That Olde Tyme Religion

2013-03-27_00005

It’s like Mount Rushmore. Only sinister. And missing Lincoln. And with Franklin. And also missing Roosevelt. Also, surrounded by sparking lightning. Though, to be fair, that might also happen on the regular Mt. Rushmore, I’ve only ever been there the once and might just have missed it.

The Bioshock series has spent three games delving into a specific idea in each. The first dove into Objectivism and was very successful at it. The second game dug into something like Collectivism and was less successful at it. Bioshock Infinite, however, digs into something more amorphous.

At first, it seems like Infinite is going to be about religious fundamentalism as a governing philosophy. But, that it quickly becomes clear that religion is just part of a greater whole. In truth, much of the beginning of the game is about showing the inherent hypocrisy in the American mind at the turn of the 19th to 20th centuries. We see a happy, religious, and invariably white cast of Real Americans.

2013-03-26_00020

Good old-fashioned American racism. It’s just like your grandma used to make.

So real are these Real Americans, that they’ve begun a sort of idol worship of Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson. We’re quickly shown how this veneer of a happy society has underlying troubles. Racism is rampant and blatant. Blacks and Irish are an oppressed lower class who exist only to perform the menial and low skilled work that keeps the economy of the floating city Columbia humming. There are even nods to the worker’s rights movements of the period. Eventually, there’s even open warfare between the “Founders” and the revolutionaries seeking equality.

Bring Us the Girl Wipe Away the Debt

Bring Us the Girl; Wipe Away the Debt

But even that conflict isn’t what Bioshock Infinite is really about. When you dig deep down, what you find is a story about fatherhood and redemption. Booker DeWitt, our protagonist, is sent to “bring [them] the girl and wipe away the debt”. He finds Elizabeth–the girl–kept locked away by her father. As the game progresses, Booker reveals that he lost his wife in childbirth and has no children. Perhaps because of this, he slowly grows to become something of a father figure to Elizabeth–protecting her and fighting for her–even as his original mission slips away from him.

2013-03-27_00007

I’m sure he’s friendly.

There are some things that have been mainstays of the Bioshock series since its inception. The Big Daddies and Little Sisters are the two most recognizable and iconic elements–especially visually–of the series. Both are absent here, but they have their spiritual successors, I think. The endless progression of Little Sisters has been replaced with Elizabeth–your charge. The Big Daddies meanwhile have been replaced by the Songbird, her protector. While there is visual similarity, especially in the Songbird, I think this break is largely a good decision for the series. Bioshock 2 seemed to lean too heavily on the original for its plot and setting. This made it feel bolted on due to how complete the story of the original Bioshock was. The clean break that was made with this installment liberated them from some of the burdens that they had been carrying since the first Bioshock.

2013-03-26_00003As a game, there’s truly little to say about Bioshock Infinite. The combat is competently executed, just as it has been for the last two games. The encounters are mostly well designed and the difficulty progression is reasonable. The weapon and plasmid vigor combinations are mostly unchanged, though they are a bit unbalanced. Most notably, the very first one unlocked can quickly become a one-attack kill on most non-elite enemies, even on the hardest difficulties. All this is not to say that there’s anything bad about the combat, just that the changes are mostly evolutionary.

2013-03-26_00008The real strength of Bioshock Infinite is its story. Watching the evolution of Booker and his relationship with Elizabeth is worth the cost of admission alone. I would say that Bioshock Inifinite is certainly better than Bioshock 2 and may even be better than the original Bioshock. It is certainly not a game to be missed.

Bioshock Infinite: 1

Google+LinkedInStumbleUponDeliciousShare

More Action, Less Horror, More Microtransactions

deadspace3 2013-03-04 23-21-48-12-crushed

It’s tough when your buddies turn into tentacle monsters and attack you.

Isaac Clarke’s life hasn’t been good for the last few years. One girlfriend was killed and turned into a shambling undead. Then Isaac was kidnapped by the government and forced to build undead creation engines while his dead girlfriend started showing up as a hallucination trying to convince him to destroy all humanity. His new girlfriend then decides to go charging out to save humanity, but Isaac’s had too much and ends up single again and still more than just a bit mad. And then, of course, religious fanatics decide to try to kill him and destroy humanity. He’s really not having a good decade by the time Dead Space 3 starts.

deadspace3 2013-03-05 13-49-54-73-crushed

Go on, little scavenger bot, scavenge for loose bits. Just ignore that corpse nailed to the wall–it can’t hurt you.

If the Dead Space games have a moral to them, that moral would have to be “it gets worse”. In the first game, we have just one planet threatened. The second game gives us the thread of the spread of undead to many planets due to the evil/incompetent government. The latest installation gives us the undead breaking loose through human space due to the evil religious fanatics. This plays out within each game as well: situations get worse even as Isaac seems to be making progress, every success is met by the realization that things are even more difficult than they originally appeared. In a sense, this progression is the hallmark of the Dead Space series. Even the endings of each game are, at best, momentary victories with dark overtones.

deadspace3 2013-03-05 00-35-50-76-crushed

No, no, scavenger bot, I’m sure the semtex is fine. There’s no reason to worry about it. I’m just going to go ahead and continue onward, but you should totally keep scavenging here.

Dead Space 3, as a game, is very similar to its immediate predecessor Dead Space 2. There are some minor improvements this time around, though. The ammo management game is no longer necessary–all weapons use the same type of ammunition. Weapons can now be created and customized allowing for a more diverse set of choices than was previously available. Unfortunately, this weapon creation system is where the first cracks of an insidious Electronic Arts driven money making system appear.

deadspace3 2013-03-05 03-05-17-10-crushed

Oh good, the science facility. I’m sure that nothing dangerous or nefarious has ever happened here.

The weapon creation system in Dead Space 3 requires you to find various bits and pieces scattered throughout the game–tungsten, transducers, and other materials. These materials are dropped by enemies and found in boxes, but there aren’t a great deal of them. Some grinding and a bit of bug exploitation can get enough, but in reality their prevalence is very low. Of course, EA has a solution to this: downloadable content. For a few dollars here and there, they’ll give you a large supply of these consumable items. Oh, and if you pre-ordered the game, you’ll also start with a few weapons that are vastly superior to those that are available in the early game and are largely viable until the end game. It is “buying your way to victory” in its worst incarnation.

deadspace3 2013-03-05 01-07-08-28-crushed

Who keeps nailing these corpses to the walls? I mean, that doesn’t seem like a good use of your time. They just rot and then you have to nail another one up. Maybe someone should take up taxidermy.

The money grab in the weapon creation system is bad enough, but even worse than that is the first set of actual story-based DLC for the game. It is set immediately after the apparent end of the game and follows the story to its real conclusion. I say real here because the game’s original ending is, in no way, an ending to a Dead Space game. It lacked all of the gloom, hopelessness, and sense of Pyrrhic victory that we’ve come to expect. What does that mean then? We have a $10 mandatory add-on in order to get the experience that we’ve come to expect from the series. And of course, that $10 gets us less than three hours of gameplay.

deadspace3 2013-03-05 19-50-56-34-crushed

I’m sure that this bit is supposed to be glowing green. Yeah, green is a good color, right? Right?

There’s a lot that I liked in this iteration of Dead Space. The idea of a final confrontation and a race to finally make real progress against the necromorphs was compelling, but it ultimately felt like things were pulled down by the nagging attempts to gather real-world money from players. Even though I didn’t succumb to that temptation, the grinding and farming necessary to make up for it distracted from the game itself. And the ending–the one before the DLC–was wholly unsatisfying. I see in Dead Space 3 a good game hampered by the environment in which it was raised, and that foul influence has made it less than it should have been.

Dead Space 3: 0

Google+LinkedInStumbleUponDeliciousShare

Fates Worse Than Death

2013-03-17_00003_cropped

The Empress and her daughter enjoy Corvo’s welcome home.

Whenever I’ve played an Assassin’s Creed game, there’s been one thing that I wished that I had: the ability to teleport. It seems that someone else was thinking the same thing when they decided to make Dishonored.

Dishonored follows a rather straightforward premise: Corvo, the mute bodyguard to the queen, is framed for her murder. Following a show trial, unknown allies help him to escape from prison whereupon he is pulled into a scheme to topple the new rulers and find revenge. Along the way, of course, he is first given state of the art weapons by a discredited scientist and magical powers from the mysterious supernatural being called the “Outsider”.

2013-02-26_00008

So, we need to cross the bridge. Options: 1) go across the main deck, fight past guards and automated defenses; 2) sneak under the bridge and reprogram the automated defenses to attack the guards; 3) teleport on top of the nearby buildings and run across the outlying support wires; 4) possess a guard and walk out to the other side

Magic and weapons alone don’t make an interesting game. Interesting games are about choice. Here, I am of two minds about Dishonored. The main plot drags you along with very little in the way of choice: go to that place, kill that man, etc. At the same time, though, you’re often given an exceptionally large number of ways to carry out those tasks. In a sense, it reminds me of the original Deus Ex just in the sheer number of options. This is probably where Dishonored is at its best.

2013-02-26_00004

Tesla coil death traps. Why’s it always got to be lightning? Also, I’m pretty sure OSHA doesn’t like having these installed in the stairways.

Working in beautiful symmetry with choice is the writing. Although you are nearly always cast as an assassin and sent out with murder as your objective, killing is never a necessity. Every mission offers a non-lethal method of neutralizing the targets presented. Of course, merely knocking a high-ranking assassination target unconscious would be woefully insufficient. Instead, the game offers cruel and ironic fates to those you let live. In a sense, the game offers you the choice of justice or vengeance and makes sure that justice is a worthwhile option.

2013-02-25_00001

These wanted posters are they only way to know what your character looks like. I’m a bit dubious of that Emo haircut, though…

Although the plot and setting are both quite interesting, Dishonored does fall into one of the classic traps of gaming–the silent protagonist. Corvo–the character you’re playing–never speaks in game. In fact, the only times you see his face over the entire course of the game are a few times on wanted poster and once during the ending sequence. This situation would probably be fine, but Corvo is imbued with many traits that we don’t necessarily see in him due to this perspective. Perhaps most of all, we don’t see what made the Empress and her daughter both care for him they way they do. This is much the same trap that the original Dead Space fell into.

Its rare that I want to play through a game a second time with a completely different playstyle. On my original pass through Dishonored, I went out of my way to ensure that I didn’t kill anyone (that “Clean Hands” achievement looked interesting), but I feel a desire to play it again with a more…vicious…methodology to see how the game changes in reaction to it. The fact that I’m drawn to play it again says volumes about my assessment of it.

Dishonored: 1

Google+LinkedInStumbleUponDeliciousShare

Not Sure Where the Diary Comes In

I’ve never really been a fan of either the Visual Novel or its sub-genre the Dating Sim. Imagine my surprise, then, when I discovered that the game I bought on a whim during the Linux Steam sale was just such a game. Nevertheless, it was a game that purportedly worked on Linux, so I gave Magical Diary a try.

2013-02-17 100400

The default character name is “Mary Sue”. I’m not sure if the creators were trying to be self-aware and ironic or if someone just gave up.

The premise of Magical Diary is that you’re a “wildseed” magic user–born to normal parents and then whisked away to learn the ways of magic once you reach the appropriate age. The game opens at the beginning of the freshman year of high school for your main character. You have two roommates (the studious one and the sporty/carefree one) and are thrust into the life of a high school magician with very little guidance.

The game progresses in three parts. Firstly, you decide your character’s actions for each week–which classes you’ll go to (or not) each day. In between (and sometimes during) your activities, you might run into the second part which is your standard visual novel type interactions with other students and teachers at the school. The last bit are the periodic “practical exams” wherein your character is dumped into a first-person dungeon and must use their magic to escape.

2013-02-17 052100

Its tough being a beginner–having no skills and all…

Unfortunately, though, each of these bits is rather lackluster. Doing activities during the week grant you a random zero to three point bonus to a relevant skill. The problem is the random bit. Since the game allows saving at any point, the best course of action quickly becomes scumming each week until you get an average or better result. This makes one of the other core mechanics–stress increasing failure rates–into a non-mechanic. If you’re already scumming the random number generator, why not do it a bit more?

The visual novel bits suffer from two main problems. Firstly, there are a large number of characters who seem interesting introduced near the beginning of the game. Of them, almost none can be interacted with. In fact, the number of pursue-able characters in the game is about six. And two of those are incredibly grating. The second is the classic problem of this sort of game–completely unclued events. If you go and look at a calendar of events for this game, there are dozens of missable events which are triggered by going to certain places on certain days. The vast majority of these have no clues to suggest that doing them is any better than doing anything else. These are both classic problems in the genre and new games shouldn’t still be making the same mistakes.

2013-02-18 215600

Maybe I should light this door on fire…
Fire solves many problems…

The dungeons/practical exams are probably the most interesting part of the game. As your character levels up her magic, she gains spells. Mostly, these are useless items kept in a list. Periodically, they might provide an additional option during a visual novel scene. In dungeons, though, you can finally make use of them. The first real exam, for instance, puts you at one end of an empty chasm. If you’ve focused on force magic, you can push a bridge over to fill the gap. If you’ve done teleportation magic and some scrying magic you can just zip across. This does suffer a bit from the Deus Ex Problem: if every school of magic needs a way to succeed then any school of magic can succeed. For instance, it also turns out that having about 30 points to the teleportation school of magic can get you successfully through every single exam, by itself.

2013-02-17 095500

Every Mary Sue character should have cat ear, right? Too bad I couldn’t afford the fairy wings, too. You can see my whole character here.

Perhaps worst of all, though, is that the game lacks real meat. The plot is short, and, because it only covers a single year of school, it lacks anything like finality or resolution. It simply ends. Couple this with its other, more concrete flaws, and it becomes a game that I cannot recommend.

Magical Diary: 0

Google+LinkedInStumbleUponDeliciousShare

Keep Digging

The game looks beautiful, when it isn't chugging to keep up...Murder for hire requires a certain mindset. Patience, diligence, attention to detail, caution, detachment: all of these have defined 47 for the previous four Hitman games. In Hitman: Absolution, however, it appears that 47 has forgotten a decade of his experience and training.

Sometimes, 47 has to fight giant Mexicans while pretending to be a masked fighter called "The Patriot". I'm not sure what should be inferred from that confrontation...

Sometimes, 47 has to fight giant Mexicans while pretending to be a masked fighter called “The Patriot”. I’m not sure what should be inferred from that confrontation…

In the opening level, 47 turns his back on his agency, deliberately fails to complete his mission, and goes rogue. From then on, he is either seeking to learn the history of a girl named Victoria or attempting to get her back from those who’ve kidnapped her.

The gameplay in the Hitman series has been very similar since Hitman 2. Each game used a very similar system and each had a similar feature set. Most of the innovation was in level design and the creation of interesting assassination scenarios. Absolution is the first major change in system since then, and, unfortunately it is mostly for the worse. Arbitrary saving has gone away, replaced with checkpoints which are all too rare. The graphics have been updated to be appropriate with the times, but that has led to the game having a very inconsistent frame rate. If data is loading, the frame rate will often slow to a crawl.

Hitman: Absolution Apple

Sometimes, 47 likes to relax.

Unfortunately, bugs aren’t limited to the graphics subsystem. I’ve repeatedly had problems with the game corrupting its own data files and then crashing when it attempts to read the same. If left paused for an extended period of time (say a few hours), the game will be unplayable–lagging, stuttering and otherwise being finicky.

Hitman: Absolution Digging your own Grave

It’s easy to relax while someone else does the work. By the way, keep digging.

Absolution is really divided into three kinds of levels. The first–and best–are the open assassination levels. These give 47 a great deal of freedom in carrying out his mission and there is enough room to maneuver to make it fun while still being challenging. The second type are the highly restricted assassination levels. These levels often occur in entirely hostile places with highly restricted areas of movement and filled to the brim with guards. Often, these levels are just exercises in patience until the scripted kills can be identified. The third–and worst–type are the sneaking levels. They have no killing, no interesting mechanics, just waiting, sliding along cover, and dodge rolling. In a sense, they are entire levels devoted to the least interesting aspect of the Hitman series.

When you’re playing its good levels, Absolution is as good as any other Hitman game. I just wish that the good levels occurred more often. As it stands, less than half of the levels fall into what I would classify as the “best” type of level. And with a ratio like that, I just can’t recommend the game.

Hitman: Absolution: 0

Hitman: Absolution Sniper Scope

I see you. Do you see me? I guess it doesn’t really matter.

 

Google+LinkedInStumbleUponDeliciousShare

The Kid Had It Rough

He always has a comment. One for every moment.

He always has a comment. One for every moment.

Narrators are a strange thing in games. When they do appear, it is often only in cutscenes. In fact, aside from the occasional “meanwhile, at the big bad’s hideout”, they are quite an oddity in the medium. In Bastion, though, the narrator is the first–and only–voice that the game uses to relate the plot to the player.

Throughout the game, the ever-present voice of “The Stranger” narrates both the plot and the gameplay. Do well, and he speaks of how nothing can bother you; do badly, and he describes how you were given trouble but managed to scrape through. This slightly detached interplay between the game and the player is surprisingly effective at drawing you into the game. It also makes easy work of providing information to the player.

Though the narrator is probably the most memorable thing in the game, the visuals themselves are nothing to forget. The whole game carries the feel of a watercolor painting.

2012-11-08_00002The game itself takes place in a world destroyed by an unknown “Calamity”. Bits and piece of the world rise up to form a makeshift platform as you move about, but the world itself is largely inhabited by monsters that have survived the end and now overrun the places that used to be. The “rebuilding” of the world as you move around provides a beautiful symmetry with the central plot of trying to collect the bits and pieces of the old world necessary to repair it.

As a game, Bastion is something of a two-stick shooter. Though different from many other2012-11-09_00003 games in this category in that the pace tends to be much more relaxed and the available space for movement limited. If one were just take a glace, it would seem much like any other isometric action game. The depth of gameplay, though, mostly comes from the large supply of weapons that the game has on offer. The game only lets you bring a pair with you into each level, so it forces a choice based on what you expect to face and which weapons you’ve managed to become skillful with. Even so, most all of the weapons are very useful and none of them ever really become useless, even as more are unlocked.

Overall, the game is quite good. My only real complaint is that the game can easily overwhelm you with enemies–especially if you crank up the difficulty. Nevertheless, I recommend the game quite highly.

Bastion: 1

2012-11-09_00005

Google+LinkedInStumbleUponDeliciousShare

The Definition of Dilemma

I actually finished up Spec Ops: The Line quite a while ago. I knew as soon as I finished it that I would rate it quite highly, but I was at a loss as to how to review it.

Fundamentally, Spec Ops is a third-person cover-based military shooter set in the Middle East in the present. There’s nothing particularly spectacular in the mechanics nor in graphics. They’re both competently done, of course, but there are no revolutionary leaps in either.

The entire strength of Spec Ops is its story and therein lies the rub. Much of its quality lies in its evolution and its key revelations. Giving away those would essentially ruin the game. So, I’ll just say that the game’s plot is probably the best that I’ve seen in a shooter in at least the last five years and implore that you play it despite my vagueness.

Spec Ops: The Line: 1!

Google+LinkedInStumbleUponDeliciousShare

The Gaze of Avadon Destroys

A little over a week ago, I finished up my run-through of Avadon: The Black FortressAvadon is a third-person, isometric, turn-based RPG in a Fantasy setting.

The titular Avadon is both a fortress (as it says in the title) and an organization. In Avadon’s world, four powerful but beleaguered kingdoms decided to band together for common defense against various outsiders–Ogre, Titans, Dragons as well as other kingdoms. These four kingdoms needed a way to exert their combined military might and to maintain their own internal peace. To that end, they created Avadon–a place filled with the most powerful people with nearly unlimited authority to act to ensure the survival of the alliance.

When the game begins, the player is dropped in as a new recruit to the fortress at a moment of crisis. The fortress is being set upon by outside forces that are organized and powerful. Though they have been rebuffed at every turn, the attacks have taken a toll on Avadon–lost people, strained resources, angry allies.

Everything that makes Avadon compelling is in it’s story and the unfolding of the truths of it’s world as the game progresses. Perhaps most central is the notion that Avadon makes its own morality. More succinctly, what Avadon decides must be in order for it continue to be. The implications of this fundamental tenant drive the plot.

From a gameplay perspective, however, Avadon leaves something missing. The style of the game’s interface reminds me of the old Fallout games–top down, isometric view; action point-based turns. Though it doesn’t have guns like its ancient predecessor, it does have crazy special abilities and spells to balance things out. Character gain experience through quests and combat and get more powerful via a skill-based leveling tree. Its a system that has largely been seen before–not outstanding but certainly adequate.

Where I have to complain about Avadon is in its overall difficulty balance. Rather than feeling like a steady progression as the game goes on, there are periodic, sudden, and often overwhelming spikes in difficulty. Sometimes, these are almost reasonable–attacking an enemy stronghold should be hard–but more often it is due to enemies simply being immune to one of the core damage types. Though fire elementals being immune to fire damage seems reasonable on its face, when an entire character class (the sorceress) uses fire as its default damage type you’ve gone from “seems reasonable” to “completely and utterly terrible game design”. This is even worse when the immunities are not obvious from enemy names or models or when an enemy is immune to more than one of the core damage types. At that point, we’ve descended into trial-and-error gameplay. Unfortunately, damage immunities are all too common and almost always result in a press of the quickload button when found unexpectedly.

While the game has its flaws, I think they are largely worth overlooking. The story is interesting and compelling enough that I kept being drawn back in even though I would occasionally throw my hands up in frustration.

Avadon: The Black Fortress: 1

Google+LinkedInStumbleUponDeliciousShare

Where is the Atom Smasher?

Sometimes, it takes days and days to play through a game and get a feel for its strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes, however, it takes hours. Usually, as in the case of Atom Zombie Smasher, this is a bad sign.

In this middle of an alternate history version of last century, zombies have sprung up. As the leader of a society, you must try to save as many people as possible while fighting off the zombie threat.

The “meat” of Atom Zombie Smasher is the rescue/attack portion of the game. In it, you are given a handful of “squads” with which to repel increasing hordes of zombies. While you’re trying to kill the zombies, you must also try to evacuate civilians. If zombies (represented by purple dots) run into the civilians (represented by yellow dots) then there are suddenly more zombies and fewer civilians. This is, obviously, not a good thing.

There are a fair number of different kinds of squads which allows for somewhat interesting interactions. Squads themselves level up in various ways, becoming more useful as the game goes on. Although the zombies are the primary enemy, the game also has a constant ticking clock in the form of a day-night cycle. During a mission, whenever a day ends, a huge wave of zombies inundates the map. This is usually a tactically intractable situation making the day-night changeover a hard cutoff for missions.The game also has a strategic component to go along with the tactical one. This part of the game allows you to choose which territories to attack. As the game progresses, more and more zombies spawn on to the strategic map. This forces you to choose your battles to try to mitigate the spread before any particular area becomes overrun.Although AZS has lots of interesting ideas, the game itself seems to suffer from cripplingly bad balance. In the basic gameplay mode, squads are assigned (seemingly) randomly. This might lead to you having to try to carry out a mission using only barriers, a couple of landmines and maybe an artillery piece. Worse, while the game does allow squads to level up and become more useful (and thus make the higher level missions more possible), the speed of leveling up in incredibly slow and the progression doesn’t carry over from one game to the next. Of course, since the squads are assigned randomly, you might not even be able to use them once you’ve leveled them up.

The biggest problem though seems to be the strategic map. The whole progression of the game is based on a scoring track. Evacuating civilians and capturing towns get you bonuses. The issue is that, every turn, the zombie faction gets more free units than you can reasonably be expected to deal with. This gives them more points which makes it harder and harder to keep up.

Now, it may be that extended practice and experience might help mitigate these problems. It might also be the case that I might just not be a solid enough tactician to make the game tractable. I’m willing to accept that either of these might be the case. Unfortunately, the frustration that the perceived (if not actual) balance issues cause mean that I have no interest at all in exploring these possibilities.

Atom Zombie Smasher: 0

Google+LinkedInStumbleUponDeliciousShare

Capitalism, ho!

Some time ago, I decided to pick a game at random from my Steam games list to play. In a moment of ennui and with a desire for something different, I decided to play Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale. I had picked up the game long ago during a Steam sale, but like so many other items picked up at Steam sales, it had been forgotten.

There is a term, defined on TV Tropes, called the “widget series” — the Weird Japanese Thing (WJT). If ever a game qualified, I believe Recettear is the exemplar. In Recettear you take on the role of Recette, an air-headed, happy young girl who has suddenly been saddled with the debt taken out by her missing father. In order to save her home, you must earn a great deal of money to repay the debt which is coming due in less than a month. On the urging of her fairy companion/creditor, she decides to open an RPG-style item shop to provide equipment to the local town as well as the burgeoning adventurer community who search through nearby ruins.

Just a bitThe core of the gameplay is straightforward. You buy items from wholesalers and then display them in your shop where people will come in and buy them from you. The selling of items is itself a haggling mini-game wherein you attempt to ascertain what each particular customer is willing to pay. As customers become regulars, they start carrying larger amounts of cash and can buy more expensive items. Buying and selling items levels up Recette as a merchant and allows access to better items, bigger shops, and new interactions such as taking orders. The main weakness of this system, however, is that once you’ve figured out what people are willing to pay for items, the process of buying and selling becomes uninteresting. For instance, the character called “Man” will always buy an item at 125% of its value. Once you know this, there is no real reason to haggle. Finding these sort of statistics for every character (which other people have already thoughtfully done in FAQs and wikis) removes most of the mystery and suspense from the shop.

She shoots 8 arrows at once.

In addition to running the shop, Recette can also try to cut out the middle man by diving into the nearby ruins with an adventurer and finding items for free on monsters or in treasure chests. In this part of the game, it is more of a Zelda or Dark Cloud endeavor. Dungeons are randomly generated and come in five level chunks with bosses at the end of each set of five levels. Unfortunately, this is one area where Recette’s Japanese RPG origins shine through. Most of the bosses qualify as Nintendo Hard and the penalty for failure is quite steep–the forfeiture of all items found in that particular dive save one or two.  Of course, level grinding is a necessity for success in these ruins as well.

Kill the ones in front and behind, simultaneously, with our special bows.

Even with the ultimately robotic merchant experience and the frustratingly difficult dungeon bosses, I still feel compelled to recommend this game for one reason which counterbalances all of those problems: the writing. The translation of the game is brilliant, hilarious–sometimes intentionally, sometimes not–and clever. Dialog is almost universally witty and the characters’ quirkiness gives it a charm that many games lack.

Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale: 1

Google+LinkedInStumbleUponDeliciousShare