Once in a while it is nice to have a game fall into your lap and having never heard of it, enjoy it. That is what happened when I played the demo for Recettear and soon after bought the game. The game has a Reese's Peanut Butter cup feel to it as it combines two different game systems to create one great experience.
Let's start with the plot, you play as Recett whose father decided one day to up and leave her to become one of those JRPG heroes who finds fame and fortune. Unfortunately for Recett her father also left her with a massive debt and now the collection agency has sent over a fairy by the name of Tear to collect. Instead of throwing Reccet out on the street Tear decides to help her and they turn Recet's house into an item shop to sell all kinds of stuff to would be heroes and villagers.
The main goal is to pay off Recett's debt which an installment must be made at the end of each week. If you miss a week's deadline it's game over. Losing isn't completely bad, as your stats and items found stay persistent with each play through.
There are two main systems at work in Recettear, shop management and dungeon crawling; let's start with the shop. Any item that you pick up can be put on display in your shop both to attract customers and to sell. Once someone has found something they want you need to decide how much to charge them, the higher from the base price the better for you. Go to high however and you'll risk pissing people off (turns out charging $1000 for a candy bar may be a bit high). Each time you make a successful sale you will gain experience to raise your merchant level, each rank up will get you a new mechanic or bonus such as being able to buy items from people and more.
You can buy items from the local market and merchant guild however you'll be spending money that you need to pay your bills with. Thankfully there is another way and this is where the dungeon crawling comes in. You can lease an adventurer to go into a dungeon with you. They gain fame and fortune and you get any loot that drops. Each hero has a different attack, equipment they can wear and special attacks, as a hero levels up they will cost more money to join you.
You may bring items into the dungeon with you, such as better equipment for your adventurer or food to heal. Every five floors you will face a boss section and by beating it you will be able to leave and take everything you found with you. However if the adventurer's health hits 0 they will be KO and you will only be able to bring back one item of your choosing and the rest will be gone. Combat takes us back to the days of SNES RPGS such as Zelda or Illusion of Gaia. Everything is real time and each adventurer has an attack arc that allows them to hit enemies that aren't directly in front of them.
The dynamic between running the shop and dungeon crawling is where the charm of Recettear shines through. By running the shop you'll get the money needed to pay off your debt and continue playing and possibly selling better gear to your adventurers to help them in the dungeon. While going into the dungeons will net you materials to craft better items or just find great items which you can then sell back in the shop and the cycle continues. By selling better gear to your adventurers the new gear will take the place of their default equipment meaning that you won't have to bring gear with you into the dungeons and instead have that space available for more drops.
The game was designed with that "one more turn" feel to it. Besides the previous paragraph there is always the sense of progression with your merchant level and as your level goes up some of the later bonuses are incredibly useful, such as increasing the amount of items you can bring back from the dungeon. Finishing the game unlocks endless mode allowing you to keep playing without worrying about the debt as well as survival mode where you keep playing with an ever increasing debt waiting for you at the end of the week.
There are a few problems though with Recettear that comes from its JRPG roots. A lot of the games more advance mechanics are not fully explained or even mentioned. While you are reading paragraphs of flavor text there may be one paragraph out of ten that has something useful for you. Finding things out on your own is great for a lot of games, but when you have a time limit in place it can become frustrating to learn that you could have done something that would have helped you earlier. Concepts such as store atmosphere and bonuses for charging the right amount of money were never explained to me and I had to look them up online.
This became really annoying when I realized that for my first run I completely missed the fourth dungeon which is where the item drops start to get really good because I didn't jump through the right hoops. Granted it is possible to beat the main game without stepping into a dungeon, but for me that would get rid of the dynamic between the two different systems.
Another issue is that it's hard to get an accurate measure for the shop management game-play. There are not a lot of customer types and it seems to be random what items they want. This can also lead to frustration if you need to make a large amount of money fast and no one wants to buy your expensive items. Also there are times the customer asks you for something and you have no idea what they want. I had someone ask me for something valuable which I assume meant an expensive grandfather clock but they walked out in disgust.
One strategy I've read about that works is to not go overboard in prices early on to make people trust you more so that they will spend more money in the later weeks. Basically you are not going to take what you learn from Reccettear and build your own empire rivaling Wal Mart. One thing that bothered me was how random it was to get adventurer's to buy equipment that they can use, I wish I could just say to one of them" hey I got this really bad-ass sword you can use and it would make life easier if you would buy it".
The control scheme could throw people for a loop as this was a game ported from Japan. The default controls use the arrow keys and z, x, c and w keys with no mouse input. You can rebind the keys or use a game-pad. Another detail that may annoy some people is that the game is incredibly laced with anime, from the artwork and text the game has a somewhat cutesy feel to it that may drive away some players.
With these complaints said I still enjoyed Recettear and would like to see more games like this. Currently I finished the main game and tempted to play through endless mode a little to see what I can find. Lastly I wish one of the upgrades I could get would be a bouncer to keep that damn purple haired b*@tch out of my store who wants 500% base value for a fishbowl.