Friday, July 15, 2011

Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale

I haven’t played a JRPG since Final Fantasy 7. Well, I played the first 2 hours of Final Fantasy 8, but since I didn’t get far enough to find out who the people Squall was dreaming about were, I don’t think I can count it as a game wot I have played. Midori is much more of an RPG fan in general, so I’ve seen my way through several over the years – the one I remember most vividly is Eternal Sonata, which was cute, even though I found the scattering of musical terms a little disconcerting. At the moment she’s playing Tales of Vesperia, which seems much the same. A band of young (or youngish) misfits saves the world while solving their own deep personality flaws. And after I’ve seen her play them, I know the story, so what’s the point in playing them myself?

So I’m not sure that I’m really the target market for Recettear, which is a loving tribute to JRPGs. You play as a sweet-toothed item vendor named Recette, and a host of JRPG stock characters (the eager teenage boy warrior, the sassy teenage girl thief, the bratty pre-teen boy mage) come in to buy and sell items. You can pretty much always get items from your supplier at 70% of MSRP and sell them on at 120%, so the core game is not that difficult. To supplement the stock items, you can go dungeon diving with one of your adventurer friends – a key part of the game is building relationships with them to the point that they’re willing to take you along.

The characters are twee, but the game is short enough that it doesn’t get too grating. Recette’s primary concerns are sugar consumption and making OMG FRIENDS LOVE, which would be more irritating if there were more dialogue. Her business partner Tear is full of bile and French cussing, which is much more entertaining. My favorite of the adventurers is Charme the Lady Thief, who gets drunk and tries (without any success) to seduce Recette when Tear isn’t watching. (She should have tried offering her frosting.)

Before the start of the game, Recette’s father took out a loan and then disappeared. The initial goal is to pay back that loan, in 4 weekly payments. If you miss a payment, it turns out that the events from Day 2 onward were just a sugar coma dream of Recette’s, and you wake up with all of your levels and stock, but none of your cash. Knowing this, if you’re going to miss a deadline you can sink everything into stock, ready to sell the next time around. Once you pay back the whole loan, you open up a bunch of other game modes. I haven’t played any of them. (Lazy reviewer. Bad Dolbia. No airship for you.)

The dungeon gameplay is pretty basic top-down hack-and-slash. The warrior is by far the easiest of the companions to play as, and you can complete the game without using any of the others. The monsters aren’t particularly inspiring, but that’s not really the point of the game.

Other aspects of gameplay include “merchant level” progression (higher levels get you a bigger shop and pretty wallpaper and nicer items) and a crafting minigame (that I didn’t get very far with, slap on wrist.) They’re not exciting enough that I’d stay up an extra half hour to get to the next merchant level, but they give the game a sense of forward momentum. Wait, that’s a lie. I did stay up an extra half hour to get to the next merchant level.

Some gripes about the game:

  • It would really benefit from an autosave feature. There are 99 save slots – you can’t save for me at the end of each day? Week? Maybe I’ve been spoiled.
  • Mouse control would be nice.
  • The wizard kid is a nightmare to play in the dungeons (or maybe I just suck). Your options are to use his auto-attack, which gives the monsters 2-3 seconds to hit you between casts, or cast a proper spell, which burns mana like a magnesium ribbon. The wizard kid is also annoying in the dialogue scenes.
  • It’s slightly odd that NPCs will buy items back from you for twice what you paid them earlier that day.
  • Recette and some of the other characters can be irritating – the moments that irked me most were when Recette got upset because she’d “failed” a price negotiation, when the customer wanted to pay 1/5th of the market value of the items.
  • As well as the named NPCs, there are 4 generic townspeople – the Man, the Old Man, the Woman, and the Little Girl. Of these, the Little Girl almost always asks for things she can’t afford to buy. You then have the choice of taking a loss or going through 3 rounds of haggling only for her to storm off (and Recette to collapse into self-pity and diabetes).

The game was a lot of fun, and I intend to keep playing on Endless mode until I’ve maxed out my merchant levels, crafting, and dungeons. Or until the sickly-sweetness leads me to set fire to my laptop. All in all, I give it 7 cupcakes out of 10.


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