DISCLAIMER: This review was made possible by a code for the Switch version provided by Raymond, who in turn got the code from Digital Sun.
NOTE: This review could’ve gone up at any point after November 2, 2018 at 3:01am EDT/12:01am PDT/9:00 CEST, but life, particularly my job as a Seasonal Guest Adviser, kept me pretty busy. And besides, even IF I were able to get this done ASAP, I wasn’t gonna take Filip Mucin’s approach and plagiarize someone else’s opinions to do it. I mean, I got standards for Hell’s sake! (Modified NHM2 reference FTW!!) Anyway, Sorry about the long delay, folks.
Now let’s rock!
Moonlighter (Switch Version) Review
Hello, everyone. Welcome to my review of the Switch version of Moonlighter, a 2.5D retro pixel art top down Action Role-Playing Game (ARPG) with Roguelite and management elements where you explore dungeons to find loot and goods needed to upgrade your town while you try to solve an ancient mystery.
Basically, think Animal Crossing combined with Pokemon Mystery Dungeon and any Action Role-Playing-Game (ARPG).
With that combination of things, such as the random nature of floor generation in each of the 5 dungeons, the ability to attack while moving – which the Mystery dungeon games (As far as I’m aware) don’t have, – and the Animal Crossing or Harvest Moon-esque town management, you’d be right to think that I’d enjoy this game. Well… It’s pretty complicated. There were things I liked, things I didn’t like, things I didn’t simply care for, and things that outright pissed me off!
With any Action RPG or any RPG in general, Let’s get into story territory. *checks* Hmm. Are all the people who care about spoilers gone? You sure? *Shrugs* Ok then!
The story, as described on the official Moonlighter website, read as follows (Site will be linked to below the indicated text):
“During an archeological excavation – a set of Gates were discovered. People quickly realized that these ancient passages lead to different realms and dimensions. Rynoka, a small commercial village, was found near the excavation site – providing brave and reckless adventurers with treasures beyond measure.
Moonlighter is an Action RPG with rogue-lite elements that demonstrates two sides of the coin – revealing everyday routines of Will, an adventurous shopkeeper that secretly dreams of becoming a hero.” – http://moonlighterthegame.com/
That’s the basics, though. The game later gets the Interdimensional Police involved, and they show up at the ending to reveal that (SPOILER ALERT) the pirates that start antagonizing you and their forces at only around the FINAL BOSS or so because they were born from an inter-dimensional fluid and they grew so egotistical and advanced that they decided to flaunt their superiority by looting other dimensions. Will, an adventurer merchant, ended up being the only one who could stop them, but by entering the dungeons, finding the treasures, defeating the Key guardians (Breath of the Wild, anyone?), and by therefore attracting interdimensional police to Earth and the Rynoka village where this game takes place, Will put the whole planet in danger for the sake of profit, as one of the Officers says that the planet’s population’s memories should be wiped, and that the planet was gonna be arrested because of Will taking part – intentionally or otherwise – in ihe theft of interdimensional artifacts. However, instead of attempting to take a risk by showing the consequences of stealing – regardless of intention or coincidence – for Will and the planet (presumably, Earth?), Will gets off scot-free, the planet gets included in the interdimensional Commerce Treaty, and life goes on as normal, and while the dungeons are supposedly shut down, they can be revisited after that point, presumably to max everything out, except for the last dungeon for whatever reason.
Folks, if I wanted a good Roguelite Dungeon-crawler RPG, I’d pick Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth, it’s upcoming sequel Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth, Etrian Odyssey, or Pokemon Mystery Dungeon. Hell, I’d even play Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Gates to Infinity over this in terms of story, because while PMD: Gates to Infinity has a plot that’s rather reliant on flashbacks, it had more compelling characters, actual built-up stakes, an ending that’ll leave even the most cynical (regarding that game, anyways) people crying or wiping away tears, a great moral on the power of friendships, and the final dungeon of that game’s main campaign (Glacier Palace – Great Spire) has an incredible soundtrack from the first floor to the 2nd phase of that game’s final boss. Even as what I consider to be the weakest Pokemon Mystery Dungeon game (That made it to America, anyways), Gates to infinity still beats Moonlighter in story quality, story tone, locales, and memorable characters.
And before anyone tells me, YES – I KNOW – that both Pokemon Super Mystery Dungeon and Moonlighter have an ending information dump. The key difference is that Super’s info dump at the end of that game revealed a few surprising twists, led to a major plot twist involving your partner, and since the game built up your departure, it came as a real emotional gutpunch as a result. However, Moonlighter’s twist has very little, if any, build-up, doesn’t pay off any semblance of story we got in this game, and generally leaves me bored and uninterested.
For Palutena’s sake, even Etrian Odyssey as a franchise has more interesting characters than this game does. That’s just downright depressing that I can recognize Logre, Baldur, Fafnir Knight Arianna, Flavio, Frederica Irving, Visil, etc., and NOT recognize anyone other than Will, the nameless Interdimensional police officers, Zenon, and Edward. That’s 7 characters in Moonlighter compared to the 8+ in the Etrian Odyssey series. That’s rather sad, honestly.
And lastly, commiting dimensional thievery and taking down one rogue interdimensional pirate in the process, while putting the planet’s population at risk of being arrested just so he can be a “hero” is highly selfish at best, and near-villainous at worst. The threat of a memory wipe and having everything potentially repeat endlessly is, to Will’s credit, far worse. At least the planet is getting a good pan-dimensional source of income and trading opportunities. . . I guess.
Overall, on this front, This story could’ve explored the themes of a thieving hero having to deal with the consequences of his/her actions MUCH better. Take the story of the Phantom Thieves in Persona 5 by ATLUS, for a excellent example done right. They do it in a very good way and have the main protagonist Ren Amamiya get punished for fighting a powerful Politician even after they reform a few corrupt adults such as Kamoshida and The Conspiracy’s leader, the Politician Masayoshi Shido, who’s the politician-in-question, but it’s only due to a lack of physical evidence. That’s how you make a story about thievery and its’ consequences not only correctly, but also inplant a touching moral about how you can change the world and fight the power.
Want a more Nintendo-level example? How about Gaius from Fire Emblem Awakening? He is a thief for Plegia, but he joined Chrom’s army upon finding out that his mission was to actually assassinate Emmeryn and not steal the treasury. He then joins up with Chrom’s army after some sweets fell out accidentally from Chrom’s satchel and he could have some. Though he sadly returned to his old ways as indicated in the ending, provided that he’s not married to anyone such as the female Avatar, he still fought against Plegia, and – optionally – Walhart’s empire who coincidentally was trying to destroy Validar’s Grimleal cult but got manipulated by Excellus, and even Grima himself, so he still willingly fought for the sake of the world and future generations.
But this game (Moonlighter) goes for the brief-prologue-ending-info-dump approach, and as a result, the info dump feels very hollow and is, as a result, not as impactful as the twist ending of Pokemon Super Mystery Dungeon. The story has potential, as indicated by the examples I listed above. It doesn’t even attempt to use half of its’ potential and it’s a disappointment as a result.
But enough rambling. Now that this not-so-good story is done and over with, let’s move on to the Gameplay portion of the review.
Gameplay is much simpler, and hopefully won’t take as long to go over, in comparison. Ironically, however, I found myself struggling to figure out exactly what I thought of the gameplay in general. Before I do that, though, I will preface this by saying that recently released and upcoming Switch games like Pokemon Let’s Go Pikachu and Eevee, Warframe, and the soon-to-be released Super Smash Bros. Ultimate are far more interesting and robust games, and are well worth more of your time and money. (My exact opinions on those 3 will come in due time, everyone. be patient, please.)
That being said, I can officially say that this game’s combat is . . . soooo boring! It’s. . . *Sigh* Remember Lock’s Quest? I sure as Hell do! It had strategy in building complicated and well-placed defense systems with strategic use and management of Source. Yeah, there was little enemy variety, but there were a good amount of bosses and a REALLY good story that kept you going with lots of plot twists that are gradually hinted at throughout the game, culminating in a final climax that’ll leave even the most hardened players reeling and leave them with a sense of triumph, bittersweetness, redemption, etc. Helping that game out is its’ fantastic soundtrack, and 2 amazing antagonists who are with you from the beginning of the game as allies and are slowly but surely built up as the main villains of the game, making the revelations throughout the last 1/2th of the game (Days 51-100) very heartbreaking and making you feel as confused, cynical, heartbroken, and angry as Lock ends up being by the end of it all.
Basically, this game lacks strategy compared to the above example, as you can even go through the ENTIRE game of Moonlighter with a Broom if you wanted to.
Where was i? Oh yeah, the gameplay. During the day, you manage the shop, sell and buy items, and make the village of Rynoka better bit by bit as the game goes on. Doing so allows you to upgrade the facilities and get better weapons, armor, healing items, etc. Basically, think Etrian Odyssey without the first-person perspective and with the ability to travel through town as a seeable character. In the dungeons at night, you can attack while moving and even charge while moving, so there’s at least some good to this game’s combat. However, like most Roguelite Dungeon-crawlers, if/when you die, you’ll lose some items and currency forever. I shouldn’t even be surprised at this point.
You think the music would be good – if not great – to help make the game more tolerable, but nope! I can’t remember a single piece of music from this game.
Eh, the Golem King and Carnivorous Plant are pretty good bosses, though, I guess.
I know I’m being a bit too cynical and negative given this is Digital Sun’s first game and that they worked hard over a period of 3 years to make this game a reality while operating out of Valencia, Spain. I get that! However, when you have folks like the TWO brothers in charge of Studio MDHR who had to remortgage their houses to even be able to finish their game of Cuphead that became a huge success and all that, it makes almost any other developer with 100+ people working on one game at a time that isn’t Nintendo or Rockstar look bad in comparison. Yeah, not the most fair comparison, I know. But honestly, since Digital Sun has more manpower and resources in comparison to Studio MDHR during the production of their respective games, I expected Digital Sun to make a game that – at worst – was half as good as Cuphead (Which means It’d still be good, people.) and at beast would be as good as a Pokemon Mystery Dungeon game, but it didn’t make full use of any of the potential that I outlined for this review.
The formula and groundwork for a great game were laid out by the Pokemon Mystery Dungeon Side Series (A Story with twists), Animal Crossing (Town management and upgrades), Etrian Odyssey (First-Person Dungeon Crawling Exploration), and Persona 5 (Good story about thievery, its’ consequences, and an inspiring lesson). Those games/series laid the collective groundwork this game attempted to build off of, but FAILED miserably. Also, the fact that Pokemon Let’s Go Pikachu, Warframe, and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate were all releasing one to two weeks after each other made it hard for me to keep myself interested in willingly playing this game, but I did so for the sake of the review.
Now, I can confidently say that despite a valiant attempt at being the indies’ version of Pokemon Mystery Dungeon, this isn’t a game I can highly recommend. I would recommend playing any of the other games I just mentioned that I will be reviewing shortly. Hopefully they won’t take as long for me to gather my thoughts and opinions on in comparison. Happy Holidays, everyone!!