Review by SpriteChild
"A good game gone wrong"
Camelot Software's Golden Sun was touted to me as a great RPG, definitely worth its purchase price, etc etc. Just read most of the reviews here -- about 80% of them are in the 8-10 range. And, I'll admit, the game was fun. Half way through the game, I expected to be putting this near the top of my favorite RPGs. However, the game has a critical pitfall that made me write this review.
So, this being my first review, I'll simply follow procedure and start from the top...
GAMEPLAY: 8/10 -- probably the area where Golden Sun shines best. Although the gameplay is very reminiscent of most other traditional RPGs out there (which isn't a bad thing), Camelot did throw in several enjoyable features. Most notable is how the team interacts with the surroundings. Djinn, the equivalent of Summoning magic, provide different ''psynergies'' (basically magic) depending on which Djinn you equip. These psynergies, in turn, let you manipulate the environment, sometimes giving you access to hidden areas, speeding up tasks, or solving a puzzle. Even if you completely neglect the variety of spells you can use through different Djinn (which you can't really neglect), you will still notice that each character's attributes will change in accordance with the different Djinn he equips. Besides the psynegies you gain, you can also change a character's class (temporarily...you can always change back) or boost your stats. The really nice thing here is that you don't have to agree with the typical roles placed for each character. Each character does have limitations on the equipment available to him, but if you equip the right Djinn on the right character, you can easily change your stock ''caster'' into a decent warrior...same with a warrior changing into a healer. This gives you immense control over the personality of your party and will have you dying to find the next Djinn to see if you can get a higher class or a new spell. While not nearly as exciting, Golden Sun also lets you *run* on the world map. I know, I know, it sounds pretty boring, but it was exciting to me since Square never seemed to let you do it :-).
Battles happen often but are easy to get through. With decently equipped characters, you will probably find yourself pounding the A button to get through most battles. One thing that should be mentioned, though, is unlike typical RPGs, if one member of your party strikes the killing blow to an enemy who will be targeted by other party members, the remaining party members will defend rather than attack other enemies. Whether this is good or bad I leave to the player to decide; for me, I ended up enjoying it because you had to put a small ounce of thought into who attacked whom.
As for actions in town, I found the gameplay to be sluggish and boring. Each time you want to check an urn or barrel, you must hit A, wait for a box to come up saying that you're checking, then hit A again to discover if you found anything...and there are a LOT of random boxes lying around. Perhaps worse (or simply more convenient) is that any items you find in this manner usually aren't worth the trouble you went to looking for them. Auxiliary items in general (potions, etc.) seem to be pointless, but I suppose if you were to make a party full of warriors, you might enjoy them. Personally, I never bought a thing from any of the item stores scattered around towns.
The only reason this gets an 8 (not a 9 or a 10) is that while the class customization is cool, in the end it really isn't as amazing as some people make it out to be. You CAN make a party of all fighters, but if you're trying a mixed party, when you switch your main character to a healer class, you'll probably wind up giving his exact same spells (or very similar ones) to another party member.
GRAPHICS: X/10 -- I'm not going to give a rating to graphics. If you're an RPG player, you shouldn't be looking at graphics as a determining factor. Who cares if the thing looks nice? Does it have a good story? Is it enjoyable? The graphics are pleasing, but face it...you're playing a Game Boy Advance...no one is expecting full motion videos here. Be satisfied and know the graphics are much better than those used in Earthbound.
SOUND: 8/10 -- At first, I thought sound could be lumped in with graphics as inconsequential, but after playing certain games (Hoshigami), I understand that music plays a big role in whether you can actually finish a game. However, Golden Sun will not disappoint in this area. The background music isn't up to par with some of the Square masterpieces, but it is enjoyable nonetheless. At certain areas, after playing the game in mute in respect to those around me, I'd be sure to turn the volume up and listen. Some of the music sounds like very slight remixes of tunes in Chrono Trigger or Secret of Mana...but I'm not complaining.
STORY: 2/10 -- This is where Golden Sun horribly, horribly fails. Story is why people play RPGs...and this game simply does not have a story worth a second look. For those reviewers that gave this game an 8 or above, I really hope that you reviewed the game before finishing it. The game plays like Chrono Trigger or Final Fantasy but has a degenerate story about equivalent to Mario Brothers or Zelda: Link to the Past. We're talking stock protagonists and ''evil doers''...with no background to figure out what even slightly motivates these people to do what they do. Dialog in town does not discover much, and choices are presented all too frequently which have absolutely no effect. You'll either be forced into a loop to choose the ''correct'' response or be allowed to talk to the person again to figure out what they'd say if you gave the other answer. The game is essentially linear, and you move from town to town with no other reason than that you're in hot pursuit of the bad guys or you're helping the good guys who got hurt by the bad guys. But, this is all tolerable. Mario and Link to the Past were redeemed because of gameplay...it was fun and it didn't matter how lame the story was. Unfortunately, these games weren't turn based RPGs, nor did they have the pitiful ending of Golden Sun. Without spoiling too much, you find out within the first hour or so that there are 4 lighthouses which are going to be lit and, oh, something really really bad will happen. The story is you chasing around and trying to prevent the bad guys from lighting these lighthouses. Forget how lame this sounds, and just listen to this: the game ends after you visit *2* of these lighthouses, spelling out ''To be continued.'' There is not even the slightest bit of resolution. In fact, the characters even seem to hint about motives and personality about 5 minutes before the game ends...and then...NOTHING; Camelot teases you and then slams the door in your face. To make matters worse, they don't even tell you that the game is over until it is too late. I now have a useless save file because I saved in town after beating what I thought was a regular boss to find out that all I could do was watch the ending -- joy. Without a doubt, this is the worst RPG story I have EVER played through...I give it a 2 only out of pity.
PLAY TIME/REPLAYABILITY -- The game took me about 24 hours to finish. I took more time than was needed examining most of the useless barrels etc on the way, and backtracked when I really didn't need to. With a less thorough run-through, the game could easily be finished in 15 hours. There are optional sidequests which give the game some replay value...but of course, that's only because I can't go back and play them since I'm stuck in the last town of the game... On the other hand, if you were pressed for RPGs to play, playing with each character using an odd class might be amusing. Then, too, vendors sell special ''artifact'' weapons which have special effects. Although sometimes weaker, it might be interesting to try out all kinds of combinations like these.
FINAL RECOMMENDATION -- Golden Sun is a fun game, but nothing more. Please, do not read the reviews here and go thinking this is going to be an RPG that will amaze you. Do not play it for its story. Since it can be beat in such a short amount of time, if you can, at the very most, rent it. However, assuming that Golden Sun 2 takes up right where the first left off, it is certainly worth a look if you're willing to go the distance and buy both of them.
The customization is great, the gameplay results in an enjoyable game, and the puzzles keep it interesting and a little thought provoking. If you haven't figured it out yet, though, the story ruins the game entirely and leaves this, in the most generous light, at a 5/10.
Reviewer's Score: 5/10 | Originally Posted: 09/14/03
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