Moonlighter manages to take the classic stylings of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and turn it on its head, having you be the crazy shopkeeper instead.
As the inherited owner of your late grandfather’s store, The Moonlighter — a haven for adventurers and merchants alike — your goal is to offer fine wares at fair prices to all who enter. You play as the oddly white-haired, yet spritely hero Will and your first dive into the perilous dungeons does not bode well. Armed only with the broom that you typically sweep the floor of your shop with, you take to the depths of the Golem Dungeon, only to find a bit more than you bargained for. A couple of tutorial rooms later and our hero is quickly overwhelmed by aggressive enemies, has passed out, and is promptly thrown out of the dungeon by some green goopy substance.
Zenon, an elder of the village, staggers over to you with cane in hand. He mutters a bit of you being all alone now and brings you back to the shop to rest in its cozy bed. As you come to, Zenon begs you to reconsider your adventures into the dungeons. However, figuring that you will likely have to go anyways to replenish the store’s stock, he offers you a sword and a shield to replace your dusty old broom and yells at you to get out of bed and follow him.As you walk through to the main room of the shop, you are greeted with all the dressings of a simple store, perfect for housing your adventure’s wares. Zenon teaches you the simple ways of viewing shoppers expressions as a testament to fair pricing, and tells you of the legacy you must uphold: to restore the Moonlighter to its former glory. As you exit the shop, you are given a bit of freedom to explore the village of Rynoka if you want, but ultimately your goal is to take to the dungeons: for they surely aren’t going to loot themselves!
The cyclical process is simple and is something you’ve probably played before, especially if you’re a fan of rogue-lites. Enter a dungeon, survive as long as you can, reap riches and rewards, die, and then prepare for the next dive. Moonlighter helps break up this whole process with asking you to specifically seek out items of higher rarity to then sell at your shop. You can also pay gold to use a pendant that is always with you to safely transport yourself out of a dungeon with the items currently on you, or even a gate that you can summon for a large sum of gold that allows you to return to the exact spot you left the dungeon from. With such a small bag to house your scavenged goods, these two options prove invaluable time and time again.Each dungeon has three different levels and as you get deeper into it, the challenges naturally get harder and harder until you finally reach the dungeon’s boss. Luckily, you can level up your equipment with some of the items you garnish in your travels and even ‘wishlist’ the recipes for them, causing a star to appear in your inventory next to the item. A helpful feature for sure – you can then put these items safely in the storage chests near your bed instead of accidentally selling them off.
The real meat of the game is in the shop system, which is a bit complex it its own nature, but the game does a decent job helping you through the process with visual cues. The sale begins with setting your hard-earned items out on the tables in your shop and setting prices. Prices can be set up random at first (it’s easier to reference if you remember how deep into the dungeon the item was retrieved from), but you’ll quickly start to pick up the cues from the customers themselves. Customers will visually emote as they come up to your item and demonstrate one of five receptions. Gold coins in their eyes means they are getting a deal and means you likely underpriced the item. If their happy face lights up, that indicates that the customer feels it’s a fair price for the item and will buy it from you. Catch a sad look on their face and that means that they will buy it, but the popularity will go down. A very sad look or an angry face means you are way overpriced and there’s no way you are selling that item any time soon.
This system actually allows you to re-price on the fly, so you can go and fix the pricing problems as the customers are still milling about your store, which is quite a nice convenience and keeps the action moving. Finally landing on the ‘right price’ is a good feeling and the next time you place your items down, that price will automatically be set for you to help ease the process. Additional factors can come into play, however, and are specifically designed to throw you off.
Thieves are a common occurrence and since most of your time selling is spent tending to paying customers and re-pricing items, it makes it even more taxing when you have people coming in your shop trying to steal it out from under you. Thankfully, thieves are indicated by an icon above their head as they enter your shop and you are given a chance to catch them (which causes a scuffle and you receive your item back) before they run out your front door with the goods.
Another annoyance that isn’t quite as bad is mystery shoppers. They come into your shop, just the same as regular customers, but all their responses to the price of your items are hidden by the icon of a mustache-clad, top-hat wearing lad. This makes it even harder to price new items in your shop and will keep you on your toes, but the only other type of customers that come into your store is warriors looking specifically for weapons and armor, which can be a lucrative side-business if you seek out the items to craft some spares to sell.
Your store and decorations can all be upgraded through large sums of cash, by visiting the bulletin board in the middle of town. As the Moonlighter gets bigger and bigger, you get more tables and counter space, which you can cover in decorations that increase stats such as how long the store can stay open and deterring thieves from visiting the shop. You can also upgrade your register so that customers provide tips with each purchase, and your bed as well, which will give you additional health or shield you from damage. Three shop expansions in, and you even have an assistant working in the Moonlighter, who can sell items for you (with the cost of 30% of your profit) while you are fighting off in the dungeons.The town itself is alive with some of the customers you’ll be seeing frequent your shop, but there are vendors you can invite (after some financial investing on your behalf) that will help you in your endeavors as well. The blacksmith Andrei will craft your armor and weapons and even help you upgrade them after finding the necessary items (and typically a bunch of gold). Erin, the owner of the Wooden Hat, will brew potions and add enchantments to your armor and weapons, increasing defense and attack powers respectively. You can also have a banker move in to help you with investments and a competing retailer to help you repurchase items you may need for upgrades (at a much higher price).
I’d be doing Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale a disservice by not mentioning the similarities. Both games are about a shopkeeper that takes to battles to get items to sell in their shops, but I think I like the format of Moonlighter much better, as the smooth transition from dungeons to the shop and back again is much nicer and overall plays better, in my opinion. I may feel like a lot of the gameplay was borrowed from Recettear, but there’s just something addictive locked up within Moonlighter that makes you desperate to come back for more.
The game is a ton of fun, and with the random dungeons you really never know what you’re going to stumble upon next. The pricing system is fun and works well as an engaging mechanic, and overall, the store feels good to own and operate. There’s plenty of items and ways to use them that keep it exciting, and selling super rare items for lots of coin just feels good to accomplish. I do wish that boss fights were repeatable (mostly because of the rare items they drop, exclusively), but I understand why they aren’t. What can I say? Moonlighter is a wonderfully beautiful rogue-lite romp that is sure to please anyone who plays it.