I'd forgotten how delightful this game is. The writing is bright and clever; there is a fun, odd-couple dynamic between Recette and Tear; and the game's goofy optimism and gentle parody of rpg cliches makes for a fun contrast with the game's ridiculously dark plot.
Basically, Recette has the worst father in the world. He racked up a ton of debt, went out "adventuring" and wound up either dying or mysteriously disappearing atop a volcano. This results in poor Recette being forced into debt slavery by the shady as fuck Terme Financial Company, which threatens to repossess her house and leave her homeless if she does not pay back the money her father borrowed from them.
Honestly, if I were in Recette's position, I'd tell the Terme Financial Company to sue me, because in any sort of just legal system, there's no way that contract holds up in court (Tear, the company representative, won't even tell Recette how much she owes, and the repayment schedule is, frankly, absurd), but I'm just being a killjoy. I doubt Recette v. Terme: A Bankruptcy Litigation Tale would be an especially interesting game.
So, lucky for us, Recette is kind of a ditz, who faces her incredibly depressing situation with admirable, if unwarranted, pluck. She's a fun character, and it is a hoot to see her interact with the various townspeople and her more staid best friend/taskmaster, the fairy from the collection agency, Tear. (And, on a personal note, let me say how much I appreciate the character design - it's nice to play a Japanese game with a young girl protagonist and not feel like a total pervert).
Although, now that I think about it, Recette's optimism may be the only possible course of action, because as you explore the setting, you discover that the world of Recettear is surprisingly grim, so much so that my expectation of getting redress from the courts is probably madness. The first place you visit is the Merchant's Guild, where the kindly-looking Guildmaster straight up (and cheerfully) admits to price-fixing. The name of the game, Recettear is a portmanteau of the two main characters' names that is supposed to be a pun on the word "racketeer" (which is one of the game's few missteps in its writing, because I think very few native English speakers would actually make that connection), but Tear's worry about people misreading the name is somewhat justified - you wouldn't want your customers to get the right idea.
If the game were just buying and selling, it would be engaging enough, but you live in a fantasy-adventure world, and thus you can also acquire items for your shop by sponsoring adventurers. You have to get to know the adventurer NPCs before they'll let you sponsor them, but when you do, you can then go to the Adventurer's Guild, lend your friend some equipment, and take control of them in a fun (if a bit shallow) action-rpg minigame.
You get to know the adventurers by visiting various areas in town and conversing with them, but it can be tricky, because while places like the Chapel or the Pub will flash when there is an available conversation, there's no way of knowing in advance whether it's an adventurer conversation, or a less useful encounter with a random villager. That's not a problem, per se, because these cut-scenes are uniformly delightful, but the time management aspects of the game mean that if you waste too much time exploring the town (or for that matter, playing around in dungeons), you could miss a loan payment and get a game over.
Last time I played this game, I tended to avoid the town exploration and dungeon-crawling aspects of the game to focus on keeping the shop open, and I feel like I must have missed a lot of content that way, so this time, I'm going to be a bit more cavalier. I'm certain that I'll get at least one game over before I get the balance right (embarrassingly, I almost missed the first loan payment, due to excessive dungeon crawling - luckily I was able to squeeze by at literally the last minute).
When I left off, at the start of the second week, the game had just introduced Recette's self-declared rival, the wealth heir to the "Big Bash" franchise (Tear estimates their gross revenue as 500 billion Pix per year, which sounds like a lot), Alouette. She is exactly as pompous as you might imagine, though she is more of a mirror to Recette than either would admit. She too, has a fairy companion, and a similar tenuous and romantic connection to reality (Recette first meets her as she attempts to infiltrate the shop by hiding in a box, Solid Snake-style).
I've now spent more time writing this post than actually playing the game, but that's only because the game is so unique and interesting that it makes it easy to talk about.