Review by Andy787
"This game are fun and is good graphics dood!"
It seems like now days if you don't come out with a killer RPG for your console, you just don't have a console. A far cry from the pre 32-bit era, where RPGs were widly considered a staple of the bookworm, girlfriend-less, acne-faced, 'computer nerd' stereotype. Strange how times change, huh? Anyway, being that I'm fairly young, you'd think I'd be a part of the now day, post 32-bit, 'RPGz r0x0rz d00dz Finle Fantsy 22 0wNz0rz j00!' group of RPG fans, but not so! No no, this nerd of nerds loves his old school RPGs, from Final Fantasy's childhood days where heroes actually weren't mental and you really thought it was the final Final Fantasy, to Dragon Warriors that took less time to beat then they did to make, and all the obscure adventures in-between.
Anyway, suffice to say, popular or not, RPGs were just as fun back then as they are now (I personally have fonder memories of the pre 32-bit RPGs than the latter generation's), and that's the magic that Golden Sun has set out to capture. That heart-felt, slightly quirky game that tries to not just get your brain thinking, but give you an emotional kick in the head. This is also the premiere RPG for Gameboy Advance, the one that's had the most press coverage, the one with the big marketing behind it, the one Nintendo wants to be known as the defining RPG for the system (at least for the time being). This is what Nintendo wants to be GBA's Final Fantasy 7 of the Playstation, or a Chrono Trigger/Final Fantasy 3 of the Super Nintendo. Much of the reason behind this is in the developer. Camelot, which used to be mainly in Sega's camp, has had quite a track record, with the likes of Shining Force 1 and 2 (Genesis), and Mario Golf and Tennis (Gameboy Color) atop their resume. Though one big blemish lies in Camelot's mighty armor, that being Beyond the Beyond, the horrid first generation Playstation RPG which used a very similar battle engine as Golden Sun. So when all the dust is settled, has Golden Sun been added to Camelot's growing list of grade-A titles, becoming GBA's Final Fantasy 7, or does it suffer the same fate as Beyond the Beyond, to become nothing more than something to point and laugh at? Read on, timid adventurer...
Well any self respecting RPG fan knows the story is an integral part of an RPG. Without a good story, most RPGs become an exercise is A-button pressing. The story is essentially what you play RPGs for, the reason you take that usually large chunk out of your life to travel across made-up lands, conversing with made-up people, and fighting made-up demons of doom. Without a good story, a good reason for this made-up world to be in existence, an RPG is well... poo. That said, what kind of wondrous tale has Camelot devised for you to be enthralled with through out your adventure? Well... it's not a masterpiece, but it's solid. Solid enough to make you want to play through the game, and solid enough to keep you having plenty of fun doing so. Still, it's no FF3, but it's a good, heart-warming, Lunar-like tale.
In a nutshell, a mysterious group of warriors, including one of your parties child-hood friends, seek out the elemental stars (not stars in the sky, but jewel-like stones) that keep Golden Sun's little world at peace. These elemental stones are held deep within a volcano behind your hometown of Vale. On an innocent hike in the volcano, your party makes its way to the center where the elemental stars are kept, and when you get there you find the mysterious warriors waiting for you. The warriors take the elder and one of your friends captive and tells you to give them the stars and they'll let them go. Of course, being the gullable RPG hero that you are, you do as they say, giving them all but the last elemental star, but on your way to bring them the final star, the guardian of the stars appears and starts violently shaking the volcano to scare off the warriors. It works, and the warriors flee without the final star, but they take your friend and the elder with them. Unfortunately, that shaking wasn't from the guardian, but from the volcano which is just about to erupt! The guardian tells you to get out as quick as possible while he holds the mountain as long as he can. You get out and make your way home with the final elemental star, but the warriors are nowhere to be found. The next day the town decides you and your friend Garret must venture out and find the villainous warriors, bringing back the stars and your friends, and the game opens up from there.
Not the best thing ever, but it gets interesting. The story wouldn't hold up as well if it weren't for the excellent translation, and the way the game puts emotion into the story much like how people use emoticons on the Internet with cute little bubbles appearing over characters heads displaying their emotions as they talk.
Now about the game play, it's kind of hard to say RPGs have game play in the same way that a sports game or a fighting game does, because half of the game relies on just running around and talking to people, not interacting much, other than saying yes or no every now and then. However, the real game play in an RPG is in its battle engine, without a decent battle engine there's no strategy, and really no reason to fight. So how does Golden Sun's battle engine -resembling that of the poo-tacular Beyond the Beyond's battle system- hold up?
Not bad actually. All the basics are here, attack, defend, item, and magic. So what extra element does Golden Sun add to the equation? The ability to use summon spells called Djinn that characters equip before fights, much like armor. The Djinns come in elemental types, Venus, Mercury, Jupiter, and Mars, which relate to earth, water, wind, and fire elements respectively, which affects how much damage your Djinns do depending on what element the enemy is related to. The trick to these Djinns, are that when you use them a first time, their powers aren't too fierce, and it can boost or lower your stats, and change the magic spells you can use, but then they're cached to be summoned, and you can have multiple Djinns of the same element cached at the same time to make increasingly stronger summons. It sounds a bit complicated, but it's n... oh wait, yes it is. This really, is the only flaw to the system. You have to decide whether you want to use powerful summons, or have a certain spell set, or use a summon, have a different spell set with new stats, or this, or that, or this, and well, it gets quite confusing, and isn't balanced well. What makes up for the flaw, is another flaw to the game (in my opinion of course), that this game is exceedingly easy, making the extra options in the battles really irrelevant. It's kind of sad though when a game's difficulty makes up for its flaws.
Let's move on to one of the games highest points -the graphics. Put simply, this game has some extremely nice effects going for it. Some of the spells in this game are really top notch, showing some really excellent particle effects a majority of the time. Likewise, the characters both in-game and in battle, are very well detailed and animate very nicely. And of course, the actual towns and dungeons look great, extremely detailed, with lots of great little touches like animated water and fire, to steam coming from stoves, and palm trees swaying in the wind.
There are some downsides to the graphics though. Most notably, is that for some reason, all of the bosses and overly large enemies have a very low resolution look to them. This also affects summon spells, but that's not the main thing wrong with the summons. Most of the summons just look really dumb, like the developers tried their hardest to come up with great, interesting summons like some of Final Fantasy's staple summons, but came up with a mixture of ancient-time themed Sesame Street characters with ill-timed and stiff attacks. Not a proud moment for the little puppets. Another small gripe is the world map -would it kill them to give the oceans a little life?
Another important area for an RPG, the sound plays a vital role in setting the mood for the events on the screen, and with a story driven game, this is an important factor. That said, Golden Sun has some beautiful tunes. One thing it's missing is a good trademark theme song like Final Fantasy or Chrono Trigger, something that issues that 'something is about to kick ass' statement. Though, theme song or not, Golden Sun's play list is quite the well rounded one, with some excellent pieces for the towns, a nice battle theme, and a decent dungeon crawler.
The sound effects are also well done. One of my favorite touches in the sound department is the cute little bleeps and blurps that come out while talking to characters. The really nice thing about it though is that the pitch of the voice sounds change, depending on whether you're talking to a man or woman, child or adult. That really adds even more personality to Golden Sun, which is already overflowing with charm and personality.
Now the replay is really hard to gauge in an RPG, because most RPGs (including Golden Sun), just aren't geared to be replayed after you beat it unless you don't play it for a good amount of time. Then brings the question of if a game is long enough to make up for it. Well, this is the problem when reviewing replay on an RPG, I don't how many or how often you get games, so I can't give my opinion of whether a game is long enough to warrant a purchase or not. I can however, tell you it was worth it for me. I can also tell you the game will likely take you 25 to 30 hours to beat, so take those facts for what you will.
In closing, I must say, Golden Sun is quite the game. This is truly the first great portable-made (which doesn't count Nomad games ;) ) RPG I've played that can rightfully measure up to its console brethren. It's a heart-warming, beautiful, and most of all, FUN adventure to be had.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 12/01/01, Updated 12/01/01
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