In-game shops are more than handy outlets to transform random metal scraps and tired old gear into new and useful items. Shops offer a reprieve from the action of whichever digital world you've entered, allowing you to take a moment, breathe and consider the situation from afar. Do you want to play as a gun-toting tank or a sneaky spy? Is your bow powerful enough for the battles ahead? Do you have enough health potions? Does your character look better in green or purple? Only the shop can provide the answers.
Overseeing all of these calculations -- and guarding stores' impossibly large piles of loot -- are the shopkeepers. The past year has been incredible for video games, as we've discussed at length, and this infusion of creativity extends to the stingy store servants selling wares and wiles along our adventures.
From Cuphead to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, 2017 has offered up a buffet of adorable, wacky and nostalgia-ridden shopkeepers for us to enjoy -- so we might as well get to it.
Kilton, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
It's easy to imagine Kilton soaring through the skies of Hyrule in his patchwork hot-air balloon, whipping over fields and grazing mountaintops, surrounded by bundles of monster parts and masks. It's easy to imagine, but we never actually see this -- instead, Hyrule's favorite five-head is always nearby (as long as it's nighttime), ready to sell you a stockpile of exclusive clothing and accessories. You just have to find him first.
Crazy Cap clerks, Super Mario Odyssey
In a game all about hats, the Crazy Cap store does not disappoint. One of its most charming locations is in Tostarena, where friendly, bright skeletons stand by wearing caps on caps on caps while you browse their headwear.
All of the merchants, Splatoon 2
Nintendo does "charming" extremely well, as demonstrated by every one of the sea-creature shopkeepers in Splatoon 2. There's Murch the emo sea urchin, Bisk the sneaker-obsessed spider crab, Flo the bohemian sea slug and her shrimp buddy Craymond, Jelfonzo the stylish jellyfish, and Sheldon the horseshoe crab and weapons expert. And then there's Crusty Sean -- he's a food-truck operator who is, in fact, a giant tempura-crusted shrimp. It's either irreverently adorable or incredibly morbid, but since this is Nintendo, we'll go with the latter.
"Welcome," Porkrind growls as you enter the Emporium. His voice is gruff and he has an eye patch over a twirled villain's mustache. However, any danger in his demeanor is dispelled by his pink upturned nose and floppy ears -- it's hard to be scared by a pig in overalls. Cuphead is a feat of visual delight, and Porkrind fits into this retro world brilliantly, evoking the image of Porky Pig every time he waves goodbye and the screen circles to black.
Tae Takemi, Persona 5
Takemi is a punk-rock doctor on a mission to clear her name -- she's direct, intuitive and entirely badass. Fortunately for players worldwide, Persona 5 is a ridiculously dense game and we get to know Takemi better than shopkeepers in many other games, as she's an important player in the overall story. Besides, who doesn't love an in-game merchant that you can eventually, well, love (even if she is a few years older than the protagonist)?
Also, shoutout to another Persona 5 shopkeeper: Munehisa Iwai, the former Yakuza member with a heart of gold.
Emil, NieR: Automata
The only thing better than a shopkeeper you can love is one you can fight. Emil is an established and important character in the Nier anthology, and this time around his giant, grinning, bald head is attached to an item cart. Or it could be one of his clones (he used to be a boy, mind). Either way, Emil the shop(keeper) isn't just a hub for all of your Android accessories -- you're able to battle him in an epic secret ending.
Baknamy merchant, Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age
This one is an oldie but a goodie. The 2006 title Final Fantasy XII reappeared this year in high-definition with The Zodiac Age, and it brought the Necrohol of Nabudis' secret merchant along for the ride. This Baknamy shopkeeper is tough to track down, which only makes buying his goods all the more sweet.
Xur, Destiny 2
Xur is the Destiny universe's fickle exotic-gear dealer, showing up on the weekends to stuff your inventory with random, rare goodies. Xur is something that couldn't have existed in a game before internet connectivity -- he's a living shopkeeper, always offering new secret items and popping up only when he sees fit.