Review by Iyamtebist
A fun game game for the most part, but one with a whole lot of wasted Potential.
Recettear: An Item Shops Tale, despite only being a Japanese indie game, has gotten quite the following since its release. The game has sold way more than what the Publisher, Carpe Fulgar, expected; it has received numerous positive reviews from critics, was the first Japanese indie game to be distributed by steam, and is a game that is notably popular among 4Chans /a/ section. While it does have a unique premise and feel to it, Recettear is not something that could be considered anything more a cult classic. Recettear is by no means bad, in fact I did definitely enjoy my time playing it, but it simply does not execute its ideas well enough to achieve true greatness.
The main premise of the game, if you were unable to tell from the title, is that, instead of being the typical adventurer who saves the world, you run the item shop that, in most other RPGs, you would be buying your equipment from. While this might not sound like the most exciting premise on paper, it is handled in an interesting fashion for the most part, and is more than just chapter three of Dragon Quest four stretched out to fit an entire game. It is instead a hybrid between a dungeon crawler and a store simulator with a decent amount of quirks to both aspects, but also a number of flaws.
The story begins when Recette Lemongrass, our main protagonist, is approached by a loan shark named Tear, and is told that she needs to pay off a huge debt left by her deadbeat father or else her house will claimed as capital and she will be forced to live out on the streets. Thankfully Tear, unlike debt collectors in real life, actually has a conscience and she agrees to help Recette run an item shop in order pay off the debt. Recette surprisingly has no objections and decides to name their store Recettear, a portmanteau of Recette and Tears names.
Now with a premise like that, Recettear sounds like a rather dark game as the thought of a five year old girl getting kicked out on the street is rather grim. Unfortunately Recettears narrative is a missed opportunity in a lot of ways. At first, the story is generally well told. As more of the debt gets paid off, you get to see both Recette and Tear grow as characters in their own interesting ways and you get a feeling of progression and accomplishment as you go further through the game.
The game works on a day by day calendar, similar to that of Persona 3 and 4 and the Atelier series, where the actions you perform in game take up a specific amount of time allotted for each day. For the first five weeks you need to earn enough money to pay off a portion of the debt. If you fail to meet one of these deadlines, then you will get a game over and will start back on day one. Thankfully you will keep all the money, levels, and items you had before the deadline, which means that failing to meet a deadline does not mean you are unable to continue the game. When you pay off the final debt, the credits roll and you have beaten the game, or at least that is what the game tells you. In reality, if the game actually ended at that point with no post game content, then it would be enormously unsatisfying.
The problem with the games main story, however, is that it ends less than a quarter of the way through the game, and the rest of the games content has very little relevance to that section. In fact, a majority of the games content is based on the dungeon crawling aspect, which defeats the point of being An Item Shops Tale. The game does try to introduce separate sub-plots for these dungeons, but these sub-plots are just completely irrelevant and have nothing to do with the main story. These scenarios come completely out of left field with incredibly forced save the world aspects that lack the necessary feelings of emotional or atmospheric depth, and they simply just do not fit well with the games tone. Balancing an ordinary life with saving the world is by no means impossible to pull off, just look at Persona 3 and 4, but the issue with Recettear is that the game simply is not structured to fit this type of plot, which results in these sub-plots feeling tacked on. As a result, there is very little in terms of story to motivate you to continue past the first quarter of the game.
However, that is not to say that Recettear's story is bad, in fact it handles some aspects much better than a lot of JRPGs. First of all, the character dialogue is incredibly well written and memorable. In fact, I would go so far as to say that there is not a single unlikable character in this entire game. While normally having a cast of characters who are not competent enough to run a lemonade stand is a bad sign, this game manages make them likable regardless. This is mainly because the game rarely takes itself seriously, and the characters flaws are often exaggerated for the sake of humor. In addition to this, the games humor is really clever and has many memorable, unexpected, and hilarious moments. In this aspect, it is easy to see why Recettear has been as well received as it is.
In terms of aesthetics, there is nothing that Recettear really does amazingly well. The art direction is pretty good, for the most part, and the character art is well drawn. The dungeons, however, leave a lot to be desired. The dungeons in this game are randomly generated, meaning that every floor of every dungeon will not feel any different from the previous ones. In addition to that, dungeon backgrounds and enemy models are constantly recycled throughout the game. This results in dungeons that look really bland and uninspired and make you feel like you are just retreading the same dungeon multiple times.
Recettear is slightly better in the sound department, but it still could have been done better. The voice acting was pretty good, for the most part, although there is no English dub which may turn some people off. Another issue with the game is that the music is really repetitious and you will get tired of hearing it really fast. The music itself is not too bad but it is not really amazing either. There are some songs in the game that do stand out, but it just so happens that these songs are really underused in comparison to the lesser quality songs that you hear ad nasuem.
As stated before, the game operates on a day by day calendar system, where you manage time between running the shop and exploring the dungeons, which you are supposedly exploring for the purpose of finding treasure to sell at the shop. In reality, the dungeon crawling and item shop mechanics do not have that great of a connection to each other. The problem with this system is that the items you find in dungeons are not close to being valuable enough to have an impact on profit for most of the game, and it is much more efficient to earn money by buying items and selling them at higher prices when they are in high demand. After the debt is payed off, all that is left to do is clear the remaining dungeon which leads to the shop becoming irrelevant. To its credit, the Item shop portions are quite addicting and you cannot completely ignore the shop portion for the entire game, but it is just rather jarring that there is more emphasis on dungeon crawling in a game that is supposed to be about running an item shop.
Thankfully the dungeon crawling in the game is still pretty good for the most part. The combat in Recettear can be best compared to that of Ys in that there is a large part of dealing with enemies has to do with the angle at which you attack them, and by using knock-back to keep them from attacking. The combat system may be simple but it is still effective and you cannot simply plow your way through enemy encounters. The boss battles in the game are also really intense, fast paced and creative.
Unfortunately, while the games combat and exploration is enjoyable at first, it tends to overstay its welcome simply due to the massive amount of content in the game. It also does not help that boss battles tend to get reused later on as well. When you combine this with the fact that the dungeons all have the same layouts, same strategies, and same music, you get an experience that, while still fun in its own right, is not enough to carry a sixty plus hour game.
While Recettear is a game that, for the most part, was an enjoyable experience, but I cannot help but feel that it could have been a lot more. It is by no means a bad game; in fact I would still recommend it if you do not mind the repetitive gameplay, but there are so many aspects that could have been done a lot better. The characters and writing alone are enough to insure that this game will continue to have a cult following, but the various flaws are what prevent this game from being a true classic. In theory, all the pieces are there, but the fact that they were misused the way they were is what keeps Recettear from being more than simply a good game. Recettear is what it is though, and if a good game is what you are looking for, then I can still safely recommend it.
Product Release: Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale (US, 09/10/10)
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