Moonlighter

A game by Digital Sun for PC, Mac, PS4, Xbox One, and Switch, originally released in 2018.
In Moonlighter, a strange set dungeons is discovered, eventually prompting the construction of a small town called Rynoka, which becomes home to adventurers and merchants. But the four dungeons soon claim many lives and they are sealed off to prevent further calamity. You take on the role of Will, a merchant working in a shop called the Moonlighter, which has been hit hard by the sudden lack of trade. Will takes it upon himself to venture into the ever-changing dungeons in search of fortune and glory… and the chance at unlocking a sealed fifth door that has yet to be opened.


The game is an action-adventure that mixes in equal parts shopkeeping and inventory management. By day, Will runs the Moonlighter, and by night, he moonlights (see what they did there?) as an adventurer, diving into dungeons and recovering mysterious artifacts that he can sell in his store. What’s more, these artifacts are the key to upgrading his weapons and equipment, allowing him to dive into more dangerous areas of the dungeons, take on more powerful enemies, and recover better materials.


At the start of the game, Will is quite weak, and there are few resources available to him. One night, he enters a dungeon armed with only his shop broom, and he is quickly overwhelmed and defeated. (This area also acts as the game’s tutorial, explaining the basic movement and fighting mechanics.) He is ejected from the dungeon, unconscious, and an old man named Zenon discovers him and brings him back to the Moonlighter.


Zenon tells Will that his quest to open the fifth dungeon is foolish, and informs him that he should be using his magical pendant to escape dungeons when he is in danger. He also gives Will a sword and shield to replace his broom, offering the now-famous (and trite) line: “It’s dangerous to go alone. Take this,” from The Legend of Zelda. Then he explains how to operate the shop.


The player is free to run around the dungeons as much as he likes, but he has limited inventory space. The player must sell his goods to clear more space and to earn money to buy healing potions and upgrade his equipment, without which he will never be able to reach the tougher dungeons which have more valuable items. Furthermore, the player must be mindful of the value of goods in order to sell them for the optimum price, and bear in mind which items should be retained for use in crafting better weapons and equipment. As such, the shopkeeping and inventory management mechanics are deeply integrated into the core of the experience, working similarly to the systems established in Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale.


At first, Will has only four tables on which to display his wares, and he can display a single item or multiple items of the same kind (there are different maximum values for stacking inventory items). When a customer comes in, he or she will evaluate the item and display an emoticon indicating whether they are satisfied with the price, upset because the price is too high, or very excited because the price is low compared to the item’s value.


A simple interface lets you quickly adjust prices based on this feedback – with ranges from one unit to one million units – and the game retains the value of the last time an item was sold so you don’t have to remember every little detail. There are a few factors that impact how much people are willing to spend. For instance, if you sell a lot of a specific item, the market is flooded and people won’t be willing to spend as much; on the other hand, some items are rare and in high demand, commanding higher prices. A notebook tracks the reactions to price points of each individual item for those who like to obsess over every little detail, but in general, it’s a good idea to initially mark items at high prices, lower them until people begin buying, and raise them on anything that people get really excited about.


Once you’ve earned enough money, you can invite other merchants into the town to set up shop. The first two that become available are a blacksmith and a potion maker, which are very important to making overall progress in the game. The blacksmith takes materials and money in exchange for forging new weapons and armor, and the potion maker sells healing potions, potions that guide you in dungeons, and additional enhancements to your equipment. Later, you can unlock another merchant that lets you buy items that you’ve previously discovered in the dungeons (alleviating the burden of waiting for specific loot drops to meet your crafting needs) and an interior designer that sells objects that enhance your shop by allowing more customers in at once, increasing gratuities, and reducing the appearance of thieves who will steal your merchandise if you don’t keep a watchful eye.


There are also upgrades available for the shop itself. You can increase the size of the shop to allow for more room to display items, add discount sale shelves, buy better cash registers (enticing customers to leave bigger tips), increase the size of your storage chest, and even purchase a comfier bed that leaves you better rested and gives you higher defense in dungeons.


You begin the game with 100 units of health, and early enemies don’t cause much damage, but this 100-unit life meter won’t do you much good by the time you reach the second dungeon. Buying better armor increases your health meter, and getting a good night’s sleep in an upgraded bed gives you a temporary health boost that extends beyond this meter. Each dungeon consists of three floors and a boss, and each floor contains a healing pool near the door to the next level. However, this healing pool can only restore a certain amount of health before it stops working, so players can’t rely on it overmuch.


The player begins his first quest with a sword and shield, which allows him to attack enemies at a short range and block incoming attacks, and he can also perform a dodge roll to escape danger and cross small gaps in the floor. Players can move in eight directions and attack in four, but many weapons allow players to hit enemies diagonally adjacent to them. Once the blacksmith’s shop opens, the player can buy powerful-but-slow two-handed swords, spears that offer a longer range, fast gloves for up-close pugilistic combat, and bows and arrows for long range combat. This allows players to engage in combat using any gameplay style they like, and players can take any two weapons into the dungeons and swap between them as the situation demands.


There are four upgrade tiers for each weapon, and status effect enhancements for each. Each weapon requires a certain number of materials to forge, and these are increasingly expensive across the four tiers. There are also four dungeons, which correspond directly to these four tiers, as materials needed for each upgrade can only be found in the corresponding dungeons. As such, it is not possible to grind the earlier dungeons to save up money to buy all of the best equipment, and even if this were possible, the highest upgrade tiers are 8x the cost of the base items.


Players begin the game by running through the first floor or two of the initial dungeon until they have enough materials and money to purchase upgrades and take on the dungeon boss. This unlocks the second dungeon where players once again fight through the easier floors to earn money and materials for upgrades and work their way toward the dungeon boss. While this essentially means the player is repeating the same basic format four times over (the first dungeon takes the most time by far), gameplay remains compelling with new shop upgrades and enemy types, as well as a few secrets to be found by truly enterprising players. Completing all four dungeons unlocks the final encounter and offers an explanation for the existence of the dungeons.


Dungeons rearrange themselves with each run (a fact that is built into the narrative), but the layouts are not overly large or complex – and rooms are displayed on a map once discovered – so players will have little trouble finding their way from one floor to the next. Players looking for a bit of extra challenge (and better loot) may enter dungeons at night, but the increase in difficulty is negligible. In some rooms, players may bypass enemies altogether, whereas other rooms seal shut when the player enters and only unlock once all enemies have been destroyed. Many rooms house treasure chests, and these contain the game’s most valuable resources. There are special golden chests and red chests that appear on lower floors that have even more valuable items… if you have room to carry them.


Throughout the game, you are able to upgrade the amount of storage available in the shop, but your personal carrying capacity never increases. You can only carry a total of 20 items, and once this space is filled, you won’t be able to pick anything else up until you get rid of something. Early into your adventure, you find a device that lets you eliminate any item on the spot for a small monetary reward. This lets you discard items while retaining a portion of their value. Also, some items are cursed and will be destroyed if they take too much damage, or they will transform nearby objects depending on how they are placed. Many cursed items destroy other items in your bag unless they are arranged correctly, although there are a few helpful curses as well, such as one that immediately teleports an adjacent item to your store.


It’s important to note that it costs money to teleport out of the dungeons (except when killing the boss), with higher costs depending on how deep you are into each dungeon. As such, you’ll want to make sure each run is worth the cost, so it’s important that you pick up enough items of high value to sell in your shop. In addition to the basic teleporter, there’s a second teleporter that allows you to leave the dungeon and come back later to return to the floor you left, but using this teleporter is significantly more expensive.


Bosses are gigantic screen-filling affairs featuring colorful well-animated creatures that fall in line with the high animation quality and visual design of the rest of the game. Most of the bosses aren’t terribly mobile, so an effective strategy is to get in close and lay down multiple strikes before blocking or dodging away from their attacks. Players can also carry up to five healing potions (these too come in four tiers of effectiveness), so even getting slammed by a strong attack doesn’t necessarily spell the end. However, players will lose a significant portion of their haul if they are killed within a dungeon.



2D CRED
Moonlighter was developed by Digital Sun and was funded in part by a successful Kicksterter campaign. This was the company’s first release.


The game was published by 11 Bit Studios, the developer behind This War of Mine and the Anomaly series. The studio is also the publisher of Tower 57, Beat Cop, and Children of Morta.


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