What is Recettear? There's a good chance you have no idea, so I've put together the following cheat sheet. Don't worry, I'll have you sounding like a pro before you know it.
(1) Recettear is a lovingly crafted Japanese PC indie game made by EasyGameStation. It was recently lovingly translated by independent American localisation squad Carpe Fulgur, and is available on Steam for £12.99.
(2) The game casts you as Recette, a bumbling girl in a JRPG world that's deeply aware of its own absurdity. Your father runs off to be an adventurer, leaving Recette saddled with nothing but a house and a monster debt. The debt collector, an erudite fairy called Tear, suggests to Recette that they open a traditional RPG item shop and pay off the debt in smaller (yet still monstrous) weekly instalments. The game's catchphrase crisply sums up the duo's attitude to their situation: "Capitalism, ho!"
(3) It is absolutely not as twee or anime-like as the character art might suggest. It's a pacy, addictive, surprising experience that takes pleasure in holding your head in a barrel of financial opportunity and forcing you to breathe pure risk-reward. Fail, and the game over screen shows a sad Recette living in a cardboard box.
(4) It's pronounced "Racketeer".
After you've tapped your way through a few unnecessarily long tutorials, here's how an in-game day in Recettear might go.
First of all, you open for business. Your stock's looking good and you're feeling lucky. This causes a collection of customers to file in, the size of the crowd depending on the shopping experience you've been able to provide the public with.
Here, the fun starts. One by one, customers will come up and ask to buy something, or if you would like to buy something, or if you could recommend a certain type of item. Here, you make use of the game's rattlesnake-mean bartering system. You get two shots at offering a price acceptable to the customer, and then they walk out, losing you a sale.
Let's say an old man comes wobbling up, asking to buy an inordinately expensive pair of magical boots that have been gathering dust on your shelves for weeks. Brilliant! Capitalism, ho! Now, the pensioners of this town tend not to baulk at prices. 130 per cent of the boots' asking price of 18,000 pix would be a good starting point. But when you're dealing with an item this expensive, every percentile matters. You could go higher, 135 per cent maybe, bringing your offer to 24,300 pix. You do that. Click.
The codger baulks at your price. Now you only have one shot left to sell those boots, and it's a sale you want. 130 per cent might have seemed like a safe bet before, but what if this guy's stingy? You could go down to 120 per cent, maybe. 21,600 pix. But then you could be losing out on 2,000 pix worth of profit. How much do you need this sale? How much do you need the money? How much do you care about the old man liking you?
While this bartering system is the beating heart of Recettear, these kind of calculations don't actually take long. While you'll routinely come across transactions so important that they'll have you whimpering softly and chewing your knuckles, the above example would flow across your subconscious and be done in five seconds, leaving you either giddy or raging. Never mind though, here's someone else with another exciting proposition. Or maybe it's that sodding pauper girl again, asking if you have any cheap bracelets. This is the slot machine school of entertainment.
With one quarter of the day's time gone, your shop automatically closes up again. You could open it again, but your cupboards are looking a little bare, and nothing hurts the budding inner capitalist more than having to tell customers you're sorry, but you don't have what they're looking for. You leave the shop and head out into the world.
You could hit up the market and merchant's guild to get the goods, but you decide to explore the other half of Recettear: dungeoneering.
While Recette's no kind of hero, the folk who shop in her establishment obviously are. Make friends with one of them, they'll offer you their official Hero business card, and then you can go questing with them. You can kit them out with the latest and greatest merchandise from your store (assuming you haven't sold it to them already, perhaps at a discount) and then everything you recover from the dungeons can be sold at, as Tear puts it, 100 per cent profit!
Perhaps the biggest surprise that Recettear keeps under the counter is that the top-down, dungeon-crawling action is more competent than any number of games I could mention. It's fairly bare-bones, but the way your chosen hero moves and attacks has an excellent weight to it, monsters all boast unique attack patterns and the experience gems that go spraying out of creatures with each hit are a great reward for your continued exploration. There's more grinding than I'd like, but it is at least a satisfying grind. You can't wait to get back to town with your new cache of goods and get them on the shelves.
At the end of your long day spent buying, selling and killing, you realise you haven't checked the calendar yet. You do so, and are politely informed that you only have 4 days to raise a preposterous 200,000 pix for the next repayment of that sodding loan. It's impossible. You'll never be able to make that much, that fast. Or will you? Capitalism, ho!
So that's the core of Recettear. It's inventive, addictive and a ton of fun. This game got me talking to myself, both snarling in displeasure and speaking nonsensical quips like "Aw yeah" and "That's how we do where I'm from" with each tiny victory, which is probably the single most obvious sign that a game's succeeded in getting under my skin.
There's just one more thing I want to add to this sales pitch of mine before we finish, and that's that Recettear isn't just a great idea, it's a labour of love. For the first 30 or so hours of your life that Recettear will happily absorb, it's constantly adding new features, new characters, new plot lines, new items and new dungeons. Rather than letting you get tired, Recettear just gets bigger and weirder, and then even bigger and even more weird. It never feels like a developer trying to entertain you, it feels like you and the developer are going for a ride together, and neither of you know where you're going to end up.
Similarly, the American translators did a fantastic job. While conversations have a habit of dragging on for a little too a long, they also have a habit of being laugh-out-loud funny. The game's cast is made entirely of solid characters, and Recette's incompetence is compensated for by her cute tic of inventing new words. The world charms you, which in my case was a problem because I wanted to undercharge people I liked.
But the characters could all be repulsive, squealing mutants and I'd still love Recettear because of its mechanics. Every in-game day is a tiny gambling session, where a confluence of factors can result in you having the best or worst day ever. Maybe there's a hike in sword prices, and your favourite hero comes and buys that legendary sword you have in the window. Perfection. Maybe the next day you go on an adventure with him and his new sword, he gets panned by some horrible new boss and you go home with nothing. Horror. But however your day goes, you want just one more.
Recettear is one of the best indie games to arrive this year. Buy it, and you won't regret it. You might even love it. But one thing's for sure you'll never look at a JRPG item shop the same way again.