Disclaimer: The code for this Xbox One game was obtained for free, from a source that had obtained it for free from the developer.
So many games recently have attempted to use a link to the past for the basis of there game but very few also combine them with another genre entirely to create a unique experience. Moonlighter is one such game that asks you a very simple question - Are you an adventurer or a merchant?
In Moonlighter you play as budding adventurer Will. Now Will isn't your normal Link knock off, no, in fact Will is also the shopkeeper of his family's longstanding shop Moonlighter. Will's story is one of lofty ambitions but grounded progression which really makes you root for him throughout the games simple but fairly non linear story.
By day you tend to Wills shop, you sells items, dictate there price and market value and ultimately put the customers through the till for each transaction. This side of the game feels very reminiscent of Stardew Valley or Harvest Moon and is actually pretty rewarding. I found myself meticulously adjusting prices to get the best values and even skipped a few night dungeons to sell through my existing stock. Its a simple idea but it is deep enough to keep you hooked well into the 5+ hour mark. The money earned can also be used for a number of things which helps motivate the shop keeping aspects. This takes the form of Animal Crossing style town progression where Will can use his money as start up capital for other shop keepers around town as well as improve the Moonlighter to bring more business to the town and allow for other gameplay features to become available. Overall i really enjoyed the Shopkeeping side of the game and personally for me it was the main highlight!
The other half of the game sees Will become an adventurer. You go through Zelda like dungeons, slowly progressing more each time to collect items to sell in your shop, uncover the mysteries of the 5 dungeons through messages left by fallen heroes and ultimately defeat each of the bosses. Will's desire to be a hero is subtly told throughout this section of the game and is surprisingly intriguing. Here is where those other shop keepers come in too, you can buy weapons, armor, potions and various other items from the vendors to make the adventurer side of the game much easier. I like this because it again gives you a satisfying reason to do both sides of the game - you need loot to sell in your shop to make money and you need the money to make the loot collecting easier. It is a simple gameplay loop but it is very rewarding.
Artistically the game is beautiful. Its use of pixel sprites is exquisite with animations and designs very much up there with the very best in modern versions of this style. The cutscenes reminded me of early animated games like Another World, with its simple yet emotive character designs. Overall it is a very good looking game. The music reminds me of Harvest Moon again with its calming but catchy town tunes and the dungeon themes give you the right mix of foreboding and excitement to add tension to each encounter.
So how does the game feel? Well, OKAY is the best description i can give. The combat feels like a top down Zelda title with an elegant roll but the sword play early on can feel abit off. It just doesn't feel great to bash an enemy in the first hour or so in my opinion. I am not personally a massive top down combat fan and i always get caught not keeping my distances as much as a should but the game does a fairly good job of teaching you to not do this.As soon as you are able to craft/buy the larger swords and bows this isn't as big as a problem i think and the combat really starts to become enjoyable but still a tad repetitive.
Overall Moonlighter is a curious mix of two very different genres that hits more than it misses, it starts slow and can be a bit repetitive but once you get hooked it can be a very rewarding and addictive gameplay loop. Great visual and sound add to the experience but be wary of that first hour of Will's story.