Review by Gravity81688

"Camelot nailed a very solid semi-traditional feel on this one."

Handheld Role Playing Games have a mixed past. Some of the better Game Boy Color RPGs were ports from the Nintendo Entertainment System, like Crystalis, for example. Then again, you had Final Fantasy Legend/III, which were fairly outstanding games for 8/16-bit portable play. Upon the arrival of the Game Boy Advance and its "Neo-Super Nintendo" like power, fans wondered how handheld gaming would advance. I sure as hell did, anyway. There was, after all, no way that this part of the gaming industry could get worse, what with this wonderful system, right?

One of the first RPGs to come out for Nintendo's toy was Golden Sun. Hyped more than Torrie Wilson's Playboy debut, it promised outstanding graphics, superb gameplay, an epic storyline, excellent sound, and a great package overall. But were the developers, Camelot, talking about the portable scene or gaming in general? 'Twas all murky till the RPG debuted and flew off store shelves. As the warning foretold, Golden Sun became the best handheld RPG of all time in the eyes of thousands, even though it suffered from a few major, potentially game-breaking flaws.

When a company guarantees an epic storyline, I expect something new, and portrayed on a grand scale, not clichéd all to poo. Golden Sun fuses original aspects with a whole lot of things we're very accustomed to. The plot is a simple something that tries to be complicated, but just can't be because it's weighed down by the lack of depth. It feels like the overall goal changes more times than Kelly Osborne's hair color. In the beginning, you take control of Isaac (who is coincidentally a mute), a young man living in Vale, a small town at the base of Mt. Aleph. One stormy night, two villains by the name of Saturos and Menardi infiltrate the big rock and attempt to awaken the frightening powers of Alchemy. As to why, that isn't really explained. Upon tripping a trap, the Mt. Aleph Boulder falls and a small amount of chaos ensues. Three years later, the journey continues as Saturos and Menardi return for more, this time going to extreme measures and succeeding. The quest then begins for Isaac and his slow-minded childhood friend, Garet. They must stop the end of the world from coming and to do this they must track the two villains, a friend thought dead, and two kidnapped comrades before the forces of evil can activate all the Elemental Lighthouses.

Sounds all good and well, but frankly, the presentation sucks. Many times you'll be asking yourself if you missed something when in fact you haven't. Actually, it's like Golden Sun is just a bunch of mini-games and side-quests tied together with the same theme in mind. Once you get done with one, you go and do something else. A prime example of this would be where you go from saving a snow-covered land from certain dangers to a tree-infested land... from certain dangers. You see what I'm getting at, don't you? The similarity in difference is evident, and you can quote me on that one. Being part one of a trilogy means setting a pace, and GS is at its best (which isn't very grandeur anyway) once it reaches its climactic point... some thirty hours after you start. Golden Sun is a game that feels more like a prologue than a starting point.

Throughout this RPG, you do a whole lot of talking. The problem with this is that the characters have no personality, especially the main character, Isaac. All the speaking he does is controlled by at least fifty Yes/No questions which lead to the same conclusion no matter what choice you make. The dialogue scenarios remind me of a second grade social structure where everyone is giddy and barely knows what's going on. Golden Sun is peppered with out-of-place sequences that don't even serve a purpose, either because they sound stupid or are stupid.

The saving grace of any game could be the gameplay, but in Golden Sun... no. You do the same things as you would in many Role Playing Games, which would be getting into [random] battles, leveling up by gaining experience points, and buying items and equipment with money (Coins). There's only one mini-game in all of Golden Sun, and that is throwing special items into a certain area to hit other objects which will gain you a prize. There really ain't any real side-quests either, which leaves the doors of linearity wide open. You may think you're on a side-quest, but be wary - you are not. You're merely on another section of the game. The one area of the game that can be called a full-on side-quest is Crossbone Isle, where a plethora of items and other... assets, can be acquired. It's long, arduous, and generally a biatch to navigate.

There is one element of the game that can be found nowhere else and that is the interesting and simplistic Djinn system. Djinn are creatures of the elements - Fire (Mars), Earth (Venus), Wind (Jupiter), and Water (Mercury). They are 100% compatible with any of the bland characters. Each Djinni is capable of a certain thing; for example, Flint the Venus Djinni is used for striking the enemy with a vicious blow that can "cleave stone." The twenty-eight Djinn accounted for are littered from the beginning to the end of Golden Sun, giving you a Pokémon-esque experience to "catch'em all." Why? 'Cause you gotta. At least, you should. The more you add to a character, the higher his or her statistics. Character classes will also progress when you junction a Djinn, making your character capable of better Psynergetic abilities. With twenty-eight Djinn and four people to put them on evenly, the customization is deep, even more so seeing as this is an early Game Boy Advance title.

However, the whole idea of Djinn is severely flawed. There are two different modes that can be determined before or in battle for the Djinn to be placed on - Set and Standby. The former is the setting in which you can use the specific skill of the Djinni in question, while the latter is the mode after you've used a Set Djinni. Once you've used a Djinni in Set mode, your stats and character class goes down, which in turn means that your Psynergetic abilities are temporarily inaccessible. You've officially become a pansy, in other words. Depending on which Djinni you've used, you're either a sitting duck or a nigh-impenetrable wall. You can't work it in the latter forever, though, so you're going to take some heavy damage and not even get the chance to heal.

There is a benefit to having the Djinn in Standby - Summoning. The summons are extremely powerful once you get to the maximum Djinn usage of four, but you only Re-Set one Djinni per turn for each character. That's a pedophilic slap on the ass if you ask me. However, if you've got a "Master Summon" ready and an enemy of the opposite element is to be the victim, you should use it quickly. Killing an enemy with the element on the other side of the spectrum makes the opponent flash green (instead of gray) and then die, giving you more experience, coins, and possibly better equipment. Such is the method of attaining... never mind. Anyhow, this adds an extra, albeit small, welcome strategic layer of depth to your basic random battles. It's even a bit challenging to purposefully destroy an enemy this way, but the result is no doubt rewarding.

Puzzle solving deserves a paragraph of its own. I've never played a handheld game with the complexity of Golden Sun when it comes to puzzles. Instead of your pull-a-lever/push-a-switch business, you get to use Psynergy to help proceed in the game. When you run into a puzzle, chances are that you're going to have to use some Psynergy to get past it. For example, if there's a puddle of water on the ground, you can -Frost- it and a column of ice will rise up. Then, you can maneuver yourself around a bit and jump on top of the stack of ice to continue on. There are a lot of instances like this and some are quite difficult to figure out, though you'll inevitably move on soon enough.

Golden Sun is a game that requires you to pay attention. There are a few reasons for this and all of them are important. One, this is the first of a trilogy. That translates to this, skip - if you don't know what transpires in this game, you're going to have to go back and play it again to figure out what the hell Golden Sun: The Lost Age is all about. Two, there are references throughout the game that are necessary for completion. Much like a book, Golden Sun drip-feeds information for you to piece together. Never enough info, really... Three, knowing where you've been and where you haven't, though a common need in all RPGs, is significantly more important in Golden Sun. The reason for this would be the Djinn and the Djinn alone. From what I know, you can only collect the Djinn in this game -in this game- and not in the sequel, too. There's a probability that capturing every elemental creature will get you something special at the end of the Golden Sun trilogy and not just make your character's stronger.

The majority of handheld Role Playing Games have been easy on what they have to work with by not having a free-roaming overworld. Golden Sun breaks that wall with a pseudo-3-Dimensional semi-isometric perspective of its very own. The real drag in this feature is that Camelot forgot to add in a way to teleport, or at least transport quicker, your party to various locations. This is a pain in the eye when you find out the location of that Djinni you missed or just where that Kikuichimonji Sword is. [Cough]. I didn't buy this game to be aggravated to the point of exhaustion. The up-side to this system is that it adds a sense of immersiveness and scale, as if you're actually trying to save a world that you can actually, in very linear ways, explore.

If you were to ask someone who has played Golden Sun about the graphics, they may just look at you funny, point, then laugh. "Haha," the person would chuckle smugly, stuffing four cheese curls into his/her mouth. "'Dese graphix rox!" That's when s/he breaks out the Game Boy Advance with Golden Sun in the cartridge-slot. And that's when you take it and bail. Knowing you have little time before the K-9 Unit finds you and the cheesy Game Boy Advance, you've hurriedly turned it on and accessed the person's save file. You see the beautiful terrain, the gorgeous weather effects, and a superb attention to character detail that you've never seen on a handheld before. You notice the buildings don't compare to chipped cinder-blocks, and almost all of them look different than the other. [Woof]! You rush into a battle and are shocked to see what's on the GBA screen. Nigh-3D moving images of very well-done party members and enemies stand on their sides respectively. The basic attack animation being bland, minus that awesome weapon special you just saw, you quickly switch to Psynergy. Your jaw drops a fraction of an inch as you're bombarded with explosive visuals that are good enough to compare with those of any Super Nintendo game. [Grrrr! Woof]! The last thing you wish to see before being hauled off are the summons. Selecting all of the names with a "4" beside them, you watch as smooth, 3-Dimensional polygons cascade about the screen. You wonder, Is this a port of an early PlayStation game? Before you know what's happening, however, a sharp pain in your ass tells you the K-9 Unit has caught up with you.

Handheld gaming has seldom been blessed with a game that's got a great soundtrack. Golden Sun is one of the few with some worthy tunes, even though the best track by far is heard only twice or thrice throughout the whole game. You'll want to have the sound on when playing this game. By portable gaming standards, GS has an epic soundtrack, the problem being that isn't saying all that much. The sound effects are what you'd expect from any Role Playing Game - the clash of weapon on flesh, the roar of flame, the sha-ka-pah of lightning, and other basics. You won't find anything worthy of too much mention in the sound effects department, so unless you don't want to listen to the music, keep that MP3 Player tucked away in your pocket for another time.

Seeing so the storyline is portrayed in a boring state, there is no real motivation to play the game again. I tried, got halfway through, then took it out of my GBA and it hasn't been in there since. Perhaps checking out some guides, finding out what you've missed, then starting a new file and attaining everything may appeal to you, but if you're pretty much set, you're not going to want to bother. However, after a little while, I DID go through it again, to finish my guide... and I found it rather enjoyable.

Golden Sun is by no means the greatest Role Playing Game of all-time. It is, however, the game that all original handheld RPGs after it have been and most likely will be compared to. This game had what it took to sit upon a throne, but it seemed as though the man with the eviction notice came before the castle around it was completed. Being part one of three is a tough job, and Golden Sun has done well in wearing the footwear that its ascendants will no doubt have to fill. Kudos to Camelot.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 10/09/06, Updated 03/23/10

Game Release: Golden Sun (US, 11/11/01)


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