Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale is one of the most fun RPG experiences I've had in years, which is a shame because the game came out in 2007. It's taken three years for this gem to make it overseas as it was originally developed by EasyGameStation, and was localized recently by Carpe Fulgur. The wait has been rough but well worth it. So what exactly makes this little Japanese indie game so much fun, and why do I recommend this game to anyone who has ever loved an RPG? Read on, and find out.
Recettear is based around the trials and tribulations of item shop owner Recette, and her fairy-consultant Tear. Together the two run the item shop (whose name-pun should be pretty obvious at this point) based out of Recette's home. Left alone by her father, who went off to adventure in search of fortune, the young girl is forced to pay off his hilariously large debt over time. Players must manage running the store, paying the debt, and of course turning a profit for future endeavours. It's a pretty simple mix of activities, but one broken down so well that it becomes borderline addicting.
While the main gameplay is focused around how well a player can sell merchandise. How they stock their store and what goods they keep is entirely up to them. Players start the game with a small mount of cash which can be used to buy general goods at the market, or weapons and armor from the guild. From there players learn how to properly turn a profit on everything they buy for the store, how to manage mark-up and how little details like putting items in the front window will draw in specific kinds of customers. As the store profits, Recette's Merchant Level will increase over time, giving access to more expensive goods and store customizations (like wallpaper, item racks, and fun carpets that make customers feel more at home).
If that's where the gameplay ended we would probably have on our hands a fun, but easily dismissive mini game. Fortunately the game is filled with loads of surprises beyond that. Customers will occasionally come into the store not looking for a specific item, and players will have to help them select the good they most likely want. Once players progress enough into the game news flashes are announced as well, letting players know when items drop in price, raise in price, become harder to find or are simply more sought out. As players have only so many hours available in a single day to manage all these minor tasks, it becomes a game of careful balance. Making sure that the store is properly stocked with a wide variety of goods is just as important as making sure there's enough cash to pay the debt at the end of the week.
Another massive surprise in-game comes in the form of the adventure guild, a dungeon crawling portion of Recettear that lets players hire out a local adventurer to explore with. Players take control of the contracted adventurer and enter a random dungeon, filled with monsters to be slain and (more importantly) loot to be sold back at the store. It's here that players will find the best items to sell back at the shop, as well as ingredients to create more valuable fusion items. The old school zelda-esque style gameplay is a fantastic break from the normal objectives, and as an entire package makes Recettear's pacing nearly flawless.
Graphically the game is pretty generic, and it would be in trouble if it wasn't for the amount of personality put into the game's plot or the level of detail placed in the gameplay. Being able to customize the shop to an extent is very fun however, and having no load times makes the entire experience a positive one. The music also sits in the same category, never standing out but never really becoming offensive. The only potentially off-putting detail would be the characters' voices, which remain in Japanese. Anyone who finds squeaky Anime girls annoying may be worn down by the sounds they'll make over the course of the game, though it's easy enough to tune out/mute.
As for replay value? It's difficult to say how much can be drawn from a game like this, especially since there's so much going on at the same time. Those who find themselves obsessed with minor gaming details should be pleased at the options the game has to offer, as there are a lot of avenues one can take to become to best salesperson. Its story may not be the most deep experience around, it does have the same sort of 'gamer humor' found in titles like Disgaea, which may encourage players to go for another run just for laughs.
Perhaps the most charming aspect of Recettear is that it's the first RPG to genuinely surprise me in ages. Behind its predictable (yet memorable) plot lies more mechanics than most modern-day RPGs have to offer and they feature details that one would not expect. From the dungeon crawling to item selling, Recettear provides an experience that will be extremely difficult to replicate, and it does so with its own sense of flair. Anyone who calls themselves a fan of RPGs is doing themselves a disservice by not playing it, and anyone who particularly enjoys indie games in general should find that Recettear will meet all expectations and more.