Moonlighter Review — Are You a Merchant or a Hero?
Moonlighter is an intense dungeon crawling game with mechanics that are built around also running your own merchant store.
If Stardew Valley is the Harvest Moon of indie games, Moonlighter would be sort of like the Rune Factory. Instead of farming though, the title blends the everyday life of being a merchant with action-heavy dungeon crawling in the style of games like The Binding of Isaac, The Legend of Zelda, and more. Digital Sun has done a great job blending the game’s two main mechanics so that neither ever gets boring.
You play Moonlighter as a young man named Will, who inherits a family shop known as Moonlighter. Conveniently enough, the shop is located right outside a set of five mysterious doors, which lead into various dimensions that are filled to the brim with loot for Will to find. Will has merchant blood running through his veins, but at his core, he has always dreamed of being an adventurous hero. The game grants you a unique set of powers that’ll help you make each run through the different dimensions as profitable as possible, but if you’re too greedy, you could potentially lose everything you’ve worked so hard to get.
Personally, a game like Stardew Valley didn’t seem like my cup of tea. I’m more of a swing swords sell loot later type of guy, so Moonlighter looked like it would hit all the right chords with me. The first dimension you have access to is very easy-going, but as you progress and open more portals you’ll find the enemies to be tougher and the loot more valuable.
There are four dungeon types in Moonlighter; each one is vastly distinct from the other. They’re all four floors deep, and there will be a boss waiting for you at the bottom of every one. In each dungeon, there are also little notes scattered throughout from past explorers that will give you hints about where you are and any secrets you can find. These secrets will help you out a lot along the way so be sure to take advantage of them.
Moonlighter’s combat is fun and engaging, here are a good amount of weapons to craft. Players can equip two different weapons to find their ideal playstyle. I went with the classic sword and shield, with a bow as my secondary weapon to take out enemies from afar whenever I got into tough situations. I do wish there was a little more variety when it came to armor types, but this is just a small gripe in an overall great game. You’ll also need to use the items you find throughout each dimension to craft weapons and armor so don’t be so quick to put things up for sale as soon as you bring them back to your store.
Speaking of which, the merchant sections of the game are a lot of fun and offer a refreshing experience that’s a fun distraction from running through each dimension. While there’s a sense of progression with Will, the progression of the store itself is far more fun in my opinion. You start off small with a few shelves to sell items on, but eventually, you can get new decorations, more shelves, storage, and even an assistant who can help you in a variety of ways.
For players that might want to focus more on dungeon crawling, you can have your assistant run the shop every day, but with a catch, she’ll take some of your profit. Another cool thing about Moonlighter is the fact that you set all of the prices of your items, and you’ll have to keep an eye on the way your customers react to your pricing. Set items too low and you won’t be making much money but set them too high and you might have thieves visit your shop more frequently if your customers are dissatisfied. Also, eventually your customers will begin giving you fetch quests you can profit even further on top of what you already make from selling items.
Your shop is located in the village of Rynoka. Once you get enough gold, you can start helping new shopkeepers move in and you’ll eventually have a blacksmith that can craft your weapons and armor, a witch who can upgrade your equipment and brew you helpful potions, and more. These additions give the sections outside of dungeon-crawling more depth as you’ll always be thinking of the best ways to allocate your items and money.
You’ll also have to be thinking like a merchant as you make your way through each dimension. As you progress, the game gives you a set of two powers. One will teleport you back to your shop for a small fee. Another will leave a checkpoint that you can start again at as soon as you reenter. As you might’ve guessed this does cost a significant amount more to do, so you’ll need to take into consideration whether or not you want to spend that money.
This power is also a great way to get past some of the bosses you might get stuck on or profit even further on a dungeon run you’re in the middle of. It’s very fitting that Will is given these powers instead of what you might expect a more traditional dungeon crawling hero to have. It’s also worth mentioning that every weapon has a unique attack you can utilize during battles.
The final hours of Moonlighter are intense, the last dimension is much more difficult than anything that’s before it and the final boss is no pushover either. I wish the payoff, in the end, was a little better. But overall I was quite satisfied with the journey. Completionists might be a bit disappointed to hear that there isn’t all that much left to do after the credits roll, but the journey throughout is immensely satisfying.
I mentioned in my preview of Moonlighter that the game boasts a beautiful pixel art style, and while it’s not too unique to things we have seen before, there is a noticeable attention to detail and everything moves beautifully. The game also has an incredibly beautiful soundtrack that’s both peaceful and harrowing in the more intense parts of the game. There are plenty of nods to other series and it’ll be a treat for players that are very familiar with games in the fantasy genre like The Legend of Zelda and Final Fantasy. You might even see some familiar looking faces enter your shop when you least expect it.
If you’ve been looking for your next dungeon crawling fix, I think Moonlighter is an easy recommendation to anybody who’s a fan of the genre. With the addition of merchant simulation, the game manages to stay refreshing throughout.
Moonlighter is available now on PS4, Xbox One, and PC, the title will be coming to Switch sometime at a later date. Players can grab the game on PC via Humble Bundle.
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