RECETTEAR / Carpe Fulgur / PC

It's a shame Recettear isn't on portable platforms, because it's the ideal game for them, great for playing in 15 to 30 minute bites and offering a pile of content to last a very long time. Originally released for Japanese computers in 2007, indie outfit Carpe Fulgur acquired the rights last year to localize it for PCs of the Western world. It's only available through various digital distribution platforms like Steam at the moment.

The game's central concept is running an item shop. Little protagonist Recette Lemongrass has a deadbeat adventurer dad who has gone missing for months, and now a fairy from a finance company has come to collect on his sizable home loan. Instead of seizing the house, the fairy proposes they convert the lower level into an item shop thanks to it's central location along the town's main road. You've got one month in which to repay the loan, with a payment being due at the end of every week (there are 36 days in the months of Recette's world, so this actually works out to 5 weeks.) The payments gradually increase in size in each week - the first week is a simple 10,000 bucks, which is easy to clear even if you bumble around, but the final week calls for a massive 500,000 payment.

Each game day is divided into four blocks of time. You can open the shop in each of these, which eats up one block. But you also need to head out to town periodically to replenish your inventory, which requires one block of time in itself (though once in town you can visit as many locations as you like as many times as you want within that one block of time.) Recette buys goods from the town market and the Merchant's Guild at some sort of wholesale rate, and then sells them for a markup from her store.

It's simple "buy low sell high" stuff, but there's multiple other factors to consider in what goods to have on hand and what to display in the shop. You'll see a news report at the beginning of each time block, in which many random events can happen. The prices of certain goods will go up or down, trends will pop up making certain items heavily in demand for short periods, etc. While you can hold an unlimited inventory of items, you can only display a small amount in the shop, with only a handful displayed prominently in the windows to catch people's eye. You can also decorate the shop and upgrade the walls, floor and counters, and there's an "atmosphere" rating that will attract different types of customers depending on what items you have prominently on display and how your shop looks.

And then there's the Adventurers Guild. At the cost of some cash (plus two of the day's time blocks), you can hire an adventurer bodyguard to take you into various dungeons to plunder items for your inventory. The bodyguard is actually directly under your control, and the dungeons are best described as a sort of Roguelike (randomized levels and items every time you enter) with Zelda 3 action-oriented controls. There's a limited set of adventurers to choose from, and they'll actually gain EXP and level up as you keep taking them through. Plus, they'll come into your shop as customers from time to time, and when they ask for new weapons and armor, they'll equip whatever you sell to them. You can also bring stuff for them to use during dungeon runs, but they'll have to give it back to you at the end of the run if it's something they've not purchased for themselves.

Perhaps the most interesting bit of the game, however, is that there's really no "game over". If Recette fails to make a weekly payment - which almost assuredly will happen the first time you play - time rewinds to the first day. You'll have to make all the weekly payments again, and storyline events will be reset. But otherwise, you keep all of your progress from the previous "loop". Recette gains "merchant EXP" from successful transactions, which translates into unlocking more profitable items to sell, better shop decorations, etc. You get to keep her "merchant level" when you restart, plus your entire inventory, plus your "loyalty levels" with the customers which affects how much money they carry and what they're willing to pay. The game takes it easy on the OCDs by offering nothing but bragging rights for completing the game without "looping", it was really designed for you to fail and restart at least once or twice before you can generate enough income to clear the massive final two payments.

The game's biggest weakness is the tutorial. For the most part, it's thorough and useful, but it fails to explain a couple of concepts that are absolutely key to long-term success, and even worse, gives you BAD advice on how to haggle with customers. At the outset the game tells you you should try to sell items to customers at a 130% markup. Not only will this not work initially for most of them, it's counterproductive in the long run. Cutting them a deal closer to 100% increases their loyalty more, which is necessary to sell them the more expensive (and much more profitable) items that open up in later weeks. But the game never actually explains that customers have "loyalty levels" or how they work, nor is there any visual indicator of them, except for a heart sometimes appearing next to the customer briefly after a sale, which indicates they've "levelled up" and can buy pricier items and will pay a higher markup. Either figuring this out on your own or stumbling across an explanation online is absolutely key to getting anywhere in this game, and the game drops the ball by keeping it a secret from you.

The game's other weakness is that once you DO figure out that little tidbit, it becomes a bit mechanical in selling similar items over and over. You still have to keep an eye on the news, but once you've spent a loop or two levelling up your customers, success is almost an inevitability if you just buy and stock a variety of the most pricey items currently available.

What keeps the game fresh is mostly the depth of the Adventurer's Guild dungeons. There's a bunch of these things and it takes a hefty amount of time to clear them all, and there's little story events and developments tied all through them. When you're initially paying off Recette's debt, you'll have little to no time to actually explore these things, as the lower levels don't give you good enough items to make the massive time expenditure worthwhile. When the debt is paid, however, the game doesn't end, instead continuing in an "endless" mode where everything goes as before minus the weekly payments. At this point you're free to devote most days to adventuring.

There's a laundry list of little things you'd like to see added to the game, and probably wouldn't have taken much time and effort to, but what's here is still a very entertaining and charming little package that's easily worth the $5-10 that the download services regularly put it on sale for.

Links :

* Playable demo
* Capitalism ho mother fuckers!

Videos :

* Gameplay Video