Review by Shotgunnova
Isaac is a young man in Vale, who can do magical feats in the form of psynergy. In the not-so-distant past, he and one of his friends lost some family members in a terrible accident, so he's been trying his best to master his skills to prove himself, and be the man of the family. The game starts off easy enough, with some easy dungeon puzzles and, thankfully, no drawn-out tutorial! They stumble upon the founding of alchemy -- from which psynergy is based -- and are thrown into a quest of mystical proportions.
Although I'm not a GS diehard or an outspoken critic, my finding is that the story is tolerable and good at points, but lacks in one, huge way: the dialogue. Yes, this game is an action-driven game, not a dialogue-driven one. Some scenes are so bland and painful that it almost makes that section of the plot tedious (especially the first dungeon), and the fact that the hero is a silent protagonist only stacks the trite and/or poor presentation. I won't pigeonhole the game's dialogue as all bad, because it isn't; however, the wide majority is unabashedly uninspired and not very interesting, outside of NPC (non-playable character) interaction. There is one instance where someone asks Isaac his name and his friend answers for him -- that's how it is the entire game. Rather than have Isaac "silently" speak, his friends speak through and for him, and even ask him yes-no questions whose outcomes are always the same. This unneeded trait to plot progression is annoying at times and, frankly, stupid.
Dialogue aside, the gist of what you have to do is a twist on the norm, which usually has the band of heroes fighting their way to the bad guys and saving the world. Is there a world to save here? Yeah, but not in the sense that the bad guys are the end-all, be-all of the world. I won't spoil anything, but it's quite a joyride when you have to traipse throughout the world trying to stop the enemy whose not really hellbent on humanity's destruction or killing innocents. Fun, fun!
I should also mention that the game's story is broken into two parts -- Golden Sun follows the journey of Isaac's party and the next part of the story takes place in Golden Sun: The Lost Age, also for Gameboy Advance. Yeah, the story doesn't even finish with this game, but it's not so bad.
P.S. - One glaring fault to the story is that some characters join to help you and then...the game forgets about them. Its like they join you for you to help their cause (and vice versa) and then their importance kind of tapers off after awhile. While they join under the guise of "helping Isaac," to see the third and fourth characters lack personality, it's kind of sad. In fact, if you switched their text around, it would represent their current personality, being none.
Boy, what an unexpected knockout this was and, quite possibly, it's the single-most fun thing to do in the game. Your characters are represented in two ways: on the field, as in walking through towns, dungeons, etc., and in battle.
While you're walking on the field, you can use "psynergy" to perform different instances of helpful feats. If you need to clear a walkway from a pesky statue, shove it out of the way with Move; should a cliff only be traversable by vine, use Growth to scale it; is something moving around too fast for you? Use Halt to stop it dead in its tracks. The plethora of different ways to use this adds to the generally mundane non-battle gameplay, and is a great change-up from simply talking to townfolk to progress the plot. Psynergy also factors into dungeon-crawling and puzzles, so you'll be using it throughout the game. From a personal standpoint, the flexibility in this aspect is like a throwback to great games that used tools (Zelda, Wild ARMs series) to get through dungeons, and that is definitely a good thing. But that's only the half of it.
Battling is also a major part of the game (if it wasn't obvious), and the fun is compounded by finding djinn, which are elemental creatures scattered about the world and can help you. Not only do they help in battle, but equipping them to characters improves their class and, thus, lets them learn new and powerful moves. By using them in battle, you can build up multiple-tier summons to unleash waves of elemental barnstorming. By integrating the "gotta catch 'em all!" feel of monster-capturing seen in the Pokemon games into normal gameplay, Golden Sun really does make an alchemic reaction of enjoyable proportions.
When you stip away the battling and normal gameplay, you only have walking around and talking to people...and even that's remotely pleasant. Towns have interesting little quirks about them -- the fun of exploring them compounded by using Psynergy. What's really great about it is that the storyline doesn't dictate if you can enter or leave; your psynergy does. It's open-ended and you can walk long distances before you're given a border.
There's no corner-cutting here: the graphics are duly impressive. The Gameboy Advance's potentiality is poised and ready to go here, and everything from flood water to the world map, which one would expect to be mostly pixelated in a 3.5-D atmosphere. Perfected field icons are one thing, but battle animations are another.
Battle skills and displayed with great finesse, and although I could gripe that some skills' effects look kind of samey (as in the firework display explosions that are on most techniques), they're still miles ahead of what I would have expected for a handheld. The latter boss battles, especially, really define what the game's been shooting for in the GFX department: a portrait of excellence. They've got the proverbial "look" with this one, and I have few complaints that I haven't already touched base on. I'm supposed to be critical of the game, and here I am praising it... =/
The music is awfully gratifying here, and it works well all over. The battle tunes are all pretty good and won't make you hate them on their own merit (although if you hear them 32423 times, you might); the town themes aren't too bad either. Some are pretty unique (Xian) and some are kind of mediore (Altin) -- in summation, there's a little something for everyone but nothing really astonishes.
Sadly, there aren't many impacting ones to be found here. The main sidequest you undertake involves finding all the djinn, and that's probably the only game-long one. There are a few mini-games scattered throughout, such as the Tolbi casino and fountain, but nothing else... I didn't even really think about it until now, maybe because the game is fine without a hundred different things to do, but it wouldn't have hurt to put a little more interaction in on that front. If there was a lowpoint in the game, I'd have to give this category the award.
The game really shines here. The entire djinn-collection sidequest already gives people a shot of adrenaline, and so does finding the artifacts found in dungeons and shops. Some of these are rare monster drops, which only pours gasoline onto the need to put them in the inventory. Why does this matter so much, one might ask? Because once you beat the game, you can transfer your inventory and djinn onto Golden Sun: The Lost Age via a link cable or manual-input code. While this may not appeal to those who don't want to buy the sequel, if you did, you would be able to have Isaac's crew outfitted with your current equips. Transferring some items is the only way to get them in GS2, also, which is a good incentive to play the game first.
Of course, just finding stuff is the main reason to replay the game, but the characters have a kind of sweet charm to them given their ages, and the game's not too difficult for beginners or veterans of the genre. Due to its easy learning curve (IMO) and the affable tone of the game (no blood or gore, or harsh language or killing), I'd have to say it retains some of its integrity that it may have lost earlier in the review...but not a lot. Most aspects are tolerable and can certainly force people's hands into switching the power button on. =p
+ Storyline is decent
+ Battling is a riot
+ Psynergy kickstarts the entertainment on the field
+ Locating djinn is a step up from walking in grass for Pokemon
+ Characters are likeable for the most part
+ GFX shouldn't fail to please
+ World setting is fleshed out pretty well
+ Gameplay is like the third bowl of porridge -- just right for all players
- Character interaction can be annoying at times
- Soundtrack is often relegated to background music
- Dialogue isn't always up to snuff
- Some characters lose their relevance halfway through the game
The Verdict: Here comes the "Sun" to give portable RPGs a kick in the pants.
Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 08/08/06
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