If it's crap ... We'll tell you
Let it be known that I am a fan of the Penny Arcade show "Extra Credits." Their show is rather interesting when it comes to the subject of what makes games fun and how the industry fits in contemporary culture. In their most recent "Games You Might Not Have Tried" episode, one title stuck out to the point where, yes, I had to try it. And ended up reviewing it for Spill since, you know, I'm severely lacking in how interactive I am on this site these days. (What can I say? I'm busy trying to make sure I'm not going broke!)
This isn't a misspelling, but it's easy to mispronounce!
Don't let the title card of this game fool you. This isn't another Japanese RPG in a growing, homogenizing library of genre games. This is a JRPG where you run the Item Shop!
You play as Recette, a very cliche anime girl from a fantasy town who has the intelligence of George W. Bush. No, seriously, she does. She even uses the suffix "-ification" every so often. (Example: "Yayification!!") Her nameless, almost-faceless father left her one day out of the blue to save the world from the evils that loot the land and never returned. In the process of his adventuring, he amassed a huge debt to Term Financing, who have come to Recette's door looking to collect. Tear, Term's fairy agent sent to collect on the loan, offers Recette two options: either take advantage of the profitable location of the home and turn it into an Item Shop to pay back the loan -OR- become homeless after Term Financing seizes the property.
From the start of the game, the plays out like a resource management game mixed in with some tycoon game mechanics. Recette is given three ways to acquire items to sell in her shop. The first way is to visit the Merchant's Guild to get a starter set and the various gear that passing Adventurers would want to buy. Alternatively, Recette can also visit the Marketplace and buy food and accessories there for resale. The second method is to buy items off of customers who enter your shop, which is a staple of all RPGs in general so that method opens up pretty early on. The last way to get items to sell is by hiring an Adventurer to go Dungeon Diving for items. If you clear the Dungeon, you keep all the loot you can carry out with you. If you fail, you only are allowed one item to bring back with you as you haul the lifeless carcass of your unfortunate freelancer to safety. As the game progresses and you start producing a higher profit margin, the game starts introducing new mechanics like Advance Orders and even a local stock market ticker that shows when armor demand is high. And if you become REALLY good at selling items, these mechanics start functioning like mini-puzzles for you to figure out. You may get an Advance Order asking for several objects that are made out of metal, only to have the day that order to be filled be the same day that market crashes on Swords. At that point, you can either find another way to increase your bottom line or cut your losses.
After you've produced an inventory of items, you then take control of Recette and place the items out on the shop. The game is designed so that certain objects on display will attract specific customers. If you have a lot of food on display, for example, you'll attract a lot of housewives during the evening hours when they are trying to make dinner for their families. If you display a large number of weapons and armor, you'll attract several of the local men and even a few of the passing Adventurers that just so happen to be in town. Selling or buying items with them will add to your overall Merchant Level, which will aid in expanding not only your shop and inventory, but also the variety of items you can find in the game. If you are able to constantly satisfy a passing Adventurer, they may even let you hire them on your next Dungeon Diving session!
The Adventurers themselves are, in some twisted way, a joke on all the cliches found in RPGs. The first hero you come across plays like Link in any 2D, top-down Zelda title but is constantly broke and living off of wild mushrooms. You are then introduced to a lady thief who likes to spend more of her time drinking than doing anything else; an elf that is a skilled archer; a wizard who believes that everyone else is stupid because he can control magic; a vampire assassin who actually lives in one of those dungeons outside of the city as a final boss; a lancer who can't seem to understand that mapping a randomly-generated dungeon for a future Dungeon Dive is a futile exercise. You even can hire a Priest who likes to bring candy to local orphanage when he isn't working out by punching monsters in the face! Figure that one out, seeing how you are playing a little girl who may not be the legal working age.
Outside of the Adventurers, there are a few characters specific for Recette's story. After successfully making her first payment on time, Recette will be introduced to Alouette, a rich bitch who is out to run Recette's store into the ground by simply taking away all her customers. Every so often, Alouette will pop in to the shop to mock Recette and "test" her customer service skills. If you venture out into the town after establishing yourself, Recette may run into a con artist. This character will come to the shop and attempt to bankrupt you by selling you "rare treasures" at 500% their base price. While you may be tempted to just turn them away whenever this happens, the items offered by the con can only be obtain from them. It's really up to you if you want to take the risk or not for the sake of filling out your Items Encyclopedia, a post-game goal after you've paid off the initial debt.
And this is where the game gets really interesting...
What was suppose to be nothing more but a hybrid between a resource management and tycoon game ends up becoming the very thing it is mocking: an RPG. Depending on how you go about interacting with these characters, you end up unlocking a lot more story than just what's going on around Recette. The effort to flesh out the characters that end up becoming regular customers at the shop really shines in what could have been a causal gaming title. Much like the core mechanic of the game, the more you interact with these characters outside of your shop, the more of the story gets revealed and the more things you get to do. Thankfully, this can be done in the post-game's Endless mode so you don't have to worry about repaying the debt on time. In researching the game's story, it looks like there's a good 40+ hours of additional content alone.
There's also a New Game+ mode, which is kind of required for those that just have to have 100% in their Items Encyclopedia, as well as something called Survival Hell. According to the game itself in a fourth-wall shattering cut scene, Survival Hell is a mode where your debt continues to increase based on how well you play. Reportedly, it can go as high as seven digits in order to challenge the player to pay back 1,000,000 gold coins in a week's time! And I thought paying back my student loans was difficult!
...the hell?! A sword for her mother-in-law?! Subtle.
If you've played enough RPGs to spot the tropes, then the humor in this game won't be lost on you. There are so many pop culture references, localization jokes, and the aforementioned fourth-wall meta humor that I found myself laughing at. Hell, when Alouette first comes into your shop, she attempts to sneak in using an upside-down Amazon.com box as her disguise a la Solid Snake! Then there's the fact that the customers are ridiculous by themselves. I can't even count how many times a man walked into the shop with some sob story about how his grandmother died and left him a bar of chocolate in her will. It's almost as common as an elderly man coming in to buy his grand-daughter a shield. It's a shame you can't ask them questions, but then again, your job is to take their money and not get into their personal life.
I will state this one caveat: the game is heavily based around menus. Remember, this is a resource tycoon game at its core, so there is a lot of going back and forth between menus of what you have in stock, what you have on display, what orders you have to fill out, how your store is decorated, and even which Adventurer you wish to hire. The lone exception to this is when you Dungeon Dive. If you choose to get your items via Dungeon Diving, the game switches genres so that you are playing a more traditional action RPG. Once inside the randomly generated dungeon, you can see all the monsters you have to battle, attack them from behind or from their side, and even encounter a few boss battles depending on the location. The switch is done seamlessly, and at no point did it feel disjointed from the core element of the game. If anything, it felt like I was visiting the actual JRPG title Recette's store is located in.
SPILL RATING: FULL PRICE
The game is available exclusively through Steam, and at $20, you can get a lot of it if you let it. It may be classified as a "casual" title by most people, but that's if you ignore all the other elements that surround the concept of the game itself. And to be perfectly honest, at that price, you get just a much content as you would for a game that was three times that price for a portable console.