An Eye for Detail
Love ‘em or hate ‘em, seemingly every video game comes with a man, woman, or semi-autonomous vending machine more than willing to take your hard-earned gold (or credits/rupees/now-defunct German Marks). They may be shrewd, charming, devious, earnest, or run one of the most insidious monopolies in gaming (looking at you Tingle, “Triforce Charts” my ass), but where would our heroes and heroines be without those friendly faces to sell them some much needed healing potions?
We wanted to give these critical NPCs their long-deserved moment in the spotlight. They may not have sold the best goods, but they sure sold us. Join us as we list video games’ greatest merchants (in almost no particular order).
David — Drebin — Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots
Drebin is the cool uncle nobody knew they needed. A calm, composed businessman following the scent of war like an ambulance chaser sniffing out a scraped knee, Drebin—or Drebin 893, if we want to get specific—oozes cool. From the moment Snake wanders into his dusty garage in a Middle Eastern warzone, players knew they were in for a treat.
Drebin’s got the makings of a great merchant. He’s quiet and cool as a cucumber, yet never passes up the opportunity to close a deal. Even when closing a deal means persuading Snake to accept his M4 “piece offering” while at gunpoint (see what I did there?). Then, once he’s got his customer hooked, he pulls out all the stops to protect his buyer, like when he pulls up in his merchant tank (did I mention he has a tank?) with his cola-loving monkey to bust Snake out of a pinch while engaging the blood-sucking Vamp.
Is he a little sleazy? Sure. But then again, what self-respecting salesperson isn’t? An entrepreneur from the ground up, Drebin made the most of a horrible, wartorn past as a child soldier, later reinventing himself in a story of rags to riches. More importantly, he’s a badass, black character in a franchise that is, by and large, predominantly white. Oh, and in case you needed more to get on board with this dude, he does magic tricks, pairs a sports jacket with cargo pants and combat boots, and somehow utters the catchphrase “Eye. Have. You” without it feeling like the lamest thing on the planet. Yup. Drebin’s a stud.
Sam — Beedle — The Legend of Zelda (Series)
Beedle represents more than a happy salesman: he’s a consistent reminder that a real and hopeful society exists even in the face of an ever-changing and tumultuous environment.
After first making an appearance as a merchant-by-boat in Wind Waker, the most delightful and charming post-apocalyptic universe imaginable, Beedle has taken his talents to and through all the elements: once again in a boat in Phantom Hourglass, to the skies in Spirit Tracks and Skyward Sword, and on foot throughout many of the most treacherous lands in Breath of the Wild. No matter where Link finds himself in his travels, Beedle is there to offer some bombs, arrows, and, in some cases, lizards (Editor’s note: Don’t forget his brainwashing pears). He’s always thrilled to interact with anyone (understandably so, considering how frequently he finds himself alone in a largely deserted region) and is often surprised that you actually want to buy anything. His jocular grunts and expressions are funny enough on their own, but his absolute bewilderment that you actually want to buy something FROM A MERCHANT just makes it all the more hilarious. The levity and delight of every transaction with Beedle will bring a smile to any gamer’s face, as his goofy charm brightens what often amounts to the most mundane task in the medium: buying and selling.
Beyond the radiance of each purchase, Beedle is one persistent man. His business has managed to survive in the harshest of circumstances, and the limited avenues for civilization have left him with a fairly small customer base. Despite all of the obstacles in his way, Beedle insists on traveling the world with the hopes of finding human interaction in the most unlikely of places. And when he does find Link as his customer, his joy shines through, reminding the player that a happy and productive society remains amidst all the madness. The land of Hyrule may always change, but Beedle never does.
Jack — Marcus — Borderlands 2
The Borderlands series is a game of extremes. Intensely gory violence, beautiful cel-shaded art direction, loveable characters and intensely funny writing. Under this vail lies a world drenched in psychopathy. Pandora is a sci-fi Wild West unlike we’ve ever seen in games. And in a world this deranged, so fueled by marauders and mercenaries, it’s no wonder its inhabitants quite literally worship the game’s most prominent gun vendor.
Marcus brings a charm to the otherwise “power-hungry businessman” archetype. Whether it be gleefully selling a faulty weapon to an overly naive adventurer (quickly leading to their demise), or burning an “imperialist bastard like a skag steak,” Marcus’ insatiable greed and loose morals should make him antagonistic and unlikeable, but Marcus delivers each line with a charm and charisma that—deep below his many character flaws—positions him as a faithful ally to the protagonists, even if he single-handedly armed almost every bad guy in the game.
But for the love of God, please don’t ask for a refund.
Anna — Tom Nook — Animal Crossing (Series)
The animal, the myth, the legend: Tom Nook. Number one real estate agent and retail entrepreneur in whatever you decide to name your in-game town.
Is it just me, or is it kind of hard to know how to feel about good old Tom Nook as a merchant of dwellings? On the one hand, he’s there for you in most games with your housing arrangements. Your character spontaneously hops on a bus or train to a new town with nothing but a small handful of Bells in tow. When you roll into [enter town name here] as a homeless, neckless human in a world populated by anthropomorphic animals, this little tanuki is more than happy to get your living situation situated. On the other hand, once you agree to the only residence available to you (in most games), Nook pretty much traps you in a near inescapable cycle of mortgage payments and sometimes unwanted housing upgrades. In some cases he even forces you into a part-time job working for him to pay off that debt. But at least he’s better than Crazy Redd, the literal fox and counterfeit art dealer.
From an entrepreneurial standpoint however, Tom Nook is nothing short of a genius. In most Animal Crossing games he manages to supply his stores with completely new stock every single day without fail. And we can only assume Nook can afford to do this based off of somehow turning a profit on just handfuls of bugs, fish, and other unwanted items. As he sells more and more of his stock, he will upgrade his store to include even more items and eventually employ his two adorable nephews Timmy and Tommy. All in all, some of his practices seem about as fishy as gas station sushi, but you really have to admire his ceaseless drive to improve and grow his business.
David — Merchant — Resident Evil 4
Despite being an unquestionable classic and quintessential horror title, Resident Evil 4 is a weird-ass game. There’s the villainous Ramon Salazar, a grating little Napoleon-lookalike of a villain that is about as menacing as you’d expect from an eight-year-old (he’s actually 20). There’s the cheesy Luis Sera, an over-the-top macho man whose terrible jokes are only rectified by the fact that he suffers a horribly gruesome demise. And then, of course, there’s the “so ridiculous, it’s funny” Las Plagas parasite that erupts from villagers’ heads as if they were past-expiration oranges.
Over the course of its length 20-hour campaign, Resident Evil 4 packs just as many moments of levity and absurdity as it does moments of genuine terror and shock. However, as ridiculous as Resident Evil 4’s characters and enemies can be, one takes the cake: the merchant—aptly named “Merchant”—that Leon encounters periodically throughout the game.
Merchant always seems to set up shop during the absolute worst moments of the game. Whether he is tucked away in a rural village filled with crazed lunatics, lounging in a dingy cave or cellar, or chilling in Salazar’s blood-curdling castle like it’s no big deal, Merchant is there to take Leon’s hard-earned cash and give him powerful weaponry in return. Of course, he’ll also do so with a smile, delivering dramatic one-liners like “What are you buyin’?” and “Ah! I’ll buy it at a high price!” all while the player listens to a piece of music that doesn’t seem sure whether to be relaxing, creepy, or both. Kinda like the Merchant himself, don’t you think?
PJ — Anna — Fire Emblem (Series)
We asked an interesting question in the debates and discussions leading to this article: Fire Emblem’s Anna, or Octopath Traveler’s Tressa? I’m sure you can guess who won by the pictures and title for this entry. Pairing the two may not seem immediately obvious. They have many substantial differences (which I will address shortly), but the two redheads share much more than their occupation. The two are truly excellent merchants in their game worlds. (Don’t worry, I’ll avoid any narrative Octopath spoilers and instead focus on characterization.) Both Tressa and Anna share this exemplary status as highly profitable, naturally gifted merchants. While Anna is much farther along in her career than the aspiring Tressa, their keen eyes for deals are perpetually emphasized in their respective games.
They both share an unwavering optimism and cutting determination. While Anna may not have the same heart of gold as her counterpart, she undeniably boasts this chipper, never-back-down personality that lead her to be such a main-series staple. This leads to the most important difference in the two vendors and, ultimately, the deciding factor towards Anna.
Anna undeniably has the biggest legacy of any character on this list. I love Tom Nook, but Anna has been a series mainstay for almost every single game in the Fire Emblem series. Tom Nook has been around too, but Anna has been selling wares for twelve whole games. This, by the way, doesn’t include the four games she’s a playable character. I’d like to speak to two of those in particular. Apologies to any Fire Emblem purists (Editor Kei, especially), but two of Fire Emblem’s most mainstream games—Awakening and the mobile title, Heroes—place Anna at the forefront.
While the former is inherently a more traditional Fire Emblem title, Heroes especially deserves a nod here. In this, Anna plays a leading role as comic relief, fearless leader, and Chief Exposition Officer. The height of this role comes from her annual attempts to profit off blatant, swimsuit fan service. Her motivations may be predictable, but there’s an undeniable depth to her character whenever she takes center screen with a wink.
I’m excited to see how the gaming community treats Tressa down the line, but one thing is for sure, as long as there’s Fire Emblem, there will be Anna.
Kei — Patches — Dark Souls III
Oh, Patches. If there were a hypothetical dictionary that used video game characters to signify meanings instead of words, his picture would be right there next to the word “scoundrel.” In Dark Souls, he’s a cleric-hating trickster who can eventually become one of your “allies,” camping out in Firelink Shrine and selling you various knick-knacks—only, of course, after he tries to kill you, provided you resist killing him out of frustration or anger when you meet again. This will quickly become a pattern with the bald, shiny-headed merchant/thief/killer, who also makes appearances in Dark Souls III and Bloodborne (…as a spider).
Whether or not it’s actually the same dude (universes and identity has also been a bit… wobbly in Hidetaka Miyazaki’s worlds), it’s almost comforting every time Patches tries to dupe you, whether it’s by playing nice, disguising himself as someone else, or straight up becoming an amnesiac. He walks the line of being truly malicious and a much-needed source of levity in FromSoftware’s harrowing, oppressive worlds. Trust me, I’ve killed and forgiven him in equal measure across multiple games and playthroughs.
Choosing to buy, sell, and barter with a man who has attempted to kill you multiple times might seem like some sort of absurdity. But really, it’s just the cost of doing business and living in Dark Souls. Can you really blame the man for grabbing his goods off of corpses? I’m sure that almost every merchant in Dark Souls is doing that, except maybe some of the wizards.
In a world where basically everyone is out to get you, Patches’ inevitable betrayals brought a smile to my face. Maybe I’m the only one, but I genuinely enjoyed his shenanigans, and it felt like a little Tom-and-Jerry-esque game of cat and mouse that took the edge off of walking through catacombs of shrieking and undead and horrible monstrosities. Plus, he just looks funny– almost like one of those joke character creations that somehow stumbled into the game itself.
Kei — Tae Takemi — Persona 5
I had to get a mention for my girl in here somewhere. I wasn’t as enamored with Persona 5 as much as the general public was, but it was still an enjoyable go-around. Persona has always come off to me like a wish-fulfillment generator where you get to relive high school like you’re an uber-popular, interesting, and attractive high schooler (despite actually being rather boring), where all the women are interested in you (eventually), all the guys want to be friends with you (eventually), and everything bad in the world isn’t actually endemic to humanity but some sort of external demonic force that you can pin all the bad things on. With those caveats in mind, I’m going to sing the praises of Tae for a second.
Is she conducting morally ambiguous, clinically disingenuous experiments on a high schooler? Well, yes. Is she violating HIPAA every which way to the sun, and moon, and back? Also yes. Is she a woman in her late twenties (a generous estimate) who takes advantage of and then potentially enters into a relationship with her patient, who’s underage? You’re probably starting to get the point. (That said, she isn’t the first “older” woman to be a love interest in Persona, and she certainly won’t be the last.)
So in a real-world moral and legal sense, she’s a pretty horrid person. But, circling back to what I said initially, Persona is strongly centered on wish fulfillment, which isn’t a bad thing! So screw it! She’s got a killer theme, a killer look, and her Confidant progression is tragic, then cathartic and perfectly satisfying. And, well… it’s Persona. Forgive me for indulging in the impossible a little bit.
Anna — The Tem Shopkeeper — Undertale
This little Temmie has to be the cutest vendor in this article.
What is a Temmie? Honestly, I couldn’t even tell you if these beautiful pixel angels are rocking four ears total, or if those round protrusions sticking out of their heads about where human ears should be are actually more along the lines of boxing-glove-shaped hands permanently raised in triumph or enthusiasm. Either way, this unique Temmie runs the Tem Shop, as opposed to the generic RPG “Item Shop” titled stores of the world. You can find the Tem Shop in Temmie Village, a secret hamlet down a glowing, mushroom-lighted path in Waterfall with music that I can only imagine is what plays nonstop in the minds of all golden retrievers.
The Tem Shopkeeper is the only merchant in Undertale who allows you to sell your items, as well as the only Temmie to have gray hair and a shirt with yellow stripes. She always maintains a joyful and happy Temmie demeanor, unless you deny her the sale of an item she desperately wants to buy. For 1000G, you can send this sweet, sweet creature off to college to pursue a higher education. Upon her return (at least for Neutral and Pacifist runs), the Tem Shopkeeper will start carrying Temmie Armor for anywhere between 9999G-750G (the amount decreases depending on the number of times the player has died). She is also one of the few merchants that will appear in a Genocide run of the game.
Hands down, the Tem Shopkeeper is the best merchant in Undertale. She’ll actually buy your items to free up some of your very limited inventory space, she sells one of the most useful items in the game, and if you send her to college she gets so excited she forgets to bring her face as her body floats off screen to retrieve her diploma. That… is much cuter than it sounds, I swear.
PJ — Happy Mask Salesman — Majora’s Mask
Let’s give it up to the only merchant on this list who doesn’t sell anything, sort of. Almost all the assets from Majora’s Mask were initially used in Ocarina of Time. So yeah, technically you can buy things from his Happy Mask Shop in OoT. However, our Mask Salesman in question is the infinitely more famous Majora’s Mask iteration. We first find this enigmatic figure in the Clock Tower Basement shortly after the game’s open. In a literal call to action, he presents Deku Link a simple task, find and return Majora’s Mask. Based on the title of the game and the franchise’s past history, it probably won’t be a simple as he expects.
After “the first three days,” we learn marginally more. We never get a full backstory or any tangible understanding of who he is. But through his outbursts, possession of a world-ending relic, and his ability to play piano (as well as produce said piano out of thin air), players make the safe assumption that he, not Skull Kid, is the real puppet master behind this world—even if he’s relinquished control momentarily.
Majora’s Mask is a haunting game. It’s really, really sad. It addresses death and loss constantly. Townsfolk must embrace the coming of the end of the world, all while the moon casts its evil smirk, slowly encroaching Termina. With all this in mind, the “happy” in this merchant’s name is an obvious misnomer. His laugh, his incredible outbursts of emotion, and his song set the tone for this morose game early. How early? His opening line sums it up well.
You’ve met with a terrible fate, haven’t you?
How did we do? Skyrim alone has roughly 90 different merchants (none of them making this list, sorry Belethor). Odds are some Cap Kingdom resident or Ammu-Nation employee charmed your heart in a way we missed. Let us know down below if we passed up on some of your personal favorites.
Speaking of some hard sells, check out our vicious exposé tackling the video game industry’s male butt problem. For an even trickier sell, study up on our ranking of literally every single Breath of the Wild character except, ironically, Beedle for no other reason than I forgot. Let’s put him at number 15 (of 231).
Sorry, did you think that Breath mega-list was the only Zelda article we’ve done? How about you read our take on the best Zelda dungeons (ranked solely on number of Small Keys). Now that I type that out, it’s the internet’s only take. But for more Breath specific content, check out our breakdown addressing all of Breath of the Wild’s problems.
This isn’t our first “Punished Favorites.” We routinely list out the greatest anythings video games have to offer. The series is still young, but thriving. Find it here. We’d love some suggestions for future topics.