Review by terrisus
"Game over, please insert $30 to continue"
Golden Sun was one of the earlier game releases for the GBA, and one of the first GBA RPGs. Since then, there have been more RPGs made for GBA, as well as a number of ports of SNES RPGs to the GBA, but through it all, Golden Sun has remained one of the best.
Of course, half of it is missing...
So, what’s the game like?
Golden Sun has many of the features of standard RPGs, so if you like RPGs in general you’ll find a similar style of play here. There are a couple of changes and variations on things along the way though, not anything wildly new, but enough to keep it from being too similar to every other game.
Battles are your typical random encounters. When you’re walking around outside of a town, occasionally an enemy will just appear out of nowhere, and you’ll move to a separate screen and enter into the battle. In the battle, you’ll select commands for your group of people, and once you finish that, you’ll start your attacks and the enemies will start theirs. Once you defeat the enemies, or the enemies defeat you or you run away, the battle ends, you gain experience and gold, and you go back to where you were. So, if you haven’t been a fan of random encounters and turn-based battles, this is the same as most any other game like that. If you didn’t like it before, you won’t like it now, that's basically the same as any other game of that style. If you’ve enjoyed other games with this style of battle, however, you’ll find basically the same thing here, which if you like it isn't a bad thing.
Your characters will have at their disposal a number of weapons, items and spells. The weapons and items you’ll be able to buy at stores in towns, as well as finding them hidden in treasure chests scattered throughout the game. Spells can be learned a number of ways, the most basic way being after battles as you gain experience and levels. Also in the game are little creatures, called “Djinn” (Djinn being the plural form, Dijinni the singular), which you’ll come across from time to time. These Djinn, once you find them and sometimes defeat them in a battle, will be added to your Djinn list. They can then be moved from one character to another, and when you “set” them to a character, that characters stats may change and they may learn different spells, or lose access to others. Your spells will change when you set the Djinn, and again if you put it on “standby.” So, if you’ll need access to a certain spell at a certain time, you can arrange the Djinn as needed, and if your needs change, rearrange them to your liking.
The Djinn also have other uses. During battle, if a Djinni has been set to a character, you can cast a special spell with it, and once you do, the Djinni will be set to standby, you’ll lose any spells or stats caused by it, and you won’t be able to set it again for a few turns. With Djinn in standby comes another use, summoning. There are special spells you can cast when you have the appropriate number of Djinn in standby, which are more powerful than regular spells. Obviously casting these spells requires you not to have access to the spells and stats caused when your Djinn are set though, so, you’ll have to balance out what’s more useful at a given time.
The spells have another use, outside of battle, which adds a bit of a twist to the game. While working your way through areas or dungeons, you’ll often come across small puzzles that need to be solved, such as crossing a gap when a path isn’t readily available, or clearing away a path. To accomplish these tasks, some of your spells are available to you outside of battle. So, for instance, a whirlwind spell in battle might cause damage to an enemy, but when used outside of battle will clear away brush in your path. Most of the puzzles are just simple little things like that, nothing that will frustrate you for days, but it’s enough to give a break from just wandering and fighting.
The graphics in the game are great at times, and somewhat weak at others. The main area of weakness, annoyingly enough, comes when they try too hard to make things look fancy but don’t succeed at it. For instance, in battle, the normal background looks beautiful, but, when you start attacking the camera will zoom in and around on the action, and things start to get blocky and poor. Walking around in towns, with a normal flat look to them and a still camera, looks nice, but when you go outside onto the world map things take on a 3D look to them, and the camera will move slightly from side to side as you walk, and again things start to look not as good. It would’ve been better if they’d left things alone without trying to push it a step further. Not to give the impression that the graphics aren't good, quite the opposite, just that they would've been perfect if they'd left them alone. Sound in the game is pretty, although it can get repetitive at times. It changes often to indicate the area and mood you're in, and fits with the game very well. As well, you have all the sound effects you might expect, slashing and hitting and whatnot. Sound isn't anything too special, but it's good as well.
How about the story?
The story starts off well enough, with your mother waking you up one night to tell you that there’s a storm, and if you don’t get out of bed a boulder’s going to come crashing down on you, not to mention the rest of your town. So, you leap out of bed and rush outside. People are trying to hold up the bolder to keep it from crashing into the town, and meanwhile there are some other people stuck in the flooding river, including the brother of one of your friends. They can’t hold the bolder up long enough however, and some people are lost in the flow of the river. You’ll rush off to save one of them, and you run into two people who want to stop you, fight you and beat you horribly. From there, three years pass, and then the game starts in full.
You set off to find the cause of the storm and save your friend’s brother. Along the way, you’ll run into a number of other people and problems which you must help, and progress your way toward your goal. The story is very interesting, and will keep you interested right up until the end. The problem is that the end, well, isn’t the end.
The thing is, the story doesn’t stop when you beat the game, just the game stops. Think of it as a “To be continued…” except more directed toward the follow-up.
At the end of the game, a smaller storyline comes to a close, but it sends you off to complete the longer one, and tells you, basically, if you want to continue, you’ll have to buy Golden Sun 2.
That’s cheap! So I don’t get the whole game unless I shell out another $30?
Well, something like that. It’s not really quite as bad as it may sound though.
The game itself is rather long, in the area of 30 hours or so, which certainly isn’t too short. As well, the story within this game is pretty decent by itself, just, it doesn’t really come to a conclusion at the end of the game. So, you’re still getting length and interesting stuff going on, just not a conclusion. Now, it’s not as if you’re in the middle of playing, walk through a door or something, and all of a sudden it says “Sorry, that’s all” and just leaves you there. At the end of the game, it does tie together a fairly major part of the storyline, and, it’s not all that different from most other games that have a sequel that continues on the same storyline. Just, it sends you off to continue the rest of it and leaves you there.
If you do decide to get Golden Sun 2, you’ll actually be able to send over your characters and information from the first game, via a link cable if you have another system available or by a painfully long password if you don’t. So, that’s certainly an interesting feature.
What if I don’t want Golden Sun 2, and, isn’t this supposed to be a review of the first game, not both of them together?
Yeah, obviously it would be easy enough to tell you “They’re both out now, just get the second one once you finish the first one and that’ll take care of that.” While the story is much better if you’re able to get both of them, some people might not want to or be able to, and, of course, want to know if it’s worth buying this game if you aren’t planning on buying the sequel.
Yes, it is still worth buying this game if you aren’t going to get the sequel. While you won’t get the closure on the storyline you might’ve hoped for, aside from that, everything else in the game is all there. Even if you aren’t planning on getting the follow-up, it’s still a great game by itself. You won't feel as if you've only bought half of a game, you get a full game in every area other than the storyline.
How long is it, and how challenging?
As mentioned, playing through the game will probably take you in the area of 30 hours. Not too long, but, despite the story cutting off at the end, you likely won’t feel as if the game itself was too short, there's plenty of stuff to do.
The game isn’t too easy, but, it isn’t overly challenging either. While there is a number of puzzles you’ll have to solve in order to progress, none of them are too confusing, and while it provides another thing to do, it won’t really strain your mind or anything. As well, it’s not as if you’ll defeat every enemy without giving them a second thought, and while there are some enemies which will really test you, it’s not too hard to make it through the game without ever having to spend time just gaining experience and gold, just what you run into while going from one place to anther, and without ever dying. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, not everyone likes walking in circles for an hour just fighting stuff, but, it is worth mentioning.
The mix between interesting puzzles and fairly challenging battles yields a result of a game that isn't too heavy on either aspect, but mixed together produces a very good result.
Will I want to play it again?
Well, if you’re planning on getting the sequel, you might not want to play through this again, at least until you’ve beaten the second one as well. It all sort of goes together, and it would be more worthwhile to play through the second one, which is basically just a continuation of the first, and then possibly go back. That’s not to say “If you play the sequel you’ll never want to play the first one again,” just, if you are going to play the sequel, you’d probably want to finish both of them before starting over from the beginning.
If you aren’t planning to get the sequel though, you’ll find tons of things to do on a second time through. There are so many places to explore, people to talk to, things to do, places to explore, that you’re probably not going to experience everything there is on the first time through.
Expanding on the point of people to talk to, that really is one of the most interesting parts of the game. In every town and everywhere you go, there will be many people to talk to, with interesting things to say, and who change what they say based on things you’ve done. Some of the people will also ask questions, which you’ll have the option to respond yes or no to. While your responses won’t alter the course of the game much, it’s still interesting to see the different responses the people will have and what they will say. As well as just talking to them, one of the spells you’ll have use of outside of battle is a spell that allows you to read people’s minds. They don’t just contain small, short thoughts either. What people are thinking is often just as important as what they say to you, and in effect gives you two different sets of conversation with each character. While it isn’t usually necessary to go to extreme lengths talking to people if it doesn’t interest you, if you’re interested to see what people say, you could spend a great deal of time just talking to people.
There are many places along the way which aren’t required in order to beat the game, not only the talking to people but also alternate paths in caves, items you might’ve missed, and entire places to explore. Going through the game again can really give you a new experience on things.
If you like RPGs in general, you’re probably going to like Golden Sun. Most of your standard elements are there, as well as enough different to keep you interested. There's a good mix of puzzles and battles, areas to be able to customize your characters through the magic and weapons, and interesting twists and turns along the way. Of course, if you don’t like RPGs, you’re probably not going to like this one either.
While the game does stop before the full storyline has come to an end, even if you have no plans to buy the sequel, it’s still an excellent game in its own right. Everything else is there to make it a complete game.
There is a widening array of RPGs available for GBA, but even now, this is still one of the best ones to own.
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 07/09/03, Updated 07/09/03
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