Recettear was one of the best gaming surprises for me in 2010. Out of nowhere you get this tiny little Indie Japanese game which would normally have absolutely no chance of ever seeing an English localization and it turns out to be an incredibly addicting and unique title. After that I made sure to keep track of what other localization jobs Carpe Fulgur took on and when it was announced that they were going to localize another game from EasyGameStation (the makers of Recettear), I was pretty excited. Sadly, Chantelise doesn’t quite have the charm that Recettear had, but it’s still a fun game and definitely worth the reduced price on Steam.
Where Recettear was the story of Recette and Tear, Chantelise is the story of two sisters: Chante and Elise. The two siblings go out on a red mooned night (which they’ve been specifically warned against) and end up lost. A witch’s silhouette appears over the crimson lunar orb and Chante, the older of the two sisters, is turned into a fairy. Obviously this is the pretext for a globetrotting adventure and thus the two head out. Chantelise then skips ahead to a point where the two have been on the trail of the witch who performed the fairyfication for quite a while and Elise has learned to be reasonably handy with a sword as Chante has with magic. They come across a new town with a friendly shop keeper who agrees to give them free room and board after being saved from monsters and it looks like they might finally be coming to the end of their quest.
Storylines like this have been told quite a number of times in Japanese games and anime, and Chantelise does little to break out from that mold. Near the middle of the game it looked like it might be taking an interesting turn with a theme of self sacrifice (which is one my favorites) but it didn’t go far enough in that respect and quickly goes back to a more classic 'save the day' storyline. The lighter parts of the dialogue are definitely for the best though and I got quite a few laughs during my playthrough (like using Chante as a lure for fishing), but there wasn’t anything with the adorable charm of Recette’s calls of “yayifications”. Chantelise just doesn’t have enough humor to make up for an otherwise by the numbers storyline with little in the way of intrigue. Perhaps with a longer retail title the developers could have more fully fleshed out the ideas from the middle section of the game, but this is how it stands.
Luckily the game fairs far better when it comes to gameplay. From the hub of the aptly named “town” you go from dungeon to dungeon on a quest to find the witch and turn Chante back into a regular human girl. Once you go into the dungeons Elise controls like a simplified action adventure title. You have a jump button and an attack button, as well as some basic camera controls to work with. Attacks only combo up to three so obviously that requires little in the way of skill and strategy, but this is where magic comes in. As you hit or defeat enemies some of them will drop gems which you can pick up and then use to cast magic with Chante at the press of a button. There are only four types of gem so this seems rather limited at first, but as the game progresses the number of gems you can use for a single spell increases to a maximum of four, with different permutations of gems resulting in different specific spells. It’s this magic system that really ups the strategy required in the game which, along with the skill needed to avoid enemy attacks with a dash move performed by pressing jump and attack at the same time, keeps Chantelise interesting.
When it’s at its best this system makes for some truly enthralling boss fights, as you scramble around the battlefield trying to gather the gems you need for a specific spell while avoiding death. Sadly some annoying dungeon design decisions can really get in the way of the fun. Each dungeon is a simple set of rooms. Kill all the baddies in the room and the door to the next room opens up and so on and so forth until you get to the boss fight that caps off the whole deal. The annoying part is that it can be relatively easy to die in these situations, especially in the first few hours before you gain the ability to heal, and when you die you are transported to “town” and have to restart the dungeon from the beginning. Doors you have opened remain that way but it can be irritating to make the trek through a dungeon over and over again because the boss keeps killing you (this happened to me for about 2 hours facing off against the final boss). Once you have accessed a room in a dungeon you have the option to practice that particular room from the world map so at least you don’t have to go through the entire dungeon to face off against the boss before you’ve even gotten the trick down to beating it.
My other irritation with the gameplay is the arbitrary platforming portions. I don’t know why every game with a jump button thinks they need to have some actual platforming challenges, but some games really aren’t made for it and Chantelise is one of them. One dungeon in particular started out with a jump that Elise could barely clear and the two dimensional design of the characters made me misjudge it about half the time. Not a good way to start out the 12th or so time through the same dungeon. Falling off just puts you at the start of the room with a small health decrease, but it was still annoying. Camera controls were also detrimental at points since you could only swing them left to right and couldn’t angle them precisely when moving up or down an incline. A three dimensional camera probably would have helped overcome some of the platforming issues as well.
Leveling is non-existent, so the only way to improve your chances of survival is to get enough money to buy new equipment. You have a certain number of equipment slots and equipment can be stacked in any number of ways. Want to wear two pairs of gloves at the same time to really max out your damage? Go nuts, fashion be damned. One interesting point is that equipment can be changed instantly in the pause screen so you can actually switch around equipment constantly in a boss fight for different situations, which is pretty much essential since you never have enough equipment slots or money to get all three of your stats to reasonable numbers. The lack of a leveling system also means that if you are stuck on a boss it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to afford an item to make things easier and you won’t be able to increase your stats naturally, so it’s all going to be down to pattern memorization and execution. It’s a fun system as long as the odds aren’t too stacked against you (again, the final boss comes to mind).
Like Recettear before it, Chantelise is definitely not a looker. The still images used for dialogue are nice but the regular gameplay is presented as 2D figures on a 3D screen. This makes for some really weak animations and is a detriment to some portions of the gameplay that require you to position yourself behind a certain enemy or the aforementioned platforming. Over time the visuals grew on me, but you can definitely tell this was a budget title. Music on the other hand is a high point with some very catchy tunes; nothing I’ll go out and buy an OST for, but definitely fitting and enjoyable. Voice acting was all left in the original Japanese and there was little to speak of, which is to be expected of an indie title.
A mere $10 got me 7 hours of pretty enjoyable action-adventure gaming, with an optional survival dungeon and fishing mini-game to flesh out the experience for those who are craving more. It’s pretty good value, but again just doesn’t really hold up when compared to Recettear. This might be because Recettear’s gameplay lends itself more to different modes and continuing on after the storyline, but in the end you just end up with less bang for your buck.
Chantelise may not be as good as Recettear, but it’s heartening to realize that it was actually developed before Recettear, so there’s a general upward trend in game quality from these guys. The charm and humor isn’t quite up to countering the more generic storyline, but the combat system makes for some really intense and enjoyable boss fights, at least for the first 10 or so attempts. Carpe Fulgur have put themselves in an interesting position with the relatively huge success of their first localization effort and now expectations are obviously higher than they were before it. Even though Chantelise didn’t quite make it to Recettear’s heights, I look forward to the next localization from Carpe Fulgur and hopefully they continue to work with EasyGameStation in the future.