I love games with a good task system. Witcher 3, Breath of the Wild, some of the Assassin Creed games – they all have moments where you’re looking at a map and seeing how much there is left to do, and are excited to get to work.
This causes problems though, as games where’s it’s not implemented well, that can drag the game down into oblivion, like trying to find the god-damned feathers in AC2. Even in great games, if you let yourself get too completionist, you can become wildly overpowered before you reach the last boss. Ganon, I’m looking at you, and beating you easily.
Still, if there was a game where the grind itself, the checking off on the list of tasks was more rewarding, I think that would make the completion-focused gamers out there sit up and scream for more.
Moonlighter is that game, and it’s fantastic.
The game is pretty easy to grasp. You’re Will, a young man who owns a shop in a small town near some spooky and mysterious ruins. These magical ruins, filled with all manner of artifacts and junk, are a constant attraction to people far and wide. Some to enter and battle the monsters within, and some to grab as much as they can carry and sell it to others.
There’s plot here too, and an ever-increasing and expanding ruins system, but you can essentially put that aside, because this game, FINALLY, rewards you for grinding. You need money to upgrade your equipment, so you grind and destroy and salvage, and then you sell that stuff to the townsfolk. No more over-leveling, no more giant treasure chest of gold just sitting there through the game, you have to spend to upgrade your shop, as well as catch thieves and set prices based on supply and demand.
This has both worlds of most RPG systems, contained in a single player’s experience. Fighting a particularly difficult baddie? Try some other weapon you’ve crafted, and see if that makes your pathway to artifact collecting easier. Scored some amazing Golem Creation Manuals in your adventures? Put them up for sale, and make sure to watch the reactions of your customers, because you might be selling it for way under the going rate.
The goal isn’t JUST to destroy the bad-guys. I get way more satisfaction out of stomping shoplifters, and setting a item’s price juuuuuust right enough to get lots of sales, without any unsatisfied customers. When I get sick of mashing register buttons, I button mash my way through a dungeon to get more. I don’t feel like I’m wasting time before the end game, because part of that end game is being a successful shop keeper. Witcher 3 did this by making Geralt’s basic purpose that of a monster slaying mercenary, but Will is more a man of the people and always looking out for his town’s needs and survival. It’s just damn satisfying on both fronts.
Gameplay wise, it’s zelda-riffic. A top down dungeon crawler, very inspired by that old NES magic, is not an insult. The devs know it too by including a small funny reference early on to let you know it’s homage not theft. Your weapons are craftable, and fall into the usual categories – sword/shield, bow, spear, great sword, fist/glove, and broom. It’s a good combat system, that feels fun and rewarding, with a just right level of difficulty, when combined with the pixel graphics is a great callback to the early RPG’s of note.
Graphics are pixel, yes – but rich as hell. Depth of field is well shown, and the retro aesthetic is not so overpowering as to make the game difficult to see or muddy in its pixelation. It’s sharp and well designed, with excellent sprites, and even more impressive backgrounds.
I’m having a blast with this game. This review is late because I realized I havent been progressing at all in the true narrative of the game. I’ve been just raiding the ruins, and trying to hammer out the best prices for my items. I’m recruiting other shop-keepers to town, fixing up my shop, and slowly developing better and better weapons…and having a blast. There’s no rush to find Ciri, or rescue Zelda, or assassinate some diplomat. Will needs to make a living, and I’ve been settling in to help him.
I highly recommend Moonlighter for fans of retro games, Zelda-esque dungeon crawlers, RPG fans, and budding entrepreneurs thinking of opening their own shops. I’m essentially writing up detailed business plans for Moonlighter when I’m not playing, and that’s some of the highest praise I can give. Also, for those of you like me that are Dads, this is a great game to play with the kids. My sons are actually super excited when we sell stuff at the right price, and empty out the shop, so we can go stomp monsters some more. Grab this game, and join me in my business casual armor adventures, you won’t regret it.
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