Thursday, May 17, 2012

recettear: an item shops tale

i'm not very big on small or indie games. They're a fairly recent thing, but as a greater quantity of enterainment(s?) are now competing for your attention and time, media have become more small and digestible, often restricted by development costs, or afraid to ask for too much of your time. Unless you're Bethesda. Then it's okay.

Because there's no such thing as "too much dragons"
I myself just usually would prefer to spend that extra wad of cash if I know it means I'm getting a bigger, usually better game. I picked up this underdog, Recettear, at the recommendation of the good folks at Extra Credits. I can't really put my finger on why I had an interest in it. It was just one of those gut feelings, and the fact that the demo is always free. So yeah, it wasn't entirely a leap of faith; I had to sample the free demo out of curiosity, and after that I wanted more. This usually does not happen. I would say a good 95% of games I purchase do not result from demo tryouts. I'm usually planning on buying it even before the demo hits, and the demo is just a nice pre-release sample.

So when a game comes along and is able to generate the urge to purchase purely out of gameplay sampling, and with no prior interest, it's pretty dang good. It's not just good, it's one of the best games I've played in a long time. It's got everything a game needs to be satisfying. Character, charm, strategy, challenge, and a good story. This game has everything, it only cost me 20 bucks (less during a Steam sale), and it can run on the Pentium 4 computer I built in high school. I'm only 13% through the game according to the statistics page, and it has already proven worth the entry price.

I'll try not to spoil too much, but the game is hilarious, beginning with a joke about how your father is a generic adventurer who has gone missing. You live in a deliberately generic RPG town, where your mission is to open up the town's item shop and make it profitable and pay off his debt. Gameplay is a mix of buying wholesale items and selling them, and exploring dungeons for free items to sell at complete profit. Each day is divided into 4 phases, during which you can go shopping, open up the store, or go exploring. There is some strategy here, because while you can explore for items to sell for complete profit, this takes a complete day, where purchasing wholesale items only takes one phase, leaving the rest of your day open. Every week you are expected to meet a constantly-increasing payment, and during this time the value of the items you normally sell increases to keep up with it. You will develop relationships with customers, haggling and taking outstanding orders to fulfill (I need 5 hats by Monday, can you do it?).

The combat side is simple but satisfying. It's very similar to the original Legend of Zelda; your basic top-down action RPG. You really don't need me to go into more detail than that. You can control several adventurers, but I've only worked with the Sora-looking Louie so far, your basic boy adventurer. He's simple but well-designed, just like everyone else. All of the characters are fairly stock, but endearing and charming. Their scripts are translated by the best and full of humor and patented Japanese cuteness. The sound byte recordings are still in Japanese, and you will be repeating this dialogue later without knowing what it means. I recognized "Yatta!". If you're not "in" to that kind of style, with the pastel colors, round edges and the diabetes-inducing amount of sweet charm, you will not like this. Look elsewhere for your gaming fix.

But how many FRAGS do I have? 
Sweet pretentiousness, how you justify my tastes. The relationship between the two "title" characters is pretty well done. You play Recette, and Tear is your "Daxter", there to assist you with tutorials and act as a support character in the film sense of the word. She assists you with the shop as a sort of overseer who is there to collect payments, but her relationship with Recette is a friendly one, and her cool intellect compliments Recette's kawaii nature nicely. You will get more than a few laughs from their dialogue. It's a wonderfully witty script, and I don't know if it's the product of the original writers or the translators or both, but it's very sharp and self-aware.

The game, despite it's cute design, is pretty challenging. There's a fair amount of strategy in allotting your time as mentioned, but what I really want to stress here is how hard the game can be. You are expected to meet profit milestones weekly, and while I've only done 3 so far, they've all been quite difficult. It can actually be a bit frustrating, because the condition of your save game really makes a difference, kind of like in Resident Evil. For instance, in Resident Evil if you didn't have a certain number of healing items and ammunition before a certain boss battle, it was practically impossible. Nobody's beating the Titan with a knife. This game kind of has that same problem. If your last or only save game is right before a deadline and you don't have a certain percentage of your goal fulfilled, it's just not happening.I happen to save around 7 savegames, but if I was playing this how I play Final Fantasy, with only 2 constant saves, I would have reached a wall where the only solution would be to restart. You have been warned.

This is one of the richest games I've played in a long time. I've recently acquired a Vita and have therefore purchased a handful of games in a short period of time, most of them small by design. And Recettear is probably the best one, and it requires that I hunker down in front of my computer. If this is the direction gaming is going, with experiences now available in a more compact but cheaper package, I guess I can't complain all that much if games like this are what's to come of it. I still prefer my Battlefields and my Metal Gears, but there's room for games like this now; I've been proven wrong in this regard. This is a buy.

Purchase Recettear from Steam
Purchase Recettear from my ass

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