Review by Crack Addict

Reviewed: 10/19/09

Golden Sun Microfiction: "Well, Prince, so Genoa and Lucca are now just family estates of the Bonapartes..."

Golden Sun. What a beautiful name. It has a very RPG-ish sound to its name; a name that invokes thoughts of fantasy and fields of flora covering miles of land.

Personally, it also has a very surreal effect on me. I had first played Golden Sun sometime in 2002-2003 on my GBA and it is now, near the beginning of 2010, that I finally beat it for the first time on my Nintendo DS Lite, and giving it my own review.

When you are a GBA owner and an RPG lover, it’s hard not to know about Golden Sun. It was essentially the first prominent GBA RPG and it had some big names backing it (Camelot Software and Nintendo themselves). Upon release, it also received rave reviews, and was widely regarded as a game worthy of standing with the best RPGs of the 16-bit era.

Enough of what others think, though, what about me? Well, it’s difficult for me to say exactly. As a lover of RPGs (particularly 2D RPGs), I did come into the game with some expectations for the game raved as ‘one of the best GBA games’. On the other hand, I get the feeling that the developers made the game in a particular way regardless of the effect it has usability.

Ultimately, though, what is my assessment of Golden Sun? It is a good game that needs a hell of a lot of tweaking.

A bunch of kids get caught up in a tragedy that may result in the destruction of the world so they must now travel to save it. Hmm, this sounds slightly familiar.

In a way, the story to Golden Sun is very generic, but of course, Camelot made plenty of changes to allow the story to become more interesting.

To begin, you are Isaac, a boy from the village of Vale situated in the world of Weyard. The story begins as a tragedy unfolds over the village. An eruption from the volcano that the village is situated nearby is raining giant boulders onto the village. Many people are trying to hold back the boulders using Psynergy (Golden Sun’s form of magic), but to little avail.

Isaaac’s father leaves to help and his mother followed leaving Isaac to head to safety with a friend, Garet. The two stumble upon another friend desperately trying to save her brother and Isaac attempts to help, but the help ultimately fails to come in time. The tragedy results in the loss of friends and family, but Isaac move on.

He receives training in his skills from a man named ‘Master Kraden’, but trouble arrives due to the appearance of two strange individuals (whom Isaac also saw during the eruption). Fearing that the individuals were planning something dastardly, Kraden takes Isaac and friends to Sol Sanctum in the volcano and they stumble upon the Elemental Stones, which are then stolen by the two individuals from before alongside someone thought to be dead. Due to the incident being partly your fault, you are tasked with trying to retrieve the Elemental Stones before the villains can use them to light the Lighthouses around the world, and cause the return of the ‘threat of Alchemy’.

…reading the above summary, one would think I just revealed a huge part of the story, but I didn’t. All of that above literally happened in the very beginning; before you even leave the first village in the game. It’s funny how Golden Sun decided to reveal a number of plot twists in the beginning that most other games decides to reveal sometime in the middle of the game.

In this regard, storytelling is something that Golden Sun doesn’t do very well. The plot is generally very bland and many of the plot twists tend to be too sudden with no prior explanation. Characters may suddenly appear out of nowhere only to shortly later be revealed as someone important afterwards, things seemingly happen only as a way to move the plot forward, and much of the world’s problems and tragedies seem very silly in many cases.

Why don’t I give some examples? Say a villain appears out of nowhere. You know nothing about this villain, except for a name. He tends to give cryptic answers to questions. A few hours of gameplay later, he is revealed to be the brother of one of the main characters! ….and then that’s it. Little to no emotion seems to be exhibited by that main character. In fact, one could even forget that this villain happens to be the brother of one of the main characters.

…another example and one which is actually taken directly from the game: Very early in the game, you’ll meet this wealthy guy who is seemingly very upset about his apprentice losing a rod. Instead of, you know, sticking around and trying to find it, he decides to leave his apprentice there to find it himself, and head home.

Suddenly, he discovers the bridge leading to his village was destroyed, so he decides to head to a place called ‘Lunpa’, which is home to thieves. Later on, you suddenly learn that he has been taken captive by the leader of Lunpa, which is evil unlike his forefathers. Mysteriously, everyone seems to know this, except for the guy who head there.

If you find my above description confusing, that was intentional. I was trying to convey the situation in the same way Golden Sun does. GS reveals the plot in the same way one might expect from a day time soap opera. Whereas a good story might give little hints of what might come or explain the situation in full and allow you to decide for yourself, GS sort of tells a story and inserts little plot twists whenever necessary.

I sort of imagine the story board for GS went something like this:
Executive A: Okay, Isaac and Garet, his best friend, aren’t very powerful Psynergy users, so we should give them a new teammate to help balance them out.
Executive B: Lets make them meet a magic user at the next village they come to. Someone like them, young, but strong willed. An apprentice maybe.
Executive A: Okay, so lets say he made a mistake, and his master tasks him with helping Isaac and Garet in order to atone for his sins.
Executive B: Nah, lets make a tragedy out of it. Say his master is angry with him and leaves him in order to atone for his sins, but he gets kidnapped, so Isaac has to help the apprentice save his master!
Executive: Good idea. We’ll have the master be saved at a later part of the game.

To get to the point as concisely as possible, the plot in GS seems largely decided beforehand, and most of the plot twists seems blandly inserted in an attempt to make the game more interesting or to move the plot forward. Many of the plot twists carry little meaning and seem to be ignored for the most part. Even some of the main characters in the story gets introduced…then blatantly ignored shortly afterwards.

There is very little to no character development in the game. Any character development that occurs at all is only event-initiated. For example, this is a hypothetical situation, if Isaac’s mother happens to die during the game, and Isaac finds out when you go back to Vale for a visit, he might display great sadness and emotions. However, once you leave the village, he will never mention it again.

So any character development that occurs only occurs when the game calls for it. Otherwise, you don’t find out anything about the characters as there is little to no in-between scenes/dialogues. Everything is on a strictly need-to-know basis.

To make it even shorter, the story to Golden Sun is sort of like an online fanfic. This is a funny comparison when you take into consideration that the game is actually very short; the story gets cut off in the middle, and then a sequel is created for reviews-I mean, sales.

These are the people credited as the game’s writers: Richard Amtower, Nate Bihldorff, and Leo Tolstoy.

My apology, but I simply can not move on from the story until I address one of Golden Sun’s most well known ‘features’: Its incredibly text-heavy story. Now, don’t get me wrong, text-driven stories are perfectly fine. In fact, if you played RPGs during the 8-bit and 16-bit era, you’ve no doubt are very accustomed to it. Some of you may even prefer it.

However, Golden Sun just takes it to an entirely new level. Remember in my introduction when I mentioned I first played Golden Sun in 2002-2003, but did not finish it until now? Well, I’m not the best player in the world, but I’m not that horrendous either; It does not take me that long to beat RPGs. In fact, I’ve actually beaten far longer RPGs than Golden Sun in a matter of days.

So why did it take me so long to beat GS? Because of how extremely text-heavy it is. It seems almost silly in hindsight, but I was simply not able to stand how long some scenes were. There are literally scenes in the game which could last 15-30 minutes depending on how fast of a reader you are. If you’re not reading at all and just skipping the scenes as fast as possible, it’ll still take you a good 10 minutes just to reach the end in some of the worst scenes. It had reached such a point that I eventually abandoned the game in favor of ones that more aptly catered to my ADD-inflicted mind.

I honestly, honestly do not understand why the game’s writers feel the need to put in such a massive amount of dialogue. Was it all necessary to explain the plot? I can hardly say so. The game has loose ends out of the wazoo and I’m sure some of you are aware of the existence of Golden Sun 2, which continues the story in Golden Sun meaning the plot in this game is, of course, incomplete.

So was it necessary in order to make the game more immersive? Well, I’ll let you decide from the following example of things that regularly occur in the game: In the beginning shortly before you depart from Vale, the game shifts the scene to two children plainly talking about Isaac and friends leaving. Were they important to the story? No. Were they even related to the main characters? No. Were they giving hints as to what will happen further in the game or as to where to find neat items later on? No and no.

What exactly were they discussing? Simply that Isaac and his friends were leaving and how exciting it was. That’s it. This particularly useless scene wasn’t a few short lines of kids talking either; it literally consisted of an entire 3-5 minute scene of them just talking about what was currently happening right then and there.

Do you consider the above to be an important part of the story? If so, then you’re a better man than I because I wasn’t sure how to view that other than with inner questions of why the hell was I watching it.

The entire game is littered with such scenes and it can be frustrating for those who may not have the patience to drudge through all of it. Considering the dialogue is a common criticism of the game, I’m assuming that consists of a lot of people, including yours truly. Personally, I have two theories as to why the game is like this.

Theory #1 is that the developer realized how short Golden Sun can be, especially if the player is too good at playing the game, so they made the game like this in order to pad the game’s length. Theory #2 is that the developer is planning to write their magnum opus on their favorite fanfiction website, but wishes to practice their writing skills somewhere else first, and Golden Sun to happen to appear at the time.

Aw, look at those babyface youngsters! And they’re on a big, wonderful quest to save the world! Who’s the cutie? Yes, you!

I’ve mentioned Isaac and his friends quite a few times, but so far failed to explain them. Here are the main characters you’ll encounter in the game:
1)Isaac – This is the main character. He is your silent, brave hero.
2)Garet – Isaac’s best friend and, apparently, his only means of communication. Through the game, Garet will voice and repeat various things said by Isaac.
3)Ivan – A powerful Adept who can read minds. He does this quite frequently and, surprisingly, does not get his ass kicked for it.
4)Mia – The customary white mage. She’ll heal you when you need it and will look pretty at other times.

The cast of Golden Sun consists of a series of teenagers who really seems more like they’re 12-13 years old. On the cover of the game, you see a bunch of people who looks tough, and ready to get down to business.

But the game has a largely different effect due to a variety of factors. First, the super deformed look of the characters combined with the lack of sufficiently detailed character models actually makes them look younger than they supposedly are. Furthermore, the game uses this rather strange system of emotions in which various anime-ish emoticons appear as the characters go through emotions.

There’s a problem with that: When a big ‘frowny face’ appears above your character whenever he is upset, you tend to think of him as a young boy. Isaac is supposed to be 17-years-old, one gets the feeling he is 12-years-old.

It doesn’t help that the characters also act very young throughout the game. They walk into various situations in a confused manner, act impetuously and with bravado, and they carry a rather naïve nature about them. One of them even has a tendency to throw tantrums, especially when his best friend doesn’t side with him. In other words, a very child-like attitude about them.

The main villains, on the other hand, look like teenagers in Halloween costumes. Saturos and Menardi, the main villains of the game, are Mars adepts who seem to have painted themselves over with make-up. There are also two other villains with them, but I will not reveal them for the sake of the plot (though I’m not sure why since you see them in the very beginning of the game). The personalities of these two are a bit less generic than one might expect.

Saturos is certainly a bit restrained and tactful while Menardi tends to be quick to temper. So they actually have something resembling personalities, though there are times when their personalities seem to be switched around or they seem to change into completely different people.

Perhaps contributing to the issue of understanding the villains is that we do not know of their true purpose. Yes, the plot reveals that they intend to bring back the power of Alchemy, and they’re going around lighting up the various Lighthouses, but a reason as to why they’re doing it is never revealed. We have roughly four villains all with varying motives in lighting the Lighthouses, but the game seems intent on not revealing exactly what the motives are.

Did I mention before that the game’s story really seems like a fanfic?

Hey ma, look! I’m playing a Super Nintendo game on my GameBoy Advance!

The graphics on Golden Sun, as one would expect from a system that is supposedly a ‘handheld SNES’, resembles the best looking SNES games. Think something along the lines of Tales of Phantasia or Star Ocean.

The various objects in the game, such as trees, houses, landscape, and etc are fairly detailed (or as much as can be detailed in a 2D GBA game anyway), and likewise for the character models. In battle is where the graphics shine best since everything receives a close-up and you can spot details much easier, but when you are in a village, a lot of details are lost.

The situation is, of course, worse when on the world map. Things lose details and, as I described before, the character models become greatly distorted from what they’re supposed to represent.

Nonetheless, regardless of whatever flaws exist, graphics can hardly be criticized on Golden Sun as it is one of the game’s best features. GS makes absolutely wonderful usage of the GBA’s power. The battle system is random/turn-based, but unlike what one might expect from a 2D RPG, Golden Sun decided to use a pseudo 3D battle system.

The camera is angled from behind the protagonists with the enemies on the opposing side. This gives a pseudo 3D appearance that is actually fairly impressive. Furthermore, battles are well enhanced by great animation. Characters actually jump and attack, special attacks result in an impressive display of power, and summoning will have a bevy of fluid special effects.

I speak too much of battles, however. Animation is something that the regular game uses plenty of. I’m not kidding; I really do mean the game uses it very often. Throughout the game, we have the characters jittering about in place for no particular reason. Sometimes, the long lines of dialogue in the game (and they are very long, indeed) will mysteriously stop while the characters stand around, and twitch in their spot.

Despite playing the game for several hours and beating it already, I am still unsure if these stoppages are Camelot’s attempt at trying to inject tense silences or just their way of showing off the awesome animation effects in the game.

Before I move on to a very important section in the review, I wish to speak about another glossy part of the game’s graphics, the use of Psynergy to solve puzzles. The game makes very extensive usage of Psynergy to solve various puzzles and many of them are, indeed, impressive. We have whirlwinds cutting down vines (I’m not sure why they can’t use their bladed weapons), telekinetic techniques being used to move materials, and so on and so on.

These techniques are all used outside of battles (although some of them can be used inside of battles too) and they all certainly add to the beauty of the game. They enjoy fluid and beautiful animated effects and are certainly among the reasons Golden Sun gets high ratings for graphics.

Now then…

Dragon Quest must be the greatest RPG ever. After all, my games still uses DQ’s outdated battle system 15 years later.

I’ve been speaking about the story and graphics, but now come one of the most important aspects of any game: The gameplay. First off, I want to speak about the battle system.

To summarize what I’m about to say and to repeat what I said before: Golden Sun’s battle system needs tweaking. Badly.

First of all, and this will be the first flaw you’ll notice in the game, the battle system uses what I call ‘static attack aim’. What this means is that if you get into a battle with two enemies and you aim all of your attacks on one of them, if that one happens to die before all of your characters finish attacking, then instead of switching the attacks to the next enemy, your other characters will simply choose Defend instead.

Sounds familiar? It’s the same battle system trait that was popularized on the NES and also done away with on the NES. Most other RPGs have dynamic aiming now and your other characters will automatically switch to the next monster, but for some unknown reason, a few RPGs keep choosing to bring this trait back. The developer chose for Golden Sun to be one of these few.

I mean, this trait is not without its merit. On the surface, it seems to be a trait which forces players to be more involved with battles instead of just mashing ‘A’, and getting cheap EXP. However, at least to me, it seems counterintuitive since RPGs are the only genre where such a thing is required. In what other genre is ‘level grinding’ required? As far as I can recall, RPGs are it.

So since leveling grinding is a requirement to move forward in the game, wouldn’t it make sense to make something which has the word ‘grinding’ in it as painless as possible? This should go especially hard for a game like Golden Sun where the difficulty varies greatly depending on how you play the game (of which part includes level grinding).

Not to imply that the game is very difficult. As with all RPGs, there are steps you can take to lower the difficulty greatly, but even in that case, Golden Sun takes measures to make these steps difficult too. To begin, purchasing equipment is very, very expensive. If you don’t grind enough, you could very easily reach a point where you could no longer afford new equipment.

You might be thinking to yourself that you could just find some new equips later to compensate. After all, RPGs have a lot of nice stuff lying around in chests if you’re willing to search for it. Fortunately, this is true for Golden Sun too. You can find a lot of great equips by searching with enough effort. Problem is that Camelot decided to make the process of searching difficult too (I will get to this point later).

So lets put together everything: Camelot made the game hard, but one can level grind. One can level grind, but Camelot made leveling grinding overly complicated. One can buy new equips, but Camelot made equips expensive to buy. One can find equips, but Camelot made equips hard to find.

Well, at least we can all be happy that the game has a good challenge curve.

So lets see now, in order to use special techniques, I have to capture these little monsters around the world. Where is Pikachu?

As I had referenced occasionally, there is something called ‘Psynergy’ in Golden Sun. To make things short and simple, Psynergy is the game’s version of ‘magic’. This may be confusing because the game also refers to magic as ‘Alchemy’, which, judging from context, seems to just be a higher form of magic as opposed to Psynergy.

Why Camelot couldn’t simply use ‘lower Alchemy’ and ‘higher Alchemy’ as names eludes me.

The magic system in Golden Sun is actually quite complex. Far more than in most games I can remember. To begin, there are two ways to cast magic. The first and most obvious way is to simply choose ‘Psynergy’ in a battle and cast it. The second way, however, includes selecting ‘Djinn’ in the battle menu, and they will cast magic for you.

What are Djinns? They’re a species of animals meant to help increase your magical powers. You acquire them from monster hunting and each you find will have their own classes (i.e. Fire, Wind, Water, and Earth or known in-game as Mars, Jupiter, Mercury, and Venus respectively). Occasionally, they’ll just join you while some may fight you first other times.

Nonetheless, once you capture a Djinn, you have the choice to select them from the battle menu, and a technique will be performed. This may actually be called ‘Summoning’ and the game does, in fact, call it as such, but it’s really not that simple as there are two forms of summoning in the game.

The first occurs by simply choosing ‘Djinn’ from your battle menu and then unleashing whatever techniques they do. The second, which is the more familiar summoning system, involves putting the Djinns into ‘Standby’ mode, and then selecting a creature to come and cast a massive spell.

This brings us to yet another complexity in the magic system. Whether your Djinn performs a technique or an actual summoning depends on what mode you have them on. You are given a choice of two modes: Set and Standby. By default, your Djinns are on Set mode, and this gives you access to stat increases allowed by that particular Djinn, and the ability to use the Djinns to perform techniques (some of which are very, very useful).

However, if you have them in ‘Standby’ mode, there are no stat increases, and you are no longer able to use their techniques, but you are then given the ability to summon something from wherever, and get them to use a very powerful attack. There are also two ways to switch between these two modes: Doing it on then world map (instantaneous) or doing it in battle (you have to perform a technique using the Djinn or use a summoning first).

If all of this is not enough, there is still one more little fun fact about Djinns to remember: After using the Djinn (summoning or technique), they require one battle turn or a few steps on the world map to recover.

More on magic system: to make everything even more confusing, Psynergy and Djinns are closely intertwined or, more accurately, Psynergy is directly affected by Djinns and what mode they are in. To elaborate, what kind of Psynergy you have depends on what kind of Djinns you have. For example, if you want to have the Psynergy technique ‘Cure’, you need a Water Djinn.

Furthermore, what mode they are in is important because the Djinns on Set mode always takes precedence over the ones that are on Standby. Lets say you have two Djinns for Isaac: One is Water and the other is Fire. If the Water Djinn is on Set, but the Fire Djinn is on Standby, you will get stat increases and Psynergy techniques only from the Water Djinns.

So what happens if you were to, say, put two Water Djinns on Set mode? Does it give you stronger versions of the same attacks? Unfortunately, no. You get stronger techniques only from leveling up. The Djinns are just a means of acquiring a class (Water, Fire, etc) of techniques.

So what happens if you were to put all the Djinns you have on Standby? What kind of techniques would you use? If you put all the Djinns you have on Standby, the techniques you have would be the one that your character is an Adept of. For example, Isaac is a Venus (Earth) Adept, so if you put all of his Djinns on Standby, his techniques will default to that of Earth-class techniques.

As for the opposite of putting all the Djinns into Set mode? Well, it depends on what class of Djinns you have. If one class of Djinns are more numerous than the others (say you have 3 Djinns and two of them are Fire), then your class of attack will be the same as the ones that are most numerous. However, if all of your Djinns happen to be of a different class, then what happens is that I have to explain yet another complex part of the magic system.

Now then, continuing from the above, if you have multiple Djinns, and they’re all of a different class, here is the order in which you will have techniques (using Isaac as an example):
1)If all Djinns are on Set – Your class of techniques will be the same class as the element to which your character’s element is neutral towards. For example, Isaac is a Venus (Earth) Adept, and the Earth element is neutral towards the Water element, so if Isaac had all the different classes of Djinns in his party and all of his Djinns are set, his class of techniques will be the Water class.
2)If only the Water Djinn is on Standby – If this is the case, then you will have the same class as the element to which your character’s element is in conflict with. The Earth element is in conflict with the Wind element, so Isaac would have Wind-class techniques if the Water Djinn is on Standby.
3)If the Water/Wind Djinn is on Standby – If this is the case, then you have have the same class as the element to which your character’s element has a symbiotic relationship with. The Earth element has a symbiotic relationship with the Fire element, so Isaac would have Fire-class techniques.
4)If only the Earth Djinn is on Set – In this case, your character will then have the same class of techniques as the only Djinn that is not on Standby, which, of course, would then be the same class as your character’s element.

So that is the order: If all your Djinns of a different class and all are on Set, then your characters will have the techniques based on this order of importance: Neutral, Conflict, Symbiotic, and Normal. To further help any future Golden Sun player, here are the affiliation with each element: Earth (Isaac) is neutral towards Water, in conflict with Wind, and symbiotic with Fire. Water (Mia) is neutral towards Earth, in conflict with Fire, and symbiotic with Wind. Wind (Ivan) is neutral towards Fire, in conflict with Earth, and symbiotic with Water. Fire (Garet) is neutral towards Wind, in conflict with Water, and symbiotic with Earth.

If you want an explanation on why the developers chose to go in the order of Neutral, Conflict, Symbiotic, and Normal, then I can only give the answer to many other questions regarding the game’s mechanics: I wish I knew. Somehow, it makes more sense to me that the symbiotic element would come before the conflict element, but hey, what do I know?

Ah, Mr. Young, I see you have finished reading the Encyclopedia of Golden Sun Magic Volume A-Y, but wait, you have not read Volume Z yet. Let me loan you a copy.

To break away from the subject of Djinns a bit (but not completely), let me present to you a highly integrated part of the game that involves the magic system. I actually spoke about this in the graphics section, but I will go more in-depth here. Remember above when I said Camelot made the process of searching difficult too? Well, perhaps I may have been a bit too hard. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say they made the process a bit more frustrating than it has to be.

Let me elaborate: See, Golden Sun has two types of puzzles. The first type is the kind you find in every RPG. You need to defeat a monster, press the right switches, use the right key, or etc in order to move further in a dungeon. This is normal and expected.

The second part, and the one tied into the magic system, involves you using Psynergy in order to complete puzzles. The simplest example I can give of this involves the Psynergy technique called ‘Move’. It is a technique which allows you to project out a giant hand that moves objects for you. If you encounter an area with a large gap that you can not pass, but which also happen to have a large flat-top rock in the area on the next platform, what you’re supposed to do is use the Psynergy technique ‘Move’ to pull the rock onto the bottom, so you can jump on the rock, then hop over to the next platform.

Of course, the above is just the simplest and one of the earliest examples. There are multiple Psynergy techniques in the game which can be used in a variety of ways to solve puzzles and/or reach treasures. Some Psynergy techniques are, in fact, meant solely for puzzle solving and can not be used in battle; others can be used both inside and outside of battle.

Now then, to get to the point at hand, why does this make the process of finding items more frustrating/difficult than it has to be? Simply because it makes the process more tedious. There are a variety of puzzles in the world of Weyard and you have an entire book of Psynergy techniques to solve each and every little one. Some puzzles are seemingly so useless that it’s really a wonder why Camelot decided to put them in.

For example, one of the most useless types of puzzle in the game is one I spoke about previously. It involves Ivan and vines; Ivan has a technique called ‘Whirlwind’ which he can use to clear the entrance to some passes which are covered with vines. As I said in the graphics section, it’s very pretty, but was that the whole reason it was put in? For aesthetics? I ask because in the vast majority of the game, this type of puzzle is not present at all.

In addition to having to acquire and use a wide variety of techniques at different intervals to solve puzzles (some of which requires you to rearrange Djinns and/or put them on Standby/Set to use), Camelot chose to implement a system where you have to actively go into your menu, and choose the technique each time you want to use it. The game does allow you to set a technique to the ‘L’ and ‘R’ buttons, but that’s two buttons vs about five to seven different techniques you need to use throughout the game to solve puzzles.

Perhaps it’s just my lack of foresight showing through, but couldn’t Camelot simply have, you know, made a button which automatically uses the necessary spell? It’s not as if it takes any amount of thought to know which spell to use, so they’re not losing out on any puzzle difficulty by doing so. If you see that large rock, use Move. If you see vines, use Whirlwind. If you see a tiny plant, use Grow.

At the very least, they could have simply assign a button which automatically gives access to all the spells characters can use out of battle instead of forcing players to go through the normal menu each time and/or rearranging Djinns constantly.

Oh Lord, help us.

Ah, what’s this? At last, I think I finally completed the Herculean task of fully explaining the magic system of Golden Sun. It only took (*takes a moment to count*) about 30 paragraphs and 2,000 words to do it.

Here’s another Golden Sun mystery to ponder: Why in the world did the developer chose to put a ton of thought and depth into the battle system when the game can be beaten in 10-20 hours instead of putting all the effort into the story, which they inundate the game with? If product A is your strength, then focus on product A. Don’t split the effort between a great product A and lackluster product B.

Now sit back and listen, children, while I tell you about how RPGs back in my day still required you to go to a priest to revive your characters….what do you mean you still have that today??

Do you know what really riles me up? What really set off my anger? When developers add little touches of gameplay elements that intentionally makes the game more frustrating than it has to be.

Golden Sun has a number of things that can arguably be a throwback to the RPGs of old, but regardless of whether this is true or not, it doesn’t really stop the frustration from setting in. I have spoken about one of these things before (the lack of dynamic aiming in battle), but there really is plenty more where that came from.

First and foremost, I hate the item system in this game.

Some may believe right off that I’m referring to the fact that the game uses an inventory which allows you to carry only a certain amount of items. While this is typically true, I did not find it to be an issue here. Golden Sun gave just the right amount of space, and the items you get the most also happens to be items that can be stacked, thus the issue of needing space in your inventory doesn’t often come up. Through the game, I think my inventory was too full only once, and that was because I kept forgetting to sell the useless things I didn’t need.

No, the set amount of space in the inventory is not an issue, and is actually something Golden Sun can be commended for as few games get this right. When I say the ‘item system’, what I’m actually referring to is how the game manages and rations necessary items.

To begin, the game does not allow you to buy some certain much needed materials. The most noticeable missing items: Water of Life and Psy Crystals. What are those? Water of Life, as one might extrapolate from the name, revives fallen characters. Psy Crystals, on the other hand, replenishes PP (what you need to use Psynergy).

The game is overall not that difficult, but these two things are actually fairly needed in certain points of the game (bosses, climactic end, etc). However, as it turns out the only way to get these two prized items is to find them in your travels as no store sells them (and the world of Weyard is not exactly bountiful with these things). I suppose something like this should be expected considering you have to go through half the game before stores finally start selling items that restores more than 50HP per usage, nonetheless something that revives you and completely replenishes your PP.

Actually, why don’t I actually list the things stores do sell? Here: Herb, Antidote, Elixir, Nut, and Sacred Feather. That’s it. Even the last store you visit in the entire game only sells these items.

To start, the Herb and Antidote are everywhere, so buying them is really unnecessary; aside from that, Psynergy Stones (stones that completely replenish HP/PP) can be found in every area. To add to the issue, the Herbs and Antidotes are pretty much completely useless once you get Mia (who knows a healing/antidote spell)…and as one of the main characters, you get Mia early in the game.

Now Elixirs and Sacred Feathers? You start seeing these a bit later in the game and they are arguably less useless than the Herb/Antidote.

An Elixir is an item that cures the status effect Sleep, Delusion, and Stun. First of all, I can’t even recall being put to sleep or being stunned in the game. I’m not sure if it happened at all. Now the effect Delusion? That did happen a few times. However, Delusion lasts for such a short amount of time that it would literally dissipate after two or three turns. Even when one is affected with it, however, the disadvantage it gives is so minimal that it shouldn’t even bother you (to make it short, you have a small chance of missing an attack…very small).

The Sacred Feather is a bit more useful, especially for those who hate battling. If you’re willing to go without the EXP, then the Sacred Feather might be a good purchase. I, on the other hand, never purchased one.

Now, regarding the last item, the Nut, this one appears once you reach the midpoint of the game, and it is basically an upgraded Herb healing for 200HP instead of 50HP. The nut is actually fairly useful, particularly in some cases where you need to utilize Djinns, and may not always have access to the Water-class healing spells.

So lets do a tally: We have three items which are pretty much completely worthless, one item that may be useful depending on who you are, and one item that is useful but only appears late in the game. Amazing.

I do want to put a bit of perspective in defense of Camelot, though. I did not have the opportunity to mention this before, but one possible reason why Camelot felt that adding PP replenishing items was unnecessary is because your PP self-replenishes.

Before you get any raised eyebrows, however, it is not a large amount. Basically, your PP replenishes by roughly 1-4 points every few steps (and every battle). To replenish all of your PP, you would literally have to walk back and forth in one area for several minutes. Furthermore, the self-replenishing bit happens way too slowly to be of any use in battle, so PP replenishers are, in fact, needed despite this system.

Regarding dead/downed characters? Something to revive them is needed if one of your characters were to die. There are essentially three ways to revive a character: (1) Water of Life, (2) Get a Great Healer to revive your character, and (3) Use Revive spell.

Water of Life are short in supply, so perhaps it’s better to save them for boss battles that you may have trouble with or, if you underequipped, actually sell them for cash. Getting a Great Healer to revive your character is the initial way, but of course, you’re not going to find a Great Healer in the middle of a cave, and he’s not going to magically appear during a boss battle (the times in the game when the Water of Life becomes useful).

Now the last one seems like a no-brainer. Spells are free, you can use them as many times as you want, and anywhere you want. One problem: Remember when I said that the only way to get new spells is by getting more Djinns and leveling up? Now getting the Djinns required for Revive is easy. Reaching the level needed to attain it? Not so easy.

Golden Sun was not designed as a game where you have Lv. 60-70+ characters by the time you reach the end of the game. EXP is hard to come by and you tend to level up very slowly. Getting to the point, you need to be level 17-19 to attain the ‘Revive’ spell.

To put things into perspective, I wasn’t even level 30 when I reached the end of the game. By the time I actually got the Revive spell, I was actually shocked because I was so far into the game, and haven’t seen it in all that time that I had just assume it didn’t exist.

What’s the building I keep seeing in every town? It’s an inn? Oh…

I spoke about items being useless before, but there are actually useless places/people too. To start off, one of the first consistent figures you’ll see in the game, the Great Healer, is almost useless. He is good for a few things: Reviving characters, curing poison, removing curses, and repelling evil.

The last two, curses and evil (aka Haunt status effect), are among the status effects which I don’t recall ever being afflicted with. The ability to cure poison is also almost entirely useless on his part as Mia can do the same thing right off the bat. It also doesn’t help that Antidotes are plentiful to find and purchase.

Thus the Great Healer’s grand purpose seems to be reviving fallen characters. The few times I had to visit this guy was exclusively for this. Why didn’t I just visit an inn? Well, to begin, inns don’t revive characters, they just replenish HP/PP. Secondly, when you are revived, your entire HP is also replenished.

So that is two things that are useless: Great Healers and Inns.

Also, remember how I said before that the only items the game allows you to buy are Herb, Antidotes, Nut, and Sacred Feather? Well, considering two of these are really useless, one might be, and only one is truly useful, what then can be said about the people selling items? Is the Item Shop useless?

Well, considering Nuts are easy to find, and you only really need them during times when you don’t have access to healing spells, whether the Item Shop are useful or not depends on whether you like Sacred Feathers. I didn’t need them so I’m going to go ahead and call the shop useless too.

Uh, how exactly do you use this damn compass?

I give Golden Sun a lot of flak on item mismanagement and everything surrounding it, but perhaps the fault is not entirely Camelot’s. After all, one has to take their history into consideration. Prior to Golden Sun, all they created was Mario Golf/Tennis, Hot Shot Golf, and a series of Shining Force games. Obviously, their main RPG experience came from creating the Shining Force games, and Camelot did went on record to say they took inspiration from creating Shining Force III (if that inspiration is from the fact that Shining Force III is three episodes, then I kind of wished Camelot hadn’t).

Now, I’m not exactly the biggest Shining Force fan in the world, but I do know that Shining Force and Golden Sun aren’t the same type of games, so Camelot was bound to inevitably have problems creating Golden Sun, thus the few flaws that the game do have can be forgivable.

Meanwhile, many other parts of Golden Sun are actually very admirable. For example, the very complex magic system is awe-inspiring in its depth. There are so many ways to set up and perform techniques that it can actually be quite confusing initially, but the complexity adds to the game as opposed to detracting from it.

Another admirable factor about Golden Sun which I will go into depth about now is just how open-ended the game really is.

Among JRPGs, open-ended gameplay is just not common, period. Many will allow players to travel wherever they wish and do sidequests near the end of the game (and even some JRPGs won’t allow that), but up until that point, everything is very linear.

Golden Sun, however, takes an entirely different path. The game is actually fairly open-ended. You can travel through various parts of the world, go to certain places in whichever order you please, and even major parts of the storyline are optional to do.

Mind you, the game is not fully open-ended. For example, you can’t travel to the last area right from the beginning of the game. Nonetheless, for what it’s worth, Golden Sun is much more open-ended than its contemporaries. Furthermore, this game is the only JRPG I’ve ever played that makes important plot points optional.

Of course, not everything is rosy about this. Sure, open-ended gameplay tends to be favorable towards the game, but it does have its downfalls.

For example, there’s probably a very good reason why other JRPGs refuses to allow major plot points to be optional. That is, of course, so that the storyline isn’t filled with plotholes and the character development doesn’t become off-base. Of course, if a player is good enough and thorough enough, then this wouldn’t be an issue.

On the other hand, if everyone in the world were sane and had compassion, crime wouldn’t be an issue either. Obviously, though, not everyone is going to be alike.

While there will be people who will so thoroughly complete the game that they’ll know everything, there will also be a significant number of people who won’t for whatever reason (refuses to, can’t do it, doesn’t want to, etc, etc). Most developers force the story onto people by making it a linear part of the game. Golden Sun offers the player the option to do it if they want more.

Of course, Golden Sun will then suffer the obvious setbacks, but hey, I’m guessing the developers didn’t care much about the story anyway.

Alright, I’m finally heading to the next chapter! I can’t wait to see what happens next- What the hell is this? The credits?

I already mentioned it quite a few times above, this game is short. Well, short for an RPG anyway. I myself beat the game in roughly 27-28 hours. Now some of you may be wondering to yourself how in the world is this short? After all, that is close to thirty hours of sheer gaming.

Well to begin, it’s because it isn’t thirty hours of gaming. Remember in my story section where I said this game has a hell of a lot of dialogue? Well, it has a hell of a lot of dialogue. Depending on who you are, this could very easily add up in time.

As an explanation, let me say that I’m not sure myself why I do this, but whenever I play a game (any game, not just RPGs), I feel the need to go through the entire story. I don’t ever skip. This happens in all games, but it’s worse in RPGs because RPGs are traditionally text heavy. I would read all the dialogue, read all the books in the game’s libraries, speak to all the people (prior to and after big events to see if they say something else), and so on.

Typically, the hours in my RPGs may include anywhere from 2-3 hours of me just going around reading every dialogue I can reach. In Golden Sun. I would estimate that 4-5 hours of my recorded time was me doing this. Ironically, this is probably also the cause of my complaints regarding Golden Sun being text heavy. If I had just been a good boy and ignored the villagers/skip the text, then I wouldn’t have any complaints, but hey, some of us are just born to be bad boys.

To further exacerbate the point, we all know that our first playtime through a game is longer than usual. After all, we have to explore, speak to everyone, find out the method to solving some puzzles, find out the weak point of monsters, and etc.

To get to the point, I estimate that if I were to ignore villagers, skip text, and follow the story without exploring, then I could beat the game in 10-15 hours. You may ask yourself ‘Who would do this?’, but I would answer ‘a lot of people’. Of course, RPG veterans/lovers won’t, but how many people are going to fit in that category?

Nonetheless, whether the game can be beaten in 10 hours or 30 hours, it is actually short either way. The vast majority of RPGs typically last 40-60 hours; some lasts 100+ hours. Golden Sun is actually on the lower spectrum of length.

This is not merely a result of short development time either as it appears to be intentional. After all, as I stated previously in the review, the game does get cut off in the middle, and it is now 2009, so many people must be aware of the existence of Golden Sun 2. That’s not a sequel, it’s a continuation of this game.

Camelot claimed that this was done partially due to the limitation of the GBA cart. Somehow, I doubt this claim.

Regardless of why the game is short, though, I myself do consider it that way. If 30 hours of gameplay is more than enough for you, then by all means, you may be perfectly happy with the game’s length. I, on the other hand, wished it was longer…or at the very least wasn’t one half of an entire story.

But hey, lets look at it from the bright side: The look on the faces of those who finished Golden Sun in 2001 only to realized that they have to wait two more years to finish the story must have been awesome.


To get a move on, lets get to the bottom of everything: What is my recommendation for Golden Sun? Well, in order to properly ascertain my recommendation, I will now give short evaluations of each important part of the game.

First off, as a one time play through, Golden Sun is a very enjoyable game. It has one of the best magic system among its contemporaries and the gameplay allows for fun usage of this system. The story, as I described in this review, is fairly bad, but this does not diminish from the gameplay.

…alright, so the novella-worthy dialogue the characters go through does detract from the gameplay, but fortunately, they do not ruin it. The game is still very fun and is a great romp if you can’t find yourself replaying it.

Speaking of which, this brings me to the next evaluation: Replayability and length. As described above, the length of Golden Sun is lacking and, frankly, there is little in the way of replayability. Golden Sun does not contain a New Game+ or any special bonuses after beating the game once. Once you beat you it, you beat it.

There is, however, a ‘Battle’ mode which lets you use your fighters against a linked friend or in an endurance-type fight against the game’s monsters. However, as this mode yields no rewards whatsoever, there is also little inclination to take advantage of it.

So unfortunately, it appears replayability and length are not Golden Sun’s strong point, but the fun factor definitely is. Overall, my recommendation is that Golden Sun is a good game to buy, and experience. It won’t blow you away in any particularly way (unless you’re easily impressed), but you’ll definitely find yourself fighting to the end of the game.

Overall Score – 7/10

Rating:   3.5 - Good

Product Release: Golden Sun (US, 11/11/01)

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