Just imagine being the shopkeeper in a place brimming with adventurers. There you are providing them with all sorts of wares for their journey ahead, watching on, wondering what could be if you were one of them. Well, the small village of Rynoka is right next to a selection of mysterious gates leading to realms that everyone wants to explore; full of treasures, hazards and such. Fortunately for local shopkeeper Will, he can have the best of both worlds, for he is the Moonlighter.
Moonlighter is the title of the game and it’s the first offering from developers Digital Sun, who describe it as an action-RPG with rogue-lite elements. We’ve seen the whole ‘running a shop to ensure the heroes are well-equipped’ type experience before in Shoppe Keep, whilst being the actual hero and trawling dungeons has been done to death. So, putting the two together could either make for an interesting combination, or be a match made in hell.
Fortunately for us, the two differing sides of Moonlighter go together like a fine red wine and a well-cooked steak.
Focusing on the action-orientated parts initially, there are four dungeons to conquer – Golem, Forest, Desert, and Tech – in order to gather a key from each and ultimately gain access to the fifth, and final, dungeon. After three floors of a dungeon infested with all manner of creatures, a boss needs to be successfully overcome to claim the key. At first you’ll just be armed with the options of a mere broom or wimpy sword and shield combo, but that simply won’t do and when the enemies get the better of you, and they will, it’s back to the village to regroup.
Delving into any of the dungeons will be like diving into a labyrinth as there’s no saying what’s behind each door on the route to the next floor. Some contain enemies, whilst others provide a magical healing pool to rejuvenate that health of yours. There are also treasure chests to be found, secret rooms and notes with the ramblings of failed adventurer ‘Crazy Pete’ written on to read. Not knowing the layout for these types of rooms keeps it fresh for the second, third, fourth, hell, even the twentieth run-through of a particular dungeon.
It’s not easy to reach a boss for the first time and even when you do, I wouldn’t bank on being triumphant as the ‘Guardians’ of each dungeon aren’t pushovers by any means. Expect to learn the attack patterns, avoid the incoming assault and take any opportunity to do damage that presents itself – classic boss battling as it should be. As for the regular enemies, there’s a decent variety of beasts to take down, ranging from slimes and golems, to spinning mushrooms and excitable creatures that blast fire balls are you.
Combat is pretty basic, with just two attack manoeuvres – or an attack and a defensive block when the shield is involved – and a roll to evade incoming attacks. Our Will can only face up, left, down and right though (from a top-down style perspective) and that makes connecting with strikes a little tougher than it has to be. Despite this, there’s never an ounce of frustration because you can always escape a dungeon using a special pendant at the press of the button, before succumbing to a depleted health bar, should your combat skills aren’t up to scratch. If you die, everything collected in your rucksack is gone apart from those items stored in the few special slots at the top of the inventory.
Leave of your own free will, mid-dungeon, and all the wares gathers are yours to take home. Teleporting out of a dungeon does cost money though, so it’s a case of risk versus reward and figuring out if there are enough quality items in your possession, or if it’s worth attempting to clear one more room. You’d be forgiven for thinking what all the junk is that you’ve picked up, but one man’s junk is another’s treasure, and that’s where the shop comes into play.
There’s a lot of responsibility placed on your head to decide when to open the Moonlighter shop, what stock to put on display and how much to charge for it. You’ve got a notebook which ranks items in terms of worth, but aside from the cheapest and most expensive items, the price point is very vague. That’s not a bad thing though because you can garner reactions of your shoppers and adapt to suit, which really engages you into the goings on when open for business. I’ve had a fair few customers utter disgusted with me charging over the odds for a broken sword, however, over time you’ll find the sweet price and reel in the success of doing so.
Having a ton of loot in the dungeons ensures a real variety in the wares you can sell, from vines and iron bars, to rare books and energy crystals. There are few better feelings than selling all your merchandise and watching the coin balance build up after a day of trading, then it’s back to source more stock. In business, it pays to take notice of what’s in demand and what the adventurers turn their noses up at – there’s no point running through a dungeon to come back with unpopular items or those that are worth pittance.
Making money is hugely important for improving your business by expanding the store to fit more display tables in and increasing the space in chests to store stocks, to name just a couple of upgrades available. All of the upgrades will only make life easier to bring in extra cash, which you can then spend at the handful of merchant stands. There’s an enchantress, a bloke that sells decorative pieces to enhance certain aspects of a store, a retailer who has an assortment of items and a guy who can forge stuff. The most crucial of which is the craftsman, who is present to kit you out with better armour and weaponry.
Whilst the option to wield a sword and shield, a big sword, a staff, powerful gloves and a bow, provides a decent variety in regards the choice of weapon to take into battle, there are only a couple of upgrades to be made to each. There’s not enough depth to the crafting really, although it doesn’t detract too much from the experience, it’d be nice to see just a bigger selection within each weapon and armour type. The crafting poses an interesting dilemma though; do you use those materials acquired on your adventures towards the crafting process or simply sell them to earn money and find more later on?
Once you get into the flow of gathering loot, selling, and upgrading your own equipment, it becomes an addictive cycle that’s hard to break free of. One more run through a dungeon turns into three more, and when you can feel progress being made towards reaching and possibly defeating a boss, it’s extra enticing to keep going. Eventually special tasks will be given by customers, to give even more incentive to delve in and reap the massive cash rewards for doing so.
There are a couple of niggles throughout Moonlighter though, with the UI a little bit tough to get to grips with as it’s quite a laborious process to organise your inventory slots – something you’ll be doing a lot of within a dungeon. The shoplifters are also a pain in the backside, with shifty looking folk wandering into your shop, requiring you tackle them when they attempt to pinch anything. It just occurs far too often and makes an enjoyable day of trading a bit too tense. And finally, on very rare occasions, Will can roll head-first into parts of the world he shouldn’t be in, causing him to get stuck forevermore – the village’s notice board is a prime example, so take precaution and don’t dodge roll needlessly!
Visually, and Moonlighter is reminiscent of the lovely pixelated artwork of Stardew Valley, but with possibly a little extra attention to detail. As someone who often shies away from anything involving that retro style, I can’t speak highly enough of how well it looks. When you add a melancholic soundtrack on somewhat of a loop, it’s clear that the developers have created a suitable vibe for a charming world.
Overall then, Moonlighter is a game of two halves that when combined makes for a truly enjoyable experience and one that’s hard to put down. The dungeon layouts, enemies and the loot on offer ensure that each attempt at reaching and defeating a Guardian is fresh and fun. Couple that with the addictive nature of building up the stature of your store from the RPG world equivalent of a struggling Poundland to a well-stocked and luxurious Harrods, and there’s a huge draw to getting involved in a bit of moonlighting. Sure, combat could be better and the crafting falls a tad short, but these don’t adversely affect the enjoyment levels too much.
Why settle for just being an adventurer or running a shop when Moonlighter lets you have the best of both worlds? You know it makes sense, so get involved and you won’t regret it.