Revenge of the Titans Reader Review
Well, this was unexpected. The last time I checked, it had just gone 3:00pm, the intermittent rays of the afternoon sunshine filtering through the drawn curtains as the birds chirped merrily and the children played in the cobbled streets. Yet here I was, still inside as the first signs of Spring were beginning to emerge, the hours dwindling away like sand through a sieve. And itís all thanks to a stupid little independent computer game.
How, pray tell, can a Japanese RPG/dungeon-crawler/shopkeeper simulator do this to me? How could an idea so wild and unorthodox work so well?
I wish I knew the secret formula because, with Recettar: An Item Shopís Tale, what Carpe Fulgur and EasyGameStation have delivered is pure, refined gold dust in a beautiful, lovingly-wrapped package. Itís a new dawn: a schemata-refreshing new challenge to all our hopes and expectations towards the gaming industry.
Recettear places you in the role of Recette, a plucky, innocent, yet hopelessly naÔve lass faced with the unenviable task of generating the financial income needed to stave off the impending threat of eviction into the cold, unforgiving outside world. But sheís not alone. Much like video gamingís prototypical spritely young upstart, Link, Recette has her very own fairy to guide her on her odyssey. The winged mistress in question, Tear, assumes the role of Recetteís guide and mentor, declaring that the youthful girl must raise the money to pay off her fatherís debts through the successful running of the titular item shop.
The setup, then, is relatively simple and, at first glance, so is the basic gameplay. The bare mechanics of the selling and buying systems fundamental to the gameís pivotal business transaction system are laid out with enough charm and delicacy to ease any player into the experience, with tutorials readily available at the quick touch of a button to anyone wishing to go over the processes again. The same can be said for the gameís other two main pillars, the interactions with other characters in the town and the all-important dungeon-crawling quests. With everything set out so smoothly at such an early stage in proceedings, it truly feels as if the game is holding your hand as it guides you into the unpredictable domain of business management.
Alas, if only that were so. In true business fashion, the gameís welcoming exterior belies an astonishing level of depth. Unfortunately, this is also where things start to go a little pear-shaped, at least until you can get the hang of some of the gameís finer intricacies.
Letís be a bit more specific here. At the beginning of the game, youíre advised by Tear to haggle with your customers, squeezing every last penny from their wretched, flea-riddled hands as you struggle to make ends meet. At face value, this might make sense. After all, ripping off the customer is merely common practice in this day and age of high-street warfare and corporate backstabbing. Did Richard Branson, Alan Sugar and Donald Trump become rich by playing fair? No, they did it by trampling on the unwashed masses and scraping them mercilessly from the underside of their entrepreneurial soles. But the world of Recettear doesnít lend itself quite as well to such Machiavellian trickery. What the game forgets to tell you is that thereís much more to be gained from offering your customers fair prices in order to stimulate long-term customer loyalty and to maximise the all-important gain of the experience points needed to gain access to new items and shop expansion options.
The lack of intuitiveness doesnít end there, rearing its head during Recettearís dungeon-crawling adventures. The exploration mode requires you to hire the services of one of several explorers, each of whom may be unlocked as the gameís story unfolds. In effect, itís a simplified version of many of the much-loved dungeon-crawlers out there, with the basic aim being to slay monsters, earn experience and pick up loot to sell in the shop. All in all, it works very well. Once again, though, the game neglects to inform you that you can use the items youíve picked up to heal your adventurer, or even throw away some of your more worthless items in order to free up space for the valuable relics youíre likely to encounter as you venture deeper into the bowels of Recettearís six dungeons. It can all get very bothersome, and itís clear that the game could have been significantly more user-friendly with just a little more guidance on some of its needlessly concealed nuances.
Itís a fairly frustrating affair, then, but I suppose thatís the world of business. Even the finest swindlers have suffered setbacks, and many of them will readily admit that their future successes were defined by their resolve in the wake of their failures. Recettear captures this doctrine admirably, giving you the option to restart the game with your experience and items intact if you fail to meet a weekly payment. It may seem rather too forgiving, but it allows you to lick your wounds, reflect on the reasons behind your failures and come back stronger than ever. It may take a few puny attempts of trial-and-error but, eventually, once youíve finally got to grips with the nooks and crannies that shape the gameís fundamental risk-reward skeleton, youíre certain to feel a genuine sense of progress and buoyancy as you enter the retail gauntlet once more.
If perseverance is the key to a successful enterprise, luck may just be the glue that holds it all together. And rest assured; luck plays an important role in Recettear. Whether itís the random fluctuations in the market values of certain items or the arrival of key characters at your shop, youíll ultimately need things to go your way if you want to have the best chance of keeping the bailiffs away. Again, itís a real kick in the mouth when you fall foul of unfortunate timing and uncontrollable circumstances, but itís a system that does a fair job of keeping each gameplay experience unique and unpredictable. And, once again, itís not just unfair for the sake of being unfair. Itís just business.
Thatís not to say that business has to be serious, though. Thereís an impressive array of customers, adventurers, merchants and miscellaneous figures inhabiting Recettearís world, whose quirky personalities are delightfully encapsulated by a range of suitably cheesy animated facial expressions and lines of dialogue. It all seems so casual and self-deprecating, something for which we can thank Carpe Fulgurís splendid translation job. Essentially, theyíve tweaked the charactersí lines to avoid alienating their Western audience, but theyíve taken great care not to rob the game of its distinctive Japanese flavour and appeal. The result is a truly fantastic blend of Westernised syntax with an unmistakeable Oriental twang, a winning combination if ever there was one. Itís cute, amusing and, most importantly, it hooks you right from the start.
The gameís music and sound effects hardly scream ďhigh production valuesĒ from the rooftops, but thatís not a bad thing at all. In fact, Recettearís simple, catchy tunes add to its almost unparalleled spirit and vivacity, whilst its sound effects do more than enough to uphold its carefree sense of self-parody. You might only hear the characteristic ringing of the shop till, the swishing of a blade or the gleeful cries of the gameís protagonist, but thatís really all thatís needed to make the experience a friendly, familiar one.
We all know what they say about judging books by their covers. Itís true; weíve all been taken aback at some point or another by someone or something. Somewhere, thereís always a pretty, shallow-looking girl, of whom so many predatorial chauvinists try to take advantage, yet who proceeds to amaze everyone at the revelation that sheís actually a Cambridge graduate with a black belt in Jiu-Jitsu. Recettear: An Item Shopís Tale is video gamingís version of that girl. It lulls you in with its sweet charms and good looks, only to humble you with its stringent abidance by the virtues of rules and regulations. But itís always service with a smile, and thatís why we forgive it.