The term moonlighter is a noun based on the verb moonlighting, which is to work at an additional job after one’s regular, full-time employment, usually at night. This is also the title given to a game with a novel concept. Moonlighter, developed by Digital Sun and published by 11 bit studios, is an action RPG dungeon crawler that gives us a taste of what it’s like to be a hardworking shop owner that traverses treacherous dungeons to bring us those much needed items, that are always overpriced, all without much sleep!
Before reaching the game menu, a little note appears scrawled on parchment to tell me that a gamepad is recommended, but a keyboard is good too. The controls on a keyboard would definitely prove more confusing than on a gamepad. This kind of game feels more natural for me on a regular controller. I press X to continue and the menu is already rich with serene music, while showing off the portals used to go between dungeons. This music actually continues into the dungeons, and feels mismatched during epic battles. A track that offers something more upbeat would have been nice for the fights, or even something darker to add to the danger of the dungeons.
Will, the main character, starts out in a dungeon and each room is part of a quick tutorial, until you fall in battle and appear back in town through a portal. An old man stumbles upon you and takes you home. Soon enough you learn that it is your destiny to rebuild the shops of Rynoka, bring back tourists, while secretly longing to uncover what lurks in the Fifth Dungeon. Oh, and after the old man scolds me for using my broom as a weapon, he says, “It’s dangerous to go alone. Take this,” then hands me a shield and sword. As if I wasn’t expecting that. Thank you, Digital Sun. And don’t forget to break open jars for hidden items!
I’m more of an adventurer, so I hurry off to the dungeons to risk my life. I find more than I bargained for. I started on Hard difficulty, as the game suggested. I quickly learn that death in a dungeon is torture. All the artifacts collected to be sold at the shop are gone, and you go back to the beginning no matter what level of the dungeon you managed to arrive at. A change in strategy is in order. First, I set myself back to Normal difficulty, which is comparable to Easy, and instead of rushing headstrong into the dungeon I decide to take my time. The focus becomes gathering items, determining the best price to sell them at to make money. To know when the price is right, Will has to watch the reactions of his customers, ranging from anger to jubilation. The gold earned can be used to purchase armor, weapons, and their upgrades, but you’ll need resources. Potions are available to be used during combat, as well as enchantments. In addition, you can pay money to grow your shop, by adding more tables to place items that are for sale and more chests to store resources you want to keep. If ever you have no desire to sell the items collected from the dungeon, the option is there to sleep all day and keep the shop closed.
After a bit of exploring, Will comes across bodies of previous adventurers, even good ol’ Pete. Journals are left to offer information about their tale so you can avoid making the same mistake. The first relic found allows you to quickly teleport back to the shop for a small amount of gold. When ready, you return to the beginning of the dungeon. A second relic claimed from the corpse of another dungeon crawler, which costs more gold to utilize, sends you home through a portal that can be used a second time to return you to the exact spot you left.
The graphics of this game may not be anything to brag to your friends about, but the attention to detail is astounding. In the main character alone we see that his hair bounces when he runs, and we can watch his torso heaving as he breathes. The items on backpacks sway when the non-player characters walk. Everything that is capable of motion moves for some reason or another. During the day while the shop is open the room is bright and warm. The shade of the sun streaming in the window transitions as night draws near, and darkens the shop, sort of warning that Will needs to close the shop soon. The whole game feels alive.
Moonlighter is a great game. On the difficulty suited for you, this game is purely enjoyable and tough to put down for long. Taking the aspect we are familiar with as an adventure being the customer of a shop and reversing that to being an adventurer that owns a shop is innovative, and executed well. We are offered the allure of reaching the Fifth Dungeon to find out what monsters lurk there, along with the responsibility of maintaining your shop and growing commerce in Rynoka.