Review by Pyro Vesten
"Camelot sets the standard for RPGs on the GameBoy Advance."
I must admit as far as neglected game genres go, Role Playing Games are the one game that I've never quite given the attention they deserve. Be it a lack of time, a lack of care or simply that for the first decade of gaming in my life I just wasn't interested in investing hours upon hours levelling up characters, building a strong team and reading through/watching hours of dialogue revealing the great story of the game I was playing when I could simply be doing something I felt more 'productive' with my gaming time.
Thanks mainly to my own stupidity which lead to hospitalisation for about 5 days, I've been forced to 'rest up' for a month and a half, which is going to allow me plenty of time to play games and watch TV (as I can't really do a whole lot more anyway). First off the blocks was Golden Sun, which I've been meaning to begin for quite some time. Having spent the last two weeks deep in the game I can at least say that having quite a few too many drinks in celebration of completion of your final exam for High School, leading to a damaged Kidney can have at least one up-side to it… in my case I've been given the gift of time, which has allowed me to experience the wonder that is Golden Sun.
Golden Sun doesn't spend too much time beating around the bush before you come to discover your quest. Here's the deal, in true RPG style. The world is happily going about business, full of prosperous and unique villages strewn about an expansive land, each with their unique culture, people and way of life. Everyone is living and peace and all is well. The elders of your hometown, Vale, throughout the ages have had the responsibility of guarding a secret that few know of. The ancient Sol Sanctum, an amazing temple containing a dark and mysterious power known as Alchemy. The elders keep guard on the Sol Sanctum seal but someone has set out to break the seal and unleash upon the world the power of Alchemy to reign evil over the land, aided by the combined power of Wind, Water, Earth and Fire which they must first seek out.
The responsibility is then laid upon your shoulders of ensuring this evil force is unable to lay their wrong-doing hands on all four elements or surely it will spell the end of humanity and life as you know it. You'll keep good company while enduring your quest to save the world, for the most part three good friends of yours will tag along providing you with an arse-whooping party ready to take on the challenges that lay ahead. Golden Sun features plenty of dialogue that is not only used to further along the story, but also to entertain, inform and really give those that want it, the most out of their game. There are countless townsfolk you can chat to along the way will provide no real game progress, but getting to know even the more minor characters in the game is great fun, or was for me at least, which often meant spending a lot of time checking every last room of buildings and going over towns with a fine-tooth-comb making sure I'd spoken to everyone I possibly could.
The game is spent mostly moving from town to town, battling your way through dungeons, solving fairly basic puzzles, and fighting plenty of touch bosses along the way. Gameplay is fairly progressive but is non-linear in that you can skip ahead a town or two in many cases, but often this will just be detrimental to progress as your party won't generally be strong, or experienced enough to deal with many of the challenges you'll face.
You'll come across a number of key characters on your journey, friends, family, foes, strangers and often combinations of four. As you progress through the game you will notice changes in characters, including those amongst your party. The character development while simple, is a nice touch.
Battles are turn based, and close to as complex as I like my RPG fighting to get. The world of Golden Sun has numerous creatures roaming about it (usually fairly well hidden) called Djin. Encountering and usually then battling and defeating a Djin will cause it to join your party. You can assign Djin to party members in certain combinations. Doing so will add/deduct abilities and alter stats. It's great to mess around and perfect your Djin settings to gain the ultimate advantage out of them. In addition to Djin, the game features Psynergy, which ties in closely to these creatures and allows for a number of special abilities that can be used both in and out of battles. Psynergy includes Whirlwinds that can be used to reveal hidden caves behind vines, Freeze which can turn puddles of water into gap-demolishing platforms, boulder lifting, nut picking, statue moving, mind reading, healing and more.
You have at your disposal a lot of different weapons and items (most of which can be purchased at various towns along the way or discovered in hidden chests). Battles will more often than not involve a little more grey matter than a lot of turn based games, about as much as I like to see in RPGs personally. Successfully annihilating your opposition with clever battle tactics in quite rewarding and it really pays to think a little when engaging enemies. As you can probably guess defeating enemies provides experience points and coins (which can be used to buy weapons, armor, items and other goods).
Golden Sun has its fair share of side-quests that you may or may not wish to pursue. In the end they won't have a significant impact but where there is a quest there is a rewards, be it big or small, gamers wanting to get the most of out Golden Sun will find themselves spending hours engaged in non-essential gameplay. Towards the end of the game it’s quite a possibility most gamers will end up completely skipping out an entire town or two.
If you've yet to see Golden Sun screenshots, movies or better yet, in action right before your very eyes then you're in for a treat. Visually this is one of the best examples of a 2D game on the GameBoy Advance. Two years since its release Golden Sun is still among the cream of the crop of GameBoy Advance games in terms of graphics. It has since been improved upon, but not by a huge deal. Worlds are delightfully brought to life with high resolution sprites, backgrounds, good animation, wonderful colours, multi-layered scrolling textures and fantastic special effects.
Following the essential gameplay and story elements, many will argue the music and sound effects in an RPG are amongst the most important aspects. If you're one who believes this you will be happy to hear (*cough*) that Golden Sun has a great score that does nothing but compliment all other elements of the gameplay superbly. Role Playing games all seem to have a few standard integral aural elements - Town music, Dungeon Music, Overworld Music, Battle Music and lastly, Sound Effects. Golden Sun comes good on all five fronts here with some truly memorable tunes throughout, backed up by crisp sound effects to cover more than a sufficient variety of sounds and situations. As is the unfortunate case with all games being played on a GameBoy Advance, to experience the music and sound at its best, a pair of headphones is the only way to go. Then again, wearing headphones will only further help you escape into the wonderful world of Golden Sun so maybe that's not such a bad thing after all ;)
So that's pretty much it. Golden Sun is a fantastic game, worthy of being in the collection of every GBA owning RPG fan out there. Featuring great graphics, sound and music, most importantly gameplay, and an engaging story and plenty of side-quests, not to mention a two player battle mode for those who wish to make use of it, Camelot have created one of the best first generation Role Playing Games on any platform to date which is still holding up strong two years down the track.
You may have heard the game is a tad on the short side, and that may be true when compared to games requiring an investment of 50 + hours to complete, but I found it to be an ideal length to suit my tastes. Any game that takes somewhere upwards of 25 hours to beat is plenty long enough for me, RPG or otherwise.
I'm really looking forward to picking up Golden Sun: The Lost Age when I've got the time and money and hopefully once again being sucked deep into the world portable RPG goodness that is Golden Sun. If you are an RPG fan, or are relatively new to the genre, I highly recommend checking out Golden Sun for a well-rounded, polished and overall excellent gaming experience. Checking the contents of people’s ovens has never been more enjoyable….
9.0/10 - Fantastic.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 11/24/03, Updated 11/29/03
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