Recettear: An Item Shop Tale is an enchanting action RPG designed as a business simulation. It features clever dialogue, anime-style graphics, and an adorably airheaded heroine named Recette. After a week of playing it, I can say that I’m certifiably obsessed.
When Recette learns of her father’s untimely death at the claws of a dragon, she is forced to either pay back her father’s debt or lose her house. She decides to pay back the debt by starting an item shop on the first floor of her house, aided and abetted by Tear, the fairy who has come to collect the debt. Recette names the shop “Recettear” by combining their two names, and just like that, they’re in business.
Except business isn’t as simple as it seems, since Recette must meet weekly debt payments that increase in difficulty as the game progress. If she misses a debt payment, she loses her home, and the game ends with her living in a cardboard box. In order to earn enough money to make her debt payments, Recette must learn to buy low and sell high to the various adventurers. The mechanics behind the item shop are considerably complicated, since you have the choice of being nice to your customers and raising your merchant level—a move that unlocks more goodies and things to do in the game—or focusing on making the most money by squeezing the poor schmucks for every cent they’ve got. It’s a delicate balancing act, especially with the ever-increasing debt payments.
In addition to being able to buy items to sell from customers and local merchants, Recette and Tear can also get considerable amounts of items from any of the game’s four randomly-generated dungeons. Unlike other action RPGs, the main characters in this one never actually wield the weapons themselves. Instead, they trail through the dungeons protected by a force field, and accompanied by one of several different adventurers that you can recruit during the course of the game. Each of the adventurers specializes in a different type of weapon, which makes the gameplay for each substantially different. With three fighters, a magician, a thief, and an elven archer to choose from, there’s plenty of variety to pick from.
Being a woman of little hand-eye coordination and even worse reflexes, I was justifably worried about this aspect of the game. But to my surprise, I quickly picked up the quirks of all the different monsters, and it was only in the fourth and final dungeon that I started having slight problems with the action aspect. The art style of the monsters in the dungeons is reminiscent of Asian-produced games like Maple Story and Ragnorak Online—I’ve literally never killed cuter monsters in my life.
Besides cute monsters, the dungeons are also powerful sources of ingredients that can be used to fuse together new and potentially lucrative new items to sell or use. A nice touch is that all of the ingredients are dropped by monsters that are relevant to the ingredient itself. For example, you can only get Slime Fluid from slimes, Gunpowder from bombs, and Toothpicks from knights that fight with wooden lances. Certain items can only be found on certain monsters, so you may find yourself replaying a dungeon over and over because you really need more Charred Lizard.
Once you finish the main storyline in the game, you can unlock several other play modes, which definitely add value. Among those are Endless Mode, New Game+, and two different Survival modes, Normal Surival and Survival Hell. There’s also a comprehensive item encyclopedia, which encompasses all of the various items you’ve found in any iteration of the game that you’ve played. For the completists out there, it’s a task that will keep you playing far longer than you expected.
Recettear was first released in 2007 by EasyGameStation, an independent game developer in Japan. It’s now been translated by an American independent game studio, Carpe Fulgar, and manages to combine English dialogue with the original Japanese voice acting. The translation by Robin Light-Williams is absolutely excellent, incorporating humor and an ease-of-understanding. It’s available for download from Steam, as well as Carpe Fulgar’s Recettear website. You can play a week’s worth of gametime in the free demo.
Jenny Rae Rappaport is a former literary agent and current student of Japanese. Her fiction has been published in Knitty, and her non-fiction in Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show. She lives in New Jersey with her husband and one pudgy cat.