One of my favourite games is Resident Evil 4. I've played it at least once a year since its release on Gamecube, and bought it across more platforms than I can count. Not many games can stand up to this kind of repeated exposure, but Resi 4 reveals layer after layer of detail and tricks that keep even the most informed of players curious.
It also has one of the best B-movie casts ever assembled, and luxuriates in the schlock factor. I'll never skip the cutscene where Salazar says he's sending his right hand to dispose of you, and Leon cracks "your right hand comes off?" I love watching Krauser chew up the scenery, Saddler flounce about doing his tentacle-wizard thing, and the brief bonhomie with Mike before tragedy strikes. Most of all, like so many players, I look forward to once more seeing the mysterious Merchant.
My latest (brief) return to Resi 4 was inspired by Zack's recent post on how great the Merchant is. And as he notes:
How does he get this stuff? Like his name and origin, the game doesn’t tell us. Maybe he just had all this stuff before things went South?
I too wonder about these deep questions. But when it comes to the Merchant, I found answers. I was curious about the Las Plagas effect that can be seen in his eyes: they glow at certain points, implying that like the rest of the island's inhabitants he's been infected. Unlike the ganados and bosses however, he doesn't appear to be under Saddler's control.
It's a neat touch, implying various things without giving any firm answers. I was trying to google exactly where in the game you can see this effect when I stumbled across a piece of headcanon that simply blew me away. It was posted years ago by a user called Payne6 following someone's request for theories on the merchant, and it's now my favourite piece of headcanon ever.
Two things I especially love. The first is the incorporation of the target practice minigames into this 'lore' theory. The second is the idea that Leon is getting played big-time. I've tidied-up the punctuation a little:
I personally think [the Merchant] is a greedy arms dealer/smuggler who trained, supplied, and stocked Saddler's island base. Look at where this takes place: a remote part of the world where the houses don't have electricity or running water and cars from, what, the '50s? [This place is] in bad shape. Where the hell are they getting high-tech lab equipment, RPGs, the ability to make a Las Plagas removal chair, a lab that makes Regenerators etc. That would raise a very large suspicion for any government or thirdparty spies unless you did it underhandedly like the Merchant. He knows his way around shipping logs and making things fly under the radar... "For a high price."
I also feel that's why he has target practice minigames in the castle. It's to train the Las Plagas soldiers how to defend and fight and use a gun. Also to show Saddler how the equipment he's buying works and keep the money coming.
So you might ask "Why is he helping Leon?" I think its because of 2 reasons:
2.) He knows shit is going to hit the fan real hard and its time to pick up and leave.
So for point 1, he's greedy but he's not stupid. He wants more money but can't get anymore since it seems Saddler is fully stocked and did something stupid (capture the presidents daughter) to spread this parasite. It looks like the villagers and cultists have no need for money because its literally laying everywhere in boxes, birds, houses, dropping from their pockets after they die etc. While they see the merchant as a equal they would probably attack him if he tried to do sketchy stuff like breaking boxes or trying to pick pocket them.
Leon comes around and boom, [the Merchant] sees a new way to make money. Leon is pocketing everything and he's a stupid American, he has no idea of the real currency value, so let's jack up the prices ten-fold and give him some things to keep him alive so he can gather more and more money. [Now] it's Leon's mission to get more and more money while the merchant sits back and opens a new crate of weapons or medical supplies and jacks up the prices.
For part 2, Saddler woke the beast. America is not one to be messed with. Hell they nuked their own city with the viral outbreak what are they going to do here? The merchant knew it's time to leave, he's backing the wrong horse. Saddler will lose this engagement, this little cult is no match for America. Even now there is a rumour a thirdparty is involved while Leon is snooping around. Saddler is too much of a narcissist to see this will fail and fail hard: it's time to make up the money invested by helping Leon and GTFO.
Simply brilliant. Ever since I've read this theory, I can only think of the Merchant as an opportunist arms dealer, hoarding all the cash he can before making a swift exit - and taking advantage of a "stupid American" who doesn't know the value of pesos to do so.
That's the joy of fan theories. When you love a game so deeply that you start to overthink it, and come up with daft explanations for everything, an extra level of magic is added to the experience. It's like the die-hard Souls fans who think that the broken archstone in Demon's Souls, which once led to 'the land of the giants', in fact leads to Lordran and Dark Souls. And those who go further from that and believe the 'deep' of Dark Souls 3 is the phenomenon that will bury the old lords and, countless millenia and civilisations later, result in the world of Bloodborne.
It's hard to quantify the value of these kinds of things. The Soulsborne example is a flight of fancy that, if you choose to believe it, adds a richness and thematic link between disparate universes. The theory about the Merchant simply adds an amusing extra layer to an enigmatic character, but one that players of the game have come to love: he's the source of so many good things, after all. Even if, every time I buy from now on, I'll wonder if there's a little sneer when he asks "what're ya buyin'?"