Cons: Some town locations could use more interaction, lower level fusion could be more useful
The amount that must be paid back increases each week, starting out with a 10,000 pix (the game's currancy) first payment due on day 8, and ending up with a whopping 500,000 pix fifth payment due on day 36. If you fail to accumulate enough pix for any of the five weekly payments, Tear repossess your house and you move into a cardboard box before starting over from a previous save. The first time I played I didn't realize there was no sort of auto-save feature, so I had to start back over from the beginning because I hadn't saved my game at all.
Each day in the game is split into four time slices, after which you automatically go to sleep for the night when you return to your shop. Running the shop takes up one slice, traveling from the shop takes one slice, and going adventuring in the dungeon takes up two slices. You can do pretty much whatever you want as long as you have time for it; for example, running the shop four times during the day to sell off stockpiled items is perfectly valid, but you can't do anything else that day.
A little over half the game involves running your shop to buy and sell items to and from customers. You can, in fact, complete the entire game without ever venturing into a dungeon -- though that leaves you missing a good portion of the game. You start with three counters, which each hold four items. You place whatever items you want on the counters, and customers will come in to buy them. Placing popular items on the counter in front of the window helps to attract some customers, with medicinal items and food being a pretty good draw. If a customer sees something they want to buy or sell, a screen pops up where you can suggest a price and haggle with them. Haggle too much or ask for too high of an initial price and they will leave, wasting your precious time in the process.
Each item has a base price, and when haggling with customers you can see what percentage of that price you are currently offering. The first day is all gameplay tutorials, and in those tutorials they suggest that you try to buy items from customers at 40% of the base cost and sell them at 130%. In practice, selling a little lower and buying a little higher is much more beneficial though as you get an increasing experience bonus completing your transactions on the first attempt instead of haggling. As your experience increases, so does your merchant level, which unlocks all sorts of things such as shop expansion, better items to buy from the market or guild vendors (and thus higher prices and higher profit margins), shop customizability, etc.
When you leave the shop, the map of town is pretty simple with only a few places to visit. The Pub, Chapel and Town Square really serve no purpose other than to facilitate story scenes with various adventurers. The Market lets you buy and sell goods, though you don't get very much money at all for selling there. Buying goods here and reselling them in your shop is a quick and easy way to make some money though. You can also buy and sell goods at the Merchant's Guild (mostly weapons and armor), but you also come to the guild to expand your shop or fuse items together into better items. I wish there were a few more things to do and interact with in some of the locations though.
The item fusion is fun, but rather limited in the fact that all the fusion recipes take rare items that you can only rarely find in dungeons. I would have liked it more if fusion was expanded upon a bit to let you fuse multiple weaker items into one stronger one or something. It's not that it's bad, just that it's sort of limited. By time I obtained enough of the various items to complete my first couple of fusions, the items I was able to make through fusion were already inferior to the stronger items I had unlocked to buy from getting enough experience. Granted, much later in the game it becomes a lot more valuable to fuse things, but as you unlock the first few tiers of fusions you'll realize that they're mostly wasted.
Now, the final place on the map is the Adventurer's Guild, and this is where you can go to enter dungeons. As you meet and interact with some people in your shop, in town events or in dungeons, you can obtain Adventurer's Guild Cards from them. Afterward, you can hire them to travel through various dungeons and let you tag along to pick up items and bring them back to sell. There are 8 different adventurers in total, each being distinct and playing differently from each other. Sorcerer, archer, swordsman, even a robot... there's something for everyone here and multiple choices. You can even use all of them, though I found it much easier to pick a couple (Tielle the Archer and Nagi the Lancer were my favorites) and level them up a lot rather than playing with eight lower level characters.
When you enter a dungeon you get plopped down somewhere in a randomly generated maze, controlling whichever adventurer you hired. It's standard hack and slash here, from a 3D-looking overhead view. I have to admit that the dungeon crawling was a little better than I expected from a game about an item shop! There are 14 different types of enemies, which come in multiple colors to denote stronger versions of the same. Most drop a common item and a rare item, though some have a couple of additional items added to their drop list. I don't recall ever seeing an enemy drop more than one item at once, however.
In addition to the regular enemies, there are also bosses at the end of dungeon segments. The boss fights are usually well balanced and fun, but you have to pay attention to the patterns or gimmicks that they use and plan accordingly sometimes. The second boss, for example, walks around with a lot of health and hits you with frontal attacks occasionally. Red and purple mushrooms pop up out of the ground, and he walks around eating them once in a while. Well, all of your attacks do like 1 damage to him, but if you hit him while he's eating a purple mushroom you can do additional damage. If he eats a red one, however, it will heal him... so you have to run around and preemtively kill all the red ones while avoiding his attack and waiting for him to chomp on a purple one -- and then run in and smack him a few times before he finishes.
Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale can be beaten in the good part of a day, but don't think that means there is no replay value. In fact, by time you beat the game you won't even have half the things in the game unlocked yet! That's because there additional game modes unlocked after you "beat" the game. New Game+ allows you to start the game over with all your items and levels intact. Survival mode allows you to see how long you can last as it keeps the weekly debt increasing forever until it overwhelms you completely, and Endless Mode allows you to play the game endlessly with no debt.
The graphics are fun and cute, using 2D character and enemy sprites on what appear to be 3D backgrounds. The story scenes between Recette and other people around town all use a static portrait of each character and one pops in from each side as the character talks. It's been done to death but I really like it. The background music is upbeat and joyful and really works well with the cute graphics, as do the sound effects. The addition of short clips of characters saying a few words in Japanese when they're talking just seems so fitting for the style of the game as well, and I'm really glad they included it.
It does get a little stale eventually after selling the same items to the same customers, and running the same dungeons over and over, but there's just enough variety to keep me from shelving it. In Endless Mode you'll spend more of your time hunting rare items from dungeon bosses to complete your Item Encyclopedia and get every item in the game, and less time sitting in your shop reselling to customers over and over. The game is also relatively inexpensive at $20 currently, and offers a lot of bang for the buck.
Minimum system requirements include Windows XP, a 1.7GHz processor, 256MB of RAM, 700MB Hard Drive space, and DirectX 8.1-compatible video (64MB+) and sound cards.