Don’t you just hate trying to vanquish evil on a budget? Dragon bearing down on the town? Entire world facing apocalypse? Don’t expect so much as a discount. Shopkeepers? Bastards.
Well, perhaps not. Recettear puts you on the other side of the counter, where saving the world doesn’t mean much if you don’t have a roof over your head afterwards. You play Recette, a young girl whose adventurer father has saddled her with a debt so large, his loan shark won’t even tell her how much she owes. To save her house, she converts it into an item shop, where you have to buy low, sell high, and occasionally head into dungeons with a mercenary hero to stock up on supplies, all while struggling to make the impossible weekly payments.
That’s the theory. Really, that’s not quite what Recettear is about. Your main resource isn’t money, it’s experience, to the point that if you follow the tutorial’s advice to haggle a few extra coins per purchase, you’ll fail almost immediately.
Instead, you’re better off making only slight profits but plentiful sales, This earns you a combo-bonus to your merchant XP that unlocks far more valuable abilities and store upgrades, as well as making your customers like you enough to spend big when you get your hands on the good stuff. In short, you quickly learn to sell everything at 104/5% and buy at around 70%, with only occasional exceptions.
Much of the game also relies heavily on luck – or at least unexplained triggers. You can’t rely on getting the right item-crafting ingredients in the dungeons, or on certain important characters turning up during the story. If the lady thief Charme never comes a-shopping, for instance, you won’t get access to the crucial third dungeon. Equally, nothing good comes if con artist Euria pays a visit.
In traditional Japanese RPG style, there’ll be FAQs available online that explain the ins-and-outs, but avoid these: they’re killers of fun. Recettear is adorable, which makes just piecing together the rules a fun experience. If you do fail, (and you will, at least once), you’re booted back to the start of the game, but retain your character’s level and stocks, along with a fully kitted-out hero. After the (short) campaign come extended play modes with more content, but the story mode is the real hook.
The odd thing is that while every element of Recettear is dirt-simple and easy to pick holes in, the game as a whole is incredibly likeable. It’s funny, well translated, and while you do spend most of it doing the exact same simple things, doing so quickly becomes a frothy, capitalistic bubblewrap. It won’t make you long for Hawke, Shepard and your other favourite RPG heroes to put down their swords and laser rifles in favour of BOGOF deals and pricing guns, but it’s a fun weekend job.