Every successful run in an adventure game owes an obscene amount of gratitude to the game’s merchants and shop keeps. The items and weapons on the shop’s shelves are vital to hacking and slashing your way toward the end goal. Moonlighter gives players a sneak peek into what it takes to maintain a shop in a fantastical world, but with a slight twist. Playing as a young merchant named Will, players are initially tasked with maintaining their small, bare bones shop in an effort to keep the doors open but the merchandise that stocks Will’s shelves must come from somewhere. Each night, by the light of the moon, Will straps on his backpack and takes off in search of adventure and new wares.
To the right of Will’s home village lies a set of dungeons. Five of them, to be precise, though Will needs keys to gain access to the later four. Beginning with the Golem dungeon, players can guide Will through these procedurally generated caverns, hacking and slashing through enemies in hopes that the loot they drop is worth a decent amount of gold if they can successfully extract it back home. Will is armed with nothing more than a flimsy shield and even flimsier short sword to start to take down monsters ranging from harmless to jelly blobs to flying, spiky, mechanical drones. Should Will fall to one of these foes every item in his backpack is then dropped. The run essentially goes to waste, as the dungeon resets and the layout as well as all monsters and potential loop drops are randomized once again. You heard that right, Moonlighter isn’t just a shop keeping simulator blended with a dungeon crawler, it’s also a roguelite.
To be fair, if Will does die while exploring the dungeons it’s really the player’s fault. Will comes equipped with a magical pendant that players can use to teleport from the dungeons at any point. There’s very little limitations on the use of this pendant. Even if there are still monsters attacking Will in the room the player is currently exploring, it is still possible to evacuate by holding B. That is, as long as Will has enough money on his persons to activate the pendant. There is a gold cost for escaping, and the price of escape goes up with each floor that Will progresses through. If the player finds themselves in a true pickle and needs to escape but are short of money, it is possible to sell items directly from the inventory management screen.
Speaking of inventory management, let’s address some of Moonlighter’s downfalls. Each dungeon is packed with a few floors to explore, and then topped off with a boss battle. Destroying the boss allows Will to escape the dungeon without paying the price of using the pendant. However, as it currently stands at the time of writing this review the bosses for each cave only spawn one time. Once they’re done, they’re no longer available to replay. The developers do have plans to address this in a future patch, however.
Will is capable of carrying a whopping twenty items on his person. This may seem like a lot on the surface, especially given how some items can be added in stacks up to 10. But it doesn’t take more than a room or two to have Will’s pockets overflowing with loot. This stops the flow of the dungeon crawling side of Moonlighter’s to force players to sit and organize out their backpacks, comparing stacks of items with their shop values in Will’s notebook compared to the price of just selling outright from the management screen which can quickly become a chore. This is made even more frustrating when you have to consider that some items within dungeons come with special conditions. A piece of fabric might have a limitation that prevents it from being placed on the bottom row of the backpack, where other items might magically destroy yet another item from Wil’s bag upon arriving back in town. Not only do these marked items have their own special conditions, they can not be stacked with other items already in the bag unless they have the same conditions. Will’s bag never increases in size, though drops do become more and more valuable, so there is a constant struggle with adjusting what to keep in your sack versus what to sale at a loss to the mirror or worse – leave behind on the dungeon floor.
If you manage to successfully escape a dungeon, either by defeating a boss or paying the pendant’s price, then you can now spend your time hocking Will’s wares in his little shop. There’s only one table capable of holding four items to begin with, so expect to spend a lot of your time standing there restocking those four slots. There’s quite a few quirks to the shopkeeping system in Moonlighter. Primarily, you have no initial indication of what kind of price is acceptable for your items. There’s no choice but to just pull a random number out of a hat, and watch for your customers reactions. If they buy the item and a little face pops up with coins for eyes, you sold the item for too cheap. A sad face with tears means it’s too expensive. It’s a constant guessing game, and it’s made even more difficult by the sheer amount of item types available. It’s impossible to remember them all, and while you can pull up a journal and look at notes that indicate what prices received what reactions previously the journal does only sort items by what dungeon they came from. This can make it take a while to find what you’re looking for, and so you may find yourself just shrugging and taking whatever price you can get just to avoid having to search through the journal.
Keeping the shelves stocked and pulling arbitrary price points out of thin air are not Will’s only job at the shop, though. He’s also got to keep an eye out for pesky thieves who will lurk around the store, grab an item, and book it for the exit. Players can use will’s dodge roll in this scenario, however, to tackle a shoplifter if he gets to them before they reach the exit. The item then teleports back into Will’s inventory, and the shoplifter leaves empty handed. The higher your store has been upgraded, and the better your wares, the more shoplifters that will annoy you, naturally.
The purpose of all this dungeon crawling, looting, and shopkeeping for Will is to be able to afford upgrades for his shop, and better weapons or gear for crawling higher level dungeons. Its very cyclical, but also very grindy. It can take several hours of struggling through repetitive gameplay just to get to a point where Will can successfully encounter the first boss. All of the upgrades and weapons are exuberantly priced, and considering its up to Will to upgrade not just his own shop and armor, but also the town as a whole it means that playing Moonlighter is a serious time commitment with a lot of repetitive tasks if you want to actually progress.