By SHAUN A. NOORDIN
Why go on grand, dragon-slaying, world-saving adventures when you can have just as much fun managing an item shop?
ONE of the little joys of going shopping is that you'll never know what little treasures you'll stumble upon.
Take Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale, for example. It is a quirky "item shop role-playing game" that we accidentally discovered on Steam.
In this PC game, you don't play the role of a brave, world-saving hero. That would be boring.
No, this time, you're on the other side of the NPC border: You play as a goofball item shop owner in a town teeming with adventurers.
So get your wallets out folks, because Recettear is going to take you on an awesome shopping trip through the worlds of capitalism, adventure and super-kiasu haggling.
In the red
Recettear puts you in the shoes of Recette, a young girl whose father went off on some hare-brained adventure before disappearing and leaving her a humongous debt to pay.
Fortunately for our heroine, the person the finance company sends to collect the debt is Tear, a level-headed fairy (and an adorable loan shark).
Tear suggests that Recette works off the loan gradually by starting a business, and the two promptly set up an item shop that caters to the various warriors, wizards and civilians that make their home in the town of Pensee.
Recettear's gameplay is split into two distinct parts, with the first being the business end of things.
If you've ever wanted to experience the mercantile thrills of buying low, selling high and trying to see how much you can squeeze out of your poor customers before they catch on, then hooray! You've just found a friend in Recettear.
The foundation of item shop management is quite simple: As a store owner you'll want to buy items from town at low prices and put them on display in your shop.
When the doors to your store open, customers will trickle in and express interest in the fine wares you're selling, providing you an opportunity to haggle over their prices.
This may sound straightforward, but you'll soon realise that ripping off your customer is a fine art.
Sell too high and you'll scare off your customers, but sell too low and you won't be able to make a profit fast enough to keep up with your weekly loan repayments.
Also, you'll have to build a rapport with your various customers if you want to know their bargaining "sweet spots."
Eventually, as you master the art of shopkeeping, the game will gradually introduce new elements to keep you on your toes, such as fluctuating market prices, advanced item orders, shop renovations and the occasional scam.
Recettear proves that item shop management is a surprisingly exciting alternative to the familiar game of adventuring, and soon you'll dread the appearance of a bargain-savvy housewife just as much as you would a fire-breathing dragon.
Swords and stock takes
Of course, just because you don't have to kill monster doesn't mean that you can't. Recette and Tear, after all, live in a town filled with crazy people running around wielding swords.
It's not terribly hard to for them to hire an adventurer to embark on a little expedition into one of the game's randomly generated, treasure-filled dungeons.
This brings us to the second part of Recettear's gameplay: The fast, action-based (and rather addictive) dungeon crawls that'll appeal to any fan of action RPGs.
Since whatever loot you discover in dungeons can essentially be sold for 100% profit, these adventures provide a lucrative (if very risky) alternative for stocking up your shelves, especially if you're aiming to find rare and expensive items.
Consider it a shopping trip into the heart of monster lairs and instead of swiping with a credit card, you use a sword.
You'll have to be careful, though: You can only carry a limited number of items with you and exits are only located every 5 floors. If you screw up and get KOed, then you'd have forfeited whatever treasure you found and - worse still - wasted time.
We know that time is money, but the matter becomes pretty literal once you realise that you only have a limited amount of time each week that you can spend either adventuring, opening shop, stocking up on supplies, or going around socialising.
Time really is money
Managing your time is just one of the little challenges that the game has in store for you; Recettear is refreshing in that it gradually introduces new elements and new challenges to keep things interesting for experienced games, yet it remains simple enough to be enjoyed by casual players.
The most pertinent example would be the regular loan repayments that drives much of Recette and Tear's activities; the payment required increases by an astronomical amount every week, forcing hardcore (or perhaps overly-kiasu) gamers into a flurry of cutthroat sales and risky dungeon crawls just to avoid foreclosure.
Meanwhile, more casual gamers who don't care too much about their game score will be happy to know that a "game over" simply means restarting from the first day, but with the humongous advantage of having their other achievements (including store inventory and experience levels) intact.
(If that's too forgiving for your hardcore tastes, however, Recettear is happy to oblige by providing a New Game+ mode typical in many Japanese RPGs, as well as a non-stop Survival mode typical in many sado-masochistic hardcore JRPGs.)
Similarly, if you find yourself a little too comfortable with the standard swordsman for your dungeon crawls, there are always new adventurers waiting to be unlocked.
Each one - from the high-speed thief to the powerful-but-fragile mage - plays a lot differently from the other, giving you yet another refreshing new way to enjoy the game.
Our review wouldn't be complete without a comment on Recettear's presentation: If you're a fan of the cheerful/happy kind of anime/manga and enjoy the light comedy genre, then you'll love what you'll see.
The character illustrations are really nicely done, even if the dungeon graphics are reminiscent of RPGs from the PlayStation2 era. (Not that we're complaining - we have fond memories of that period.)
On the other hand, if you have a low tolerance for cuteness then you'll be happy to know that you can press the Escape button to skip every single cutscene that you come across.
The plot isn't particularly deep - and it sometimes borders on sugary sweet - so you wouldn't be missing on much if you did so.
Whatever your opinion, you'll have to agree that Recettear has a quirky charm all of its own. It's peppered with humorous dialogue, it's an RPG that doesn't ask you to save the world, and it has a whole cast of colourful characters.
Recette, in particular, stands out for her idiosyncratic ideas, unassailable optimism, mild insanity, and - best of all - her awesome quotes. Our favourite is Recette's signature battle cry for haggling: "Capitalism, ho!"
Oh yes. We will be using that at pasar malams for the foreseeable future.
One of the best parts of Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale - and if you believe us, it has many - is that it lets you sample the wares before you commit to a purchase.
Or, to put it simply: you can download the demo from the official site or Steam.
We can attest that the demo save files are compatible with the full game, so you can merrily transition from demo adventure to full purchase without breaking a stride.
On the other hand, if you're too impatient to download the demo and just want to know if Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale is worth your time, then let us summarise our opinion on the matter:
A PC game that combines capitalism, addictive dungeon crawls, and memorable characters for only US$19.99 (RM62)? Better grab Recettear before the shops realise they under priced this little treasure.
Pros: Interesting blend of gameplay elements; challenge levels suitable for a variety of players; quite funny.
Cons: Cutesy and light storyline may not be for everyone.
Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale
(EasyGameStation\Carpe Fulgur LLC)
Action RPG for PC
MINIMUM SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS: Windows XP/Vista/7, Pentium 4 1.7GHz or Athlon XP 1700, 256MB RAM, DirectX 8.1-compatible video card with 64MB, 700MB HDD space
PRICE: US$19.99 (RM62)