Review by Psycho Penguin
"I would not even play this if it was the only RPG on the handheld."
It seems every week a new ''greatest game of all time!'' comes along and brings along with it a ton of hype. While sometimes this amount of hype is completely warranted (Final Fantasy 7 is a pretty good example of this), most of the time, the exceedingly increasing amount of hype causes decent games to look absolutely crappy. Metal Gear Solid is a good example of this. While it is a fantastic game in its own right, it was implanted into everyone's brains for over two years that it was going to be THE game to own. When it came out, it blew everyone away, but the gameplay didn't live up to the hype.
In the rarest of cases, the hyped game will come out extremely crappy, even if you take away the insane hype it received. Golden Sun is a good example of this. While it was not touted as being a special game before it came out, when it was released, everyone fell in love with it. Some called it the greatest role playing game of all time. Some called it the best reason to own a Game Boy Advance. Some called it the best game they've ever played. And only a select few found faults in the game.
However, many people should have been able to see past the ''this is the first role playing game on Game Boy Advance so it has to be good'' nonsense and see this game for what it really is. I think Golden Sun has very few redeeming qualities and fails in all of the essential elements that a role playing game needs to be successful. The storyline is absolute garbage, the battle system is mind numbingly boring, and most of all, the game just isn't fun to play at all.
Perhaps the prime example of how crappy Golden Sun is the boring storyline. Half the time you won't have a damn clue what's going on due to the idiotic characters. The other half of the time you'll be crying. You know you have a bad storyline when I am hoping I won't have to pay attention to a story scene. And there are a lot of story scenes. It feels like every ten minutes you are dragged into another meaningless scene. And then another one. And another one. It's enough to make you want to give up role playing games forever and take up chess.
The story starts off interesting enough, as you play the role of some moron named Isaac. Isaac is the average role playing game loser, er hero, who decides to be a beloved mute. Anyways, Isaac and a couple of his dear friends decide to go into a shrine. A scribe takes them in there. As you can probably surmise, something bad will happen in the shrine. Some evil guy, Saturos, has decided to open up the seal containing the magical power of alchemy. That is not a good thing. So, you spend the remainder of the game trying to save the world from the mass destruction that would occur if Saturos got his hands on the power of alchemy. Soon after this, you find out that Saturos needs four Elemental Stars. He only manages to get three of them, as your party escapes with the fourth. You need to recover the other three and then defeat Saturos in order to save the world. There is also another villian named Menardi, but he never really gets into the main storyline as much as you'd expect.
Yes, it is your typical storyline, and it drags along more so than any other role playing game I have ever seen. Most of this is due to the most drab set of characters ever created. Besides Isaac, who is right up there with Squall and Crono in the personality department, are his friends Ivan, Garet, and Mia. These guys are so boring, they make watching a Duke/Winthrop tournament game seem watchable in comparison. Never before have I thought it was possible to see such mundane characters. Garet is the only one that shows any sort of personality in the entire game, and sadly he shows the bad kind of personality. He acts like a friggin 12 year old schoolgirl for the entire game. He shows no signs of intelligence and is the kind of guy that would want to touch a bomb that's about to go off instead of running away from it. Mia should have acted like a schoolgirl, but instead she just sits there like a mute for much of the game. Ivan could have been the typical brute found in every role playing game, but instead he's just.. there. Fun.
Golden Sun's extremely crummy storyline would be forgiven and forgotten by me if the gameplay was decent enough. Sadly, that is not the case, as Golden Sun tried a lot of new ideas that did not work out well at all. The game is a lot like any other other role playing game out there. You get into random battles, you level up by gaining experience points, you buy things by getting money. You face bosses every once in a while, and as you complete one area, you move onto the next area. Camelot added a bunch of new ideas to the genre, as well.
Unfortunately for them, these ideas just did not click. Perhaps the main addition to the game was the Djinn system. This was the main magic system, and to be honest, I was rather intrigued by the idea at first. You first need to find a Djinn. Usually, you will have to fight and defeat the Djinn in order to ''capture'' it, but sometimes you can just get one without needing to battle it. Once you receive a Djinn, a character can equip it. Each Djinn has a certain element, and each character has a certain element. You can mix and match Djinn elements with the character's elements to produce some devastating results. Sometimes the combination will work out well, but sometimes it will not work out well at all.
When you equipp Djinn to a character, sometimes their job will change. With this, they gain stat changes, as some stats will go up, while others will go down. Also, they will gain new abilities and spells that they didn't have before. Each character can equip Djinn, and doing so allows them to completely change skills. This allows you to have an insane amount of control over how each character acts. You can have Garet be a magician, Mia be a butt kicking machine. The amount of options you have over your character's growth is amazing.
Once you get into a battle, you can use your Djinn you have equipped to do a special attack. Each Djinn has a different special attack. Some allow your party to gain certain enhancements, while others allow you to attack the enemy for a decent amount of damage. The downside to this is that when you use a Djinn in battle, it goes into standby mode. The character equipped with it loses the Djinn for the battle, and is essentially going to change jobs and lose abilities. The upside to this is now they can cast a summon, which does massive damage to the enemy. In another round, they will gain the usage of the Djinn back.
Now that I have made the Djijnn system sound somewhat good, I will now go blast it. I hated the whole concept of this. You will literally need to spend half an hour just to set your Djinn properly in order to have the right combination of abilities to beat a boss. When you finally have the right combination, you lose all your abilities when you summon a Djinn, and you are left weak for one round without the proper abilities. Outside of battle, switching Djinn and putting them on Set and Standby can get confusing quickly. I literally get lost trying to set my characters properly. I never tend to get the combinations I want, and I get tired of mindlessly switching Djinn in hopes of getting someone to get a Cure spell.
Another rather innovative aspect of the game is the psynergy. Okay, so it's basically just magic, when used during battle. However, outside of battles, you have to use it from time to time to complete an area. Using the ''move'' psynergy allows you to move statues and other items, enabling you to clear the pathway. That is just one example. I hated the whole concept of this. While it was easy to do this sometimes, by using L or R to set the psynergy so you only have to push one button, sometimes I'd have to go to the menu and find the psynergy. And if you don't have the psynergy needed, you'd have to de-equip Djinn just to get the ability. Then you'd have to re-equip the Djinn. It got annoying really quickly.
The battle system was okay, but it disappointed me in a couple of aspects. For one, the menu system is pretty simple to figure out, but it gets annoying, like the menu system in Breath of Fire. The main problem I had with it was the ''Final Fantasy'' problem. For those of you that have played the original Final Fantasy, you probably remember that when you aimed for an enemy, but the enemy died before you had a chance to attack it, instead of moving onto the next character, there would be an ''ineffective attack''. The same thing happens in Golden Sun, only the character defends instead of there being an ineffective attack. While this makes the battles more strategic, it is also an annoying element, since you can't plan a critical attack. There's a reason Final Fantasy's the only Final Fantasy to ''feature'' this.
Golden Sun features a lot of puzzles, more so than mostly any other role playing game you will ever play. Sometimes, the puzzles blend in well with the area you are in, but some of them feel out of place. It's like Camelot just had to throw in as many puzzles as possible, and the results are shown in some rather odd puzzles. Most of them just require you using your psynergy to do something, but some require some serious brain power. It's no wonder I had trouble with this game. ^.^
At least the game features some nice controls. The menu system gets confusing sometimes, especially the Djinn settings, but the controls are relatively painless. Navigating through the various menus is simple enough, and battles are simple. Sometimes it is a pain to control the characters in certain spots, and it is a definite pain to use psynergy if you don't have it equipped to L or R, but otherwise the controls are really solid.
At least everything is not horrible. The graphics are quite good, especially for a portable game. The best part is, you won't need to keep tilting the game boy advance around just to get a good light angle. The game features bright and vibrant graphics that gives it its own unique feel. The battles are fairly well animated, but sadly, most of the time you will never see some of the incredible magic attacks. Due to the fact that the game uses that damned text system instead of numbers over the enemy's heads. Wow, the game manages to channel Dragon Warrior and Final Fantasy, only the bad elements! The character designs are nice enough, especially in the little portraits. Each terrain is designed quite nicely, from the icy tundras to the grassy fields.
Back to the disappointing elements of the game, the music is nowhere near as good as everyone claims it to be. Some of it is average, while some is really horrible. For instance, the main title theme is decent, but nothing special. The boss theme will never annoy you, because you won't hear it that much. However, the battle theme is really horrible, especially after you keep hearing it over and over again. The sound effects don't help either, especially the bleeps and bloops that occur every time you choose something in the menu. The sounds the Djinn make sound good, but otherwise the sound effects are worthless.
There's only two reasons I ever decided to play this game as much as I did. I went on a long trip to New York, via car, and I needed something to pass the time. Circle of the Moon is fun, but not as much fun after two completions. So, I decided for a change, and Golden Sun was on sale. I have barely played it since I came back from the trip. It's an absolute boring game with a lot of crazy elements that will make you depressed. I didn't think it was possible to make a role playing game this boring, but Camelot did it. I can't think of a reason to want to play through it a second time, especially after the really crappy ending.
The puzzles are challenging, but otherwise the game is pretty simple. Some of the boss battles can get pretty intense, however, especially early and late in the game. Once you get a ton of Djinn and summons, battles will start to get really wild and challenging. Strategy plays a bigger part in battles than it usually does in role playing games, due to the element of needing to target the right enemies, and setting Djinn and abilities. Some of the puzzles are really wicked. They definitely take a high amount of thinking in order to complete. The game is fairly short, at just over 20 hours, but you'll definitely face a fair share of challenges while going through the 20 hours.
Simply put, Golden Sun failed to even come close to where it should have been. It could have been an absolute incredible game, but the final product seems just a little rushed, and it also features some of the most boring story scenes ever put into a game. You'll want to turn the game off after putting up with even one of the story scenes, much less the other 300 you'll have to put up with. Everything just falls short. The game is not fun, the story is boring, and the character development is predictable and lackluster. It's like going to your favorite band's concert. You'll get way hyped, and end up feeling a little disappointed when it's all over. Only this time out, you'll feel like you wasted 20 hours of your life.
Reviewer's Score: 3/10 | Originally Posted: 07/24/06
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