Arts video game review

Let’s get down to business

‘Moonlighter’ combines the best of both worlds

8631 key art full fhd nologo
Ready to take on the challenges within, Will stands before an open dungeon gate.
Courtesy of 11 bit studios

Developed by Digital Sun
Published by 11 bit studios
Rating E10+ for everyone ages 10 & up
Available on PC, PS4, Switch, and Xbox One

Upon the excavation of five mystical gates, heroes from far and wide traveled to try and conquer the dangers posed by the mystical dungeons hiding behind these gates. In order to meet the needs of these brave heroes, the small commercial town of Rynoka was founded.

Decades after the founding of Rynoka and the discovery of these five gates, you play as Will, a young and adventurous shopkeeper. By day, Will maintains Moonlighter, the shop passed down to him by his old man; but by night, he dives into the Golem Dungeon — the only dungeon left open as business in Rynoka began to die down — to fulfill his dreams of someday becoming a true hero while collecting treasures from the dungeon to be sold off to the passing adventurer.

Meanwhile, the village wise old man, Zenon, warns Will away from his rather dangerous dreams: “You are the last of your family. The only one left to run Moonlighter.” He doesn’t believe Will should risk his life in chasing his obsessions in unlocking the fifth gate. Instead, he should focus more on making a safe, honest living by keeping the legacy of Moonlighter alive. However, as though Zenon can sense Will is bound to not heed his words, the old man gifts Will his old sword and shield after chastising him for using a broom to beat up monsters.

The premise of Moonlighter is probably an easy draw for adventure, dungeon-crawling, and roguelike game fans alike. You get to seamlessly play two sides of the coin often associated with any classic adventure: the merchant and the hero.

Initially, the default controls for the game on the PS4 were rather awkward for me, but thankfully I was able to fully customize the button layout to a convention I was used to. From then on, the game was pretty much smooth sailing. It takes a few in-game days of play to get an established routine, and the nice part about this game is that you can customize a notable amount of content to fit your play style. You can outfit your shop to be open for as long as possible or to rake in the most funds possible. When you’re dungeon-crawling, you can play as the heavy-hitting tank, the deftly-skilled rogue, or the well-equipped archer. You can even decide what other shops to invite into town, since every new shop needs an initial investment to get started in Rynoka.

Now, while Moonlighter may not be the most narrative-heavy game, it still has quite a bit of hidden lore players can find when talking to other civilians of Rynoka or scouring the dungeons for artefacts to sell or keep. The simple motif of the game also lends itself to feelings of nostalgia, whether it be from the pixelated art style or the journey-inspiring music.

Unfortunately, not every game is perfect, and Moonlighter is no exception. For some, this game can seem very repetitive or even boring while trying to grind for the riches needed to upgrade weapons, armor, and available amenities that will make the conquest easier. The game also seems prone to the occasional bug, whether it be unable to close shop for the day or because of a stuck NPC or not being able to see the map as you go through a dungeon.

A more personal grievance I have is the inclusion of the Wanderer enemy. The Wanderer is a large, unkillable ghost-looking monster that will randomly appear while a player dungeon crawls. There’s no guarantee it will always appear, but there’s also never any indication of when it will appear. Accompanied by an abrupt change of music, it’ll pull itself from the ground and proceed to chase Will until he decides to safely warp out of the dungeon or gets slammed into unconsciousness and removed from the dungeon sans loot. I understand if the inclusion of the Wanderer is meant to provide another challenge to the player as they progress through the dungeons, but it’s just plain annoying and inconvenient to deal with, especially if a poorly-timed movement means the loss of very valuable artefacts.

Despite these flaws, though, Moonlighter is a simple-to-learn, fun-to-play game, and I would recommend this to any fan of the roguelike genre.