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Making a buck in Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale is still a delight

Making a sale in Recettear
(Image credit: Carpe Fulgur)
Reinstall

Reinstall

(Image credit: Carpe Fulgur)

Take a trip back through PC Gaming's past each issue with Reinstall. This time, Steven's stocking shelves and fighting slimes. 

This article was originally published in PC Gamer UK 347 in July. Why not get our glossy mag fired through your letterbox each month and subscribe

It’s undoubtedly right to assume that Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale is one of the more important indie games that you’ve never have heard of. You see, it was the first Japanese PC game ever released on Steam, and its success helped kickstart a chain of events – including the release of Dark Souls’ own hugely popular PC port – that proved there was an enormous demand for Japanese games on PC and not just consoles. Recettear’s developers thought it’d only sell 10,000 copies, but instead it sold over 500,000.

You wouldn’t know it by playing Recettear today, though. Ten years is a long time, especially for an indie game, and Recettear’s adorable charm and engrossing loop of dungeon delving and bartering are now buried under some archaic limitations. For example, Recettear is only playable in one of four resolutions, and none of them are even close to being HD. There’s no mouse support whatsoever, you can’t adjust a lot of basic settings in the game (you have to launch a separate tool), and it defaults to using a bunch of nonsensical keybinds that will take a while to get used to. Ironically, playing Recettear now feels a lot like emulating a console game. I didn’t mind it back in 2010 when I first beat it, and I don’t mind it now. That’s because the charming Recettear is an easy game to love. 

(Image credit: Carpe Fulgur)

Though it clearly borrows from PlayStation-era JRPG classics, Recettear isn’t bogged down with a convoluted story. You play a young girl named Recette who runs an item shop alongside her friend-slash-loanshark Tear, a fairy to whom Recette’s father owes an enormous sum of money. To pay down that debt, Tear and Recette must team up and turn their plain, ugly item shop into a bustling business. In 2010, this idea felt nothing short of genius to me. For years I had always played the hero and never given a second thought to the non-playable characters I found in every village and town. But Recettear is a game about all those item shop owners no one cares about. Today, that idea doesn’t feel nearly as brilliant—partly due to so many other games having explored it – because Recettear also can’t completely escape from the type of games it’s trying to subvert. 

Soon after running the shop for a few days, you unlock the ability to hire warriors to comb through dungeons and catacombs for treasure that you can sell. During these moments, which frequently take up half an in-game day, Recettear becomes a boring, basic dungeon crawler. It kinda sucks. 

I didn’t mind it as much in 2010, but I also think my expectations were a lot lower. But I’ve played dozens of dungeon crawlers since then (many of which were excellent), and Recettear’s stilted combat and basic enemies just aren’t exciting enough to warrant the time it takes to kill them. I’d much rather be back at the shop, haggling over the price of a wooden shield with a customer. 

(Image credit: Carpe Fulgur)

Even so, I’m surprised by how easily I slipped back into that routine that once kept me up at night for days on end when I first beat Recettear. Days are divided into four ‘slices’ and different activities, like opening the shop or visiting the nearby Guild Hall for supplies, eat up a slice. Juggling these different activities is a lot of fun and it’s easy to say ‘just one more day’ before realising three or more hours have slipped by unexpectedly.

Using the time you do have efficiently is important, though. Every few weeks Recette has to pay down a chunk of her father’s debt to Tear, which creates a surprising amount of tension. Anyone who has had to scrape together money to pay rent will know that feeling—though Recettear covers up its depressing capitalist undertones with an Animal Crossing level of charm. Even though much of Recettear hasn’t aged gracefully, I’m surprised by how much I still enjoy it. It’s a testament to how clever the core idea is, even if I could do without the mediocre dungeon crawling. It makes me sad that there was never a real sequel, because Recettear is quietly one of the more important Japanese games on PC. 

Steven enjoys nothing more than a long grind, which is precisely why his specialty is on investigative feature reporting on China's PC games scene, weird stories that upset his parents, and MMOs. He's Canadian but can't ice skate. Embarrassing.