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Capitalism, Ho! Recettear

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I really, really like this. Even though it arguably gets its core gag absolutely wrong. It’s the old pun about why RPG shops are happy to repeatedly buy and sell the same old crap to the same old heroes writ large, as a rather funny and monstrously compulsive strategy-RPG hybrid. The fact there’s an RPG in that… well, that’s what it gets wrong. The RPG shopkeeper gag is that they don’t know what the hell they’re buying, what animal arse it’s been pulled from or why the guy selling it is covered in bits of town guard. When the shopkeeper’s part of the adventure, they’re no longer the naive/mercenary money-grabber we’ve encountered in a thousand different games.

I still really, really like this. I played the (fairly long) demo through twice. Can’t remember the last time I did that.
It’s a translation of a Japanese indie game and, cloying music aside, a very successful one. Horace only knows what the dialogue was originally supposed to say, but in this version it’s snappy, self-aware and playful. The demo’s worth it for the celebration of digital distribution and gentle finger-wagging at filesharing on the Please Buy The Full Game screen alone.

You play as Recette, whose adventurer daddy has mysteriously (i.e. not mysteriously at all) disappeared, leaving his daughter with enormous arrears. Enter the fairy Tear, who’s a debt collector, because human society hasn’t found any other jobs for fairies. Or something. Don’t worry, the game absolutely does not expect you to take its cartwheeling, free-form fantasy randomness anything like seriously. All that matters is the pair hatch a plan to turn the girl’s house into a store for fantasy adventurers. Recette + Tear = a shop named Recettear = a really truly awful pun. So awful I loved the game all the more for it.

It all adds up to a game of buy low, sell high. If it wasn’t about selling swords and armour, it would probably be 1000% less fun. But it is about selling swords and armour, so that’s alright. A bloke saying “the wife asked me to pick up one of these” as a picture of an iron helmet appears still hadn’t stopped being funny come the close of my second playthrough.

This element of the game is as much about learning the thinking of certain customers as it is simply flogging stuff. You’ll come to recognise a few of the regulars – that swordsman will never pay more than 120%, that old geezer always sells his magic yams for ridiculously low prices, that little girl will almost always storm out unless you sell her mystic trinkets at pretty much cost… It’s a pretty great shopkeeper game as much as it is a meta-gag.

The problem is that although some of your stock arrives from random folk trying to flog you whatever they’ve found, most of it has to be sourced directly. Continuing to buy odds and sods from the local guildmaster is expensive, illogical (especially as he frequently pops into your shop to buy things you’ve just bought from him) and limited. For the good shizzle, you’ll have to go adventuring. Or, rather, you’ll have to convince an adventurer to go adventuring on your behalf, which entails directly controlling him in a Zelda-esque baby-RPG.

It’s simple but cute stabby-stabby business, and the high-action variety from stocking the shop and selling hats is certainly welcome, but I do feel the hard switch of discipline from calmly haggling over prices to chasing blobs around a maze is perhaps a bit much. And, as I whinged above, it spoils the gag a bit. It’d be much more amusing to only encounter adventurers as these trinket-laden, blood-soaked freaks wandering up to your cash register, no questions asked.

Then again, there’s this extra level gag that you’re putting some poor bastard through a deathtrap dungeon purely in the name of cash. There’s no pretense of heroism or philanthropy. Everything’s about paying the mortgage. It’s nothing if not honest.

Brutally honest. The You Lose screen even features Recette having her home repossessed and sleeping in a cardboard box.

No more heroes. Only capitalism.

And that’s just the demo. I’m going to hunt down the full game without a shadow of a doubt. At least I would if it was available yet; neither are details of its pricing, but it’s grand to hear that savegames from the demo will be exportable to the finished project.

Oh, and let’s give due credit. Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale originated as a 2007 Japanese indie game, created by EasyGameStation. American chaps Carpe Fulgur, self-described as an independent localisation company, picked up the Western rights, got to work on the translation, and here you go. It’s the very definition of a niche market, but the idea that we might gradually get to play a slew of unknown pleasures from the other side of the world is impossibly exciting.

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Alec Meer

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Co-founder of RPS. Dungeon Keeper & X-COM 4 Life.

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