Thursday, September 23, 2010

Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale Review

Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale, developed by EasyGameStation and published by Carpe Fulgur.
The Good: Unique combination of trade and traditional RPG, randomly generated dungeons with lots of items to find and then sell, merchant experience unlocks more shop options, satisfying (albeit repetitive) combat involving a range of enemies with set behaviors, a variety of adventurers with different abilities
The Not So Good: Lacks difficulty settings for RPG novices, infrequent saves during a dungeon crawl
What say you? An action role-playing game that adds shop economics to great effect: 7/8

Here at Out of Eight, I strive to highlight independent games that don’t get the coverage they deserve on the “big” sites that have allowed advertising revenue to compromise their integrity. While I have sampled titles from all over the world, one of the neglected markets is Japan. Sure, the big Japanese publishers bring their wares to the worldwide scene, but the small indie development studios are rarely represented internationally. Well, that’s about the change thanks to Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale, a game developed by Japanese stalwart EasyGameStation and translated to the Queen’s English by producer Carpe Fulgur (Latin for “Fulge the Carp”). This game certainly has a premise that’s weird enough for coverage on Out of Eight: Recette (you, in naughty Anime form) runs a shop providing weapons and items to adventurers, whom she can hire and control to find the really good loot to sell. That’s enough innovation to allow me to get over my fear of role-playing games (official term: “crapaphobia”), so let’s see what this Japanese import has to offer.

Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale features decent graphics for a role-playing game. Because of its original, the game makes use of anime-style static character images during in-game dialogue, and while they are rarely animated beyond changes in expression, they work pretty well. The 3-D worlds are simple with some distinctive and varied environments for the various dungeons you will encounter along the way. The characters are small, lack fine detail, and utilize repetitive animations; they appear to be 2-D sprites on a 3-D background. There are some nice effects during combat with weapons. Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale reminds me a lot of Din's Curse, although it is more polished overall. On the sound front, the game retains the original Japanese voice work, which is fine with me since it adds an air of authenticity to the mix. The sound effects are pretty typical for a role-playing game, and Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale features repetitive but generally enjoyable background music. While Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale isn’t certainly cutting-edge in terms of graphics or sound design, the game does deliver a solid packgage that never gets in the way of good gameplay.

Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale follows the story of Recette and her fairy Tear (see…“Recettear”…hilarious!) as Recette repays her father’s debt by running an item shop in a role-playing fantasy world. The game has an extensive storyline that, because of the translation and lack of English voice acting, requires a lot of reading. Thankfully, you can skip past any of the in-game events: while it is occasionally funny, a lot of the time you just want to get to the game. Tutorials are also integrated into the dialogue, so skipping it the first time through the game might not be such a good idea. Controls, which can be altered using an executable file in the game directory, use the keyboard by default; this works well most of the time, but I prefer using the gamepad for more precise movement during the RPG portion of the game (you can actually use the gamepad and keyboard simultaneously if you’d like). Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale gives you one hundred save slots where you can preserve your progress at any time during the shop portion of the game; it seems kind of silly to give you such a large number but still have a restriction, but whatever.

Half of the time you will be running your modest shop. The game has four turns per day during which you can open your business, visit the town, or hire someone to explore dungeons for goods. Items that are purchased or found are placed on the store shelves, with more prominent items placed in the front window. Customers will enter, and you haggle over the price. Typically, an offer of around 120-130% is reasonable, and each character seems to have a set percentage they are willing to pay for every item. You are given an experience bonus for choosing an appropriate price the first time out, and customers will walk out of the store if you do not offer a good price the second time around. Experience earned for successfully selling an item unlocks more options, like the ability to suggest items to customers, buy items directly from patrons, combine items, and change your shop aesthetics (carpet, floor, wallpaper, available shelf space). I really like how Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale gradually unlocks new things to do, since simple haggling can get repetitive and boring once you figure out the desired profit margin for each shopper. Prices can fluctuate based on demand, which rewards holding on to items. While there isn’t really a lot of depth in this portion of the game, it is far better than simply selling loot at a fixed cost like most RPGs do.

You aren’t just restricted to your shop, as you can venture around the town of Pensee in search of people and goods to exploit. The merchant’s good offers wholesale items you can display and sell at your business. These include a large assortment of weapons, from swords to daggers to bows to spears, and armor, from gloves to bracelets to shields to helmets. Each category has two to five items of increasing value to choose from, depending on your budget and needs: more expensive items will bring in more money at once, but also require more startup capital. The market offers less violent articles, such as food, scarves, rings, books, and ingredients. The pub is a gathering place for adventurers at night, and the town square is a haven for low-level adventurers looking for work. Finally, the adventurer’s guild allows you to hire adventurers to search for goods at little to no cost (closed Sundays).

Recette is too much of a wimp to go adventuring on her own, so you must hire people to do the dirty work for you. While you can’t customize your own adventurers, there are a lot to choose from as you unlock them throughout the game. Each has a set of special abilities that can be used during combat, and you can bring items from your shop to improve their attack and defense ratings. It is a very good idea to bring lots of food to reheal, and low-level adventurers definitely benefit from having better equipment. The game features easy equipping of items, even offering an “optimum equipment” option that puts the best stuff on your soldier-for-hire. Your mercenary also gains experience through combat, which increases their maximum health and special abilities points and reheals during a level-up (extremely helpful when you are low on walnut bread). Killing multiple enemies in a row gives more experience, so you can become bigger, stronger, faster, tastier.

Although they follow the same general pattern, each of the dungeons are randomly generated, which goes a long way towards making Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale a more interesting game. This includes multiple plays through the same dungeon as well, so you are never sure which treasure chests hold awesome loot and which trigger monsters to appear. There is a door that leads back to down every five levels, but you cannot otherwise save your progress. This means you have to plan out your dungeon crawls: do you have enough time to do five levels in one sitting? I’m not trying to cheat by reloading if I die, I just have other things to do other than playing games (blasphemy, I know). If you do die, you are allowed to only take a limited amount of items back to the surface and the rest of the items are lost permanently. This becomes an issue if you purchased a lot of food for the trip, died, and the market did not have any more: you are then “stuck” if you can’t make it through a dungeon without having to reheal (a tough task). It would be nice if you could take back all the items you brought or if you dropped the items where you could collect them the next time through, but this limitation contributes to the high difficulty of Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale.

The enemies you encounter have set behaviors that make them easy to plan against, once you see the patterns from afar. There are charging foxes, flying bees, hopping mushrooms, and lots of slime, among other things as you advance through better dungeons. Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale certainly requires skill to know the range of your attack, the range of your enemy’s attack, and the attack speed of your chosen weapon. Treasure chests may spawn an item or a trap, from enemies (like flying fish, of course) to explosions. Enemies also drop items that can be later sold at your shop, assuming you survive a five-floor set of levels. Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale lacks difficulty settings, which is troubling for someone like me who has less experience at action role-playing games. It took me seven times to beat the first dungeon. Seven! I am mediocre at the RPG part of the game, and it's required to be successful because all of the goods you earn there are free. Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale is designed for RPG veterans, so novices be warned. The good news is that, if you lose, you retain your merchant level when you being a new game, giving you a head start on accumulating those insane funds requirements the second (or third (or fourth)) time around. Still, I really like how getting loot in the adventure portion of the game impacts your ability to make money: it’s not about simply getting better equipment for your character, as in most role-playing games.

Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale is a tradition action role-playing game that differentiates itself thanks to its item shop. The RPG part of the game is a pretty traditional hack-and-slash style: equip some items, so out and kill some bad guys, and get precious loot. It is made more interesting than some because of the randomized layouts, a welcome feature especially because you might be retrying the same dungeon over and over again. Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale lacks difficulty settings and the game assumes you play a lot of RPGs, I think, as it took me a while to become adept at the combat. The game doesn’t help matters as it restricts saving your progress to every five levels of a dungeon, which is not only a concern with difficulty but also with time. There are a number of interesting adventurers to hire, from melee fighters to ranged archers to magicians, and they gain experience (and become more effective warriors) as you guide them through each dungeon. The enemies exhibit specific behaviors that allow for some variety in tactics depending on which weapons you have equipped. Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale really sets itself apart in the robust shop mode, where you can purchase (or find in the dungeons) items and sell them for a handy profit. The process of haggling is repetitive and predictable once you know the desired profit margins of each customer, but the game slowly unlocks new things to do: fulfill requests for item types, combine items, changing the décor of your shop, and many more. There are also a lot of items to trade, so Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale isn’t short of variety in this area. The two halves of the game compliment each other well: you’re not always fighting in a dungeon (which would be monotonous by itself) and you’re not always selling goods (which would be monotonous by itself). The alternation of the mechanics, along with the ever-growing roster of things to do, makes Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale vastly superior to your average role-playing game.