Review by michiyoko
"Golden Sun didn't live up to its own potential"
You know that feeling you get after you just cleaned the last boss of a good RPG for the first time? You feel all proud and relieved, because it's OVER! No more of this tramping about, fighting random monsters to build up a psycho powerful team. No more of these freaky weirdos stalking you all over the place, causing trouble and generally taunting you from the shadows. No more! It's over! The world is safe, and you're the hero! You can sit back, watch the credits, and feel good. And then later, there's a part of you that misses it, the part that wishes you hadn't beaten the game. Even if you start a new game, it just wouldn't be the SAME.
I thought I'd get that same experience from Golden Sun. Nintendo RPGs rarely let me down, and the game looked spectacular. Little dudes running around with Psynergy? Colorful weirdo freaks chasing after you? Retrieving elemental stars so they can't be used to power up lighthouses? How deliciously neat!
But when I actually started playing the game, I quickly realized that it wasn't as fun as it sounded. The dialogues were excessively tedious from the very start, and the plot sounded extremely familiar. It was like deja vu, which is definitely not a good feeling when you pick up a game that's supposed to be revolutionary. Within the first ten minutes of gameplay, I wasn't feeling as excited about the game anymore. Aside from the graphics, the game itself is very bland and unspectacular, and is easily forgettable.
Story and Characters
Isaac starts off sleeping in bed, and Mom comes and wakes him up. (doesn't that already sound like every other RPG opening scene?) She tells him that a giant boulder is rolling down the mountain, and he needs to get out of there before he gets smooshed. So he's running, running, running away, and boulders are falling everywhere, and it's raining like crazy, and at first it's all Really Cool. Everyone dies, and it's Really Cool. You get knocked out by people with aerodynamic hair, and it's Really Cool. You go through Mt. Aleph, and it's Really Cool.
But then... something not-so-cool happens once you get out of Mt. Aleph. You have a *gasp* conversation with the village people. And these suckers go on FOREVER. They overexplain the plot, and pepper the whole thing with ridiculous Yes\No questions. Half of these questions sound like they're supposed to be rhetorical, but no, they're not. Not only that, but considering it's all crammed on a little GBA screen, you have to scroll through these things FOREVER just to finish. And then, throughout the convo, you have these... these... I don't even know what to call them. They're these little speech bubbles that appear above the character's head, and inside are happy faces, sad faces, angry faces, '...' things, hearts, lightbulbs, sweatdrops, and more. These slow down the momentum of the conversations tremendously. I guess that's Golden Sun's way of having characters show emotion, but they don't help. They're cute the first time, and throughout the game you'll have a lightbulb or two that is really appropriate, but for the most part, they're used in excess. And that's an understatement.
This game has a lot of unrealized potential. For example, the characters are bland. Why are they bland? Because the creators didn't take advantage of their own sob stories. Isaac's father died in that incident at the beginning of the game! They could've used that as more fodder for why Isaac wants to get Saturos and Menardi, or to at least give the boy some personality. He doesn't say anything throughout the game, and while a silent main character can work sometimes (Chrono Trigger comes to mind), it isn't pulled off effectively if the supporting characters are equally emotionless. It's hinted that Garet has some kind of crush on Jenna, but the game never really goes into the details of it. For the most part, Garet is just a guy with really dumb suggestions, and he nags Isaac during the aforementioned conversations. Sadly enough, Garet has the most personality out of all the members on the team. Ivan could've been a real cool guy, what with the whole ''misunderstood freak of nature with powers that no one around him could comprehend'' shtick. In the beginning, I could totally see fangirls across the nation putting up character shrines to him simply because he had a promising start, but the game didn't follow through. Ivan became as boring and bland as Isaac, and his main role, outside of fighting alongside Isaac and the others, was to help everyone else overexplain the situation. Mia started off pretty cool but never amounted to anything in the end, just like Ivan. And worse, she's of the ''typical RPG girl'' variety: low attack power, high magic, good healer, and perfectly sweet and innocent. I mean, I love that variety just as much as everyone else, but when you already have a typical RPG story with boring characters and boring everything else, you need a little something to spice things up, and unfortunately, Mia is not it.
All of the other characters in the game are boring too. Geez, even the bad guys are boring! They could've really made Saturos and Menardi, not to mention Alex, really cool people. They already have the looks, why not give them some personality? Or at least, give them a background so we know WHY they want to light all of the lighthouses. Yeah, they want supreme power, but for what? So they can rule the world? So they can destroy the world? What is it? No, all we know is that they want to light the lighthouses. Okay, great. They're part of the Mars clan, but what ABOUT the Mars clan? Do they have some evil fix to take over the world, and Saturos and Menardi are just following their customs? Felix could've been a LOT cooler too. In fact, they ALL could've been cool. They had all the potential to be a truly memorable RPG cast, but they weren't.
As for the plot itself, I just didn't bother to follow it after a while. You start off trying to get the stars back, but somewhere along the way it seems like Ivan and company completely forget what they're supposed to be doing. The game is just a bunch of side quests and detours, and you go along helping everybody. Once in a while you'll remember what you're supposed to be doing, but it's all very scattered, and the story feels very random. You go along and OH MY GOD TREE PEOPLE LET'S HELP THEM okay it's all cool again OH WOW THESE PEOPLE ARE FLOODED moving along WOW COLOSSO IS IN TOWN LET'S COMPETE and geez is it hot or what and WOW WE NEED TO FIND SHEBA WHOEVER SHE IS.
And everyone along the way, everyone plans on tripping you up by drawing you into long and complex dialogue that is supposed to advance the plot, but instead drags the story to a complete standstill. Golden Sun is almost like an interactive story, what with all the dialogue and stuff, but it doesn't work if the story itself is really boring. Golden Sun desperately tries to be complex and engaging, but it doesn't quite work. It fools you into thinking it's a deep and wonderful story, when in fact it is a simple, typical story that is interrupted far too often with meaningless side quests, and is then convoluted with way too much dialogue.
I won't ruin it, but the ending was just horrible. I didn't even KNOW that was the ending until the credits started to roll. It doesn't end on a cliffhanger, nor does it end at a resolution. It just... ends. Man, even if it IS part of a trilogy, make it decent! The GBC Zelda games, the Oracle ones, were sequels of one another, but they end at a decent enough resolution, and the endings give a better sense of ''YES!! I'M DONE!!'' This was perhaps the most disappointing part of the entire game, because like I said before, the end of an RPG is really important to me. The final boss wasn't hard at all, and there is no closure, which leads me to believe that the sequel is going to be a direct continuation. What the heck? What about the people that played this one, and ONLY this one? It's frustrating because it feels like you just wasted fifteen hours of your life, only to be duped into buying the next installment.
The Djinn system is cool... at first. Just like everything else in Golden Sun, the Djinn system looks promising but ends up being mediocre at best. The main problem with them is that a lot of the Djinn are right in the path of the ''story.'' Unlike Final Fantasy VI and VII where you had to venture to weird and oftentimes hidden areas to get Espers and Materia, the Djinn are found right off the beaten path. Therefore, it becomes REALLY easy to round them all up, thus killing yet another aspect of any good RPG: the element of hunting those suckers down. I spent hours raising a Gold Chocobo in FF7 to get Knights of Round, a SINGLE Materia. In Golden Sun, it probably took no more than twenty minutes to fetch all of the Djinn along the way. See the difference?
Another problem is the fact that it's TREMENDOUSLY easy to beat bosses. Before getting into battle with them, all you have to do is unset your Djinn. When they confront you, blast them with all the summons you have, and they die within two turns. I've literally beat bosses within thirty seconds, and that's when my team was BELOW the recommended level. Isn't that disgusting? Admittedly, a lot of RPGs nowadays tend to be really easy when it comes to actual fighting, but Golden Sun could've been the one to break out of the mold. Could've. It had potential to, but it never came through.
As for the whole class system, I admit that I never really got into it. I just stuck all of my Venus Djinn on Isaac, Mars on Garet, and so on. Things worked out pretty well, since I rarely used any Psynergy at all, simply because using the Djinn, summons, or plain attacking worked so easily. The class changes had potential to be truly innovative, or at the very least more important than how they are right now. Seiken Densetsu III, for instance, heavily depended on your character classes and the accompanying spells. More than that, once you chose a class, you couldn't just switch. If you went to the light side, you could go light-dark or light-light, but you couldn't go to dark-dark or dark-light. Golden Sun lets you change your classes at a whim, simply by detaching and reattaching certain Djinn onto your characters. This takes out the element of strategy, because at any given point in the game you could turn your junky classes into really powerful ones, and back again. Then again, the classes didn't really impact me at all throughout the game, and for the most part I just forgot that they even existed.
I've never once had a character faint on me. It just kind of rankled me, how easily I beat the game, because I still remember all of those other classic RPGs with their motto of, ''Level up for three hours before you can even THINK about facing the next boss.'' It just disappointed me a little that I didn't use any of my spells, because the summons were always ten times more effective. Again, I look to other RPGs where you pretty much depended on magic to win you a battle, and you had to case Revive and Heal all the time. While this isn't really a hit against Golden Sun, it just furthers the fact that it's way, way too easy.
Having a text-based battle system was really odd, and I actually kind of enjoyed it. I just thought it was kind of weird to have this top-of-the-line game use an ancient system that's been around since Dungeons and Dragons. The only problem is that having a text-based bar at the bottom means that the screen, which is already dangerously small because it's a portable, is made even smaller during the battle sequences. Having damage illustrated by numbers over the characters would've worked better, and would've been less distracting.
Another (but admittedly minor) thing is that when you kill a monster, the next character in line doesn't just move on to the next monster. For example, let's say you come across two bunnies. In any other RPG, you'd set all of your characters to attack the first bunny, even though it'll take only one hit to kill it. Isaac kills the first bunny, and when it's Garet's turn he'd automatically attack the second bunny, therefore eliminating both bunnies before they have a chance to know what hit them. That is not the case in Golden Sun. Here, Isaac would kill the first bunny, and then Garet, Ivan, and Mia would defend, leaving you wide open for Bunny 2 to attack. While I found this to be tremendously minor, I know there are a lot of other people out there who were disgruntled by this.
The random battle thing was irritating, as I do not particularly care for random battles at all. I look to games like Zelda, Seiken Densetsu, Chrono Trigger, and Lufia; they are all very established RPG titles, and none of them involve random battles. While I cannot fault Golden Sun for this, as most RPG titles on the market involve random battles, it would've been nice if Golden Sun did something different. Instead, it's the same tried-and-true formula of random battles. Apparently, that's the theme of Golden Sun: to be as conventional and safe as possible.
I am a big fan of puzzle RPGs, and Golden Sun satisfied me in that aspect. Seeing some of the puzzles presented in Golden Sun really reminded me of Wild Arms and the old Lufia games, and I had a blast figuring some of them out. This is, in my opinion, the only time where Golden Sun becomes fun. Although a lot of the puzzles are easy to figure out in order to pass through to the next room, trying to collect all of the treasure chests was more difficult. I admit that even the most difficult puzzles couldn't hold a candle to Lufia II, but they were enjoyable nonetheless. My only real qualm is that some of the required Psynergy, such as Growth, was not available to characters unless you were a certain class. While it didn't take long to figure out which Djinni needed to go where in order to use a spell, it still became irritating to have to change the Djinn around just to get a spell to progress.
You know how in other games you can examine seemingly worthless objects, and it turns out that some treasure was stuck inside? Like you'll examine a barrel and it'll have a potion or something? Golden Sun does that... but it'll drive you crazy trying to find everything. Let's say you examine a barrel. A little dialogue will pop up, saying, ''Isaac examined the barrel...'' And if you found something, the little bugger will pop up and you'll be all happy, and it'll say what you found. If you didn't find anything, it'll tell you that you didn't find squat. Now, the problem is, the first dialogue (''Isaac examined the barrel...''), as well as the line to tell you what you found, will pop up whether or not you found something. I found this to be EXTREMELY annoying, and after a while I just gave up because the prizes were never worth all the irritation. Why do they even bother telling you what you're examining? The artwork is nice enough, and we can tell it's a barrel, and when we realize that we don't have a treasure we know that we didn't find anything. Again, this is an example where Golden Sun just has too much darn text.
The controls are easy enough, and being able to put certain spells onto the L/R keys was appreciated. It was kind of weird how your PP automatically filled up when you're walking around (again, making the game EASY AS SIN) but hey, whatever. I've never once had to use an item that restored PP, unless you count those weird rocks you find on the ground once in a while or the big stone in your home town. Likewise, I've never had to use an item that restored your status (such as Elixir, Antidote, etcetera) or those items that do damage in battle (Oil Drop, Smoke Bomb, etcetera). This made a lot of the items I was carrying utterly useless and a hassle to deal with since each character is only allowed to carry so many items.
Oh, and the password? Forget the password. It's annoying. If you really want to carry your stuff over to the sequel, get a link cable. The gold password is 260 characters of caps-sensitive hell.
Graphics and Sound
What else is there to say about the graphics? They're the selling point of the game. That's not supposed to happen since it's an RPG, but it's the truth. But the again, this IS one of the first made-for-GBA RPGs to ever come out, so who knows? In a few years, maybe the graphics for Golden Sun will be obsolete. That would be terrible, because it's more or less the only thing going for this game.
For now, the graphics are awesome. I'm still getting over GBC's system, and seeing lush backgrounds with beautiful sprites is beautiful. The graphics really push the storybook aspect of the game, and it's just a shame that the story itself can't follow through. The 3D-esque battles in particular are really wonderful, with light cascading everywhere after a spell or summon has been cast. If you were suckered into buying this game because of the graphics, you've got what you paid for. Eat it up, because there's little else to enjoy.
The only weird thing is that... is it just me, or is the world map really fuzzy? It just looks so odd, because the towns and the sprites all have a nice, crisp look about them, and the map itself looks out of focus. Also, there are certain bosses that are gigantic, but instead of drawing a gigantic boss, it looks like they have a medium-sized picture but blew it up to enormous proportions. The bosses look very pixilated, which was nasty because everything else looked wonderful. Two bosses that come to mind are Toadonpa and the final boss, because those looked especially nasty. Other than that, wonderful graphics.
As for the sound, I was pleased to hear actual music instead of the regular bleeping and blooping that most handheld games use. But once I got over it, I forgot the music was even there. Not that it was horrible or anything, it's just... nothing in particular really stood out for me, and right now I can't think of any one particular tune from that game. The music is standard RPG music, and that's it. If someone gave me a burned copy of all the songs, awesome, but I wouldn't go out and hunt it down; it wouldn't be worth the effort.
Playtime and Replay Value
It took me about 15 hours to play this game, and that's because I didn't run from a single battle, and because there was no Teleport function. Yes, it's that short. So let's say the sequels are the same, 15 hours each. Altogether, the entire Golden Sun trilogy would be 45 hours long, the length of an average RPG. I found that kind of odd, because like I said earlier, the game just ENDS. If it had reached a decent enough conclusion, while still leaving it open for a sequel, that would've easily tacked on another 3-5 hours, and would've gotten rid of the absolutely wretched ending that it currently has. While an 18-20 hour RPG would still be achingly short, at least it would've ended on better terms. If only.
Concerning replay value, I can't find any. You can easily grab up all of the treasures and Djinn the first time around, and the only true side quest is Crossbones Island... which, again, can be played the first time around as it can be accessed as early as the boat ride to Tolbi (roughly halfway through the game), and you can go there any time you want once you reach Suhalla Desert (about two-thirds of the way in). The dialogue and the bland storyline is enough to repel even first-time gamers, so I don't see the appeal in slogging through it again.
Golden Sun could've been a truly awesome game; it had all the elements to be a real classic. Unfortunately, it cannot live up to its own hype, and is one of those unmemorable games that fade with time. Although it is often called a revolutionary game, I fail to see what is so revolutionary about it, other than the graphics (which will soon be outdone by the next ultra cool thing). It had all the potential in the world, but failed to use it properly. In the end, it's just a typical RPG that plays it safe and has no groundbreaking features. Players will have little sympathy for the main characters, and no real drive to hunt down the villains. The weak plot is buried by side quests that have no real point, and the dialogues are dangerously boring. Having emoticons appear above the characters' heads do not hide the fact that these guys are just BORING. Battles are easy, and the class system is just too obscure and unimportant to be used effectively. There are enough little, weird, annoying things throughout the game to turn off even the most gung-ho players. It was disappointing to play, and disgustingly boring for an RPG.
Again, it had oodles and oodles of potential. But it didn't amount to anything, so we have yet another RPG on the market that exists to satisfy the eye-candy-crazed fans out there.
Final score: 3/10
Reviewer's Score: 3/10 | Originally Posted: 03/28/04
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