We take for granted the day-to-day exhaustion that General Store owners go through in order to keep their stores in stock and ready for the next customer. If the store doesn’t have the product that the customer came in looking for then the customer leaves disappointed. If the customer finds the product they were looking for but finds the price is way too high then they again leave disappointed. You basically need to be perfect for every single customer or you’re deemed a failure. Can you be perfect for everyone? The game Moonlighter seems to think so.
Moonlighter is a 2D action RPG with rogue-lite mechanics that stars a man named Will who wants to become a hero but must tend to a general shop to restore Rynoka, a small village, back to its original booming state. That is a lot to take in but there really are two parts to this game. On the one side, you go and explore various procedurally generated dungeons, much like Binding of Isaac, killing enemies and gathering loot. You then take this loot and stick a price tag on it to sell to customers. It is pretty simple when you put it plainly.
Your goal is to adventure into these dungeons and defeat the end bosses located on the third and final floor. There are four areas (dungeons) that you must explore one at a time: Golem, Forest, Desert, and Tech. Odd name choices but they make sense once you see the type of loot you gain from their enemies. The boss fights are unique but not too difficult to figure out. Their patterns change as you get deeper into the fight but even those changes are just patterns that need to be memorized. The bosses are a nice change of pace from wandering around the dungeons and they give tremendously great loot once they are defeated including a key that will unlock part of a big gate. Defeat all four of the bosses and the big gate will be yours to enter.
Each dungeon has different types of loot you can gather from defeating enemies. As you unlock new dungeons the loot becomes more valuable and sells at a bigger price. There is a reason to go back to old dungeons but we will get to that later. You want to sell this loot so that you can make some coin because the coin can be spent on upgrading your gear and weapons, buying potions and enchantments, adding buffs to your shop, buying resources you may need in a hurry, for investing at a bank to make more money, upgrading your shop and upgrading the town with different types of merchants. There is a lot to do here but it once you get going it all becomes fairly simple.
When you return from an adventure with all your loot (either by opening a one-way portal, which costs coin or a two-way portal, which costs more coin) you go to your shop and do some organization of your goods. This is where you start running your shop to make some good money. You start with a basic table that holds four items (items can be stacked) to sell your loot on. You place the items and then name your price. You don’t technically know what is a good price until you have a customer buy the item for the first time so it all becomes a giant guessing game where you might find yourself selling a super expensive item for extremely cheap and making the customer happy but leaving you with a lot less money than deserved. Some items, like twigs, are to be priced low and some items, like history books, are to be priced high. You need to figure this out. Thankfully there is a notebook system that keeps track of whether the customer was happy with the pricing or upset and you can always look back at it when doing item management on the tables. I felt that having a pen and paper helped me more than going through the notebook because I had the prices right in front of me. It just sped things up a bit. You will also find yourself quickly restocking the tables as they deplete, which leaves the register unattended and the customers start to line up. Leave the customers waiting too long and they will leave. There is a lot of strategy in where you place your items in the store and you will find out fast how important it is to organize.
Once you have set your items and their prices it is time to open the doors and let the customers come in. Immediately you will be able to tell what you need to adjust in terms of pricing and what you priced correctly. The customer will always let you know. Unfortunately, there is a set price for every item that makes the customer happy so finding that sweet spot for pricing can stop the strategy game you were trying to play. There is a tendency to still have customers buy items that you slightly over-price but that depends on if there is a need for that specific item at the time. There is a spot in your notebook that tells you the demand on a product but once again if you find the sweet spot in pricing the demand does not even matter. When the customer is happy with your pricing they will drop the item off at the register and you have to sell the item to them and collect the coin. This part of the game reminds me of the Diner Dash type mobile games that were so addicting back in the day.
As mentioned before you can upgrade your shop when you have enough coin. Upgrades include a bigger shop, which has more tables to sell your items and more chests to store your items you may need to upgrade weapons or equipment later on, a ‘For Sale’ bin, which gives a discount to items you don’t need or care for anymore, automatic tips from customers, which gets a higher percentage as you upgrade, more storage space and a better bed, which gives you more health and armour if you sleep in it before adventuring out. Upgrading the shop isn’t all rainbows and butterflies though. The bigger your shop gets the harder it is to get around. As your shop grows so does your reputation and you will see new types of customers. You may see a couple thieves as they try the old five-finger discount and you have to stop them before they leave the shop. You may run into other travellers wielding mighty weapons and asking for your assistance with finding specific resources. These side-quests enhance the replay value of the older dungeons because as you progress through the new dungeons the items of old dungeons become less valuable. As you can see the upgrades are plentiful and it definitely makes for some interesting decision making as you go.
You can also upgrade the town with various vendors. There is a weapon and armour vendor, which allows you to upgrade equipment with the use of different resources you gather on your adventures. If you don’t have one or two of the resources needed than you could possibly buy the resource from another vendor who sells items you have discovered in the dungeons but for an expensive price. You are better off finding the item but if you have the money than you might as well grab it. Another vendor will sell you potions and enchantments. There are potions that grant you health and potions that reveal an entire floor of a dungeon to you. There are enchantments that give your weapon or armour buffs. There is unique item vendor who will sell you wares that grant buffs to your shop that you can place in your shop on specific tabletops. Sometimes you may want more tips or sometimes you may want to make the customers wait in line longer granting them more patience. Depending on your strategy these can all come in hand. Lastly, there is a bank vendor that can invest your money over a period of time and get you more money. This is great if you have the money to throw down.
Where I believe the game lacks is in its dungeon designs. There isn’t a lot you can do with square-based rooms that seem to become repeatable even though they are procedurally generated. The scaling enemies are nice to see and give you just enough difference that fighting them doesn’t become a headache. You will learn their move sets and find out exactly where you need to stand to avoid getting hit. Once again all you need to do is figure out the strategy of what you need to do and the game basically becomes a grind of getting the checklist done.
You will find yourself doing the same things over and over again each and every run: collect some base loot, sell that loot, go back in and get more, sell more, eventually find books and designs that are worth the most, sell those, upgrade your weapon and armour, buy potions, get to the end of the dungeon, defeat that boss, upgrade the shop and town, go to next dungeon, repeat. It isn’t rocket science on what the main strategy is to complete the game and it doesn’t push you to think there are different ways to go about it. It is pretty easy to figure out.
The music is stellar. Once again a 2D pixel art game that has amazing music. This year has been amazing so far. Every dungeon has a different tune and it really gets you in the mood to adventure. The sounds are crisp and clean and you can tell they put a lot of effort into making sure they got everything right.
Moonlighter deserves your attention but it can become a game about checking off your list of things to do. It may not be as fast-paced as other dungeon crawlers because of the shop management sessions but it will leave you wanting to explore every room in every dungeon just to find those specific high priced items to sell. This game is a lot of fun and the different types of weapons and armour give you a chance to play the game in different ways. A choice is always a good thing in games and there is plenty of that to go around. Managing the shop may be taxing and repetitive after a while, much like the traversal of the dungeons, but there is enough here to make you want to dive deeper into every element it has to offer.
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