Moonlighter is an action RPG with rogue-lite elements following the everyday routines of Will, an adventurous shopkeeper that dreams of becoming a hero.
Single-Player, RPG and strategy gameplay
May 29, 2018
PS4, Xbox One, PC
Developer: Digital Sun
Publisher: 11 bit studios
Rating: E10+ for Everyone
Rarely do I play a game that entrances me and has a wholly unique take on the rogue-like genre that is infectious in all the right ways. From developer Digital Sun, Moonlighter is a rogue-lite that continues the trend of upgrading your character through trial-and-error dungeon exploration, but with some interesting new elements. You are tasked with entering dungeons in order to scavenge for mysterious and rare artifacts that you can then use to craft or sell in your shop. What follows is an utterly addictive loot system that will have you want to open up your own shop in the real world.
Language/crude humor: There is no foul language or crude humor of any kind.
Other negative content: Some of the patrons to your store may try to steal some of your items while you are not looking.
Positive content: Being that you play as a shopkeeper, your main motive is to help the townsfolk survive during harsh times and your character shows courage by exploring the dungeons alone to help better equip the people of his town.
Moonlighter takes place in a faraway village called Rynoka. This small, but growing and developing settlement right next to a series of dungeons that have had a negative effect on the townspeople. These dungeons brought with them rich and mysterious artifacts, but also dangerous and deadly monsters.
It brought the double-edged sword of having people constantly loot the dungeons for riches, but also die in the process because of the monsters lurking inside. The dungeons were then blocked off to keep the townspeople safe, but you, the Moonlighter, can’t stay away. Being the thin line between a hero and an everyday shopkeeper, you go into the dungeons despite the risk of keeping your shop stocked up with products while also fulfilling your dream of reaching the fifth door of the dungeons.
The minor, but humorous at times narrative is told through the conversations between characters primarily with Zenon, a mentor figure of yours. They’re the comedic relief and the old man equivalent to the Legend of Zelda on the NES complete with references too. The writing made me chuckle on occasion, though it certainly isn’t the star of Moonlighter and quickly forgotten behind the dungeon exploration.
Moonlighter takes the rogue-like genre and puts an interesting twist on it. As the owner of your own shop you’re in charge of managing it, as well as exploring the dungeons that hide away precious potential products. This setup breaks up Moonlighter into two sections: exploration/combat and management/strategy.
Firstly, the dungeon exploration is broken up into terrains that are categorized by the culture. For example, the first dungeon consists of the golden culture and comes with its own set of monsters, loot, and environment. In total there are four gates or dungeons to explore and, of course, the sought after fifth gate that’s been rumored to exist.
The layout of these dungeons are similar to the classic Legend of Zelda on the NES with the continuous scrolling screen as you exit one labyrinth into another. These segmented dungeons have monsters to fight with and items to loot. You’re a really tough shop owner/warrior though, as you come equipped with your own melee weapon and concoctions ready to fight. You can swing your melee weapon to push back the enemy, dodge roll, and when you collect them use scrolls to activate special attacks.
The combat is rather basic and though it was somewhat boring at the start, it opens up as you begin to unlock new weapons. Melee weapons, much like other items such as armor and potions, can be found or crafted. However, both of these method require the items needed for crafting a recipe and gold to pay the blacksmith to craft it. Both of these essential items can only be gathered by exploring these dungeons and this is where the rogue-like nature of Moonlighter comes into play.
There is a great sense of risk and reward when exploring the dungeons and if you die inside one of these dungeons you lose all your items you’ve collected during that play through. The only way to keep those items is to choose and leave the dungeon, but you also have to pay a certain amount of gold to activate a pendant in order to escape. Constantly you have to decide whether you want to risk continuing on possibly dying and losing all of your progress in that dungeon, or leaving early and keep what you found so far while paying a price for it. The setup is very fun but anxiety inducing, especially when you start to get higher up in the dungeons.
As you progress in each dungeon, enemies get more difficult, items become more rare, and you’ll get closer to the end of the dungeon boss fight that’s most likely going to cause you to lose all your items. It can certainly get tense and that’s where the management and strategy comes in to play. When you decide to leave the dungeon early rather than tackling on the dungeon’s boss in one play through, the items you take back with you are used to craft and sell.
You are in the store on your free time and have neat loot to sell, so that’s where your loot comes into play. You may only put the stuff you gathered to sell and you get to name your own price and see how customers react to it. Depending on the customers some may think you’re overcharging, while others may pay that overprice. Some might even try to rob you while you are not looking. You can get a grasp of what the characters are thinking and how they feel about certain products with the expressions over their head.
It’s important to sell your unused items, because the shop funds about everything in Moonlighter, and that’s where the strategy aspect comes into play. The money can go towards buying recipes or to make something new like a sword or a stronger armor set. This is also how you get stronger and continue on to do more difficulty and challenging dungeons. The blacksmith that forges all your equipment is just one of many additions to your town that you can make. Using the gold from the shop in the dungeons can allow you to attract new businesses to the village with the blacksmith being one of them.
The last upgradable option is your own store and you can increase the size of it, thus the amount of items you can sell at once and the customers that are attracted to it. Everything is interconnected with each other and requires you to think ahead critically to make the right and productive choices. Though I thought it did start off slow, as soon as I began to bring back more loot and better my hero, it became more of a riveting experience. Seeing my hero shop owner become a seasoned combatant was fun and the development of the town made the experience challenging and strategic.
Moonlighter looks astonishingly cute and delightful. I am impressed by the subtle, but great animations in the sprite design. Walking through the village and seeing the wind breeze through the shop tarp and the trees makes the world feel alive. The animations translate over to the dungeons to some extent, particularly with the enemies, but there is room for more touches in the dungeon environment. I am immensely pleased with the art style and the vibrant color palette that shine the most with the day-and-night cycle outside of the dungeons.
The soundtrack in Moonlighter is very chill, but astoundingly effective at creating a variety of moods. Spending time in the village, you’ll hear a relaxing piano tune in the background that is beautiful in its subtlety. Some of the dungeon themes pick up the pace, but are still wonderfully calming.
Overall, Moonlighter is a charming game that invites you in with its adorable looking visuals and Legend of Zelda-like dungeon design, only to surprise you with an incredibly strategic management system. It’s a good surprise though, and while Moonlighterstarts off slow at first, it quickly becomes a challenging and, at times, a riveting title. While the rogue-like genre has been played to death with indie games at this point, Moonlighter takes on enough of an interesting twist to provide many quality hours of great dungeon crawling and store management simulation.
Review code generously provided by Evolve PR.
+ Fun combat
+ Fantastic music
+ Beautiful and fluid pixelated graphics
+ Clever strategy and addictive loot system mechanics
- Story starts off slow
- Dungeons lack creativity from the aesthetic side