E3 2017: Hands-On With Moonlighter

When you think about RPGs just a little bit, you start to realize just how little some parts of them make sense. One particular area is the shops. Just how many people in these worlds really need to purchase a super powerful god-killing weapon or ten dozen potions? And who goes out and gathers the hundreds of ingredients that fill out the store’s inventory.

Moonlighter‘s protagonist is one of these RPG adventuring shopkeeps who stocks and sells items in an RPG store. While he works the store, he dreams of being a hero and hopes that making money from his store, he can live that dream.

In the game, the player must juggle a roguelike RPG with the shop keeping elements. The main gameplay loop revolves around two main aspects: during the night, the player raids a randomly generated dungeon, trying to find rare and valuable items; and during the day they can open up their shop to try to sell the items they have found. Evidently, sleep is unnecessary for RPG shop owners.

The dungeon raiding is very 2D Zelda inspired. The action is presented mostly top-down as the player explores single-screen rooms, fighting or avoiding monsters. Combat is relatively simple, though it can get pretty tough. During my demo, I died a few times while getting used to it, getting kicked back to the start of the dungeon without any of the items I had gathered.

These dungeons are randomly generated each time they are entered, but they eventually lead to lower floors and boss fights. Getting further into the dungeon gets better and better items, but takes either more skill or better equipment to tackle.

Once the player either wants to leave or day starts to break, they can warp back to their shop at the cost of a small bit of gold. Back at the shop, the player can place and price items on display, choosing which ones to sell and for what price. From there, customer’s reactions to the prices will help them determine if they’re priced or high or low and let them adjust accordingly.

The system has shades of the game Recettear, another shopkeeping game on PC. And like that game, the market can fluctuate. Saturate the market with too many of an item and the value of that item could drop to match the increased supply. While on the other hand, an extremely scarce item will get a bump in price. Knowing when to hold on items and when to sell gives a big edge.

These two systems, fighting and selling, work very well in conjunction with each other. The basic gameplay loop is to spelunk through the dungeon for items, sell them, then go upgrade and enhance equipment to make the next dungeon run easier. And it’s all very satisfying.

The combat is fairly simplistic but that doesn’t stop it from being fun. Even when I died and got kicked back to the start of the dungeon without the items I had gathered, I was ready and willing to jump back in.

My one complaint was that the loot has no real indication of how rare or valuable it is (assuming you don’t have one of the devs to your left telling you, as I did). This was by design and I understand the reasoning, as pricing it correctly when selling it is part of the game, but I was never overly excited for loot drops.

I suppose this could be different in the full game. Once I’ve explored more with the systems and have found out which items are rare, by selling them, it would lead to a more natural form of excitement from finding items. One not tied to “well, this item is purple so I’m excited.”

Still, I played the game for forty-five minutes, well past the half hour I had scheduled and would have kept going had I not hit a bug in the game. I really enjoyed Moonlighter and it’s a game that I will definitely be keeping my eye on. The developers are aiming for a full release on PlayStation 4, XBox One, and Steam later this year.

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Written by Andy Richardson

Andy Richardson

A longtime PlayStation fan who enjoys JRPGs and rhythm games when he’s not tweeting about his parrot.

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