One of the great indie hits of yesteryear was Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale, basically a twist on the classic dungeon-crawling RPGs of old. Here, though, you weren’t a bold adventurer digging through dungeons – you were a regular shopkeeper trying to make a living. While dungeon-crawling certainly came into the picture, it was more practical than saving the world: you crawled to collect goods that you could then sell in your shop.
It was a fresh and original take on the idea, one that obvious homage Moonlighter capitalizes on. Here, you play a shop owner that wants something more: the town of Rynoka where your shop is situated is home to several mysterious gates, each leading to equally mysterious dungeons. They’ve been sealed off for the sake of the townsfolk and visitors, but the final gate was never opened, and it’s your hope to discover just what’s inside. Dungeon exploration utilizes procedural generation and simple action-RPG combat; it’s just enough to feel “correct,” though early on you might find your attacks a bit too weak and your character a bit too squishy for comfort.
In any case, your kind of dreams don’t come cheap. You’ll need to temper your adventurous urges with the cold, hard realities of making money during the day. To do so, much like in Recettear you’ll need to collect and sell items, gauging the relative value of each by the reactions of your customers. The resulting money can be spent on improving Rynoka itself, adding facilities like an enchanter and a blacksmith so you can create gear to aid your personal safety. Taking risks in the dungeon might make you more money…but failure comes with a heavy cost, so you’re constantly balancing your need for cash with your need for survival.
The key, then, lies in balancing all aspects of the game and excelling in each, ensuring that you have a constant flow of cash and materials coming in to upgrade your gear and obtain more cash and materials. It’s addictive in much the same way as games like Stardew Valley and the 3DS’s Fantasy Life, encouraging you to just keep going long after you really ought to wrap up for the night. There’s always more to do and see; Moonlighter is more than happy to accommodate you for as long as you wish.
“Accommodating” is really the correct term for the game at large, both in terms of gameplay and presentation. It’s yet another retro-pixel-art adventure – that’s an aesthetic that still manages to work if it’s done as well as it is here. Moonlighter’s design gently draws from Asian inspiration to lend Rynoka and the dungeons a unique look and feel that keeps the proceedings from becoming too monotonous. Likewise, it’s got great sound design, though with a gameplay loop as addictive as this one I rapidly found myself just turning on my own tunes and vegging out.
There’s a special place in my cold, dead heart for games like Moonlighter with that sort of compelling gameplay loop. It lends itself well to both short and long play sessions – fifteen minutes going through a dungeon results in meaningful progress, but if you want to blitz the game then the option’s open. With all that in mind, Moonlighter gets an easy recommendation from this adventurer. Just make sure your schedule’s open.