Review by Balin the Wise
"Wind! Water! Earth! Fire! Go Planet, er, Golden Sun!"
In Christmas 2001 my twin brother and I were introduced to an adventure for our Game Boy Advance. Despite hearing others on the 'net making points of how this game was bad, our opinion was influenced very little. It had the Nintendo name on it, after all, and we were looking forward to another game for our fairly new system. The overall experience was enjoyable, easy on the ears and pretty to look at.
The story opens in Vale, a quiet village of Adepts (masters of Psynergy, which is basically magic) where the temple of Sol Sanctum guards the seal to the secrets of Alchemy. On this night, though, there is an attempt at breaking the seal, and your character (whose default name is Isaac) will experience some difficult events. Some individuals close to our hero will perish, and an encounter with the villains of the game, Saturos and Menardi (but at this time cloaked in mystery) will leave Isaac and his friends on the ground, supposedly dead. Fast-forward three years, and we find that they are still alive. Another encounter with Saturos and Menardi and a discussion with our hero's old friend Kraden will start you off on the adventure that will take you to a variety of locations, people, and story across the continent of Angara and beyond. Many characters will link to events spanning the entire game, and you'll have a full time crew of fighters soon into the adventure. Memorable moments are scattered about like any good RPG, too, which makes the experience even more solid.
Your journey in Golden Sun will take place in three types of places: the over world, a town/dungeon, and a battle screen. The overworld is easy to navigate, although I would have liked a faster way to travel to have opened up later in the game. Walking can be sped up to running by holding down the B button. Towns and dungeons similarly require little thought to walk around in, except of course when a puzzle or other obstacle stands in your path. In both the overworld and towns and dungeons, you have access to any of the menus and Psynergy abilities if you have them mapped to the L and R buttons. Getting around the menus is no problem, and I forgot if I even ever had trouble navigating them. Random encounters with monsters occur on the main map and dungeons. When a battle is entered, your party members are on the right, and your enemies on the left.
Everything else is, well, standard RPG fare. At the bottom of the screen, text follows the action, telling you who's attacking, how much experience they got, etc. You have access to Psynergy abilities, items, and the option to attack or defend. Along your travels through the wealth of different environments, you'll meet creatures called Djinn. These little guys provide status enhancement and the ability to summon some pretty big and bad monsters to rain death down upon your foes.
Meeting characters in the story, defeating bosses, or just some exploring of dungeons and experience will lead you to items that grant certain Psynergy abilities, some of which are necessary to advance in the game. Most of these are puzzle-solvers, and I didn't use them very often in battle (being able to use some of them in battle is sort of interesting, though). The puzzles are, for the most part, simple and satisfying. There are some tough ones later in the game, but are rewarding and satisfying if you figure them out. Leveling up (a slow process once you start getting in the 30s and 40s) and combining different element types of Djinn can give you new Psynergy abilities, which stay as long as you have those Djinn equipped. Most of these magical attacks I found fun to use, and powerful, but I could often do as much damage just plain attacking as with Psynergy. Some abilities I almost never used, though, not finding very many situations that made them all that necessary (The Mind-Read ability is almost useless, but always fun to find out what's on a person's mind). This goes for some items, too, which may collect dust near the end if you're like me. Summoning, however, once you get the pack-a-punch ones, is something you will find useful in many boss battles and enemy encounters. If you don't like watching some of the lengthy summons, you can conveniently skip them (although they're pretty darn cool!). When talking to people in important story events or in towns, an option to choose "Yes" or "No" sometimes makes an appearance. It doesn't have a huge impact on the story, although you may just find yourself trying both "Yes" and "No" when villagers question you.
No doubt about it; Golden Sun is one pretty game to look at. The over world is presented in a "mode 7" way similar to some Super Nintendo games. The interiors of buildings and just the places you visit themselves are rich with detail and vibrant colors. If you've played any of Camelot's other games, then the splendid graphical style should be of no surprise to you here. Towns and the like have nice little touches such as animated palm trees, light shining through windows, footprints left in the snow, and an overall unique feel. Some characters you talk to have a simple portrait, which is the closest you really get to seeing a large view of the character design in-game, which is the basic anime style. Character models are detailed and well-done, if a bit cramped, but it works. Icons appear above character's heads to indicate emotions, along with shaking of heads and twitching. Just enough animation is given during conversations to give you an idea of how the lines are spoken (although that's obviously mostly left up to you, which is fine). During battles, the camera actually pans around the characters during attacks, which, in addition to displaying the actions of your party members, shows off the very nice backgrounds. The backgrounds almost always match the place you are fighting in. Djinn summoning will let you sit back and enjoy an often beautiful scene of destruction. Particle effects abound in the game, from the Psynergy ability Force to the Djinn summoning of Neptune, where the aquatic creature splashes down into the water. The Judgement summon especially has a great feel to it, and really lives up to how much damage it delivers.
Monsters you'll face come in a sort of limited variety. You'll notice many clones, only with different names, colors, and abilities. Not to say that you won't face any interesting ones; you'll face dirty apes, rat mages, chimeras, and gryphons. When you face some of the monsters you see the same vibrant colors, if a little blurry, but you can pretty much tell what's what. Boss fights always bring some unique creatures to the table, from an evil tree to a giant squid.
An epic RPG like Golden Sun would not be complete without some epic music to match, and it doesn't disappoint. The soundtrack is very fitting for every situation and location, and as other major RPG titles, it sounds like a lot of work was put into it. I did get a little tired of some of the music after a while of playing, but that's pretty much how anyone gets who hears the same song over and over again. Sound effects are varied for Psynergy abilities (both in and out of battle), and despite a fairly limited amount of them, the slashing of swords and screams of enemies takes a while to get old. Characters speak with a sort of quick, high-pitched, bleeping sound, which pauses and hesitates along with what the characters are saying.
For those who like collecting all the extras, I don't think Golden Sun has that many. Some secret, hard-to-obtain weapons and armor are here, but I didn't have much of a will to go and look for them. I don't think there are many mini-games you can go back and play on harder difficulties or anything like that. A feature I found pretty cool was at the very end; the option to transfer all the data from this game to the sequel, Golden Sun: The Lost Age. This may strive some players to buff up their characters and build up their coin supply, giving the game a little longer life.
Overall, Golden Sun is a worthwhile experience for fans of RPGs. It may not appeal to those already devoted to games like the Final Fantasy series (which is a difficult accomplishment to match), but most others will find an interesting story of four young individuals as they take part in something yet to be revealed, presented in a graphically amazing experience. I give this game a score of 9 out of 10.
Edited (I put spaces between paragraphs) on 12/4/06
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 06/27/04, Updated 12/05/06
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