Review by LordShibas
"One of the Most Disappointing Games I Have Ever Played"
Wow, I don't even know where to begin with Golden Sun. After seeing what great reviews the game received, I was really looking forward to playing the game. I figured it was an RPG (which I like), it was made by Camelot (the makers of the Shining Force series and Shining the Holy Ark), and I've heard such great things about it, so I was almost sure I was going to like it. However, not only did I not like the game, but I found it to be one of the worst games I have played in recent memory, and I really just don't understand how people see this game as being great.
The only logical reason that I can see for anyone scoring this game a 9 or a 10, would mean one of two things. One, they are system fanboys that act like it's a great game since it's a GBA exclusive, or two, they have never played a decent RPG in their lives.
Golden Sun is an absolute train wreck of poor game design, horribly implemented gameplay features, and quite possibly the worst dialogue and story I have ever come across in an RPG ever. That's saying a lot too, since I've been playing RPGs since the original Phantasy Star on the Sega Master System. I've seen FPS games with more engaging stories than Golden Sun, I've played platformers with more interesting stories, heck I've played fighting games with more interesting stories than Golden Sun. I actually feel like a complete idiot for putting 20 hours into this game, when I could have been playing tons of other games.
The only salvation this game offers is the impressive graphics. The Djinni system is inventive, but it ends up being far too broken and uncouth to work in the game's favor. With all this being said, Golden Sun is the most disappointing RPG I can ever remember playing. Not the worst, but disappointing, since I was excepting it to be great, but it ended up being terrible and a game that I had to force myself to play.
First I'll give a brief rundown of the game. Golden Sun is a standard RPG for the GBA that follows the adventures of Isaac, a boring, mute, cookie cutter RPG protagonist. After losing some loved ones in a freak accident at his village, he decides to go out on an adventure. Why is he going on an adventure? Who knows, because it's an RPG and he's supposed to. Seriously the story is so boring that I can't even remember why he initially leaves his village. Oh yeah, to find some magical stones, much like the crystals in Final Fantasy.
Isaac will take his buddy Garet with him, and they will start out on their journey. Once they locate the stones, a group of enemies show up and steal all but one of the stones from Isaac and his friends. Isaac now goes out to find the remaining stones. Isaac and Garet will soon meet up with Ivan and Mia, two other members of your party. That's it though. You only get four characters for the whole game. Yeah kind of crappy.
The game breaks down as a standard turn based RPG, but you will need to do some puzzle solving in the dungeons. Some of the puzzles revolve around Psynergy, which is the game's form of magic. Psynergy allows you to not only cast spells in battle, but it also allows you to cast certain spells anywhere you choose. Basically these are spells that can change the environment, like casting your Growth Psynergy to make a plant grow, or using your Move Psynergy to move a statue. Using these Psynergy powers will contribute to the puzzles, and you often need certain Psynergy powers to move forward in dungeons.
Isaac and his friends will also have the sentient ability to summon a slew of creatures called Djinni. In order to get the desired effect of the Djinni, you must first unleash it. Once the Djinni has been unleashed, you can then summon an elemental that will attack the enemy. This does not take away from your Psynergy points at all, and it's a separate element from using Psynergy. The more Djinni you collect, the more powerful your summons will become. Djinni come from four different elements, and you can mix and match them to boost stats and even change classes.
With all of the neat little nuances that Golden Sun brings to the table, you would think that it would be an interesting little game to play through. However, it seems like the developers put little time and effort into the few things that can make or break an RPG: the story, characters, dialogue, and gameplay.
Graphically, Golden Sun is one impressive looking GBA game. While the top down portions of the game are nothing special and lack anything significant, the battles are beautiful. The battles almost look like a close up view of the battles in Breath of Fire. The camera is stationed behind your party and you will see the enemies in front of you. The regular attacks look pretty standard, and the animations are mediocre, but once you start using your Psynergy and your Djinni summons, things really pick up.
Most of the Psynergy spells are elemental based and strike down your enemies in an incredible fashion. The screen will be filled with lighting bolts, tornadoes, fireballs, and icicles that will annihilate your foes.
Once you unleash you Djinni summons, things get even better. You will eventually be able to summon Thor for lighting damage, a huge beast that spits out ice for your ice summon, and a slew of others. You can also skip certain parts of the summons if you don't want to watch them while fighting. The only problem with this is that there are only four levels of summons for each element. So once you obtain four Djinni in a certain class (which doesn't take long), you will pretty much be using that summon for the rest of the game, making it quite annoying to see over and over again.
There is also a serious lack of initiative with the enemy designs. Most of them are tiny and don't appear intimidating at all. It's like the entire game has you fighting front line enemies from a two line battle system. Some of the bosses look a little better, but the boss battles are not as frequent. The enemy designs also get recycled quite a bit during the game, making you feel like you've been fighting the same enemies over and over, even when you progress to new areas.
Golden Sun sure does look nice, but there just isn't enough of it. There needed to be more spells, summons, and enemy types.
Sounds and Music 5/10
Golden Sun tries to have an epic soundtrack, but the music gets recycled too much and the music in towns starts repeating all too soon. The battle music will get old since the Djinni system makes battles drag out far too long.
The sound effects are adequate, but sound a bit grainy at times. Sometimes when you use a summon, it sounds like a NES game.
Overall, I found the music and sounds satisfactory, but far from anything special.
Oh boy, the things I have to talk about here. First off, I'd like to say that you may find my score a bit low for the story in Golden Sun, but I can honestly say that I have never in my entire life seen such a pathetic attempt at an RPG story. There was nothing here that even remotely held my interest. Not only that, but the characters are incredibly dull, the dialogue is dragged out so much that it will bore you to tears, and Isaac being a silent protagonist doesn't help either.
Before doing anything in Golden Sun, I highly recommend you go to the options screen and turn off the speech option. There is speech in this game, but it's not really speech, it sounds more like a talking parrot being slammed off a wall. So my advice is to disable this feature, since you will be sitting through a lot of needless text in Golden Sun.
Since Isaac is a silent protagonist, Camelot chose to give you the option of making him respond to certain dialogue situations. This prompts you for a yes or No response. The problem with this is that it's completely arbitrary and whatever choice you pick does not change the game in any way, so it's utterly pointless. It simply extends the already too long dialogue sequences.
Most of the characters in your party seem to be interesting enough prior to joining your party, but once they become your fellow lackeys, they lose all semblance of spunk and become just as mindless as Isaac. It seems like your party members only speak to state the obvious, like Oh look, we found a treasure chest, or When we cross the ocean on this ship, we will be in the next town. Unfortunately, things get much worse than the stupid statements from your party members. The game skyrockets into pure boredom once you see how long some of these frivolous conversations are. Sitting through fifteen minutes of text just to find out you need to go to the next town is frustrating as hell. Then there are times when you have absolutely no idea where to go to, but you will just venture to the next town since there is nothing else to do anyway.
The towns also get boring after a while. Almost every town has some kind of crisis plaguing it upon your arrival, and you will need to save the town. It would be okay if this happened once or twice, but it seems to happen in every single town, and the events just get old fast. It's like your team just wanders around aimlessly, without any direction and does good deeds for people.
The main story lacks any real development and is one of the worst parts of the game. You will often forget why you are even going to certain places, and you will end up just not caring at all.
The story in Golden Sun lacks any cohesion, and it totally ruins the game since there's almost no motivation to do anything, or proceed onward. I've seen some pathetic attempts at RPG stories in my life, but Golden Sun takes the cake. Hats off to you Camelot, you've made yourselves look like incompetent developers in this regard.
While the story in Golden Sun is ruined by the horrible dialogue and boring characters, the Djinni system totally throws the balance of the game off, and puts the final nail in the coffin for Golden Sun.
With no restrictions on unleashing the Djinnis and summoning the elementals, there is hardly any challenge in the game at all during the random encounters. There will be a slight spike in the difficulty when you fight bosses, but by slight spike I mean you will need to heal for a round, and then go back to abusing your Djinnis.
The underlying problem with the Djinni system isn't that it makes the game too easy, but it just makes the gameplay boring, since you will be indiscriminately doing the same thing over and over in every battle. It almost doesn't even matter what enemies you are fighting in Golden Sun, you can easily take them all out with the same tactics, or lack thereof.
Instead of your attacks producing numbers over the enemies you are fighting, Camelot decided to make all information during the battles come to you as text at the bottom of the screen. This is problematic since every time something happens, you need to press the A button to further the battle. This results in needing to slam the A button for the entire duration of the battle, and requires constant attention to push the battles forward. It's just a poor gameplay decision that is worth noting.
On the plus side of the game, some of the puzzles in the dungeons are pretty good, and require a good bit of thinking, especially when your Psynergy powers come into effect.
It's kind of sad when I highlight the puzzles as the bright spot of the gameplay, since I hate RPGs with lots of puzzles, but I can honestly say that this was the only redeeming thing about the gameplay in Golden Sun. I was incredibly disappointed with almost every aspect of the gameplay.
Longevity and Re-playability 1/10
There are just far too many aspects of Golden Sun that will deter people from ever wanting to play it again. There are a few hidden things to find, but most of them are trite and will not really affect the game in any way.
After putting 20 hours into Golden Sun, I never want to play it again. The awful story, the unbalanced and mundane gameplay, and the cardboard characters will frustrate anyone who has ever played a decent RPG before.
Golden Sun is by far my biggest GBA RPG disappointment, and quite possibly my biggest RPG disappointment of all time. I really see no need for anyone to play this game when there are so many good games and RPGs out there. If you really like clicking through pointless text and enjoy dragging around a mindless group of characters, then by all means give Golden Sun a try, but don't say I didn't warn you when the gameplay makes games like Shadow Madness look interesting.
Reviewer's Score: 3/10 | Originally Posted: 01/12/09
Game Release: Golden Sun (US, 11/11/01)
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