The archetypal shopkeepers and merchants have always played a passive role in the dungeon-crawler genre. They await the mythical heroes and villains, often in the strangest of places. You might stumble across a hooded figure lurking in front of a dark cavity selling epic wares; as you leave the dungeon, the same figure turns to you, this time with more powerful loot and a lucrative deal on health potions.

They might play a passive role, but they are just as essential as the player character, albeit far more mysterious. Developer Digital Sun has captured the arduous process of becoming a shopkeeper of renown in their first title, Moonlighter.

You step into the shoes of Will, the young proprietor of the Moonlighter, a commercial enterprise in the heart of a small town. Following in his father’s footsteps, Will dreams of becoming an adventurer; he wishes to walk among the ranks of heroes. Instead, he is bound to the dying town and the lonesome shop with the sole purpose of restoring both to their glory.

Exhilarating Combat And Analytical Strategy

Moonlighter review

Moonlighter combines a rogue-lite experience with a shop-keeping sim.  By day, Will sells his merchandise to the people of Rynoka. By night, he ventures into one of five randomly generated dungeons in search of more valuable wares. Each dungeon is broken into three levels and a boss fight. Each level presents the player with a combination of ranged and melee enemy types.

While the first few levels are more of a general test of quick reflexes, the next require a greater strategic approach. You will begin to analyze the room and identify what will prove to be the greatest threat, before diving head on into battle. The boss fights present a similar challenge to the player, but much of the focus is on learning to counter choreographed attack patterns rather than prioritizing enemy types.

Infinitely More Accessible than its Peers

Moonlighter review

As a rogue-lite, Moonlighter adapts difficulty and death to its two-part gameplay. My first foray into the dungeon was interrupted by a red slime that pounced upon poor Will. But the Gates are fair. When Will is knocked out, he is sent back to the beginning of the dungeon so only a few minutes of progress are lost. Despite losing most of your items, it never feels like a punishment for your lackluster attempts.

The goal, as with any dungeon-crawler, is gathering loot. Moonlighter presents a third core mechanic which revolves around its inventory management. Will begins with only 20 slots in his backpack. If you are “killed” in a dungeon, you lose all but the top row, which means you must prioritize items.

Furthermore, some items can only be placed in certain areas of the bag. A broken sword might need to be placed on the left or right side; a book might destroy an item diagonal to it. This has a greater effect on gameplay as the items become more expensive.

The Game-play Loop is Incredibly Satisfying

Moonlighter review

All these systems dictate how the next day will play out. Whatever items you bring back from the dungeon can either be sold to adventurers or used to craft new weapons and potions at the various stores. These stores, including a blacksmith and an alchemist, are available for financing. They will provide you with the equipment necessary to plunge into the darkness and emerge victorious. However, most of your time will be spent within the Moonlighter. This equipment shop begins as a small hovel but can be upgraded as the game progresses.

Moonlighter review

Moonlighter may be a rogue-lite, but the developers have spared no expense on either gameplay loop. With the items from his dungeon-crawl, Will aims to finance his adventures. As the player, you will need to set the price for each item you scavenge from your nightly escapades. Price it too high and the adventurers won’t buy it. Price it too low and you miss out on crucial funding for equipment. It’s a careful balance, but I’ve found it easiest to start high and work down.

Unfortunately, there is no long-term consequence for your pricing decisions. The Moonlighter is the only store in Rynoka that sells items handpicked from the dungeon. Thus, even when the pricing is high, the citizens still buy from Will. I would have loved a more complex market system, especially consequences for my choices. However, it’s such a fulfilling experience that I hesitate to critique it further.

Should You Go For It?

In the end, Moonlighter is a joy to play. The simple gameplay loop allows for experimentation with weapons, potions, and enchantments without consequence. If a dungeon run goes poorly, you can just return to it the next night. Despite my disappointment in the market system, it’s not nearly enough to damage the experience.

Moonlighter puts a smile on my face; it doesn’t ask for much. I’m never in any danger of losing, but there’s always more loot and upgrades to keep you coming back; there’s only ever more to obtain. If even half of Moonlighter sounds intriguing, give it a shot, you won’t be disappointed.