thirty, will not increase no matter how many monsters you kill. Instead you must buy or find Ferromin to up her vitality. Buying works for a little while, but the price doubles with each purchase. Soon enough, grinding for money becomes a worthless endeavor. Unfortunately, this weird shop mechanic goes for all items. The only way to lower the price is to sell the same expensive item back to a shopkeeper. Ferromin is used immediately, however, and even if you gather up a ton of treasure, they too will slowly become worthless. For every item sold, the value of that item decreases. It’s an exercise in restraint, handling money carefully so you can upgrade equipment as needed and occasionally increase Elise’s HP.
But that route inevitably takes too long and none of the bosses show any mercy. Your other option is to search the dungeon areas for hidden chests, hoping that one of them has what you need. There’s one hidden chest per area which opens after fulfilling a specific requirement. What that requirement is differs in each area. Sometimes it’s impossible to guess the trigger while other times it’s as easy as picking out an oddity and hitting it. You can get a hint on how to make a chest appear by paying the local priest some health. I find this ridiculously painful and I end up having to reload the game after every visit. Some hints are obvious while others are vague and puzzling, like incomplete thoughts.
The hints don’t show up until Chapter 2 though, so until then you’re left to a pretty easy dungeon followed by a devastating boss. Up until the terror at the end of the first dungeon, everything listed above doesn’t seem too bad. Annoying perhaps, but it all presents a challenge. And then you die. Game over. The abrupt end is as baffling as the sudden surge in difficulty. Nothing prepares you for it nor tips you off that something is wrong until it’s too late.
Thankfully, you are dumped back in town with all of your loot after dying. The areas opened by clearing out all the enemies are still open, so no having to slay two dozen enemies to lower a shield and advance. These take some of the sting out of defeat, as does the option of practicing the boss from the dungeon area list on the world map. It’s still aggravating to die on the first boss, even more so if you knew what to do. This spike in difficulty is a sign of things to come: mild dungeon, royal pain of a boss. The main reason they become so tough is that there are no restoratives that you can buy. The only way to heal is to rely on random drops which are used instantly. This, more than anything, is why dying is such a common occurrence.
I didn’t think it was possible, but Chantelise: A Tale of Two Sisters is so much harder than Recettear’s dungeon diving portion. Strange shop mechanics, no handy healing items, and a lack of experience points make it next to impossible to survive plunging into a dungeon and conquering it in one trip. The places you explore become unbelievably dangerous with the bosses ready to destroy you the second their battles begin. If you have played Recettear before and planned on using old strategies on enemies, they won’t work as you’ll quickly find out. Chantelise doesn’t seem like a very long game, but it guarantees to grill players for the duration of the adventure. As hard as any old school game, Chantelise proves to be a test of endurance and patience for masochists and challenge-seekers.