Review by Dethmeista
"Can't hold a candle to the top RPG's"
There is a lot of RPG's in the world, and they fit into 2 categories: Amazing and Terrible. Most are amazing, since they have gripping storylines, amazing graphics, stunning music, and stellar gameplay. How RPG's become so amazing like this I don't know, they just do. Fortunately, these are the majority of RPG's, but the minority of terrible ones are really, really bad. There's no grey area with RPG's, but there is a very fine line between these 2 groups. Golden Sun doesn't seem to know what group it belongs in, so I'll decide for it...
Now, Golden Sun, when I first bought it, seemed to be a very good recipe of FF-style RPG gaming and exploring, but it also had a spell of Zelda-style puzzle solving for you in the dungeons. It all sounded perfect to me, and I expected to be amazed by it.
Don't get me wrong, it was amazing. Amazingly bad that is. After a few weeks of play, I was utterly sick of the game, and I gave it away. That's right, GAVE it away, free of charge, even though it had cost me £30 in the first place. £30 that I might as well have burned for all the use it was. And here's where Golden Sun fouls up.
Surprised? I was. Surprised at the amount of people who said the graphics were amazing. However, for me, the graphics ranged between OK (out of battle) to terrible (in battle). Out of battle graphics were decent for the most part, until I saw the world map. A world map that looked like a 4-year-old's painting: a mess of colours blurred together to make a map of...green. Lots of shades of green merged together with brown dots in groups to make buildings for the towns and cities in the game. And there was the occasional "cave" that looked like a white blob with a black hole in the middle. It seems Camelot looked to make a 3D world map as opposed to the 2D world maps made in the early FF games. Well, they did make a 3D world map, only they made a terrible looking 3D world map.
In the towns, graphics were a lot more impressive. Houses looked 3D (and very nice too) and the people looked very nice too, with the usual Anime RPG style where their heads are enormous compared to the rest of their bodies.
These were good. All the towns looked good, and so did the dungeons. These looked the way they should have done: 2D.
Unfortunately, the battle graphics were attempted in 3D. And I emphasise "attempted" because the battle graphics are nothing short of appaling. The characters are blocky and consist of giant, square-shaped pixels, which make them look terrible. The monsters look terrible, as they consist of these giant pixels as well. Considering that this is supposed to be an anime-style RPG, you'd think they'd stick to the traditional 2D style. But no, Camelot attempted 3D and failed miserably. The attacks don't look much better. When a thunderbolt hits an enemy, instead of sparks flying around the enemy from the hit, you instead get...squares. Again, if this was done in 2D, it would look much more impressive, but 3D graphics weren't meant to be on GBA, and this is where Golden Sun's graphics fall down big time. If the game was done in 2D and cel-shaded, it would look amazing, but instead we get an attempt at 3D graphics that makes Golden Sun look terrible when put alongside GBA's other front-runners, such as Metroid Fusion.
Most RPG's usually are known for having an amazing soundtrack that people will remember for years to come. Golden Sun has no such music. In fact, the battle music is quite poor, when compared to the battle music from FF7, and other similar RPG's. The music in the dungeons was nauseating (I distinctly remember the Mt. Aleph dungeon theme to be the worst I've heard in a long time) and it makes me very grateful that the GBA comes with a volume wheel to turn the sound off. The rest of the music was pretty much average. The two aforementioned tunes are the only two I distinctly remember, and for all rhe wrong reasons, unfortunately.
However, my real grudge with the sounds comes here. The sound effects are abysmal. Whether you talk about the character "voices" or the in-battle sound effects, you can't really say much more than "that's just really bad". The "voices" I mentioned earlier are not so much voices as they are funny squeaking noises. Now I don't know about anyone else, but these squeaky noises grated on my nerves like nails on a blackboard. I don't know whose idea it was to put these "voices" in, but they sound absolutely horrendous. Fortunately, you do have the option to turn them off, but why they were included in the first place just completely defeats me. Kefka's creepy laugh from FF6 just about stays on the right side of the line (but only just) but these voices seem as though they were put in for a joke. Thanks, Camelot, but I'm not laughing.
As for the in-battle sound effects, my only complaint is that the GBA can do a lot better than what Golden Sun had to offer. The sounds seem like they came from a very early RPG from the early nineties. Now, I'm not saying there's anything wrong with those sound effects, but in this day and age, they could've done much more. Swords should make a clanking metallic sound of steel cutting bone and flesh, and thunder should strike down with a whiplash crack, but in the end both of these make the same sound: a funny "whooshing" noise that really doesn't sound like either of the aforementioned things at all. However it's not just these two that make this sound; pretty much every attack you use makes this sound, bar some of the summon creatures, where you can get a couple of bangs to go with the whooshes as well. I suppose some attacks would make a whooshing noise (a tornado or a flame attack for instance) but having pretty much every attack make the same sound just makes this particular part of the game seem rushed.
Golden Sun's gameplay, to be fair, was decent. It did what it was meant to do well, with the battle system being your usual turn-based style with a few extras added in, namely the Djinni that serve as Golden Sun's version of FF's summonable creatures, that also, when equipped onto your character, give an increase to their stats. Also, these Djinni can be merged, should a character have 2 of the same element equipped, to allow you to summon very powerful creatures. These Djinni also give your characters certain special attacks, which consist of inflicting a status effect on the enemy, to increasing the stats of the whole party. Psynergy is Golden Sun's version of magic, and simply levelling up will increase the range of magic you can use, as well as upgrading other spells. Overall, the only flaw with the battle system is it lacks any new concepts, instead borrowing from other games and changing some names. I personally haven't a problem with this, but an RPG hoping to contend with the top dogs really needs to bring a new concept to the plate.
The puzzles are the next part, and these mostly involve using Psynergy outside of battle to move certain objects around, but there are also some puzzles where you must push logs around to make a path to treasure, for instance, or find a path to a door without stepping on the same patch of ground more than once. A fairly nice concept to have in RPG dungeons, since most of the early FF dungeons just had you trying to reach a certain point without getting pulped by monsters. Golden Sun brings in a puzzle aspect AND trying to reach a certain point without getting pulped by monsters. Again, this has a nasty flaw: monsters can attack you in the middle of these puzzles, and this gets very irritating in a hurry. Random battles have always been a thorn in the side of many RPG players, and having to deal with this and solve a puzzle at the same time is very wearing. Unfortunately, gameplay is meaningless in RPG's without a good storyline in the core of it all. And here is where Golden Sun falls down the hardest.
STORY AND CHARACTERS:1/10
This is only getting more than zero because there are actual characters in the game. Now, you'd expect an RPG that looks similar to Final Fantasy to have a stellar storyline and memorable characters, wouldn't you? Well, unfortunately, this has pretty much no story whatsoever, and what is does have is just totally cliched. The story begins like so: your character is woken up by his mother, who says that he must escape because a boulder is falling down the mountain to fall on the village, crushing anyone in its path. Is this the best they could think of? Seriously, this has to be the most unimaginative disaster I have ever seen. It only gets worse from here. The game takes you 2 years after that point, where you enter the Mt. Aleph to fetch the 4 elemental stars for an old man to study. These stars hold within them the immense power of Alchemy, so naturally, they're going to have been quite sought after, hence their being protected inside Mt. Aleph. Cue entry of the bad guys. They want the stars so that they can light the four elemental lighthouses so that they can....well, that's the thing, see....the game doesn't tell you why they want to do this. Perhaps they want to rule the world? Perhaps they want to destroy it? Whatever it is, the game doesn't tell you. All it tells you is that they must not be allowed to do whatever they want to do. And away we go.
Well, the story doesn't progress much further than this. You have to go along and stop them, but you must also stop off in other places beforehand and do other things as well. I'm not sure why this is, again, the game won't tell you, but you have to stop in these places anyway. Then you have to go to the 4 lighthouses to stop the bad guys from lighting them, only there's one slight problem: the game ends before you visit 2 of the lighthouses. It doesn't give any sort of indication that you're approaching the end, either. The game just....ends. The last boss is just like any normal boss, so you won't see the end coming at all. It leaves on a "To be continued..." style cliffhanger, and this was just the final straw. For Camelot to make such an appaling and unimaginative story is one thing, but to end the game in this fashion is nothing short of disgraceful. Most RPG's give you a sense of great achievement upon completing them, but all you get from this is great disappointment, as well as the feeling that you've just wasted your money.
Time to introduce the cast of characters. Some of the worst characters to ever appear in any game. Why, you ask. Well, I'll tell you. Lets begin with main character Isaac. Isaac is a very....well, he's not very anything really. He doesn't say or do anything hardly, making him the most uninteresting game character ever. All he ever says is "yes" or "no", and as a result, he has absolutely no personality whatsoever. Usually the main characters in RPG's are memorable, and have their names etched into gaming history (step up, Cloud) but this is the polar opposite of such greatness. Then there's Garet. Dear, dear me. This guy has about has much brains as Isaac has personality:
virtually non-existent. He is physically incapable of making a decision for himself, and instead has Isaac do his thinking and decision making for him.
Admittedly, if it wasn't for this, Isaac probably wouldn't speak at all, but the fact that Garet is so stupid is totally unforgivable. The most memorable thing that Garet did was at the beginning, where he goes and steals the elemental stars off Isaac to give to the bad guys to trade for his friend, Jenna. I was shocked at his stupidity. The bad guys say "fork over the stars and I'll let your friend go." Like they'd do that. Anyone could see that they'd just take the stars and keep Jenna anyway. Not Garet. Would anyone in the real world be so gullible in this situation? Not likely. The other two characters in your party, Ivan and Mia (I think that's her name) are better than the other two, but far from special enough to make up for the fact that Isaac and Garet are two of the worst characters in gaming history.
Onto the bad guys. Usually, the villains are supercool and super-powerful and usually have a very good reason for being evil (like FF7's Sephiroth) and are also very memorable. Not this motley crew of villains. None of them particularly stand out, except for Felix, Jenna's older brother. This guy was supposedly killed by the boulder that destroyed the village 2 years ago, and at first he appears in a mask with the villains, but soon after removes the mask and reveals that he is one of the bad guys. Now this would have been quite a shocker, apart from the fact that Felix is revealed as being a bad guy in the manual. I always tend to read the manual before playing the game, meaning this little plot twist was spoiled for me, since I instantly recognised Felix before he had removed the mask, thanks to the manual single-handedly ruining the only real plot-twist in the game. The other bad guys are just your usual evil villains, really. I'd have a lot more to say about them if the game actually told you what it was exactly they were after, but since it doesn't go into much detail on what the villains actually want, they were all a total mystery to me.
This game is poor at it's very best. The gameplay is OK, but it is totally spoiled by everything else in the game, especially the story, which is what forms the core of games like this. It seems to me that Camelot didn't care for making a good game at all, as this lacks any sort of imagination, in both the gameplay and the story. With nothing making this game unique and special with regards to the story and gameplay, on top of the failed attempt at making 3D graphics that look good as well as the feeble effort at decent sound and music, Golden Sun can only just manage a 4/10 in my book.
Reviewer's Score: 4/10 | Originally Posted: 10/31/05
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