Review by Braben

"Maybe the plot isn’t deep enough, but the gameplay is top notch."

I didn’t knew exactly what to expect from this game because when a game is so over-hyped by most magazines and people that is always a bad sign. Now I have finally beaten the game and I guess I can say that I am both pleased and disappointed. While far from legendary, far from being a masterpiece, Golden Sun is heading in the right direction, this game is a classic old school rpg without any weird new features or annoyances and with perfect gameplay, and so Golden Sun could have perfectly been what I have been waiting for years and years, a classic, a typical, a Snes-like old school rpg were it not for one very, extremely important thing, nothing more and nothing less than the story.

Story 7/10:
I have said this a million if times but well, it is what happens with most rpgs it is not my fault: the beginning of the game, the first hour, is simply marvelous, in fact I would even say that the first two hours in Golden Sun are some of the most engrossing I have ever experienced, but sadly that is only the first hours, right when you leave your town to begin the real quest, the plot suddenly disappears and we are only going to remember something about it in certain parts of the game. Then the characters, while nicely designed and are very likable (because of their looks only), lack personality, they don’t have any particularity or interest, they hardly ever talk to each other and we are never told anything interesting or relevant about them, so they look very nice but in depth they are empty.

Something that also hurts the plot a lot is the silence of Isaac, the main character, if as I said before the interesting events weren’t so distant from each other this wouldn’t have been a problem, but as what rpgs with silent heroes need is a very strong plot (like the all-mighty Dragon Quest V) this silence is certainly not good.

Then another thing that disappoints and that could have been great is the way the game ends, of course I am not going to spoil you anything, but I think it was a nice feature, those who dislike this game are going to feel literally insulted with what happens in the end, but I think it is something great, and if it didn’t worked all that good that is only because of the bad lame plot, with a better plot this twist could have been simply anthological because it is unique in the genre, or at least I can’t remember a game with such an unusual ending.

Overall, about the plot the disappointment is huge but well, nothing can be done about this, and the plot is still not bad, only that there is not enough and it is not all that deep.

Graphics 9/10:
Very beautiful, the towns, dungeons, etc are, thankfully, done in a very traditional way using that great overhead view at least 50% of the rpgs should use (being the other 50% rpgs with a ¾ view ala Super Mario RPG).

The battles are very spectacular, that movements the camera does depending if it is your turn of your enemy’s is superb and the magical effects are total blast, specially the summoning, damn, in the little Game Boy Advance they simply cannot look better, with all those lights and sparks coming from everywhere it is like if the screen is going to explode. Magnificent, yet, I have to say that I still can’t used to those character sprites and the way the battle backgrounds are done, (the way they are done is very common in most Game Boy Advance games), not all of them because for example the forest areas and specially the snow lands look simply terrific, but when you are in some caves or some other places they don’t look as good, I don’t know why but for me they look like, mmnn how can I say... a little low budget?, yes, don’t know why but it is true, I am not saying they are bad because they aren’t, but I still prefer the old Snes backgrounds like in Breath of Fire II for example, those are cool backgrounds, much more detailed and good looking, at least in my opinion, and the same happens with the character and enemy’s sprites, I don’t know why most Game Boy Advance games feature those odd and blurry sprites, I don’t get it because this system is powerful enough to do that, hell, it is a lot more powerful that a Snes, so why?, as I said before they look very good, the animations are splendid, but I still think that using pixels they could have been much more spectacular.

Music 8/10:
Very good, very nice, pleasant to hear, and with high quality, but never as memorable as other Motoi Sakuraba works. It lacks that “catchiness” his music normally has, and that is also something essential for a soundtrack if it wants to be remembered, and even more in a game like this one that was meant to be so important. Sure there are some really nice themes, there is a lot of music and there aren’t any bad or even mediocre tunes, we are talking about one of the most talented composers in the world, but for that reason also this soundtrack is only very good when it should have been anthological.

Gameplay 10/10:
Golden Sun’s gameplay is perfect because it is an old school rpg from the beginning to the end, with summoning, magic points, quick random and turn based combats, a classical map system, party members, puzzles, the possibility to buy and equip weapons the way it should be, and, to sum up everything a good and true rpg is made of.

The battle system works almost exactly like the first two Breath of Fire games for the Snes (or like their respective Game Boy Advance recent remakes), and that means it works perfectly, but it is not perfect, anyway, the inconveniences it has are so insignificant that I wouldn’t even call them flaws, for example we have to choose all our actions before attacking, and if we make everyone to attack the same enemy and that enemy dies before all the characters have performed their actions then they are not going to attack the next enemy, instead of that we will just loose our turn, and the same happens while using items or magic. Then an auto-battle option could have been a nice addition, but well, for me these are not a problems at all, but it is true that sometimes this can be a little bit annoying.

The magic system is both standard and innovative at the same rime and the way it works certainly couldn’t have be better, sure there are better magic systems, but the way we use magic in general in Golden Sun sure is an example to follow in my opinion. We have magic points like in an old school rpg, and the spells are useful, yes this may sound stupid but it is something very important, there are tons of rpgs where the spells are there just because there has to be magic, because they are useless, not here, here the spells are very powerful and we are going to be using them a lot, in both regular and boss battles, because they are not very “expensive” and there is no need to save magic point for the boss ballets only, and then while walking into areas with enemies we will be constantly refilling our magic points slowly.

To obtain magic and summonings we need Djinis, spirits that will be scatter around the world and that once in our hands will give us spells. We can assign Djinis to our characters and mix them to obtain more magic spells, then they will also make our characters stronger because their stats will rise. We are not going to obtain all the spells with the Djinis, some of them can only be obtained with experience or with some items, but most of them are with these spirits.

The summonings are simply outstanding, their effects are devastating in terms of graphical effects, even the first level summonings are impacting. We have four different Djinis: Venus (Earth), Mars (fire), Mercury (Wind), and Jupiter (Water), we are able to summon Djinis basically whenever we want because we are not going to waste magic points while doing so. Before summoning a beast we have to use a Dijini in battle like to store his power, and we have like different levels, level one means that we need to use one beast in battle in order to be able to summon it in the next turn, if instead of summoning that beast we use another one of the same class, then we will have two levels in the next turn which means level two summonings, and so on, the more levels we have the more powerful our summoning will be and more powerful beasts we are going to be able to call. However, after the summonings we need time to let our Djinis recover, and during that time we can’t use them, so sometimes it is better not to summon them, it depends on the battle.

It takes some time to get used to the Djinis system, at first it is a bit odd, but once mastered, it works great.

We can obtain weapons, armor and items in towns as well as in treasure chest scattered all over the places. In most shops, aside from the regular weapons and armors they have special equipment, weapons and armors that are more expensive but that also have special abilities like poison, or instant dead, etc, and this is great, because they work in a very typical way only that with those special skills as a bonus, nothing like that terrible system Final Fantasy X had.

The dungeons always have little puzzles we need to solve in order to continue or just to obtain items or Djinis, the puzzles are somehow typical, but I liked the way they are done, not extremely easy nor stupidly hard, and as they involve using our special magic abilities a lot they become a lot more interesting. And another plus here is that in those places where we have to solve puzzles we are not going to find enemies, this is a relief because sometimes we will be moving from one place to another a lot of times and having to battle while doing so would have been very annoying.

The only thing I disliked (but only at the beginning) was the weird way the games goes on, what I mean is that a lot of times you will be wandering around a place because there is still something to there but you don’t know that in order to continue there first you have to go somewhere else, this is annoying until you find out how it works, then it is fine.

I found the map system to be curious because of one thing, it is completely, absolutely identical to the first Ogre Battle map system, exactly the same design (excepting only for the town and caves sprites), it is incredible because it is not similar, it is “identical”, if you have played that game then you will see that what I am saying just can’t be true enough. Odd certainly, but good because the map looks pretty nice.

Perfect gameplay as you can see, maybe an auto-battle option and the possibility for each character to attack depending if he is ready or not using some kind of meter like in the Final Fantasy series could have been nice, but everything is else is so fun, fast, intuitive, well done, and nice that it makes me want to cry of joy.

Replay Value:
Not too much really but there are some interesting things that will keep you occupied for about another ten hours after finishing the game, for example the task to find (only if you want) all the Djinis is something very fun, challenging, and it is going to take you a fair amount of time. Then there is a hidden island (and I found it without using a FAQ whohoo!) as well as a few other nice secrets.

My Conclusion:
Golden Sun is definitely a very disappointing game, it had everything to be not only the best rpg in a long time, it could have been one of the best games of all time, but the plot is not all that good to achieve that goal. Still, even if it is disappointing, it is true that it is one of the best rpgs in a long time, specially for all that people that misses the good old times when rpgs were in 2D with an overhead view and nice Anime characters, you will feel like playing with your Snes again, and for that reason, Golden Sun is a must for “true” fans of the genre, because if there is a word that defines Golden Sun, that is “true old school rpg”. If Camelot manages to solve the story problems in Golden Sun II then this series is truly going to shine, we’ll see.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 04/13/04, Updated 05/04/04

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