Review by jasongst
Fifty hours of trudging for about five hours of fun.
Ah, the Golden Sun games. I don't think I could have been more excited for the first Golden Sun, and from my recollection of the first game I recall a flawed experience littered with some really good ideas. No worries though: a sequel was already on the way, and video game sequels have a track record of being better than the original, right?
Now that I've finally gotten around to playing through The Lost Age, I can say with confidence that, alas, Golden Sun 2 does nothing to improve on the original. Not only that, for some reason this second time around has made me a bit more cynical about the whole thing.
From the outset I was determined to play through this entire game. Waiting so long to merely purchase it helped to ingrain a certain stubbornness when I finally fired it up. Step 1: find my original Golden Sun cartridge. Step 2: find my link cable and put batteries in the other GBA. Step 3: transfer my dudes from the first game over to the second. Step 4: trudge.
I suppose "grind" would be a better word than "trudge", but "grind" is typically used to describe defeating an endless number of monsters in order to build up your stats. Golden Sun is not this type of game. Oh there's grinding alright, but it is not about the battles. No, the grinding here is with the overall experience; very long, and ultimately very unsatisfying.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves. This fart cloud of a game has more than one silver (golden?) lining. It's enough to get you hooked, and enough to make you think, "if I just keep going for one more hour, things are bound to get much, much cooler!" In fact, if I'm being honest I'd have to say that many people enjoy the good parts of this game so much that they don't even notice the bad. So let's begin with the good:
Could it be possible to create better looking spells than the ones found in the Golden Sun games? Sure you can throw superior technology at the task, but surely no amount of polygons can surpass the gargantuan spells that pummel your foes in this little cartridge. There's nothing quite like using your magic sword to summon a giant lava ball the size of a stinkin' MOON down upon some poor troll/minotaur/snail thingy. I can't properly explain to you the amount of overkill that goes on during your battles. Early in the game you have lightning strikes and flamethrower type stuff, but before it's all over you'll be dropping nuclear bombs from the gods. Watching justice being exacted on the wildlife of Weyard is a true joy. If only the review ended here.
Like The Legend of Zelda, Golden Sun employs puzzles out the wazoo. For the most part they are very well designed and usually manage to provide just the right amount of challenge without becoming frustrating. The only complaint I have is the sheer number of them. The puzzles make some of the dungeons needlessly long and tedious, especially when they involve a large number of slow-moving elements like vine climbing or rock moving. Puzzles are so integral to the game that the only spells you actually quest for are the ones that help you with puzzles. The rest are given to you freely and plentifully like pens at a job fair.
Herein lies the most egregious, blatant, conspicuous, flagrant, glaring, gross, obvious, patent, pronounced, rank, and striking fault in this game (thank you m-w.com!). As I mentioned, spells are given to you along the way. You level up, you might get a new spell. You capture a new Pokemon Djinni creature, he gives you a spell or two or three, depending on how you look at it. You kill anything, you get a pile of coins. You beat any dungeon, you get a few rare weapons, each with their own spell effect and animation. Before long you begin to realize that you will always have more coins than you can ever spend, you will always have more spells than you will ever want to use, and you will never, ever be challenged by a single non-boss enemy encounter.
How pathetic is this? How backwards and non-fun can you get? Who decided this? Who decided that building up your character in order to achieve a certain goal would be entirely removed from the game? There's a term for character development schemes that are so scripted that you'll always be way more powerful than your enemies: it's called no character development. The only difference between the first dungeon and the last one is that instead of seeing damage in the 10s and 20s, you see damage in the 200s and 500s. Why am I not allowed to get in over my head? I like it when an RPG makes me ask, "Am I ready to take on the next task or do I need to keep training?" This should be the entire point of the battle system: building up your character and tweaking your tactics. I prefer RPG battles not to require the thinking and planning of a full-blown strategy game, but for crying out loud there better be some form of challenge involved. Otherwise why am I even wasting my time at the shop buying new gear? Why not just skip that step and automatically add it to my character, like you already decided to do with spells?
~Creative Writing 101~
The rule of thumb for RPGs should be, if you can't write something good, don't write anything at all. This has served many games very well, where simply not having a lot of dialog helped to avoid ruining the dramatic tension. Unfortunately this lesson is being gradually unlearned year after year. GSTLA is an excellent example. It has some of the most bland, brain dead dialog you will ever hear. The story itself has its own set of problems, but the writing in particular is about as poetic as an episode of Blue's Clues.
These are two games that completely forgot what was supposed to be fun about an RPG. I rushed through the game not because I didn't have time to play it, but because there was no driving force to do anything other than advance the half-baked plot. (Very small spoiler ahead.) The game contains an ancient city called Lemuria where life is too good. People never die, everything is too plentiful, and over the centuries they've slipped into complete apathy. Ironically, it's a perfect parallel to the game itself. Everything is so easy that you are compelled to play it all on fast forward. When a challenge does arrive it's always the wrong one; you've completed a task and you can't figure out where to go next. That's not challenge, that's bewilderment, and when you've been playing the game at its default cruise control pace you have very little patience for anything thought out so poorly. I shouldn't be so impatient, but the game demands it. In fact, it goes out of its way to antagonize the player: even with my impatient rush rush pace I clocked just over 49 hours of GSTLA before I was finally able to watch the closing credits. That's just mean.
The Golden Sun games should not have turned out this way. I remember starting GS for the first time, and being impressed with the solid graphics, the sensible controls with all the right shortcuts, and the impressive battle sequences. All this gradually slips into solid disappointment not because the game is so terrible, but because it could have been so great.
And by the way, if you were disappointed with the ending to the first game, do NOT get your hopes up for the grand finale. One of the worst endings ever.
Rating: 3.5 - Good
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