11 Bit Studio's Moonlighter looks on the surface to be one of those exceptional indie titles we've come to know and love over the last decade or so. The hi-bit art style, charming soundtrack, and excellent setting design are charming and quickly draw you in. The central gameplay is a cycle of dungeon diving at night and selling your retrieved treasures during daylight hours (hence the title). Running the shop is relatively simple: you price the items and adjust as you watch customer reactions, upgrade various aspects of the store, and generally strive to make people happy while collecting a healthy profit.
The dungeon diving side keeps things interesting with hidden rooms, writings from your crazy grandpa, and varied level layouts. Both activities are quite solid in concept. That said, the execution could be significantly more polished. There are bugs in central components of the game that you run into repeatedly during your playthrough. For example, in a dungeon room that doesn't have doors on all four sides, you get caught in the middle of the wall where a door could potentially have been. I often hugged the walls while avoiding enemy attacks and took what felt like unfair damage when I stopped because I ran into nothing.
Additionally, when a bird flew into your shop and you tackled it, there would always be at least one customer who was alarmed despite the problem having already been solved. Indicators in the inventory would point out which items were going to have special effects applied upon returning to town, but sorting the inventory would shuffle the effects without shuffling the indicators. Small issues like these didn't break the experience, but were frustrating to run into again and again.
The writing, which is often a central focus of games such as this, was also disappointing. None of the characters were particularly memorable, the way the lore was revealed felt abstract and incomplete, and the dialogue was simple and to the point instead of witty and humorous. Few townspeople had unique interactions.
Frankly, these points would have been more forgivable if not for Moonlighter's strong resemblance to games that excelled in these areas. I kept expecting to fall in love with the characters and world as I explored, but I never quite did. One of the game's strongest suits was its music, which I found quite reminiscent of Xenoblade Chronicles. The tunes were lovely and I never found myself tired of them. I'm also always a sucker for a shared motif between the title theme and the final battle. That was quite well executed.
Overall, Moonlighter was an enjoyable experience that introduced me to a new core gameplay loop. It had its faults, but I can recognize and have compassion for developers who struggle with rooting out all the minor bugs in a game, especially one of this size. I've wrestled with similar struggles in my game development experiences. While it won't be a title I return to again and again, I'm grateful for the experience of playing Moonlighter and the lessons it taught me.
PS. Thanks for reading! I’m still new at this. Feel free to leave constructive feedback in the comments. -Sparxee