Where do RPG shopkeepers get their items? From dungeons and monsters, of course! But, merchants don’t go out to fight monsters themselves, do they? In Digital Sun’s new action-RPG, Moonlighter, that’s precisely what happens.
As Will, you take the reigns of an old shop in the emptying town of Rynoka. The young shopkeeper dreams of entering the dungeons near town and becoming a hero. There is an old tale about the fifth, never entered dungeon: that the person to clear the other four will earn entry. One day, bored with his simple life, Will decides to do just that.
The tale is a simple heroes journey, but small moments throughout the adventure hint at something. Villagers speak of odd events, your mentor brings up past victories, and little signs of lore are spread all over the four main dungeons.
Everything culminates in a final twist that you definitely won’t see coming. I won’t spoil anything here, but the final moments of Moonlighter drastically changed my perception of the ventures I experienced over my eight or so hours. I didn’t think the plot would finish as a selling point, but now I’m hoping for some continuation. As great as the ending is, the moments leading up to it are even better.
Moonlighter incorporates delightfully addictive mechanics that consistently evoke that “one-more-run” feeling. During the day, you can either pillage the dungeons or sell your monster loot for profit.
Each dungeon has a specific theme, be it technology, desert, stone, or forest. These areas have three floors filled with secrets, monsters, and a whole ton of drops. Stages play similarly to The Binding of Isaac and other rogue-lites, with randomized rooms that require you to clear all enemies to progress.
Will can wield two of five different weapon types at any given time. However, I had no incentive to switch from the staff and the bow. These two weapons are ridiculously overpowered, with the other types (sword/shield, sword, and claw) significantly varying in effectiveness. My weapon set put me at a significant advantage during boss fights and late-game enemies, as I didn’t have to go anywhere near them to inflict damage.
That’s not to mention the odd difficulty balancing in general. When entering a new dungeon, I had to fight hard for survival, consistently dodging and using potions to live. When I upgraded my gear with the current level materials, I was suddenly too powerful. The difference was a bit much. Upgrades should scale back to keep a bit of challenge in combat.
After one or two runs in a new area, I was ready to clear three floors and fight the boss. The only thing holding me back was severely limited inventory slots. I’m conflicted on only having twenty spaces. On the one hand, I’m forced to be very picky about my loot. Lots of items come with a curse. Some threaten to destroy nearby items upon returning home. Others can only sit on the left or right side of the bag. This is a unique system, and I had to keep reorganizing to keep the best items.
On the other hand, I had to go home more often than I’d like to deposit items. It felt weird to leave not because I was dying, but because I didn’t want extra loot to go to waste. There are a few ways around this, like an expensive two-way portal or a hidden chest that brings items home. But even with these alternatives, an extra inventory row would go a long way come late-game.
Regardless, the enemy variety and tight combat stayed fun throughout each dungeon. Also, each boss is inventive and nothing like the monster fodder you fight on the way. Even with my overpowered weapons, I still felt challenged by each creature. Their arenas are much larger than the rooms beforehand, and battles force you to use your entire arsenal to win.
Shopkeeping is a pleasure. Once open for the day, you must gauge the price of items based on customer reactions. I may set an iron bar for 5,000 and get scoffed at, while someone else will excitedly buy a sword set for 2,000. Fortunately, each price is stored in your journal, which you can access at any time. One item from the tech dungeon just kept ruining me. I priced it around 6,000 at first, and customers found that exceedingly cheap. I tried 7,000 next time, the same thing. It wasn’t until I got to 10,000 where it became a reasonable price.
It sounds mundane, but refilling stock, adjusting prices, and catering to customers needs is quite engaging. Some customers specifically want weapons. Others are looking to spend a lot. Items go in and out of demand, giving you some wiggle room to make an extra buck or two. You must also defend your stock from robbers.
Money comes in quick, and it’s used to buy upgrades, enchantments, or upgrades for your shop and town. As you generate interest in Rynoka, you’ll gain the attention of a banker, an item reseller, and a few other shopkeepers. Each of them makes your journey a bit easier, though I found more interest in the shop expansions than anything else.
All of Moonlighter is lovingly animated. There are small details everywhere, like the shop assistant putting up her hair when you open for the day, or the enchantress having a new animal in her cage when you reach a new dungeon. The world is gorgeous, colorful, and I only wish there was more to see.
Unfortunately, the entire adventure is a bit short. As mentioned, I completed the final dungeon with around eight hours of playtime. You can continue playing after completion, but with so little to unlock afterward, it’s hard to justify doing so. Even so, what’s here is still a worthwhile experience.
Moonlighter is a game you won’t want to put down. The gameplay loop of dungeon running and selling your gathered loot is nothing short of enchanting. While the combat can be unbalanced, exploration and shopkeeping more than make up for it. For as much as I enjoyed the journey, I’m saddened by how quick it was over. It’s hard to knock the game for that, however, as my desire for more only attests to the work that Digital Sun put in to make the world of Moonlighter a wonderful place to be.
This review was based on a digital review copy of Moonlighter for the PC provided by Digital Sun.