In every RPG, merchants are selling you all kinds of goods. But have you ever asked yourself where those goods come from or those merchants got so far? Well, in today’s review, we’re talking about a game that lets you experience both sides of the same coin: Merchants and Heroes!
Moonlighter is about a set of gates that have been found after an archaeological excavation. Those gates are referred to as the Dungeon and consist of four doors to four realms, each full of different artefacts and enemies. There’s also a fifth door that hasn’t been opened yet since nobody knows how to do so.
Once word of the dungeon has spread, a small town of merchants has been found near the excavation site, Rynoka.
Back to the present, the game presents us with Will, a young merchant who’s the heir of one of the oldest shop in Rynoka, the Moonlighter. After his grandfather “Crazy Ol’ Pete” has been lost in the dungeons, the protagonist Will has to take care of the shop while secretly dreaming of becoming a hero.
That’s where the game sets in. We accompany Will on one of his expeditions into the Golem Dungeon where he fights off enemies with a Broom and collects their dropped artefacts.
After being swarmed by them, however, we pass out and are set back at the entrance of the dungeon where Zenon finds us and brings us back to our room in the Moonlighter. He then explains to us how to sell items and even gives us a sword and shield that he once used.
After this little tutorial, we’re beginning our adventure of capitalism and monster-slaying! At nighttime, we’re going into the dungeon to slay monsters and collect the artefacts dropped by them. At daytime, we then sell these artefacts in the store to get richer. Of course, you can always go into the dungeon during daytime but while it’s safer during that time the possible loot is also less valuable. Another reason why we’re only venturing into the dungeon at night is the fact that we can only sell items during the day.
This is the point where you might ask yourself:
What do I need the money for?maybe you
That’s a good question, I’d say.
Basically, you’re able to upgrade your shop with the money you earn which then leads to you being able to earn even more money. You can also use the money to bring new NPCs into the town who then open their own shops, bringing the town of Rynoka to its former glory.
The bigger the town, the more customers you get!
Now, this is the point where you might ask yourself:
Why do I want other shop-keepers in my town?maybe you, again
Well, while this question is justified – after all, we’re capitalists – it’s also not. The new shops that open in the town are rather useful to you and do not steal your customers.
For instance, there’s Andrei, Forge Master Extraordinaire, who’s running Vulcan’s Forge and is able to grant you new equipment and upgrade yours.
For that, you need to bring him the needed materials and pay him a fee that is needed to craft those items. At Vulcan’s Forge, you’re able to craft five weapon types that each has two different paths to be upgraded to. There’re “swords with shields” or rather short swords (you get one from Zenon, btw), bows, big swords (or rather buster swords?), spears, and gloves that each have a normal and an empowered attack.
Each weapon has its own range and attack-set, so everyone might find a weapon that suits his playstyle. As previously mentioned, weapons are upgradeable and there’re two paths to take for those upgrades. You either go for the bonus stat which grants you an on-hit-chance to poison, burn, stun, etc. the enemy (it also deals more damage!) or you go for just more damage (which is more than the elemental variant).
As for armour, there’re helmets, chest plates and boots that all come with three different versions: Fabric, Steel and Iron. While Fabric is lighter and grants you a bit of movement speed, Steel is heavier and slows you down but also grants you more health (or rather resistance). Iron is the hybrid, I guess, as it doesn’t give you a movement speed bonus, nor does it slow you down, and as for armour, it’s in the middle between those two. These material-properties go hand in hand for all of the equipment which is quite handy since you might want to get a fabric bandana, some steel chest plate and some iron boots, for example, to not get slowed down at all but still get more armour, or you go for full plating to be slow but beefy like a true tank.. or you go for the ninja-playstyle with no resistances but some antelope-speed.
There’s also Eris the Weaver and Potion Master who runs The Wooden Hat. She’s selling potions and enchantments at her store, allowing you to further upgrade your equipment or to craft or just buy potions for your adventures in the dungeon. While you can just buy potions with your gold, you can also bring her items dropped by slimes in the dungeon to craft the potions as well, meaning that you save half the price but have to collect some of those not-so valuable slimes.
There’s also Julien who owns the rival store “Le Retailer” and sells items, just like Will, but at a much higher price (speaking of gold, not your soul or anything), as well as Alan and Edward. Alan runs the Hawker Stand where you can get decorations for your store that give you benefits for your shop like extra-tip and Edward is the town banker who helps you with investments which is a high risk/high reward kinda thing that you may do if you’d like to risk losing some money but get a chance of cashing out big. It’s the bitcoin of gaming!
But let’s get busy. Once you open your store, citizens come in and want to buy stuff. To do so, you’ll need to place them on pedestals in your store and set a price. The game has a nice mechanic here where it shows you the expression of people looking at an item. If you set the price too high, people will be mad about it and won’t buy that item. If you set it too low, they’ll be really happy about it but you will make less profit (although you always make a profit since you get the items for free from the dungeon…but you could get more money is what I’m trying to say).
There’s the right price for every item that you have to find out about which sometimes can be a little tedious. Your merchant’s log helps you with that. In your merchant’s log, you can find all kinds of information regarding the items you’re selling as well as the prices you’ve set before. But I guess now’s the time where you’d be pulling out the only guides with the right prices, right?
Well, that’s where you’re wrong since there’re always variables in the market that make it hard to determine such a price:
If you sell too much of a specific item, the market gets flooded which is why the demand for that specific item is low and you won’t sell that item for the “normal” price anymore. If the demand is high, however, you can set the price even higher to earn even more money! To work around flooding the market, you need to put variation into your shop, even if it means selling less valuable items!
In the beginning, this “more” means a few hundreds maybe but as your game goes on, you’ll unlock new dungeons with new dangers but also new items – which means even more money! We’re living the capitalist dream!
Speaking of dungeons, there’re four types of them (and the fifth one but I won’t talk about that one because of spoilers! duh.):
The Golem Dungeon, the Forest Dungeon, the Desert Dungeon and the Tech Dungeon.
Each of these feature different enemies that all have different attack-patterns and may also apply effects on you like poison, fire and electric damage. What I really liked about this game is that the different enemies aren’t just recoloured previously met enemies. There’s an actual variety of monsters. In the Golem Dungeon you’re facing off against flying golems, rolling golems, mage golems, fighting golems, golems with shields, bush monsters, mimics, slimes and all kinds of other enemies and while most of these early monsters have “golem” in their name, they still all look unique!
What surprised me when first facing off against these was that some of them needed to be kited first, like the rolling ones that charge at you and get stunned when they hit a wall making them vulnerable. Some other enemies can only be hit when from behind while others are flying and have to be taken out when they’re low enough – while they’re attacking. There are also ranged enemies that you’ve got to get close to and slimy ones that trap you in their bodies where you need to wiggle out of.
And while these attack-patterns were unique, the next dungeon also had other enemies that all worked differently! The forest dungeon featured enemies that were mostly ranged with some applying poison to you while others were constantly moving around.
Sometimes you encounter weird doors where the dungeon gets deformed so that a room from the previous or the next dungeon appears there instead of the actual one. That way you sometimes come into a dungeon, prepared to fight against enemies with poison, but then encounter enemies from the desert dungeon that you’ve never seen before since the Desert Dungeon is still locked up when you’re only getting used to the Forest Dungeon.
An interesting feature in the game is also the time spent in the dungeon. To combat the player sleeping in the dungeon (that’s a joke, you may laugh. You can’t sleep in the dungeon, duh.) after a while the “watcher” as I call him spawns, an invulnerable monster that chases you around the dungeon and kills you if you don’t kite around it. You either have to return to town early or get to the next floor. Just don’t spend too much time on one floor and you’re safe. This kind of reminded me of that little gimmick of Pokémon Mystery Dungeon where a mysterious force would come near you if you’d take too long to find your way to the next floor. If you’d wait long enough, it would instantly kill you while you’re not even getting a glimpse of it. I once tried to fight the watcher in Moonlighter and, well,… I died. It just doesn’t work. So, don’t take your sweet time.
Every dungeon is procedurally generated, meaning that there’re the same tilesets for each “run” available but the combination of those is “random”. There’re all kinds of rooms featuring monsters, chests and even timed chests that are sinking into the ground until you defeat all monsters in the room, meaning that you may lose the items that chest contained if you’re not fast enough.
On top of that, there’re also rooms with secrets like a wave-mode where you can unlock better loot at the risk of losing it all while fighting against those waves. There’s also boring secret rooms with loot laying around at the ground or rather useful ones with an open chest that sends your items to town once.
The latter is my favourite secret since inventory management is key in Moonlighter. Your haul determines how much money you earn so you can’t just take everything, especially since your inventory space is limited to only 20 spaces, divided into four rows with five spaces each. If you die in the dungeon, the first row is kept while the last three rows are lost. Some items stack to up to 10 items while others only stack once or up to five.
There’re also curses that do all kinds of things like breaking the curses item if you take too many hits or destroying the item to the upper left corner once you return home. This means that you need to move items around in your inventory so that some items are in certain spots where they don’t hurt your profit.
Some other curses transform other items into the cursed item on return while others cause the item to be only placed at the vertical or horizontal edge of your inventory. Mechanics like these make the inventory management here unique and special, which I really like! The problem, however, is that while there is a sort-function it doesn’t automatically stack stackables items. Sometimes I encounter items that can be stacked up to five that are split into two slots which I manually have to stack together which is kind of annoying, especially since you may as well overlook those and, in the end, make less profit.
In your inventory, you also have three other options of dealing with full inventories that are unlocked over time. The first you unlock is your merchant’s Pendle that teleports you back to the hometown for a small price. The second you unlock is a portal that eats items in your inventory (either drag items into it or drag the portal to the items you want to destroy), giving you some money for those items. However, you always would make more money when selling those items in the store, but this is kind of like a safety net in case you do not have enough money to teleport back home.
And then there’s the last option to open a portal to home that you can re-enter to gain access to the dungeon at the last point you entered. This is especially useful for when you found the final boss door but you’re low on potions and have used up your inventory space and shields and stuff. This option is quite pricey, so I only used it when I was at the entrance of the guardian since everything else would mean losing income for some loot that is probably less valuable.
While in the dungeon, you have to face different “normal” enemies while exploring the rooms until you find the door that leads to the next floor. The door to the next floor, however, is protected by the “guard” who’s basically a mini-boss. Once you defeat him, you get to go to the next floor which yields better items but also has more dangerous enemies and another guard who’s “corrupted” and therefore stronger with a slightly different attack pattern. On the third floor, there’s the “guardian” at the end of it – it’s basically the boss. Each guardian can only be defeated once and has a key for the fifth door, meaning that you need to kill all four to unlock that one and proceed with the story. After defeating the guardian of the Golem Dungeon, you’re free to go to the Forest Dungeon. After that one comes the Desert Dungeon and after that one there’s the Tech Dungeon. It’s a known concept that you see in all kinds of games like Pokémon or Zelda – before you can go to the next temple/gym, you’ve got to defeat the one before that. It’s simple, but works.
The combat feels fluid for the most part. The devs of Moonlighter recommend playing with the controller but apparently the keyboard also works. I actually only tested the keyboard just a few minutes ago and while it certainly works, I didn’t really like it. In combat, you use your X-button for the heavy attack, the A-button for the normal attack. Holding B teleports you back to town while pressing Y opens your inventory. With the right trigger, you’re able to chug potions that you’ve equipped prior the fight, while you role with the left trigger, making you able to jump over cliffs, dodging projectiles and attacks while also travelling a small distance.
With the left shoulder button, you’re able to swap between weapons, as you can equip two sets of weapons. My favourite weapon so far was the bow and the gloves. The gloves have a three-attack-combo which is quite cool to use, while the bow is able to hit enemies from across the room. I really liked that combo but also enjoyed playing with the great sword and the spear. While the shortswords are handy they didn’t really appeal to me since the blocking doesn’t really work against AoE-attacks and since you also need to time the block quite well which I just couldn’t be arsed to practice. Meanwhile, the gloves have fast attacks and a three-attack-combo while with the spear you’re able to pierce and charge through enemies. The greatsword is slow but has a big horizontal range which is quite fun to play with.
Sometimes I got frustrated because of enemies’ hitboxes being unclear to me, e.g. when they were flying or when they were standing in front of me but only a pixel or something to the side which resulted in them being able to hit me but me missing, but, after some practice, I also got the hang out of those hitboxes.
Another way to make your explorations easy is by upgrading your shop since you’re getting a better bed that gives you some bonus-health (or rather a shield) as well as three free hits on every dungeon-run. On top of that, you can also get a familiar that comes with you on your runs and either collects items or attacks enemies for you. Currently, there are nine familiars to acquire that all come with different perks like boosting your damage, converting enemies into potions or even a mimic that attacks enemies and is able to carry some items as well!
As for the art, this game is absolutely lovely. The animations and the pixel art style are really cute and overall nice to look at. The music that was composed by David Fenn creates the perfect atmosphere for the game.
While in the dungeon, it sets up a great mood for the Dungeoncrawling-aspects. Every dungeon track is unique and tailored to that dungeon’s theme. Some of the game’s music is a variation of the game’s title screen song, like “Naja” which can be heard in the Desert Dungeon, which I found quite neat as a detail.
While in the town and in the shop, the music is really relaxed and nice to listen to it’s not elevator-music-ish. The town music also reminds me of the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon Soundtrack which I found quite cool, but that may be the nostalgia speaking.
While the combat feels fluid and while the boss fights are unique, the shop system is really cool and sets you up with hours upon hours of fun. I guess there’s not much replay value to the game right now but there may be some added quite soon. After around 20 hours I’ve been through quite a lot of stuff but haven’t finished everything, yet.
Later on, for example, you’ll have to grind some items and some gold for some of your weapons, especially if you’re out for all 67 of Moonlighter’s steam achievements! And if you don’t like grinding all that much, you can just stick to your weapon of choice and just get that one. The game doesn’t require you to enchant and upgrade every weapon and armour-piece and you can generally finish the game with every weapon – even the broom!
Once you’re done with those achievements, you can try out the game in the “very hard”-difficulty if you’re up for a challenge and still in need for something else, although the game’s recommended difficulty is “Hard” while the “Normal difficulty” could be considered easy.
I don’t really understand why they went for normal, hard and very hard instead of some other names there, but it works for me since you always (apart from when you’re in the dungeon) have the chance to change the difficulty to something higher or lower.
Once you’ve beaten the game, you unlock the New Game+ mode where costs and prices are about five times higher and where you can get new weapons and amulets that are exclusive to that mode. On top of that, nothing else really changes which seems like a bummer to me since some sort of boss-rush-mode or something like that might have been quite cool.
Another thing I would have loved would be to be able to play more afterwards with new content in the same campaign but while you certainly can play more, there’s not really much to do afterwards.
All in all, I’d say that this is a great game and I’d really recommend it to fans of Dungeon Crawlers, RPGs and games like Recettear where you own a shop and go on adventures and stuff. Moonlighter is a lovely game with quite a lot of content and while the new game+ mode doesn’t really seem to add anything to the game apart from new equipment, the new DLC “Between Dimensions” adds all kinds of new content, which I’m really excited for and which I’ll be covering in another post soon! The game is available for PC, Nintendo Switch, XBO One, Play Station 4 and other major platforms — as well as in retail with both standard edition and limited Signature Edition
Note: At this point in time (July, 19th), I’ve played the game for 26 hours, not including offline playtime. I played through the main story, checked out New Game+ for a bit and also tried to play as much of every aspect of the game.
I bought this game myself and didn’t receive any compensation from the devs or publishers.