When it comes to classic fantasy games there are few as and enduring as the roguelike. With their simple and addictive gameplay, focus on exploration and experimentation and the threat of permanent death ever present, the humble roguelike has left players both enamoured and frustrated since their humble beginnings at the dawn of the video game era in the early 1970’s.
Though time has changed the industry in many ways, the genre itself has changed very little. Despite that, it’s continued to thrive and expand, resulting in the creation of hybrids that fuse traditional roguelike gameplay with modern storytelling elements and gameplay.
Continuing that tradition started so long ago is developer Digital Games whom, after spending several years developing for others, have finally come into their own with Moonlighter, an action RPG that is one part roguelike and one part shop simulator. Players follow the story of Will, a shop keeper who dreams of becoming a hero and spends much of his time hunting for supplies within the vast dungeon known as “The Gates”.
Each section of “The Gates” is a self contained magical realm that follows its own unique theme complete with culture, lore, room structures and enemies. Some sections contain traditional dungeon monsters such as golems and slimes while others contain futuristic monsters such as aliens and robotic constructs. Combat and navigation in the dungeon and overworld is similar to the early legend of zelda games with a top down view and hack ‘n slash style gameplay.
Items and objects dropped by the dungeon monsters can be collected and sold within the player’s store allowing them to purchase better and stronger gear and customise the equipment with enchants and aesthetic themes which in turn allows the player to descend deeper within the dungeon to take on stronger foes. Players will need to collect a variety of items and equipment to keep the customers happy and the gold flowing however no two journeys into the dungeon will be the same. Each stage of the dungeon is procedurally generated with items, enemies and obstacles selected at random ensuring hours of replayability.
Visually Moonlighter resembles many of its predecessors at first glance with levels and characters rendered in attractive and colorful pixel-based graphics however the game also presents an elegance in design not found in many of its peers. Navigation menus are elegant and easy to understand along with animations that are crisp and fluid. Designs for both friend and foe are highly detailed with sprites that at times threaten to leap out of the screen. Boss designs are impressive and memorable standing equal alongside their inspirations without looking cheap or tacky.
The soundtrack is an important element in any fantasy game and Moonlighter isn’t one to disappoint. Sadly only one track has been teased so far in the trailer however it has really left me wanting more with a vibrant, modern orchestral soundtrack that gives an otherwise child-like game a real epic feel about it.
Ultimately Moonlighter is a game that excels in simplicity, with Digital Sun taking advantage of their experience to combine elements of beloved games such as The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap and Recettear and into their own charming IP. For fans of Roguelikes, Traditional RPGS or slice of life simulators such as Rune Factory, this is a must.
Moonlighter is currently wrapping up a kickstarter campaign after a whirlwind success scoring both a development partnership with Square Enix and achieving Greenlight approval in a scant 50 hours. You can also check it out on Steam.
Chris Senz is a freelance journalist and contributor to PN2.