Review by leeko_link
"A Golden Masterpiece"
When it comes to making RPGs, Camelot Software Planning is definitely no stranger. With tons of RPGs experiences in both turn-based and strategy titles like Beyond the Beyond for the PlayStation and Shining Force III for the Sega Saturn, it would be a stunning treat to Game Boy Advance owner to see a Camelot RPG for the system. Golden Sun for GBA was a joint-collaboration between both Nintendo and Camelot in an effort to created a two part story to one epic RPG masterpiece.
The story starts with a short prologue that introduced us to a silent boy name Isaac and his two friends and gave us a hint of taste to come such as the eruption of Mt. Aleph, the drowning of Felix, the disappearance of Isaac's father and Jenna's parents, the mysterious appearance of two strangers who could kick-ass, the outcome of three years later, the scholar Kraden and the secret of Sol Sanctum. Lies beneath the heart of Sol Sanctum are the elemental stars of earth, fire, wind, and water which are described as the four elements that defined Alchemy. Without them, Alchemy would cease to exist and all that are evil will take control. Fortunately things aren't going so well for Isaac and his friends as their study comes to a halt when their own scholar and friend are held hostage, the elemental stars stolen and fragments of some of the shattered pieces are litter throughout the world after the 2nd eruption.
With the shattered fragments contaminating the world, it resulted with the Lunpa leader becoming a tyrant, the curse of Kolima which saw the Kolima Forest elder turning the people of Kolima into trees, the illness at Imil, the existence of Mogall Forest, an evil forest of endless path littered with dangerous and ferocious beast, the flood of Altin and its water spewing statue monsters, the extreme heat of the Lamakan Desert, the sighting of strange sea monsters in the Karagol Sea, the greediness of the Tolbi leader's hunger for eternal life, the storm beast of Suhalla Desert, the man-eating serpent near Izumo, the fury of Poseidon within the Sea of Time, the corruption of the curse village of Garoh, and the rumor of Gaia Falls becoming unstable. With their world in peril, the elder of Vale had chosen to task the boys in rescuing Felix, Jenna, and Kraden as well as preventing Saturos and Menardi from lighting all four of the elemental lighthouses to which would prevent Alchemy from being unleash to the world and so their adventure begins.
Back in 2001, these were some of the best 2D 32-Bit graphics ever produced for a GBA game. The moment you start the game in the prologue intro, you will be awe at all the awesome visual spectacles that are presented. Lights lit up as the night prowl, rain and lightning effects were realistically produced, the environment itself is litter with some of the best art design the GBA could handle, some even surpassed those of older SNES and PS1 games. The backdrop during battle were also wonderfully hand drawn with every little details worth seeing for the eyes. One minor thing that could be improve was that the character portrait appear the same for every time they speak with no expression to tell how they feel but other than that the eye candies this game offer are massive. Add in all the glorified Psynergy effects and Summon attacks during battles and you got a cinematic treat of awesome on the palm of your hands.
These music never seem to disappoint me at all, these wonderful scores are done by the legendary music artist, Motoi Sakuraba also known famous for some of his tunes on games like Shining Force, Star Ocean, and the Tales series. From the Elemental Sanctum theme to the calm nature of Kolima Forest to the go happy town of Kalay all the way to the deep abyss of Venus Lighthouse, these tunes will keep your ears glued to your headphones for hours on end. Though there are no voice-works to be heard here other than a few screech sounds, there are some solid sound effects that rocks each battle particular when Psynergy and Summons comes into the picture.
Like any 2D Super NES style RPGs, Golden Sun is a turn-based RPG with a high number of random encounters and character customization. The game basically let you control Isaac, the main protagonist of the party in the over-world aspect of the game. While in the over-world you can use items and Psynergy to your advantage to solve puzzles and break or reveal obstacles that opens path to new locations. Unlike most RPGs, Golden Sun is littered with tons of secrets and puzzles, every places like towns, forest, dungeons, towers, lighthouse, pathways are filled with brain pounding puzzles that unless you had a specifics Psynergy, you probably won't be able to bypass or reach certain areas without it. Puzzles like moving statues to open a path, blowing out flock of leaves to reveal a passage, lifting a boulder to get to the other side, mind reading a convict to learn of an outcome, pouring water to make a puddle then freezing it to create an ice pillar to reach higher ground, etc. Some could be bypass but others are required in order to progress through the story. Also mixing with the brain scratching puzzles are the in-game secrets, you see there are tons of cabinets, pots, cups, bushes, trees, treasure chests, etc., littered throughout each environments, tried checking each and every one will reveal a certain items or even a rare weapon or Psynergy that could improve your character stats or open gates to hidden areas.
Of course the game isn't complete without mentioning the battle system. Like JPRGs such as Breath of Fire, Dragon Quest, and Final Fantasy, Golden Sun featured a similar turn based battle mechanics. When your character move around in the over-world or on the world map, in most situation you will be caught in a random encounter with up to four enemies. During battle your party will consist of only four characters each with their own main attack, list of Psynergy, Djinni and Summons, and items usage. If player collect a lot of Djinni during their quest, then most would be selectable in battle, some with their own special outcome, using a Djinni in battle will put them on standby, the more Djinnin a player put on standby, the stronger summon they could unleash within the use of those Djinni. Finding and collecting Djinni is just like Pokemon, find them, fight them, and they will join you lending you their elemental powers and giving you a boost of stats and more character customization option. Now about the character customization, it goes like this, each character had a list of who-knows-what-kind-of-class-they-will-be kinda situation but if you mix and match a particular number of Djinni to that character, their class will change accordingly, sometimes even learn new Psynergy in the process (such as Growth and Recover). Also class changing also helps you overcome many battles particular boss battles such as the Kraken and Dead Beard.
So back to the battle system again, you could choose to fight, defend, or run. If you choose fight you had to fight and the above discussion is for just that, if you choose defend, your character will do just that, if you choose to run, mostly they will but in boss battle or significant battle you probably won't be able to flee from battle. As for the battle itself, it's taking turns between the player and the CPU so your character attacks the enemies, the enemies attack back, and the way they could take turns depends on the luck of each character and enemy, usually the ones with the higher luck attack first that is unless you got a surprised encounter and get a late turn. Now one issue about the battle system here, it's not broken but there are no auto target intelligent here, let's say if you had one character targeting one enemy, then you had another character targeting that same enemy, if the first character killed the enemy before the next one do, instead of targeting a new enemy on the screen that character will automatically defend, it's this kind of lack of intelligent targeting that ruins the experience most of the time but in boss battle, it's forgiven. Gamers will have to learn to get use to it. Also beware that the game could be could saved at anytime during a playthrough so taking a break between quest is no problem. A definitely plus for a handheld RPG of this kind plus you get three save files to back up your progress as well.
There certainly are a few side-quests and mini-games that lies within the games such as the trip to Crossbone Island and the optional Lunpa side-quest. There are no airship and transportation of any kind yet so basically all your questing and backtracking would be done by foot most of the time. There really isn't any extra in the quest to get you coming back for more but the game is free-roaming and that you could revisit places you already being to so to check back on what you had missed. Perhaps the only side-quest you could try to master is collecting all the Djinni and learn their powers and customization options or try if you want you could link play against a friend in Arena Mode at the Golden Sun Arena section. The game does really left you wanting more though as it's only half of what the entire game is suppose to be. The other half would continue in the sequel and if player want they could even transfer what they accomplished here to that game as well which to me, is a rewarding feature.
Is it Worth Buying?
For what it is, you bet, it's a fun, deep, story driven handheld RPG experience with over-the-top in-game puzzles solving and engaging random battles as well as great usage of Psynergy that had the player wanting more. Though backtracking could be a pain in some cases and the battle system needs an auto targeting feature, it's overall fun once you get use to gameplay of each battle and the ending will leave you hunger for more, more which would come in the sequel.
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 01/07/13
Game Release: Golden Sun (US, 11/11/01)
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