Review by MSuskie

"Gold plated sun."

The Videogame Yes-or-No Postulate: When a game that does not usually require a lot of conversational interaction asks the player a yes-or-no question, the player's choice will not affect the outcome of the game, and, in most cases, will send the conversation in the same direction regardless of the choice.

The Conversational Prison Corollary: In correspondence with the Videogame Yes-or-No Postulate; when the player is asked a yes-or-no question, but the game requires the player to make a specific choice in order to advance, the character will imprison the player in a theoretically endless conversation, only to releasr the player when he or she makes the correct choice.

Golden Sun has a habit of following those two laws. Please please PLEASE don't ask me to be involved when I'm not supposed to be involved. It is not unusual for an RPG to incorporate such tactics; it is merely a nuisance, and has been done to death. It's one of the many ways in which Golden Sun refuses to distinguish itself from any other RPG out there. Come to think of it, I have trouble recalling a single RPG cliche that Camelot didn't nail in the development of Golden Sun. Allow me to recount my long, epic journey.

- The game starts off with the main character, Isaac, waking up.

- Isaac's hometown isn't destroyed, surprisingly, but something relatively awful happens to a few of your loved ones rather early on. The game's intro is one of those “a few years earlier” preludes that explains just how ****ed up the protagonist's childhood was.

- Don't worry, though. One of your loved ones survived the accident and will show up a few years later, but damned if he hasn't joined the bad guys by then.

- Speaking of which, the bad guys are interested in WORLD DOMINATION! They will accomplish this by unlocking a sealed-away evil force. So you just KNOW they're serious.

- Oddly though, no one seems to have any problems relying on a few inexperienced teens to save the world, despite the several perfectly good armies lying around.

- One of the guys you'll recruit for your party will initially turn down your offer to join, but will pop up ten minutes later, having changed his mind.

- The only playable female character is a healer. You know, with a staff.

- One of the villains can warp indefinitely, which makes you wonder why he doesn't just warp to his goal immediately rather than wait for you to get there before doing so.

- The main character will have to fight in a battle arena at some point.

- Despite the urgency of the conflict at hand, the main characters don't mind ignoring their objectives on occasion to take care of far less important things.

- There's a final boss, and then there's a final final boss. You know, the oversized second form. Just when you thought it was safe…

The core of many an RPG is the story, and Golden Sun doesn't have a lot going for it in that sense. If you've played an RPG before, you've seen this mess. This remains, I believe, the only Camelot RPG I've ever played, so I can't say whether or not they're all so unoriginal. The writers just don't seem to realize how many times I've witnessed the childhood tragedy, or fought the ancient sealed-away evil force, or hacked my way to the top of the battle arena chart. It has all the makings of an epic – that is, it's a long game, and there's a big emphasis on plot, with lots of long, drawn-out conversations. I wouldn't mind the high focus on story so much if the characters weren't so one-dimensional and the ramblings so endless and without point. If you can't come up with a good plot, fine, but at least don't act like you can.

Now, Golden Sun arrived on the scene at the beginning of GBA's life, and at that time, it looked to be exactly the RPG the handheld needed. The graphics are utterly spectacular, ranging from gorgeous pre-rendered locations to sprite-based battle sequences and a Mode 7-style overworld. The art style is striking and surprisingly reminiscent of the criminally underrated PSX masterpiece Star Ocean: The Second Story; the orchestrated musical score also bears a resemblance to that game, which isn't a shock, given that both were handled by Motoi Sakuraba. And as much as I disliked the story, one cannot deny its epic qualities, and the game is positively enormous. Surely this was, at the time, the most ambitious handheld RPG ever.

Bash me all you want for saying this, but I think the original two Pokemon games (that is, the Red and Blue versions) remain the best handheld RPG's of all time (unless you consider the Zelda games to be RPG's, which they are not). Golden Sun is, in many ways, all show and no substance. It's flashy and epic, but in no way a classic, or even all that deep, even by handheld RPG standards.

The basic structure of the game is the very same one we've been exposed to over and over again: Plot advancement, town, plot advancement, overworld, dungeon, boss, plot advancement, overworld, town, and so on and so forth. The world map is pretty enormous and filled with, y'know, lots of extra stuff. In concept, Golden Sun handles itself well.

But there are only four playable characters, and they're all mandatory. Furthermore, all four of the characters have very specific attributes, with each one having its own strengths, weaknesses, weapons, and elemental specialties. So, your party's fate is essentially set. Not being able to choose between multiple characters is one thing, but making each character virtually non-adjustable in their battle abilities is excruciating. A certain amount of customization should be a requirement for all RPG's, and Golden Sun just doesn't have it.

Still, it's not all bad. The battles are rather fast-paced, as you have to input your actions for all four characters ahead of time and then just watch everything play out. You've got to make big decisions, like, um, whether to attack, cast magic, or use an item. Tricky tricky tricky. Unfortunately, most of the battles lack a sense of strategy. The enemies are really just big punching bags, distinguishable only in the sense that they look different from one another. Just give 'em all you've got. There's rarely any secret to defeating anyone; if you get killed, you simply haven't leveled up enough.

Combat is made kinda interesting with the addition of Djinn, however. Djinn are these little creatures – usually found through side quests – that can be equipped to characters. It's kind of like Final Fantasy VIII's junctioning system, but more user-friendly. They all have special attacks and abilities that can be called upon in battle, and when enough of them are on standby at once, they can join forces for, yep, a summon. The only flaw with this is that the Djinn are separated by element, and thus will usually be equipped to the character with the corresponding element. These people are apparently unable to escape their sealed fates.

One more thing I want to mention – the dungeons. They're not bad. They are, like everything else in Golden Sun, derived from old RPG cliches – there's an abandoned mine, a forest of illusion, a thieves' hideout, a burning desert (someone please get these characters to shut up about how hot they are), an ancient temple, and all manner of caves and underground tunnels and whatnot. But they're pretty clever. There's some Zelda-inspired puzzle-solving here, and while the puzzles themselves are never too tough to figure out, they'll get you using your magical powers in unique ways. Me likey.

Pros

+ It's certainly quite big and epic.
+ The graphics and art style are utterly superb.
+ Motoi Sakuraba rarely disappoints with his excellent music.
+ Very traditional in its design.
+ Battles are fast-paced and gorgeous to watch, and the Djinn add depth.
+ The dungeons are laid out intelligently.

Cons

- I cannot stress enough how tired and cliched the story is.
- And there is far too much of it.
- Only four characters, and they can't really be customized or tampered with.
- Battle strategies aren't particularly deep.

Overall: 7/10

Yeah, not bad. I liked Golden Sun, even if its potential failed to be truly realized. It's quite good-looking and good-sounding, and it has all the makings of an epic, sans depth. It is without doubt one of the biggest handheld RPG's ever made – even today – and those that make the most of it will last quite a while. Still, I am underwhelmed. Golden Sun embraces way too many RPG's to truly become a distinguishable classic among the RPG lot, and its constant reliance on genre convention is punishing. For a game that spends so much time developing its story, I would have liked a better plot and characters I could relate to and care for. Still, a 7/10 certainly isn't bad, and if you own a GBA and have yet to check this one out, I recommend you do so, provided you're okay with its unoriginal story.


Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 10/20/04, Updated 12/13/06


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