In most RPG games, it’s always the mighty muscle-bound hero that gets all the attention. After all, aren’t they the ones who always save the day and get the girl? But have you ever thought about the inconspicuous shop owner without whom the mighty hero would not have a sharp sword to slice monsters with? Or a shield to block incoming magic fireballs, or even a health potion to heal him when everything seems dire? Moonlighter places you in the shoes of not a hero wondering the lands looking for glory but rather a humble shopkeeper called Will, who in-between supplying heroes and merchants with rare and valuable items, longs to be a hero himself. It’s this twist on the classic RPG formula that interested me so much.
In order to make a living, humble shopkeeper Will ventures into the dungeons near his village gathering all kinds of materials and ingredients to sell in his store. Naturally, gathering these ingredients can be hazardous. Starting off with a mere broom as a weapon (later graduating to much sharper and pointier weapons), Will sets out to defeat the monsters roaming these dungeons. By managing the gold, he gains from the sale of these items, Will hopes to one day become a true hero by unlocking the final dungeon and uncovering its secrets.
While the description of the game might sound deceptively familiar Moonlighter adds a few surprising elements to its gameplay. After venturing into the dungeons Will has to, of course, sell the items he scavenged. As in real life, selling stuff doesn’t merely boil down to slapping a price on something and hoping some fool is willing to pay 200 coins for what is essentially a piece of bark. Rather, Will has to carefully pay attention to his customer’s reactions when viewing his merchandise. Deciding what items people want and at what prices quickly becomes a puzzle in itself. And it’s this continual gameplay loop of hunting down new materials (by slaying monsters) and figuring out how rare and valuable they are that becomes so wonderfully addictive.
Getting the ingredients, you need to earn all that sweet gold and craft better and stronger armour. Weapons and potions can be quite tricky as dungeons are randomly generated. There’s no guarantee you’ll find what you are looking for or that you’ll survive your expedition but that’s all part of the thrill. Naturally, dying means that you’ll lose everything you have collected so deciding when to call it a day and when to push deeper into each dungeon becomes an important decision.
Dungeons are divided into three (randomly generated) levels with a final boss level. As you delve deeper into the dungeons, enemies become tougher and crafting better equipment becomes critical if you are to survive. As you defeat the final bosses of each dungeon a new dungeon is opened up with new and rarer ingredients and even more monsters to slay. Combat boils down to stabbing and slashing, while occasionally dodging incoming attacks. There are several weapons to choose from, each with their own unique fighting styles. I tended to prefer the range that the spear gave me although it did lack the defence of the sword and shield.
Getting back to the job of selling stuff and running a store, each day gives you a rundown of what you have sold. This is important as you not only have to balance making a decent profit but not alienating your clients. You also have to be careful to not oversell a product as the demand for it will decline. Deciding what to bring back from each dungeon will mostly be based on what is currently in demand.
Once you’ve started making some gold, your profits can be used to upgrade your store which could allow you to display more products or hire a helping hand. Your profits can also be used to assist in expanding the town by helping shop owners open more shops. This includes a blacksmith, who can help craft weapons for you, or a merchant, that can sell valuable recourses to you without you having to go searching for them. This ties in nicely with the whole “go kill stuff to sell stuff to buy more and better stuff” gameplay loop.
Moonlighter is a delightfully beautiful and addictive game. What I first thought to be quite a simple rouge-lite was filled with deeper nuanced mechanics that kept me playing into the wee hours of the morning. The economy system in the game is easy to understand and managing your quaint little shop while hunting for ever increasingly rarer materials becomes surprisingly addictive. This is a game you need to play whether you love rogue-lite, RPG’s or management sims. Moonlighter has something for everyone.