New Game Review

Review – Moonlighter (PS4)

"Over here, stranger. Got something that might interest ya."

Once upon a time, long, long ago, there was this amazing console dubbed the Super Nintendo. Coming from the previous generation, it felt as though my eyes have never really seen real colors before, sprites had never been so animated and lively, and the number of great RPGs were infinite. This was a nostalgic return to those ancient days of gaming…. with one, annoying, current day flaw.

Moonlighter is an action-RPG, rogue-lite, shop keeper sim, dungeon crawler by indie developer Digital Sun. I’m not sure that’s even a genre but it’s an accurate description. You play as Will, a young adventurer who is given the responsibility of running the family store, Moonlighter, which has fallen on hard times since the town of Rynoka’s declining economy. To accomplish this, Will must traverse the nearby dungeons that have been condemned due to their hazardous but valuable nature.

Old people always have advice.

Immediately, the visual appeal was reminiscent of some of Super Nintendo’s greatest RPGs. The palette is bright and whimsical with a familiar art direction that appears to take its inspiration from such games as Zelda: A Link to the Past. Even in the opening discussion with Will’s grandfather Zenon, a familiar line is uttered that wrapped around me like a comfortable blanket of sentiment, “It’s dangerous to go alone. Take this.”

OMG! HE SAID THE LINE!

As a disclaimer, I absolutely despise games that have a continuous loop consisting of a random and mostly fruitless grind, and despite the many debates I’ve had with the staff at WayTooManyGames about the likes of Destiny 2, or Sea of Thieves, or State of Decay 2. I’m going to hide my highly contrary, hypocritical opinion here.

The gameplay loop consists of exploring dungeons, selling the found materials in the shop, upgrading your weapons and armor, wash, rinse, repeat. The combat is familiar as with most top down ARPGs with a variety of weapon types ranging from swords and shields, large 2-handed swords, spears, bows, and if you feel inspired to get right up in the face of your adversaries, gauntlets. You can carry two different weapon types at any time each with 2 branching upgrade trees favoring either raw attack power or elemental damage which will require gold and crafting materials to advance.

Power vs Elemental damage.

There’s plenty of treasure to find in each dungeon but inventory management becomes a large factor as you’re only given 20 slots to bring items back to your shop, with some items being stackable to a limit. This becomes a bit of a minigame in itself: you’ll often come across cursed items that are required to be placed in certain slots on your inventory screen, items that can lift curses, items that you can use to send others directly to your shop, and items that will destroy other items or turn into other items upon exiting the dungeon. You’ll also be given a magic mirror that’ll allow you to exchange your loot within the dungeon for a discounted reward. You’ll find yourself making some tough decisions based on what you need, what’s valuable, and what you’re willing to leave behind.

Cursed with decisions.

The first 4 dungeons are procedurally generated, keeping the repetitive nature of your adventure fresh with each outing. Each dungeon will require you to complete 3 floors infested with a variety of enemies and a giant, angry, invulnerable slime monster that will chase you if it loses its patience with the amount of time you’ve spent on each. The bosses are grand in scale and, depending on whether you’ve grinded out every upgrade possible, not at all easy to defeat but fun to encounter.

Grand boss battles.

Once you return to town, with a sufficient amount of loot and/or materials, you can choose upgrade your weapons, armor, shop, or even the town by purchasing useful vendors. The day/night cycle heavily influences you to work the shop during the day and raid dungeons at night. The system of selling items is also ripe with some heavy decision-making mechanics. You’ll have to appraise the value of each item on your own and make adjustments based off of your customers’ reactions, indicated by a thought bubble which appears above their heads. You’ll also be given the task of reevaluating your set prices based off of supply and demand. Once valuable items can lose value over time based off of abundance and cheaper items can gain value based off of rarity.

Time to reevaluate the price of that item.

As much satisfaction as I’ve gotten out of Moonlighter, it’s plagued with the kind of bugs and glitches you’d usually expect in a pre-release alpha. I’ve been stuck at the title screen, stuck in the shop, items that I’ve sent to the shop sometimes don’t appear in my chests, the town’s background becoming a black void of invisible walls, random crashes, and I’ve discovered days worth of work that didn’t save upon rebooting. You’ll only need to look as far as the game’s subreddit to read the multitude of stories that have left players disappointed. And although this hasn’t happened to everyone, my very own adventure ended in an impassable game crash in the last dungeon with no remedy, workaround, or patch as of this writing to allow me to complete my journey.

Darkness everyone! Darkness is spreading!

Moonlighter is a great experience that evokes the spirit of SNES-era ARPGs. Every colorful detail is filled with references and nods to its inspirational predecessors. With clever inventory management, a very intriguing system of maintaining and managing a store front, as well as its intuitive economic composition, I found myself playing this for hours unintentionally neglecting sleep, work, and adult responsibilities. Although it’s mandatory that I factor in the unfortunate amount of easily patchable bugs and glitches into my final score, I really did enjoy this game and would’ve unquestionably given it a shining appraisal with the right amount of polish. Despite what a score of 6.5 might sound like in the minds of many gamers, I STILL STRONGLY RECOMMEND THIS GAME!

Graphics: 8.0

Beautifully rendered 2D environment and sprites reminiscent of SNES RPGs

Gameplay: 6.5

A very addictive and satisfying game loop blocked by frustrating glitches.

Sound: 7.0

Effects and music are very indicative of a 90’s RPG.

Fun Factor: 5.5

Praiseworthy entertainment handicapped by game breaking bugs.

Final Verdict: 6.5

Moonlighter is available now on PS4, Xbox One, and PC.
A copy of Moonlighter was provided by the publisher.

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