At the time of this writing (2010, technically – ed), a three-year-old doujin soft game, newly translated into English, is in the top sellers list on Steam. Is it a sign that otaku are sweeping the nation’s PC game download services? Perhaps, but I believe Recettear’s success has more to do with the fact that it’s a fantastic piece of work on its own merits: an idea so fresh and yet so obvious that you’ll be surprised nobody else thought to do it before EasyGameStation.
In Recettear (a portmanteau of the heroines’ names), you manage an item shop in RPG-land. Our heroine Recette is the daughter of an inept hero who’s disappeared in the pursuit of justice, leaving his massive debts to the child. With the help of a loan shark fairy (Tear) and “Capitalism, ho!” on her banner, the vacant but cheerful Recette is ready to pull herself out of debt in the bread-and-swords market.
The flow of the game is straightforward: you’re either running the shop or acquiring stock for it. Visiting your local wholesaler is one way, of course, but it wouldn’t be a respectable RPG world if there weren’t fabulous loot out in them thar dungeons. Neither Recette nor Tear is a fighter, so they hire adventurers (controlled by the player) to take care of the dirty work.
Dungeon crawling in Recettear is an overhead action/RPG affair, but more Ys than Zelda: combat is fast and loose, emphasizing getting position on the enemy. The map is randomly generated, and so are the goodies. While one certainly can run around the map grinding for experience points (tip: try and kill the same kind of monster as many times in a row as is possible for the most XP), the gear you give your adventurer is ultimately a lot more important than their level. It all comes back to the market!
Meanwhile, managing the shop is the core of the game, and it’s both subtle and deeply involved. You’ll have to consider everything, from the places you display your wares to your trust relationship with your customers to, of course, the decor. The game gives you experience points on the job, and the better you treat your customers, the more you get.
At the outset, handling purchases is very straightforward, but as you level up your business expands and more systems reveal themselves: before you realize it, you’re juggling special orders, buying items your customers have decided to pawn off, guessing their budgets, and more besides. This may be a game about capitalism, but you’re going to have to play nice with people if you want to get anywhere.
Your relationship with your adventurers is especially unusual: these people patronize your shop as frequently as anybody else, often to buy items that they just helped you pull out of a dungeon. You can’t just hand over the best equipment (permanently, anyway) to your adventurer: you have to hope they’ll come in looking for it and give them a deal they can’t refuse, even if that means taking a loss in the process. The process is a little arduous, especially when a random townsperson buys all your Steel Swords while your hero is only interested in high-end foodstuffs.
Unlike actual retail work, going through the motions of daily life in Recettear is terribly addictive: you’re constantly back and forth between just-right slices of what are almost two different games, each working in service of the other and neither wearing out its welcome. The flow changes according to your situation: some days you’ll be all out of stock, requiring a dungeon outing, and other days you’ll have enough to sell that you can sit at the counter all day. You may get so caught up, in fact, that you get stuck at your own counter all day.
Two-man outfit Carpe Fulgur should be thanked both for exposing a wonderful game that would otherwise be lost in obscurity and for their work on the localization. The breezy, informal dialogue adapts in ways that add character: you will be impressed, for example, by exactly how many variations on the statement “Yay!” Recette knows.
Will this success make Steam a point of exposure for other indie and niche Japanese game outfits, as it’s already become in the West? I certainly hope so, but the bar has been set. They’re going to have to make a game as good as Recettear. I’m looking forward to it.
Publisher: Carpe Fulgur