"If you're looking for a great RPG, regardless of the console it is on, you should definitely give Golden Sun a go."

Golden Sun is a Japanese RPG developed by Camelot for the Gameboy Advance handheld system. Golden Sun is one of the best games you could possibly find for your Gameboy Advance. Stunning graphics, great sound and a mix of classic and new RPG gameplay creates an amazing experience that proves that an RPG does not need to be on a console to offer a great experience.

The adventure begins in a town by the name of Vale. The inhabitants of Vale are the protectors of Sol Sanctum, which was erected at the top of Mt. Aleph, which is just above the town of Vale. We begin with a fourteen-year-old boy named Isaac, who quickly meets up with his best friend Garet as they try to avoid giant falling rocks from a storm whose origins remain a mystery. After certain key events take place the story jumps ahead three years in time. Isaac (you), Garet, Jenna and Kraden; a somewhat cranky elderly scholar, sneak up to Sol Sanctum to learn about some rumours they have heard. Their goal is to prove these rumours true or false for themselves. Again, after certain key events occur during this period, the major driving point of the story begins. Jenna and Kraden are captured, three of the four elemental stars have been stolen, and Sol Sanctum is nothing more than a wreck. Isaac and Garet must now set off on an epic journey across two continents to stop the evildoers from lighting the elemental lighthouses with the elemental stars and rescue their friends. The fate of the land rests in their hands.

Like most RPG's you begin with two characters and you are only able to use the attack function. Very quickly into the game you will learn magical abilities called “psynergy”. Psynergy is a special power that is believed to be unique to only the residents of Vale, but you will soon discover that there are others in the world that posses these abilities as well. Someone who can use psynergy is called an adept; an adept will generally specialize in one of the four elements: earth, fire, water and wind. During the game you will obtain up to four different party members, who each specialize in an individual element, thus giving you access to all four. However during your adventures you will find and capture mystical creatures called “djinn” (djinni for singular and djinn for plural). Djinn are usually found stationary in a dungeon or town and there is usually some sort of puzzle you must solve in order to reach them. After you reach the djinn most of the time you will be required to fight them until they are defeated. Once a djinni is defeated they “join” you, as you absorb their powers. During battle you can unleash the djinn similar to a pokemon in a way. For example the first djinni you acquire is named Flint. When you use Flint, Isaac (or the character Flint is assigned to) will jump as if he is attacking, he will pause for a brief moment and you will see the djinn flash on the screen as he is lending his powers to Isaac. Isaac will smash the enemy with his weapon and the enemy will be knocked back, as you see him nailed by the mighty blow. Many djinn have different powers, another example is Garet's first djinn named Forge, who when used, ups the attack of all your party members during battle. Djinn are not actually restricted to only one party member but you will generally want to keep certain djinn on certain people. For example an earth Djinn on Garet would significantly change his statistics, such as health, psynergy points et cetera. It would also not turn Garet into a full-fledged earth adept but his fire psynergy would be mixed with earth psynergy and his status and rank would change. Combining different djinn elements on one character can either greatly increase his or her powers or greatly decrease them. It appeared to be more effective to keep each elemental djinni on the character of that element because the characters are at their strongest in this form. This way they retain all their earth, fire, water and wind abilities. Mixing djinn around can be beneficial and is fun to experiment with, but you may want to keep them on their regular settings until you can create the most powerful mixed classes.

Another great aspect of Djinn is that once you use one they are set to standby mode and await to be summoned. The more Djinn that you have on standby the more powerful summons you can call. There are up to four summons for each element, ranging from one standby djinni to four. Naturally each summon does elemental damage, however there is one downside to summoning. Because Djinni increase your HP, MP, attack, agility, et cetera, having Djinn on standby causes you to lose the stat bonuses that they provide when they are “set”. After you have summoned the Djinn, they change to a recovery stage where they recover after each turn, and return to the set mode in the order that they were summoned.

The battle system in Golden Sun is a turn-based battle system. The order that your party members and enemies attack in is decided by your characters agility. Whoever has higher agility takes priority over the others. Naturally your four characters each have different stats and some being higher than others. For example Isaac has a very high attack value and good defense and agility. Garet on the other hand has extremely high defense and HP. He also has a good attack value but his agility is very lacking, so he is usually the last character in your party to attack once you have all four. That is unless you boost his agility with stat boosting items you can find during the game.

One of the best aspects of combat for Golden Sun is that you can find unique weapons and armor during the course of your adventure. For example one sword you get for Isaac is called the “Gaia Blade” and when you get a critical hit with the Gaia Blade instead of attacking the enemy with the sword, Isaac will call a giant sword from the sky that will pierce down into the enemy and sink into the earth causing an explosion which is a really neat and cool effect.

Golden Sun contains a lot less character interaction than console RPG's. There is still plenty of NPC interaction to go around for everyone, but there is not so much that it becomes overwhelming. However, during some character interaction and story segments of the game, the dialog can go on for quite some time, although it never gets tedious.

Like your regular RPG, Golden Sun has a lot of puzzle solving. The puzzles are fairly simple, but there is the odd mind boggler, but really nothing any regular RPG player couldn't figure out. The puzzles are not incredibly innovative, but they are spruced up a little with the inclusion of psynergy having to be used to complete the puzzles. You need to use your psynergy to move objects around the world that would otherwise be unreachable. The way that the developers incorporated psynergy into the puzzles; it makes for some very interesting moments.

Golden Sun features what could possibly be considered the best looking graphics on the Game Boy Advance. Golden Sun features a blend of 3D and 2D graphics that would best be described as something you would expect to see on the Nintendo 64. Being only a Game Boy Advance game, the first time you lay your eyes on the beautiful detailed world of Golden Sun you will be astonished. The world environments are very detailed and there are many different locals to explore, ranging from snowy plains, to grassy fields to the barren wastelands of the desert. What really makes it so beautiful is really thanks to the special psynergy attacks and summons used in battle, which looks absolutely phenomenal. Some of the coolest looking spells are unfortunately only available much later in the game. The player models in the battle modes are also very well animated and give the characters a more lively appearance. Another special touch that gives a great boost to the character personalities is that all of the main storyline characters each have a portrait that appears next to their text box during the dialogue sequences. Rather than simply having their name, which is commonly found in most other RPGs.

For a handheld game, the variety of music available in Golden Sun is amazing. Almost every area has its own unique music track, although you will hear several themes repeated during your adventure, all of the music fits the mood of the game perfectly. When you enter a town that is in despair and in need of aid, sad or dark music will play, when you enter a happy-go-lucky town there will be light-hearted music track that captures the mood of the town. The battle theme in Golden Sun is also quite upbeat that makes the battles more interesting. Although Golden Sun's music is very good it really shines when you listen to it with high quality headphones or play the game on a Game Boy player on a TV with a good sound system. (Most significantly is the addition of the louder bass, it really adds to the music of the game, especially the battle theme.) The sound effects are also of very high quality, but there is one sound effect that will either annoy the living hell out of you or you won't mind it at all. When a character is speaking their dialog will spread across the message box accompanied by a sound, usually pitched higher or lower depending on the age and gender of said character. This sound is supposed to be their “voice” but it's not even a muffle like in a lot of older games. This sound is hard to explain really, and it may be bothersome to some people. Thankfully, there is an option to turn this sound off in the options menu.

Golden Sun is a fairly lengthy RPG, ranging from about twenty to thirty hours of gameplay time. You can stretch this farther depending on how much you explore and how much time you spend levelling up your characters. A fair estimate for your first time through the game would be about twenty-five hours, give or take.

One of the most exciting features of Golden Sun is that you can play your friends party in the battle arena. However, you can only use three of the four available characters so there is a lot of strategy involved in who you choose. These are very engaging and fun battles, and it would be nice to see this feature implemented into more RPG's. If you don't have friends to play against you can always fight increasingly harder monster/boss battles in the battle arena, and you can feel free to use all the items you have collected without losing them, since using them in the battle arena doesn't affect your single player game. There are also a few major sidequests you can do, and some of them even affect parts of the story, and they all have some super strong enemies and secret boss fights.

With everything else said, Golden Sun is just an exceptional handheld title. It sticks to what works and adds plenty more for you to enjoy. It doesn't do anything you most likely haven't seen before besides the Djinn system, but everything in Golden Sun simply just works. Nothing feels like filler in here and it is all there for a reason. If your looking for a great RPG regardless of the console it is on you should definitely give Golden Sun a go, it will keep you entertained for hours and it certainly delivers on all fronts of what an RPG should do.

Gameplay: 8
Graphics: 10
Sound: 9
Value: 9
Tilt: 10
Overall: 9.2

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 12/09/05, Updated 07/21/06

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