Working Two Shifts With Moonlighter
Find the items, sell the items
Just when you think there are no new ideas in gaming, only different open worlds and fetch quests to go on, here comes Moonlighter to turn a staple of RPG gaming on its head. Any fan of the genre knows what it’s like to walk into one of the many towns scattered across the map, desperately low on potions and ten other things, searching for the item shop tucked away in the corner of the village. But what would it be like if you were the item shop, or at least the person behind the counter? This is the question Moonlighter asks, and the answer is delightful.
The setup is simple, and it makes me wonder why I’ve never stumbled upon a game like this over the years. You are Will, the proprietor of an item shop in the town of Rynoka, which sprung up in the wake of the discovery of a set of gates that lead to different dimensions. During the day you run your shop, and once the sun goes down you venture through the gates to the dimensions beyond, slaying beasts and adventuring. That timeline actually should be flipped, though, because it is during your nighttime escapades that you procure the goods which your customers will purchase in the shop. This sets up the hook of the entire game, which is both simple and extremely satisfying.
Before you can sell anything in the shop you inherited from your uncle, you have to find things to sell. You do this by entering the gates outside of town, which transport you to procedurally generated dungeons filled with monsters, treasure chests, and other various environmental dangers. Slaying the monsters gives you loot, and these are the things you will put on the tables and shelves of your store to sell to the intrepid adventurers that saunter through your door. You’ll also keep some of the dropped items in order to have the town’s artisans craft better equipment and items for you.
The combat is straightforward and fun, featuring real-time battles where one button is assigned to your weapon of choice, and another is for your shield should you choose to equip one. You also have a roll move that will get you out of the range of most enemy attacks and allow you to traverse chasms. Each dungeon consists of several rooms, with various baddies of different strength levels. One room is reserved for a healing pool, which typically then leads directly to the mini-boss of each floor of the dungeon. Make it up to the 4th floor, where the real dungeon boss resides, and the gate to the next dimension opens!
If you should fill up your rucksack with great loot before you reach the end of the dungeon, you need only to utilize your amulet to escape the dungeon, at the cost of a small amount of money. Knowing when to push on for more valuable loot, and when to escape with what you have found, is part of the game’s strategy. And that, of course, leads to the other half of the game’s satisfying core, the shopkeeping!
If you had told me that stocking the shelves and setting prices would be so satisfying, I probably would have said something like “no thanks I’ve worked retail before.” Strangely enough, though, the shop management aspects are my favorite part of the game. Basically, you take the items you won in the dungeon and put them on the shop’s table, then determine how many you want to sell and at what price.
After much internet research, there appears to be no way to know what price to set forth on a brand-new item, so a bit of trial and error is needed at first. The sale price is evaluated by four face icons, with two smileys letting you know when you are approaching the best possible sell price, and two frowns letting you know approximately how far over the ideal price you are going. It’s an elegant system that turns this potentially arduous task into a meta-game that’s easy for anyone to understand.
Just as you can upgrade weapons and armor, you can upgrade your shop as you accumulate wealth. You start with a single humble table with just four slots to display your wares, but you can grow the shop to create more profit-making potential. You also invest in the town around you, helping various other vendors set up shop and thus making it possible to upgrade your equipment and buy supplies for your own dungeon-faring adventures. It’s even possible, once you upgrade your shop a couple of times, to take requests from your patrons for certain rare items, for which you would be handsomely rewarded if you are able to procure them on your nocturnal hunting trips.
Moonlighter is a perfect example of a game that finds the sweet spot between simplicity and engaging, replayable content. It’s a wonderful palate cleanser between narrative-heavy or massive open-world games, where it’s just as easy to pop in for 10 minutes as it is to get lost for 10 hours. And once you’ve exhausted the core game, Digital Sun has the Between Dimensions DLC for even more rogue-lite living and shop-keeping fun.
So step into Will’s shoes, fulfill your heroic dreams, and help out your fellow adventurers as they traverse the digital landscape on their own journeys. You’ll be glad you did.
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