Getting the loot is only half the battle.
Moonlighter is an indie action RPG that solves the age old question - where does all the loot come from? In the trading town of Rynoka, a brave shopkeeper named Will moonlights as an adventurer, scouring dungeons at night for treasure to sell in his shop. This loop is addictive in the familiar way Civilization games are - always looking for one more run through the dungeon or one more day selling and gearing up. Its polished, pretty, and most importantly a lot of fun to play.
The bright and colourful pixel-art style lends itself well to the combat system, keeping everything punchy and exciting without becoming cluttered. Moonlighter is a rogue-lite, meaning dungeons are procedurally generated like others in the genre, but character death isn't permanent. Each dungeon has three increasingly difficult levels, and a fourth level for the boss fight. They all have different enemies with different mechanics, so progression keeps it from ever feeling stale.
Moonlighter's tutorial ends with you having your ass handed to you by a room full of monsters way beyond your level, establishing that Will is in way over his head. With that being said, I played on hard mode and was able to clear each boss in 2 attempts or less. Usually this genre of games runs a little tougher than others, so it's a lighter entry by comparison, but not so simple that it wasn't enjoyable. If you're new to this genre or had trouble beating games like The Binding of Isaac, this is probably a great starting point. If you're looking for more of a challenge, try one of the harder game modes or go for the "perfect" boss fight achievements.
The day portion of the game takes place inside your shop, trying to maximize profits from all the loot you collected. To help you do this, you have a journal with all items sorted by price. Only problem? It starts out entirely blank. You can see what the most and least expensive items will sell for, but everything in between is up to you to figure out by trial and error. Customers will have a reaction to each item's price, letting you know if it's overpriced, expensive, perfect or a bargain. This is stored in the journal so you can adjust your prices to find the perfect balance between customer satisfaction and profits. Customers will also offer you quests to kill monsters or collect items. These mean seeking out some of the more dangerous enemies, but offer a huge payout.
Finding the perfect prices for each item is fun in itself, and running around restocking will keep you busy during the limited time you have to sell each day. It's a nice palate cleanser to keep the fighting from getting stale, and it also gives you a chance to decompress before going in for another attempt on a boss. With that being said, it's only as involved as you want it to be - eventually you hire an assistant who can sell for you (for a fee, of course) if you'd rather stick to adventuring.
STORY & ATMOSPHERE
The story hinges on mysterious gates to other worlds being uncovered, and adventurers coming to seek their fortunes. The town of Rynoka, where Will's shop is located, is established as a trading post and safe haven. As Will proves himself, he's able to open the next most dangerous area, and so on up to the mysterious fifth gate, which has never been opened.
As you progress, you're able to improve your town by inviting new merchants to set up shop in Rynoka. These merchants allow you to craft gear and potions, enchant weapons, and buy crafting materials. You can also pay to upgrade your shop. As you clear more dungeons and purchase these improvements, more people are attracted to Rynoka, turning it from a small village to a bustling hub of commerce.
Overall the story does take somewhat of a backseat, although there's more than enough to give you a purpose behind what you're doing. The flavour text for each item and notes you find on the skeletons of those who came before you give you a real sense of the world, and the danger you volunteer yourself for in the name of adventure.
CRAFTING & CUSTOMIZATION
Moonlighter has five weapon types to choose from, allowing you to equip two at any given time. Each of these is upgraded once per dungeon, and can either have elemental damage or a boost to regular attack power. There are three gear types - light, medium or heavy. These are just upgraded once per dungeon, and don't have the stat choice the weapons do. All materials can be collected in the dungeons, or bought from a certain vendor (for a substantial mark-up) if you don't have the patience.
RPG elements surface in the form of weapon enchanting (damage/defense boosts only), and choosing between elemental or regular damage paths for each weapon. Will doesn't level up or have stat points to allocate, so this is about as in-depth as it gets. This uncomplicated approach lets you focus on getting back in to action instead of trying to work out a better build, without feeling railroaded in to one playstyle.
LENGTH & ACHIEVEMENTS
Moonlighter is a fairly compact game, with my first playthrough clocking in at just over 20 hours. I stuck with one weapon type the whole way through, but also spent time exploring and opted to sell items myself instead of using my assistant most days. About half of the achievements can be earned through regular progression. The rest mostly involve crafting certain items, killing a number of enemies from each dungeon, or finding secrets in the world. There are also achievements for beating each boss with no mistakes, killing them with the game's first weapon, and finishing it in under 10 hours. Since you can only kill each boss once, this means you'll need multiple playthroughs if you want 100% completion.
Moonlighter is a polished and fun adventure game with a unique approach. Although it drew a lot of comparison to Recettear, Digital Sun has proven they had a lot of original ideas to bring to the genre. The dungeon crawling and shopkeeping elements feel balanced, with neither treated like a chore you have to slog through to get back to the fun. The soundtrack is excellent, the graphics are great, and the quirky story will keep you intrigued the whole way through. With several content updates already announced on top of a solid core game, this indie is definitely worth picking up.
Moonlighter is available on PC, Mac, Xbox One, PS4, and Nintendo Switch.