Developer – CrimsonRabbit
Publisher – Sekai Project
Platforms – PC
[A review copy was kindly provided by Sekai Project]
[Sekai Project has had no input into the content of this review]
Sometimes you just need something simple for entertainment. Something that’s easy to get into and doesn’t need a great deal of time or energy to derive fun from, and Al Fine fits that description fairly well. There’s an inevitable comparison to be made to a certain other game, which I’ll get into, but overall it makes for a pleasant experience that doesn’t try to break any moulds. It also happens to be the first release by developer Crimson Rabbit and it means that I’ll be interested to see what they delve into in the future.
Louis lives in the merchant town of Notte Luce, in the store his parents chose to abandon years ago. He himself has never aspired to be a merchant, but upon breaking the property of a wandering sprite he realizes it may be the best way to pay back his debt. Alongside the sprite in question, his childhood friend and a colorful cast of other acquaintances, Louis strikes forth into the wonderful world of commerce.
If you haven’t picked up on it already, Al Fine is a new fantasy shop simulator on the market. With some visual novel story sequences to go along with its gameplay, it focuses on the very basics of mercanteering (which is definitely a word). You’ll find yourself buying goods from the market to (hopefully) sell for a profit in your own store, hiring adventurers to seek out new products and dominating other stores in (not-so) cut-throat sales competitions. The game is approximately 10 hours in length depending on your style of play and for the vast majority of that time I was entertained. While the system is simple it’s easy to get caught up in. However, I found that once I had unlocked all of the store upgrades, discovered a fool-proof plan for profit and exhausted all of my dialogue options, there was still a good amount of time where nothing really happened before the end of the game. It may have only been a relatively short period, but things grew repetitive before they concluded. It may also be worth noting that there are no new gameplay elements added after the first hour or so, which was also somewhat disappointing.
Story-wise Al Fine doesn’t do anything special. It has some vibrant, albeit stereotypical, characters that are fun on a superficial level, though beyond some backstory dumps there’s not a great deal to them. The plot itself has one or two mildly interesting features but overall lacks any real oomph to grab its readers or do anything other than the bare minimum expected of it.
Before I get into a brief comparison, I need to mention that Al Fine’s greatest aspect is definitely its presentation. The art is pleasant and colorful, going a long way towards making up for some of the game’s more lacking features. In contrast, the BGM is pleasant but unfortunately limited, and the technical features are woefully inadequate. To begin with the program lacks the ability to run full-screen which seems like an incredibly odd choice in this day and age, while the options menu itself is entirely absent. Add onto this the inability to access a text log for the visual novel portions and that’s three strikes.
Though it’s not often I need to make a comparison to a game that’s not a sequel or prequel, it would be remiss of me not to mention Recettear. My first reaction to Al Fine’s announcement, and indeed the reaction of several Steam reviewers, is that Crimson Rabbit’s release seems uncannily like the older Capitalism simulator. After having played Al Fine to completion I have had to conclude that, while similar, they are different games for different people. Not everyone wants to spend hours grinding through dungeons before being able to sell their loot, so Al Fine offers an alternative, more streamlined experience for those who want to get right into the merchanting and don’t care so much for the hacking and slashing. It -does- mean there’s technically less on offer here, but there’s also something to be said for being able to finish the game in a reasonable time frame and feel like you’re accomplishing something. It’s also worth mentioning that Al Fine also has a bit more going for it in the story department and also presents a new, shinier bundle in terms of visuals, so I think that either game would be a valid choice for a newcomer.
Summary – Al Fine may not do anything new but for a first release it’s certainly not bad. It looks great, is easy to get into and provides a good deal of fun within its first few hours. However, its simple gameplay and story won’t satisfy those who are seeking something a bit more meaningful or challenging and several technical blunders don’t do it any favors either. While some reviewers are calling it a lesser Recettear, I think it’s simply for a different audience and overall I enjoyed the time I spent with it.
Score: 7/10 – Enjoyable