Developer: Digital Sun Publisher: 11 bit studios Platform(s): PC, PS4, XB1
Review code provided
The life of the video game merchant isn’t typically suited to the limelight. Normally relegated to playing a supporting role, the armour seller or the blacksmith usually has to make do with selling equipment to the actual hero. Nobody ever spares a thought for the poor merchant’s life, what exactly they do all day when there are no heroes about, and where they get new stock when they run out of fancy stones. Well, Moonlighter is here to put an end to all that business, by showing us just what happens when the humble village merchant decides that he wants to swing the sword, as well as sell them.
The story goes that, during an archaeological excavation, a set of ancient gates were discovered. These gates allowed for passage to different realms and dimensions, all of which were brimming with treasure. Naturally, the promise of riches attracted many a foolhardy adventurer, and so the village of Rynoka was established to cater to the glory-hunting wanderer. You play as Will, the operator of Moonlighter – a quaint little family shop slap bang in the middle of the village. Will is well-versed in the importance of duty, and shoulders the burden of his family’s shop without complaint, but his true ambitions lie elsewhere. See, Will may have shop-keepery in his blood, but he has adventuring in his heart.
A large part of the appeal of Moonlighter is in this dual gameplay approach, as Will has to juggle being the friendly village merchant while still satisfying his desire for adventure. As Will, you hack and slash your way through the various dungeons on offer, gathering as much loot as your little pixelated arms can carry, before returning home to open up your shop.
You can then sell this gathered loot in return for gold, which can in turn be used to purchase upgrades for Will’s weapons, his shop, and even for Will himself. These upgrades can range from stronger weapons and better armour, to new articles of clothing that increase Will’s speed. Upgrades can also be purchased for the shop, increasing its capacity and adding things like discount baskets and display cabinets. You can even invest your hard-earned gold into the village itself, establishing new businesses like a forge or a specialist items shop in order to attract new villagers to Rynoka.
I think the thing that has resonated with me the most during my time with Moonlighter is just how absorbing it all is. The selling aspect is made more complex by the need to set prices which are attractive and fair to your customers, while still being profitable to you as the player. A certain amount of experimentation is needed to achieve this, as Will endeavours to toe the line between prices so high that his customers take their business elsewhere, and prices so low that gathering the materials really wasn’t worth literally risking his life in the dungeons the night before.
Moreover, there is a certain amount of wiggle room in what customers will pay for items, leaving it up to the player whether they want to opt for the ‘perfect’ price, or instead lean more on the ‘more than I’d like to pay but I need it’ customer mindset. Be wary, though, while it may be more immediately profitable, consistently unscrupulous pricing will affect an item’s demand, and make it more difficult to sell similar items in the future.
The dungeon-crawling side of the game also had more layers to it than I was initially expecting. On top of the combat and loot-hunting, the game puts a lot of emphasis on inventory management. Will only has a finite number of spaces in his backpack, and of course you want to bring back as much loot as possible from each dungeon run, but this is complicated by certain items having different requirements.
Some items may need to be placed on the right side of the backpack, while others may need to be in the middle. Some items destroy the one below them when you return home, while others can transport surrounding items back to the safety of your shop. It can be a challenge to optimise your space in order to carry as much rare booty as possible, and it’s certainly more engaging than simply dumping all the items from a dungeon chest into your bag and then moving on to the next room without a second thought.
Combat carries a weighty challenge, as well. Thanks to a wide variety of enemy types in each dungeon, there are a number of different strategies to explore. While some of the enemies can be dispatched rather quickly, some of the others pack a mighty much, and so strategy is key. Combat is at its most exciting when it becomes a tense duel of tentative swipes and speedy dodge rolls.
The wide range of weapons available allow for a great deal of player choice when it comes to combat. You can choose to fight up close with the armoured gloves or a sword and shield combo, or you can opt for more ranges combat with the spear and bow. Being able to choose your own play style does a lot to keep the difficulty in check, as well, as you are essentially able to specialise in the gear that works for you. This approach is particularly welcome when it comes to the boss fights, as their ability to absolutely flatten you really can’t be taken for granted.
It’s really rather admirable Moonlighter can so effectively marry the merchant and adventurer elements of the game, without either feeling like a gimmick bolted on to the other. It never feels like one side is interrupting the other, as you spend your time in the shop excited to make money to upgrade your equipment to make it easier to fight through the dungeons, and you spend your time in the dungeons excited to bring all the loot back to the shop to sell. This all combines to give an incredibly comprehensive RPG experience, and one which will really draw you in if you let it.
It’s beautifully obvious that Moonlighter has been lovingly and painstakingly crafted by the team at Digital Sun Games, with innumerable little quirks and clever details that all go together to create something truly wonderful. Graphically, it looks gorgeous, with vibrant colours giving life to the charming pixelated art style. The animation is phenomenal, packed with subtle details that make Moonlighter seem like a living, breathing world. Trees sway in the breeze, characters adjust their backpacks and weapons for comfort, and Will’s movement and combat style are smooth and fluid. The soundtrack is lovely, with carefully chosen songs perfectly mimicking the onscreen world at all times, from the drama in the dungeons to the serenity of the Rynoka central square.
I’m absolutely smitten with Moonlighter. It’s just wonderfully polished and irresistibly charming, and offers a thoroughly engaging, immersive and challenging journey for the player. It presents a game world that is rich with personality, and packed with content. Will is an incredibly likeable character, and the way he is detrimental to pursue his dream alongside fulfilling his duty is oddly inspiring. The only nits I can really pick are related to a few collision errors that can leave Will stuck in a wall, and the odd hiccup with the flight paths on projectile weapons. Nothing game-breaking, in other words, and you quickly learn to work around any little bugs.
Between exploring, fighting monsters, finding treasure, improving Rynoka, and operating the shop, Moonlighter has the potential to take as much of your time as you are willing to give it. I, for one, am perfectly to happy to live in this lovely world for as long as it’ll have me.
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A true labour of love that you can’t help but adore, Moonlighter is the perfect addition to any game library. Endearing, involving, addictive, and challenging all in equal measure, this lovely little rogue-lite will have you hooked in no time.
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