MOONLIGHTER Review: A Skeleton of An Item Shop Game

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Moonlighter, a game in the vein of Recettear, Part Action RPG part Shop simulator.  Previewed at E3 last year and recently released, Moonlighter is the latest item shop game to be released, but was it too soon? There is an interesting game here, but as found below there are a bit of issues with it.

Story

The story in Moonlighter is rather limited, at least in as far as I got into the game. In fact, it was so rarely touched on that I can't really remember it, at least in regards to the story for the main character Will. Something about a family member dying delving into some mysterious dungeons. Said family member left Will their shop, located in the village of Rynoka, that was founded around the dungeons.

There is a little bit of story dealing with the dungeons and past explorations, which I won't ruin because it is part of the dungeon crawling experience and 2 dungeons deep and I haven't gotten enough to piece everything together to give a fair summary. Most of these tidbits are found as you are exploring the dungeons.

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Gameplay

Gameplay in Moonlighter is going to differ a bit depending on whether you are dungeon delving or working in town/your shop. All gameplay though is done in a sort of pseudo-isometric 2D style.

When dungeon delving, you explore procedurally generated dungeons, fighting enemies with a number of weapons, which you can upgrade and enchant. Weapon upgrades have two “paths” either damage focused types or slightly weaker weapons with status effects. Stun was the only one I saw, but I suspect poison and fire are probably likely candidates for “status effects.” Armor is similar, but rather than having a base item that can branch into different focuses, there are just different kinds of armor for different focuses. Such as lower defense armor that increases your speed, or an armor with more defense but slows you.

All weapons and armor are made with things that you find in the dungeons, but you will from time to time find a weapon -and I assume armor-, but I never found any armor pieces myself.

Speaking of dungeons, there are 4 themed dungeons, each with three levels and a unique boss fight. Generally, you are fighting your way to the boss' “inner sanctum” for whichever dungeon you happen to be running, trying to piece together the mystery of the dungeons while doing a butt ton of inventory management. This is where dungeon delving got tedious.

Like other dungeon delving games, you have limited inventory space, but unlike other games, items in Moonlighter can have curses. Curses do a number of things that mess with your inventory, starting curses required the item to be placed in specific slots in your back (like at the top or bottom, or on the sides) or items that are unidentified (these are identified upon returning to town). Later curses are added that destroy items in a slot next to the item when you return to town or transform an object next to them into a copy of them. There are some positive “curses;” they do things like remove other curses or transport items back to your storage in town. The problem is, you can't stack cursed items with regular items of the same kind and if you ever un-stack unidentified items, you won't be able to stack them again.

When in town, things a bit different. You can spend money to help other vendors get established that can do a number of things to assist you: a blacksmith, an enchanter, etc. You can also upgrade and customize your store.

Upgrades come in a number of flavors: bigger shop, sale bins (black hole), the cash register (increases money from sales), beds (pointless), and storage. There are “customization” items you can purchase from one of the shops in town, that augment things like bonus cash on sales, customers move faster, the shop can be open longer, etc.

In your shop depending on its size, you will have a number of spots to put items for sale. Once you place an item, you set a price. If you have successfully sold the item previously the last sale price will automatically be placed for you. Occasionally, a character looking to steal from you will enter your shop at which point a thought bubble will appear above your head to warn you. You will need to watch out for theives as they will eventually snag an item and make a beeline for the door. You have to roll into the theif to stop them and get your item back.

When running the shop, you spend your time fine-tuning the price of items to sell them, restocking open item slots in your shop and stopping thieves. Later you can take item orders from customers for bonus cash.

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Graphics and Sound

I gotta say, I like the art style they went with in creating this game. I can't tell if it would be considered 32 or 16-bit, but either way, it is pixelated, but it looks good and isn't “muddy.” It definitely is interesting and doesn't detract from the game at all.

Sounds and music were also pretty good. Everything seemed to fit and play well, in creating the expected atmosphere/feeling. But, it was a bit loud; even with music turned all the way down to "1", I had difficulties hearing other things outside of the game. Each location has it's own music; each dungeon, your shop and the town. Even individual rooms in the dungeons sometimes get their own music. Overall the music was enjoyable and set a unique sound stage for every area.

Replayability

With procedurally generated dungeons, there is the potential for hours and hours of play. Couple that with the need to scour said dungeons for the parts to upgrade your gear and to create better items to sell at your shop. Detracting from the item hunting is the fact that there is a store you can help open in town that sells random stuff you can find in the dungeons. So you won't even be dungeon crawling to upgrade your own gear most of the time, just to get stock for your store. The question is though, can the game hold your interest long enough to get those hours in. In my case, not so much. I forced myself to play the game in hopes of finding the hook and getting really into it...It just never came.

What Needs Work

Sadly there is a lot that I feel could use work and a number of things that just didn't feel fully fleshed out.

The pacing seemed off in the game...or almost nonexistent. First of all, there was no story aspects to keep me drawn in wanting to play more. Second, there was nothing to keep me interested in what I was doing. Most games give you little “rewards”, be they story, items, skills, etc. This game didn't really have that, or if it did, it didn't really feel like it. The reward being given wasn't really interesting in and of itself.

For a game that is so focused on inventory management, stacking items is really frustrating. I can't tell you how many times I lost out on loot because the game didn't stack this one item with an incomplete stack elsewhere in my inventory. The same goes for your stash back at your shop, I had to manually stack a number of things to clean up my inventory.

 There are some UI problems in this department as well. As you expand your storage space, you get additional chests, but one of your chests gets additional “tiers”. I thought this would be useful to sort items based on dungeon: dungeon 1 in the first tier, dungeon 2 in the next, etc. Little did I know I would have to work against the UI. So when dealing with swapping items between your inventory and containers you can press the right bumper to swap the item from where ever the item is to the other, say from your bag to a chest. Problem is when you do this in the “master chest”, the system doesn't move it to a spot in the tier you are looking at, it moves it to the first open slot in all the tiers (starting from the top).

There are important upgrade items that don't seem fully implemented or may have been put in as an afterthought. For the first group, two things come to mind, sales bins and the calendar. Sales bins are something you can upgrade for your store, but as far as I can tell they are just a black hole for items and money. I placed one item in the sale bin to test it, it disappeared/sold(?) I didn't get money for it so I never used the damn bin again.

The calendar is probably one of the biggest items of lost potential. So days go by as you play and there are days of the week and months, but it seems all the calendar does is track your item orders. No holidays, no special events. Now perhaps this is something they can add down the line, but I still feel it is a missed opportunity.

For the second group of items, the bed and bed upgrades, seem like a completely “bolted on” addition to the game. Bed upgrades are supposed to heal you more when you rest, the thought being after a long night of dungeon crawling you are going to be hurt and a better bed will help you rest better and thus heal better. The thing is, every time I left the dungeon I was fully healed. I only used the bed twice, once because I thought I needed to and the other was simply to make the game save.

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Verdict

There is, I feel, a good game here, it's just not fully refined. 


I love these kinds of games and I like the art style chosen, but there are just too many things that either create a hurdle for me, the player, or leave me scratching my head. The game couldn't really keep my interest. There were also a number of UI and mechanics issues that bothered me. In its current state, I may see myself “toying” with the game, but I wouldn't really say I enjoy every moment playing it. 

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