Review by Relle

"My Lost Age = 14. I can't remember what I did then, but I think some of it was illegal."

"GET ME POWER! GET ME HIGHER!"

Listening to anime radio while writing a review = yay. So! You have the GBA, which is like pocket-sized gold in its own plastic wrapper, games of every make and genre, characters and worlds as varied as pure imagination, fun pouring out of every molecule like it were some terrific new disease you never want to cure, but what to do with this wondrous new device? Best thing you could do is stick a good RPG in there and really enjoy yourself. Among those RPGs now on the GBA, you really can't go wrong with Golden Sun. Good, old-school battle system, lengthy adventure, graphics that shame a good percentage of the titles on the same system, and puzzles that actually let you interact with your environment. Goody-goody gumdrops!

It all started with a modest little project from Camelot, makers of such high fantasy as Shining Force. You had an old-school--some might say antiquated--battle system, interesting puzzles, characters and a series of pointless choices. Somehow it brought all that together to become a good game, but it wasn't enough. It ended far too soon and was finished in such a way that gamers were left wanting. It begged, nay, flat-out demanded for a sequel, all the while holding hostages at gunpoint with an accomplice handling the high explosives while you spoke to the police negotiator.

Cue Golden Sun: The Lost Age. This game begins right where the last game ended, except this time you're in control of Felix and his crew. Now, right away you'll notice Felix, who was quite an interesting guy in the previous game, is now just as mute as Isaac was in the first game. Oh, he says things like "Yes!" and "No!" but really, it's just you, the gamer, plugging into his text box. It's a real shame Felix has to be like this, especially considering he was pretty cool in the last game. Not that he's any less cool, he just has fewer opportunities to express himself now.

Yes! No! Choices! You remember those pointless Yes/No options during the original game? You should, if you're just getting into this game fresh, you'll be wondering what the hell happened to get everyone where they are now. However, you'll also be freshly introduced to certain dialogue options. The problem is, most of them don't affect anything. You can say Yes or No and result in somewhat different dialogue, but besides that, the game continues on as per normal. So I question why Camelot had to put in these Yes/No questions again, especially when they don't really do anything.

Right, then. Now, if you are indeed a veteran of the last Golden Sun game, you'll immediately feel at home with the battle system. It's pretty much standard for an RPG: attack, defend, use an item or spell, or summon a Djinn if you can. More on that last bit later. The thing that may annoy some of you, though, is if you target a monster and one of your party members kills it before you get a chance to attack, you'll default to defending rather than attacking the next monster in line. It's something that used to exist back in the very first Final Fantasy game, and has thus been changed to have automatic targeting for so long, you have undoubtedly begun to take it for granted. Well, no more. Now you have to pay attention to how many HP a monster has, how many attacks it takes to kill it, and distribute your party's attacks appropriately. It does add strategy to the mix, albeit relatively little. It can be annoying till you get used to the whole idea, then it's just a minor inconvenience.

Djinns are Golden Sun's little unique 'thing,' and it's an unusual way of doing things. These things called Djinn correspond to the four elements: earth, fire, water and wind. They hide in various places, whether in the overworld map, in towns, dungeons, whatever. Capturing them can require solving a puzzle or simply catching the damn thing and beating it into submission, or it can be as easy as walking up to it. Setting a captured Djinn on a party member gives that person the Djinn's powers, usually in the form of boosted stats, sometimes also granting additional or alternate magic. There's a difference, trust me. More than one Djinn on a person will change that person's 'title,' which can help them level up differently, and there's quite a few different combinations, considering there's a couple dozen Djinn comprising the four elements.

These little Djinn can also be used in battle, either as single-use spells that do damage, restore your party's HP, status and more. Or, if you're feeling dangerous, you can ready them to summon some bigass creature to really put the hurt on the enemy. These summon sequences make an honest effort to rival Final Fantasy's summons in sheer eye candy (but thankfully, not in time elapsed).

Now, those who completed the original Golden Sun will also have noticed they were capable of carrying over their items, gold, Djinn, pretty much everything. Only, the best stuff required a six page password that is an absolute pain the ass to both write down and input into The Lost Age. If you have another GBA (or know someone with one) and a link cable, you can skip all that, but everyone else will have to ruin their eyes with the passwords. Fortunately, there's a point to it all besides just keeping all your hard-won stuff. Events in Golden Sun carry over to TLA, and can influence events in the sequel. It's fun seeing people who have previously interacted with Isaac and co. again, or fighting familiar enemies that made a nuisance of themselves in the last game.

The original Golden Sun wasn't a game for much length. You could beat it fairly quickly, and with a minimum of pertinent sidequests aside from the Djinn. Not so with The Lost Age. Instead of just a limited area in the first game, you have the entire world to explore, and holy hell, is it big!

Huge, in fact, with so many dungeons your eyes will go out of focus. Better keep them clear, because you'll really need to concentrate to get through these specialized catacombs. The Lost Age brings back the use of personal Psynergy abilities (spells) that can be used outside of battle to interact with the environment. Puddle of water? Freeze it into a column you can use to leap across a gap. Switch unreachable by normal means? Use Psynergy to create a hand that'll pound that switch, or move that block, or pretty much anything. Create a vine from a tiny plant, shred weeds to reach secret passages, sink into sand and crawl through tiny cracks in the wall that previously couldn't be traversed. The whole point of Psynergy, aside from being a nice way to put the smack-down on enemies, is to get you on your way. There's a spell for every situation, and they're used extensively. Long gone are the simple block puzzles or colored switches. Now you have to look at your environment, take stock of what you have, and examine what you can manipulate, and how to do it. It requires more brainpower than your average RPG.

Anyway, for those who were disappointed with the ending of the original Golden Sun (if you can call it that...) you'll be pleased to note the game does, in fact, end with this iteration. Not that it doesn't leave room for a sequel (there's always room for a sequel, no matter how convoluted it is!), but the whole conflict left wide open in the first game is brought to a neat close. Plus, there's a certain reunion which I can't mention because it's a spoiler but it's pretty cool anyway so when you see it you'll know what I'm talking about, right? Right.

Anyone who knows me knows I love RPGs. Adventure, exploration, and leveling up just seems to click with me like an old friend. With the combination of everything going for Golden Sun, it was inevitable that I would end up loving it. Even if you're not as insane for RPGs as I am, even if you just want something to pass a half hour in the car, something to enjoy while waiting for your meal in a restaurant, or just for some random fun, you can't go wrong with a game that promises such a great journey that can be started, stopped, set down and picked up at any time. Gotta love those 'save anywhere' games, huh? Yep, yep.

There's a big world out there. You better go save it.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 08/07/04


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