In late April, the Resident Evil Twitter account shared a cryptic puzzle, leading curious solvers to discovering the Reddit account for Village Connoisseur, a simple merchant whose collection of books have been defaced by an unknown vandal. With the help of the merchant’s assistant, players of this alternate reality game are tasked with helping recover the damaged pages.
Resident Evil Village is coming out on May 7th as the newest installment in the popular horror franchise, making it likely that Capcom launched The Merchant’s Quest alternate reality game as a condensed introduction to the Romanian village at the center of the game’s narrative.
Framing the Narrative: ARG as Collection Side Quest
On Friday April 30th, Village Connoisseur set the stage for the coming days with another post to Reddit, presenting the challenge to prospective players:
Greetings, străini. I am a simple merchant, with limited access to the technology you take for granted. I believe you can help me with a situation I find myself in.
I have books of great value to me, but they have been badly damaged. Some madman has torn out various pages and has written nonsense in the margins. La naiba! What kind of monster would damage a precious book?
I have an assistant, she tells me the vandalism looks deliberate, like it might mean something to someone. I see only rips and scribbles. Perhaps you can see otherwise. I will share the details with you as I take a closer look at all the damage.
This simple introduction provides a clear outline for the days to come: as the merchant goes through the damaged merchandise, they plan on sharing what’s left behind, for players to puzzle over. Solve puzzles, and help recover or reconstruct the missing pages, and perhaps unravel why those particular pages were destroyed in the first place. The structure and function of The Merchant’s Quest is reminiscent of more traditional optional side quests in video games: collect the full set of items, and unlock additional lore. Only instead of waiting until the game’s release, The Merchant’s Quest presents its challenge prior to the game’s release ever occurs.
Anatomy of a Puzzle: Cracking Open the First Book
The merchant’s first fetch quest sends players on a journey to track down the accompanying illustration to the following page. As Village Connoisseur explains, “This particular book ‘only’ has a page torn out—no scribbling. There also was something strange stuck in the spine. Please allow me to examine it. If there is further investigation to be done, you will hear from me tomorrow (May 1st).”
The visible page itself held some clues, describing an unknown device from the Middle Ages that, when used in conjunction with the “Menomatic Poutonion”, was capable of causing mass deaths of birds as a side effect to its awful power. A battered USB drive is prominently featured, and handwritten letters can almost be made out on the heavily stained pages of the book, although the embossed seal of “Her Majesty’s State Paper Office” is the only text that appears to be legible at this time.
After further investigation (and with considerable help from a tech-savvy assistant), the merchant managed to upload a video file off the USB drive, presenting players with the first book restoration puzzle.
The Devil is in the Spectrographic Details
The video features 13 seconds of crackling noise, alongside video of an oscilloscope in action. The merchant elaborates, “the girl has tried to show me what the device holds, but the assault on my delicate ears is too much. The image of screaming demons dances before my clenched-shut eyes. Perhaps one of you can give it a more thorough analysis.”
Following that hint, players extracted the audio and ran it through a spectrogram analysis, resulting in a shockingly detailed spliced image. After rearranging the vertical segments into a more legible order and flipping the image horizontally as if it were the back side of a piece of paper, that spectrogram resolved into an audio-generated image of the missing page, along with a URL at the bottom.
Following the URL at the bottom of the spectrographic image led to a higher resolution, full color version of the missing page, along with an encoded phrase: “THE MILLSTONE”.
Thematically, this was a highly satisfying puzzle. The alternate reality game challenged players to reconstruct a missing page from a book, and were provided with a fractured reproduction of the page, in audio form. Reassembling the page in its partially legible format led to a URL that sent players to a higher resolution version of the page, along with a location to investigate for more information: THE MILLSTONE.
The bigger questions, however, remain. Why did a vandal tear out this page, only to leave a convoluted trail of puzzles leading back to the missing page? And what does this tell us about the events to come in Resident Evil Village, when players start exploring Castle Dimitrescu in a week?
And perhaps most importantly, how does the merchant’s assistant put up with her boss’ demeaning and belittlement? Even after the community solved the first puzzle, the merchant continues to dole out hints for solvers interested in cracking the puzzle solo. But as these nudges are communicated within the game’s narrative construct, many of the hints come off as dismissive of the poor beleaguered assistant. “The girl has tried to show me what the device holds, but…[it’s] too much,” the merchant says. “The girl, she rambles about images and shows me artwork that is cut into ribbons”, the merchant complains. The girl might want to consider a career change, if this is what it’s like working with the merchant.
To join in Resident Evil Village‘s wholly optional pre-release side quest, check out u/VillageConnoisseur on Reddit, join the Resident Evil Discord, or follow along on the Resident Evil fan wiki. And to learn why you really don’t want Lady Dimitrescu to step on you, watch this video by Kyle Hill. The game’s release is just around the corner, so expect frequent updates from The Merchant’s Quest over the next few days.