Out of stock? No problem! Just come back tomorrow and I’ll have more fresh out of the dungeon for you.
Genre: Action, Adventure
Developer: Digital Sun
Publisher: 11 bit studios
Release Date: May 29, 2018
The life of a merchant isn’t as safe as one might think. Standing behind a counter to sell a variety of items seems tame until you learn how merchants actually get them. Merchants, just like heroes, venture into dungeons to grab items they want to sell and try not to die in the progress. A wrong move can lead to a whole bag of future profits lost and put a merchant’s shop at risk of closing down if it continues to happen. So please, buy these sticks that I almost died getting.
Will, our protagonist, resides in the town named Rynoka, which was founded for a very specific reason. It so happens that five gates were discovered during an archaeological excavation there and, upon further inspection, can teleport anyone who enters to a dungeon. These dungeons held many treasures in the realms they were connected to and as Rynoka lacked a place where they could sell them or house themselves, the town naturally grew and prospered. Soon, not only heroes ventured into dungeons, but also merchants.
Will, in particular, is the successor to his family’s shop named Moonlighter, which also happens to be the very first shop that opened up in Rynoka. However, instead of being a merchant like his family, he would rather be a hero. We come in just as he decides to go in the first dungeon with only a broom to attack, but understandably gets properly beaten up and spat back out of the dungeon. Zenon, an old man who seems to be a family friend, finds Will and discourages him from becoming a hero (Moonlighter needs you! It can’t run with Will dead after all), however he still gives you a weapon to defend yourself…or just so you won’t use that broom again.
Okay let’s be real, we’re not going to heed Zenon’s advice and forgo our dream. One half of Moonlighter is going into dungeons and fighting the monsters inside. Each monster will drop various items upon death that you can pick up and sell or be used to craft items for yourself. Going deeper, three floors max with a boss at the end, will result in more difficult monsters holding more valuable items, and this stays true as you continue through the other dungeons. You might also notice chests that unlock once you clear the room out, and opening it will introduce you to the bag puzzle. Chest items have a high chance of having a curse that will have multiple effects which can range from having to place an item on the sides or top of the bag, to the item being a mystery till you return to town, or even destroy an item the arrow is pointing towards when returning to town. There are also helpful ones that can teleport an item to your shop’s chest or take a curse off of another item. This feature was one that I came to like, it became kinda fun arranging my bag so I can get the items I wanted while also trying to work around the many curse items that got picked up. There is an option to still make money off of the items you leave behind, you can throw it into a mirror that, in return, will give you a small percentage of money it would have otherwise made.
I do have to say that these dungeons have to be scaled better, apart from the Golem (first) and the Desert (third) dungeon. This does become a lot easier as you progress, and this might be due to item values increasing, thus giving you a bunch of money to buy armor upgrades, and the item to enchant your armor and weapons can be dropped pretty frequently. As long as you get all the upgrades, the dungeon is easy to get through.
Bag full and ready to return, it’s time to see the other half of the game and sell those items. Before opening, and during shop shifts, you can set out items on display and set the price for it. When a customer looks, they will give you an indication on whether you priced it just right, gave them a discount, slightly overpriced (but may still buy it), or very overpriced. After getting these reactions, you can adjust the price if necessary and see how it goes. If it gets successfully sold, the price will stick and you will not have to reprice it unless you want to. You may also get thieves, characterized by a thief icon when first entering, that will try and steal an item and you have to notice them doing it and tackle them before they exit your doors. Once the day ends, you will get a summary of the day’s profits and be able to leave and spend that money to your heart’s desire.
There are a couple things you can spend your money on. First, you can upgrade your shop/home and individual items in it, such as your cash register for more tips and your bed for a health bonus. This is all important to get more profit, but investing in the town is as well. Investing in Rynoka will result in other merchants coming along that will help you when adventuring or making money. The two most important merchants are the Blacksmith, where you can craft armor and weapons, and the Witch, who will sell you potions or craft them out of jelly. There is also the Hawker who will sell you items (the boss-based ones are my favorite) for shop bonuses such as more tips or less chances for thieves, the Banker who more invests your money for a week and steals it if you don’t take it out, and another retailer who will sell you item drops for four times the regular price (or you can use his prices to price your own items).
The villagers, however, are sadly lacking. The majority of them share the same dialogue lines and weirdly the four that do have their own portraits have little or no development about who they are and why they’re so important, with Zenon being the main one with little development. They all do change their dialogue based on how far in the game you are, but they are just so forgettable that it’s just not worth talking to them when in town. Not even the thieves have different dialogue, as they don’t mention trying to steal from you moments earlier. This also hammers in the point that the story is lacking as well. Apart from the information you get in the beginning, nothing else is developed on Will, Will’s family, or the villagers. It seems like there are still remnants of what could have been in development before it was scrapped as three non-merchant characters have their own character profile while talking, but there is no reason why they get this important detail added or any relation they have to Will. They do get different situational dialogue, but they might as well be the same as the regular villagers at this point.
The art and soundtrack are Moonlighter’s strongest asset. Moonlighter has beautiful pixel art, along with very smooth animation, which can grab anyone’s attention, with each dungeon having their own theme and palette. The soundtrack also fits with each area, whether you’re chilling in town or have your blood pumping while in a dungeon. Even the sound effects are great and match well with the enemy.
There are a lot of improvements to be made to Moonlighter, which I haven’t yet discussed. One addition that will also bring in other aspects and will help solidify it, is the bed bonus, which I was really puzzled about. As it is now, you can teleport out of a dungeon, unload your loot, and go back in with the bed bonus full like you just slept. The bed bonus by design feels like it shouldn’t reset, but rather be used up after doing a dungeon or running the shop. There is no reason to sleep as of now other than after getting another bed upgrade or just wanting time to pass if you don’t want to go into a dungeon. If it did expire it could introduce sleeping strategically, especially if some features with the shop also change with it. One line that caught my attention towards the end of the game came from, I believe, Zenon saying that the shop suffers if you don’t open it. The problem with this line, however, is that you will not see it suffer or it doesn’t take effect for a long time. If it did actually have consequences for not opening up the shop (whether fewer customers come in or there is a debt/lease you need to pay to stay in business), it can bring about a decision on whether you should sleep and go in that dungeon with the bonus, while also risking the shop, or run the shop and go without a bonus.
This can also bring more relevance to the shop assistant. The shop assistant comes in with the third shop upgrade and will help catch thieves, but only if she’s by them (otherwise, she has collision that can actually block you), or you can have her run the shop and sell some items, but she’ll get 30% of the profits. The game does not necessarily need her. Why have her run the shop if you can just do it yourself and get all the profits? If there was some consequence to not opening the shop and the bed bonus expires if not used, the assistant can become quite handy once she comes in. It can give a reason as to why you would want to give up a percentage of profits as it will let the shop open and let you get that bed bonus. Of course, there has to be some balancing so you can’t do this all the time and get away with it. Perhaps you can even have the shop assistant be tasked with a certain job, like standing by the door to look out for thieves or ringing people up.
Secondly, there could be more depth to the villagers. Apart from four villagers who have their own portraits, they all share the same dialogue lines and even though there are only a few rich villagers, regular ones can even buy a 50,000 coin book. There is also a question about why Moonlighter can’t open at night either, they’re all out so why not. What can be improved on in this aspect is to give more meaning and more characterization to them so they’re not all blank faces or a tool to get money. Adding things such as having them use their own budget and you having to work with it (perhaps existing villager’s budgets increase when the town becomes popular as well?) or looking for specific items. Perhaps have them actually go to their houses to sleep at night, with the exception of possibly the heroes, there is needed emphasis for the more hero-centric shops to stay open and not the others. With the thieves, if you want to keep as repeatedly being the same people then give players some way to interact with them and see why they do it. I want to know what happened that caused them to become thieves and what can you do to help them, or even have thieves be anyone and don’t show the icon when they come in. The game could be based more on their budget and how much they need an item that drives them to steal something that they can’t afford (only having the thief icon show right before doing it).
Next, let’s discuss the bosses and the endgame. The improvement needed isn’t so much about the bosses but around what is around them. During bosses, it’s inconsistent whether you can open your inventory or not. Some you can while others you can’t and if you bring in extra health potions you won’t be able to put them in your action slot depending on the boss unless you know how to drop items (which isn’t as apparent, I didn’t know how till the final boss). The portal also needs to be in the boss room after defeating them at all times, since you can’t defeat them again. Along with this, make these bosses replayable even if it’s after the story ends. I get why they won’t be because while you’re going through the story boss items can be sold for more money, but post-game it doesn’t exactly matter as you have acquired and done everything. With thematic sets not present yet, it seems like boss drops will be a required item to craft and if it will be, it wouldn’t work for those who already sold them or didn’t pick them up.
The endgame also doesn’t exist. It makes it seem that you won’t be able to go back to the previous four dungeons (well I won’t spoil why), get new dungeons, and new people, but you don’t. So the only reason to actually come back is for achievements, but even that has a problem. There is no new game+ to at least bring over your stats for the more grindy achievements or an extra save file. It seems like there would be more after the story, and there are promises that there will be in the future, but right now there’s nothing.
Lastly, there are a couple of smaller improvements that can be made. There needs to be information given to additions that give no indication about what they do. The two glaring examples are the showcases and quests. You only get the information that will be included in a shop upgrade, but no information on how they work. The showcases will seem like they don’t work until you discover that only the rare rich customers will look at them. With quests, you don’t know how to pick them up or turn it in, but it turns out they come in during shop hours to both give quests and to pick up their items when due. Moving all the difficulty settings down can help, so the hard (default) difficulty would be normal (and so on), as it’s weird seeing hard as the default when first starting until you get into it. It would be nice to change the full month calendar to a full week calendar unless there is more content planned to be put there instead of only quest deadlines. To list a couple of other things more quickly, here is a list of other things that could be improved: the ability to craft multiple potions at a time, Banker name change to match his job more, changes to the shop’s outside rather than having it stay looking the same, a wishlist-like marking system for quest items, perhaps have bag upgrades but at a cost (and not just how much it costs), a bestiary (weird this doesn’t have it, or I couldn’t find where it was if it was included), and have the armor look different with each upgrade (it seems like it was supposed to like the weapons).
Of course, I’m sure these can be improved on more in the eyes of a developer, but these seemed like the best course for the areas I noticed that were lacking.
While I don’t say this much, Moonlighter would have benefited more from releasing as an Early Access title rather than a fully released one. There is a lot of content planned to be put in and polishing which needs to be done on what is already in the game once all the bugs are dealt with. While there are players who stay away from Early Access titles, since many before ruined their trust, it would make it more understandable that this is not the whole game and needs a couple months after launch for bugs.
Moonlighter is a good, fun game that has the addictive gameplay loop and look down, but that just makes me want it to be better. Seeing what’s in it right now, thinking how it can be improved (while also learning about Recettear), and what the stretch goals were (in terms of what isn’t in at launch) gets me wishing there was more on release. This has the groundwork of being a great game, but it still needs more development to take advantage of what they already built and due to this, I really wrestled with what rating I should give Moonlighter. Time will only tell whether the developers will keep their promise and work on Moonlighter more after dealing with all the pre-existing bugs, but now only pick it up if you don’t care if the game doesn’t have that much depth or post-game content.