terrible writing, terrifying enemies, and challenging boss battles. But for me, there's one guy that really sticks out.
First, let's examine how the player is introduced to The Merchant. To that point in the game, you have literally been killing every single filth-covered villager you have come in contact with. Other than that weird guy you got tied to in the preceding cut scene, no other supporting characters have been introduced. It's just Leon against the world. Having just escaped a dangerous hostage situation involving an axe-wielding maniac, the player is surprised to see a strange looking man in a window call out to them. "Over here, stranger." At this point, you could be totally forgiven for assuming that your next goal would be to introduce the violet-clad creeper to the business end of your shotgun, but in any case you head out the building and round the corner. Capcom, in their wisdom, must have known that their players' minds were liable to be on their trigger fingers, so just prior to allowing the player in firing range of the innocent man, a cutscene is initiated. "Got somethin' that might interest yeh, keh heh!" His trademark purple jacket is thrown open, and the player is introduced to The Merchant's interface.
Yeah, that's literally all the exposition he gets. Next time you meet him, he does get yet another line, just to make it clear to the player that this is someone they'll be encountering with some frequency. But that's it. No name, no backstory, no explanation as to how
this crafty motherfucker gets absolutely everywhere before you do, or maybe why all of the blood-thirsty Ganados seem to be perfectly content with allowing him to run freely around their establishments, aiding the guy who's only real purpose there is to murder hundreds of them at a time. Nothing
. But in a lot of ways, I think this lack of story interaction is what makes The Merchant so appealing.
In terms of actual plot importance, The Merchant's role could just as easily have been played by a box with guns in it. His real role is just to enrich the gameplay, to give the player a sense of empowerment when they buy that new, even shinier shotgun that can carry a dozen shells in a clip. So why did the game designers give him such a rich character? His thick accent and frequently hilarious lines about his wares, coupled with his truly enigmatic nature, make this glorified vending machine more charming than he's got any right to be. Capcom took what could have easily been a pretty boring, routine game mechanic and made it into one of the most memorable characters in the entire franchise. And you never even get to see his face! I mean, do you remember what that one guy's name was, the one who could turn his arm into a big knife? What about that midget with the freaky-looking body guards? No, you don't, but I bet you remember The Merchant.
Even Mega64 had to stand up and recognize in one of their very best shorts:
Looking forward, The Merchant's future is unclear. Based on gameplay and a few interviews from Resident Evil 5, we know that at the very least there is a mercantile system of some kind, but who will be running the show remains a mystery. Capcom knows that The Merchant is a fan favorite, so I sort of doubt we've seen the last of him, but where he might turn up again is, like the man himself, a complete unknown.