All of us as children had dreams. Some of us wanted to be astronauts or firefighters; others wanted to take over the family business. Some of us realized our dreams and the rest of us, well our dreams changed. Moonlighter tells the story of a kid named Will, the last in a line of a family of shopkeepers. He takes on the responsibility of running the town shop while always wishing he could become the hero that took on the glories of the dungeons and the treasures within. Developed by Digital Sun Games and published by 11-bit studios, Moonlighter aims to bring us the experience of taking on his journey and the duality of being the hero he always dreamed of while handling his responsibilities of running his family shop. With dungeons to explore, bosses to fight and money to be made, the question left to be asked is will you be a hero, merchant or maybe both?
Our journey begins in a small settlement of Rynoka, a town which was created by people that took joy in exploring the dungeons that were discovered nearby. Over time as more and more people fell in great peril, the town of Rynoka chose to bar the entrances to these dungeons for the safety of its people. Due to these decisions, the town lost more and more settlers. The only people remaining in the town were Will and his family, an old man named Zenon and a handful of other settlers. As time went on, Will’s family passed and he was left to run the store named Moonlighter. Choosing to run the store by day and running the dungeons at night, he adventures into the unknown to get the thrill he always wanted. Our mission as the player is not just to guide Will through these dangerous encounters, but to restore Rynoka back to its former glory by increasing the popularity of the town by bringing new shops and restoring Moonlighter to its maximum potential. Players will go from a lowly shopkeeper with just the clothes on his back and a broom to a true adventurer with increasingly powerful weapons, armor, potions and even enchantments as you navigate your way through the game’s five everchanging dungeons. Discovering along the way the feelings of being not just the great hero you always dreamed about, but the shopkeeper that your town loves and depends on so dearly.
What I Liked:
On the Right Note: Simply put, this soundtrack is just wonderful. Composed by David Fenn, it does a fantastic job of setting the mood of what you are doing in the game. Whether it is the sweeping feeling of hope that comes while listening to the day theme for Rynoka or the feeling of danger and mystery when listening to the various dungeon themes, it just does a solid job of captivating the player in the experience. Even the smaller details in the soundtrack like where the town’s theme sounds just a slight bit different when you are speaking with the various shopkeepers you bring into the town, it just adds a lot of personality to these characters that you are interacting with. Overall it is a pleasant listening experience from top to bottom, and it definitely leads to a what’s next type of feeling.
Stocking the Shelves: One of the game’s more core mechanics is that while you are exploring a dungeon, your inventory is very finite. This creates feelings of what do I really need or want to keep versus what can I get rid of to open up space. The scarcity of space makes for a very interesting choice when you are two floors into a dungeon and don’t want to go back yet. Some items that you get in the various chests around the dungeons have special abilities such as sending a particular item straight home, having to be placed in a particular place in the bag or flat out destroying another item when returning to town. These added elements create an almost puzzle-like situation where you have to think of how you want to handle everything actively, instead of just worrying about weight or slot space. All of these items, of course, can be used to make new weapons, armor and potions or you can just sell them all off in the shop to make some serious money.
The Customer Is Always Right: While in the shop, the big thing is answering what is this item worth? As you gain new items from your explorations, you know nothing but what it is. You learn the value of these items based on an excellent system of instant feedback. Customers will react visibly showing the emotions on their sleeve. Sometimes you’ll hear a coin noise and see the customers face light up. On the inside, you’ll die a little knowing you tragically undersold the item. Other times, the customers will instantly show gloom walking out of the store depressed and repulsed by your high prices. The journey is finding out where that happy point exists where you can get a solid return while not cheating the customer. Based on your actions, the in-game the popularity of items will change and be in higher or lower demand allowing you to know what will and will not fly off your shelves. The entire system is incredibly deep. Later in the game, new features such as a shop assistant and in-store requests are introduced. These mechanics continue to deepen the experience and keep it from feeling too tedious making for a very dynamic shopkeeper experience which always leaves with the feeling of being ready to go into the dungeons again to see what you can get for the next day.
In the Heat of Battle: Using a strong, active combat system, Moonlighter fully thrusts you into each battle forcing players to learn how to approach each encounter. Whether it’s the lowest enemy on the totem pole or the big boss at the end, every enemy has different behaviors and ways of handling themselves in battle. This makes for an incredibly engaging combat experience as you have no idea how many enemies are in the next room or what kind, almost making for a puzzle experience within the combat system. Combat is very adaptive to a players’ playstyle by allowing them to use a traditional sword and shield, a spear, big swords, ranged bows or even literally taking things on with your own hands by using gloves. Each of these styles brings with them their own unique challenges in how you have to look at combat based on what you love to use most. Armor wise, we have all the staples in the house; from the classic fabric all the way to the reinforced steel. Each of these has their own buffs/debuffs to health and speed, once again giving you more control in the combat experience as a whole. All items have the ability to be enchanted, allowing you strengthen yourself that little bit extra if you feel you need it. In full scope, it allows you to attack every enemy in whatever way you feel best to approach the situation, sculpting the journey of being the hero the way you see fit.
What I Didn’t Like:
Just a Bit More Substance: While the story is more than serviceable, I really felt like I wanted to learn more about this beautiful world presented to me. How did the dungeons get discovered? Why was the first dungeon in the game the only one left open? These are just a couple of the questions I still had by the time I had finished with the game. The framework for a fully involved world is definitely laid here, and it would have been nice if there was even a place somewhere in the town where I could read more about it for added context if I wanted. Overall this is a very minor nitpick that didn’t cause me to enjoy the game any less. It just would have been nice to be able to learn more about this town and the happenings to get us where we are now.
One and Done: Beating any of the game’s bosses is exciting and a great combat experience. Each has their own style and requires a different strategy for victory to be yours. The only downfall is when you beat them once, you can’t go back and try again. This doesn’t just hurt in the sense of wanting to relive an awesome boss experience, but they drop some of the most valuable loot in the game. The reality is you truly only have one shot to make your money off these high-ticket items. If you undersell, then you are just out of luck. There is a shopkeeper that can re-sell these items to you to sell again, but the markup makes it not even worth doing. The ability to be able to experience these fights even for a second time would have been a nice addition or maybe even a boss rush where you had to try and fight through the bosses in one shot would have been a cool add-on to this experience. Once again outside of the loot drops, this is isn’t as big of a problem just something that would have been nice to have.
Moonlighter is in all around great experience. The shopkeeper element feels very fleshed out and rewarding, and the combat is engaging and makes for some exciting encounters. The inventory management system makes you always question whether or not it’s time to leave or take on the dangers ahead. As you realize Will’s dreams and get through the challenges ahead, Moonlighter definitely leaves a positive imprint. With only a couple of minor setbacks, it definitely earns a spot on your hard drive and the time needed to find out the mystery this world offers. This game is a beautiful experience from beginning to end and something that is not only unique but can be a fantastic introduction into the rogue-lite genre for those that have never ventured in or even those that felt the genre was maybe not for them.
Score: Must Buy
Moonlighter was developed and published by Digital Sun Games and 11 Bit Studios. The game released on May 29, 2018, for $19.99. A copy was provided for review purposes.