Do you ever thinking about the commerce of our gaming worlds? Does Link pay rent on his various homes? Who foots the bill for keeping the various Airships of Final Fantasy fueled up? Where do RPG merchants get all their goods, considering they never seem to leave the confines of their shop?
Moonlighter seeks to answer the latter question. The game places you in the rough financial situation of Will, a young man who has had the merchant life thrust upon him, but secretly desires to become a hero. Will inherited the only shop in the small, dying town of Rynoka. When faced with a shop without any goods to sell, Will decides that the best course of action is to split his time between dungeon diving for loot and selling that loot in his store.
If you've ever played Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale, published by Carpe Fulgur back in 2010, this may sound familiar to you. Moonlighter is a similar game, leaning heavily on a pixel art style instead of Recettear's hand-drawn art. There are further differences though; Recettear's store experience has customers bringing items to you and then you haggle on the price at the register. Moonlighter has customers picking up your wares and then offering one of four faces that hint at their feelings on your pricing. If the animated emotion shows a big smile with coins for eyes, you priced the item too low, while a severly depressed face shows that your pricing is too high. If you picked the wrong price, the customer simply walks away, but that result is recorded in your notebook. Oh, and thieves will occasionally try to steal your wares.
Moonlighter also leans harder on the combat side of things. While in Recettear you hired adventures to do your farming—you still controlled them, they just weren't you—Will is all about hunting himself. You'll begin with a training Sword and Shield and Broom Spear, offering two different combat styles: the Shield can block, while the Spear has a charge move. Part of your spoils in terms of materials and gold will be used to craft new upgrades for Will, including better armor or additional weapons like the Gloves and Great Sword.
Every dungeon is laid out like the original Legend of Zelda, with square rooms featuring at least one exit in one of the four cardinal directions. There are a total of five dungeon types: Golem, Forest, Desert, Tech, and the final 5th Door unlocked by beating the other four. Each time you enter a dungeon it's procedurally-generated, shifting all the rooms into different configurations. The overall structure remains the same though, offering three floors before you face off against a boss monster.
You can leave the dungeon at any time using your Pendant, which costs a small fee in Gold and resets the dungeon layout. Alternatively, you can pay a much larger fee to create a Portal that will bring you back to the same floor to continue on. Your inventory is only so big (20 slots), so you have to decide which items you want to keep and which ones need to be discarded. Not only that, but some items only fit in certain spots of your bag, like the bottom or sides, while others are cursed and will destroy other objects in a specific direction.
Moonlighter is all about risk and reward. Die and you lose everything on your person, so you have to balance your current inventory and your survival capabilities. You can't use the Pendant to leave the dungeon room unless your current room has been cleared, you can't leave a room with living monsters, and you never know what's going to be in the next room. Is it worth it to proceed on, or better to give up now? Higher floors offer better loot, but also harder foes. Some items are in demand from customers back in the shop, but others you'll need for crafting upgrades. It's all about the give and take.
One time I had a great stash of items on the third floor of a dungeon, but I got too bold. I should have teleported out, but I thought "One more room". That room was my doom, meaning I lost everything on that run. Another time, I finally got the goods to craft an upgrade to my Sword and Shield, but the items needed were also in high demand in my shop. I ended up selling them instead of using them for crafting; I can hit a monster one more time, but gold is forever, baby!
Well, not really. Gold and materials are used for crafting, but that's not all. You can purchase upgrades to the town, adding a Blacksmith, Potion Maker, Banker, or more. (Wait, I paid for you folks to have your own shops and I have to pay for good and services? Highway robbery!) You can also upgrade your shop directly, making the overall layout larger, or adding features like bigger chests for inventory storage, discount sale bins, or better beds for a good night's sleep.
The core of Moonlight is this detailed management of your available resources, which includes time. You can choose when to open or close the shop, but it closes automatically at night. Where do your resources go? Is it better to upgrade your shop, or craft better weapons for yourself? Are you good enough to survive another room? Should you close up shop now and get an early start on the dungeon run?
This isn't a review, because I'm not done with Moonlighter, but the time that I've put into the game has offered up a thoroughly charming action-adventure game. I enjoy managing my shop and slowly building up my town. The pixel art excels in the little details and it's wonderfully animated. And the soundtrack is enjoyable, which is a surprise for someone who doesn't listen to game music very closely.
Moonlight is a nice surprise as we march towards E3, where the biggest companies show off the biggest games. Sure, the whole thing could fall apart in the latter hours, but right now I'm enjoying this mix of combat and commerce. It's a great time on PC, also available on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. And I can't wait to dig back into Moonlighter when the Switch version releases this summer.