Moonlighter Marries Dungeons and Capitalism

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Let’s talk about Moonlighter.

Moonlighter is an action RPG that was went through a successful Kickstarter campaign back in 2016. The original goal was to have the game out by March 2017, but it only just came out. This may be disappointing to some backers, but their wait is finally over.

I wasn’t a backer of Moonlighter. In fact, the game wasn’t on my radar until a few months ago, when its Nintendo Switch trailer came out. Unfortunately, the Switch version of the game has been pushed back a few months. Instead, I’m taking a look at the PC version of the game.

The story of Moonlighter focuses on the merchant Will. His parents died some years back, leaving him in charge of their shop, Moonlighter. Will is no stranger to capitalism, but what he truly desires is to be a hero. See, there’s a set of dungeons that sit outside the village of Rynoka, and Will has been has been delving into them during the night. So he’s a merchant that is moonlighting as a hero. Clever.

In these dungeons, Will encounters monsters, chests and various items that he can collect. Each of the four dungeons in the game have three floors and there’s a boss waiting at the end of that last floor. Starting out, Will only has access to a single dungeon. However, once he defeats that first boss, the next dungeon is open for him. This continues through all of the four dungeons and Will receives a key from each boss. There’s a final 5th door with four keyholes as well. You can probably guess where this is going. I’m not going to be talking about that fifth door, though. Instead, I’ll let you players find out what is behind it for yourselves.

It may not seem like a hard task to reach the top of a dungeon, but there is one thing that stops it from being simple. These dungeons are always changing. That’s doesn’t mean that they are entirely random, as there are patterns to them, but players will never experience the same dungeon twice. Add in that the four dungeons with their own themes to experience, and the game continues to feel fresh the whole way through.

It isn’t just Will’s desire to tackle the dungeons that has him making his nightly ventures into them. He’s also looking to make some money as well. Turns out the people of Rynoka have a love for the different artifacts that can be found in the dungeons. This works out well for Will, as he can sell the items from his shop.

Setting up Moonlighter for the day easily became one of my favorite parts of the game. Starting out, players won’t know the value of the items they posses. However, they can set prices and gauge customer reactions to find a sweet spot. Will automatically tracks these reactions in his notebook for reference later. I had a few times where the game didn’t keep track of this for me, but I’m not sure if that was a bug or a feature. Either way, it’s worth mentioning.

It isn’t just setting prices that Will has to worry about at Moonlighter. There’s also special requests from villagers that he can complete. Plus, Will has to protect his goods. Rynoka may seem like a small town, but it has its fair share of shady individuals. These thieves will try to steal from Will’s shop and it’s up to him to give them a beating and show them the door.

There’s no purpose in having money if you have nothing to spend it on. Luckily, this isn’t much of a problem in Moonlighter. Will has the ability to invest in new shops that will open in Rynoka. He can also use money, as well as items he finds in dungeons, to craft new weapons and armor. These of course make his journeys through the dungeons easier and they can be further enhanced at another shop.

It isn’t just other shops that Will can invest in. He can spend money directly on the Moonlighter to make it better. This includes giving him more space to show off items, additional spots for decorations that give his shop benefits and more. After a couple of upgrades, Will can even bring in an assistant to help around the shop. They can help tackle thieves for him and even run the shop on their own. This gives Will more time to explore dungeons, which of course means more loot to sell.

So I’ve mentioned that Will explores dungeons and fights monsters, but I’ve not really talked much about the combat. Let me just say this, Moonlighter feels like the natural evolution of a 2D Zelda game. The top down perspective helps with this, but the combat and monsters are another part. For my time with the game, I went with a sword and shield as my main weapon, and bow and arrows as a secondary. The player can swing the sword three times for quick damage and can also block with the shield. The bow and arrow can be shot normally, or charge for an attack that does more damage and pierces though enemies.

These aren’t the only weapons that Will can use. There’s also a big swords spears and gloves as weapons types. I experimented with the big swords and knuckles, but didn’t find them to my liking. I’m also not much of a spear lover in any game I play, so I unfairly didn’t give it a chance in Moonlighter. All this said, these are completely viable options for players. Just because they didn’t fit my style doesn’t mean they won’t work for someone else.

Another quick note that I want to mention are the difficulty levels in Moonlighter. The game lists Normal, Hard and Very Hard as the options available for players. I went with the Hard option and it very much felt closer to how I would expect the normal difficulty in a similar game to be. Keep this in mind when starting your own playthrough.

I do have to take some time to talk about the couple of negatives in Moonlighter. These aren’t actually problems with what the game is, but rather bugs that I encountered. For example, I once had an invisible customer that came in to collect their goods from a quest. Unfortunately, I couldn’t speak to this customer. This left my shop glitched out and I was unable to end the day. I had to get around this by letting my assistant run the shop while I went into the dungeon. It worked, but was still an annoyance.

I also had a small problem with Will sometimes selecting items further away from closer ones. This happened often with the chests in his room, but that’s not much of a problem. The big one for me was the one time this happened while trying to open the chest in front of his bed. Instead, I accidently clicked the bed to sleep and lost out on that day of sales due to autosaves. That really annoyed me as I had a villager request to complete that day. Honestly, these aren’t too big of issues and future patches will likely fix them, but I have to point them out.

Despite these few problems, Moonlighter is still easily worth it. The game costs $20 and I got roughly 23 hours out of it. I can also easily see other players getting more time out of the game after beating it. There’s isn’t really any post game that I could see, but players are still free to run their shop and explore dungeons after the credits roll.

Visually, Moonlighter is amazing. There’s a lot of details to be found in the graphics of the game, which are made up entirely of sprite art. Anyone whose read my reviews know I love this retro feel, but Moonlighter really does take it to the next level. There’s just so much care put into the sprites and their animations that I couldn’t help but take notice. The village of Rynoka may not be large, but it is very much alive.

Audio is another aspect of Rynoka that stuck out to me. The games has a large array of tracks that match up well with their different areas. This includes the themes for the four dungeons and the various remixes for when players progress further into them. Not only does the music sync up well with the visuals, but it’s dang catchy. After my first couple of days playing the game, I found myself randomly humming the music. That means a lot to me as a player. When a game’s soundtrack is good enough that I absently start humming it while not playing the game, I know I’ve stumbled onto something special.

Overall, Moonlighter is a wonderful game that stands as yet another testament to not all Kickstarter projects being bad. The marriage of dungeon diving and running a shop works incredibly well and the love put into the game shines through with the graphics and audio. Moonlighter is a game that I never knew I wanted, but am glad it exists.

Moonlighter earns 4.5 GiN Gems out of 5!

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