Moonlighter: Indieology

Smash Baddies, Collect Loot –
Repeat Until Rich

Say you find yourself the owner of a building full of empty shelves with nothing to put on them. You’re broke and need to earn some sweet dosh to make your mark on this world. So you do what any self-respecting young adult video game character would do, you grab your trusty broom and explore nearby dungeons. These dungeons are filled with monsters – but more importantly, loot for your shelves. Welcome to the world of Moonlighter.

Game Overview

The game centers around a merchant named Will, the player character, and his titular shop – Moonlighter. The player’s goal is to earn gold to grow his shop and restore the surrounding town of Rynoka to its former glory. You do this by adventuring into the dungeons at the edge of town and collecting loot to sell. The story of the dungeons are told through journal entries, and notes found throughout, and provide some brief worldbuilding outside of the main plotline. The gameplay is fundamentally broken into two sections: the combat/exploration mechanics used throughout the dungeons and the RPG elements used in the management of the shop and town growth. 

The dungeons are essentially rogue-lite, procedurally-generated, rectangular rooms filled with monsters and loot (think like Binding of Isaac or the Original Zelda).  As you go deeper into the dungeon, the monsters become harder until ultimately culminating in a boss fight. And upon your victory (hopefully) you unlock the next dungeon You grow your player in strength by purchasing better equipment from various town merchants and crafting stronger sets of armor and armaments from loot acquired.

The role-playing elements of the game do away with the overutilized (and frankly boring) skill trees and instead allow the character to level through the expansion of Rynoka

The store management mechanics are pretty straightforward, with the most important unknown variable being the price of the items. The price can be determined by the customer’s reaction to the item—essentially playing a version of high/low guessing game with various objects. The role-playing elements of the game do away with the overutilized (and frankly boring) skill trees and instead allow the character to level through the expansion of Rynoka (the town) and purchasing of equipment. As the player goes through the story, Rynoka is going from a quaint village to a thriving town, with travelers from across the world coming to visit Moonlighter which gives a nice sense of progression.

Rynoka: A Village Worth Remembering

Below are our favorite elements of the world of Moonlighter and the quaint village of Rynoka – and why you might want to book a trip to this indie game world.

Overall Art Direction
(Focus on Sprite + Environment Design)

There are certainly a number of indie games that utilize pixel art—due to operational issues, time limitations, or simply stylistic preferences. Of those games, a number do pixel art well and only some do exceedingly brilliant. Moonlighter, and the team at Digital Sun games, are in the latter category. The character animations and sprite design is creative and varied with a style and flair that is all its own. The artfully-crafted sprite design is highlighted further when you are managing your store and the different customer models delightfully stride in through the door with their large backpacks bouncing merrily along with them. 

The town of Rynoka is equally stunning, with the beautiful pixel art producing a quaint village set in a sunny vale near the curious dungeons. The store interfaces are also excellently rendered, showcasing an image of the shop owner beautifully showcased in pixel art. This environmental artistry is continued throughout the dungeons and exemplified in their themes. Each additional level is more refined with little details changing and being added – from the initial ruins and stones of the golem dungeon’s first floor to the third floor with its complete columns and more refined structures. 

Soundtrack

The soundtrack of Moonlighter (Found Here) provides an excellent tonal backdrop to the game, giving you a unique and mysterious feel for each of the dungeons that helps further highlight and enhance the environmental design. David Fenn, the soundtrack’s composer (his website), does a great job conveying the environment through music—providing a thematic tone throughout each dungeon. 

The structure of the dungeon design is also mirrored by the soundtrack—as the player progresses deeper into the dungeon the music escalates in intensity as does the difficulty of the monsters. This is highlighted greatest in the series of the Golem Dungeon, which begins with the mysterious Forbidden Steps that is revisited in Gaining Courage with a more stalwart and heroic feel. Moonlighter, as a game, showcases how a strong soundtrack can thematically tie a series of levels together.

Listen to (in order):
1. Forbidden Steps  (here)
2. Sentient Stone  (here)
3. Gaining Courage (here)
4. Golem King (here)

Outside of the dungeons the music also shines—with the theme from the interior of the Moonlighter and the Village of Rynoka bringing me back to bygone years in Harvest Moon and a myriad of Zelda Villages. 

Adventuring + Management Gameplay

The final, and probably most important, unique aspect of Moonlighter is its juxtaposition between a management sim and a rogue-lite dungeon crawler. The rogue-lite elements are a great way to mix up what would otherwise be a grind of collecting low level items to sell during the initial time in the dungeon. The combat encounters throughout the dungeons provide a slight bullet-hell style experience, as the player can block and dodge-roll projectiles to slash, skewer or shoot their opponents. The procedurally-generated dungeons can sometimes feel a bit repetitive, but the varied enemy sprites and solid art direction alleviates that burden. 

When you combine that adventuring combat with the management gameplay of the store, your dungeon crawls can become a bit of a scavenger hunt to find the most valuable loot—sometimes forgoing a boss battle so you can find another room with baddies to kill for those special seeds you need for a quest from the shop. Early game, the shop management feels a bit lacking and separate from the combat side of the game, but as the shop levels up, more features become available and provide a bit more engagement with the dungeoneering (customer quests for specific items for example) side of the game. This aspect of the game could definitely be expanded upon to allow for further customization/specialization of the store— as well as including other opportunities that affect the dungeoneering experience.

Conclusion

Overall, Moonlighter provides a solid rogue-lite experience with a store management mini-game that influences the dungeoneering experience. While the game can be brute-forced through the collection of anything and everything, understanding the subtleties of the store management mini-game provides a more interesting experience that helps build a unique world full of colorful characters and interesting locales. This nuance elevates it among its indie game peers and its world deserves a place on the shelves of Indieology by Worldcraft. 

So what are you waiting for?
Start moonlightin’ at the Moonlighter

Moonlighter has released its first DLC: Between Dimensions (Purchase it on Steam)

Game Title: Moonlighter
Game’s Website: http://moonlighterthegame.com/
Game’s Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moonlighter
Game Release Date: May 29, 2018

Developer: Digital Sun
Developer’s Website: http://www.digitalsungames.com/

Publisher:
11Bit Studios
Publisher’s Website: http://www.11bitstudios.com/

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