Review by discoinferno84

"Don't let the sun go down on me..."

I'll admit it- I enjoyed Golden Sun the first time through. Despite the lack of any likable personality, the generic characters, the occasionally boring traveling, and everything else that ultimately flawed the GBA's first RPG, I was looking forward to the next game. Sure, the Djinni and Psynergy systems were a little mismatched and some of conversations could be downright irritating, but I figured that Camelot would learn their lesson and throw us some new surprises with Golden Sun's sequel: The Lost Age. Of course, we learn more about the story of Weyward's heroes, saw more of the world, and discovered that sometimes, not everything is as it seems. But for some reason, I just can't seem to shake the feeling that I've done all of this before.

The story of Golden Sun was simple: A young named Issac and his friends have to stop some bad guys from turning on a few lighthouses. Why is this important? We're not really told. All we must do is level up, get some Djinni to help out, and hopefully save the day. The Lost Age starts right after the climatic finish of the previous game. We assume the role of Felix, one of the previous game's baddies. Apparently, Felix and his little group of characters were the ones that were actually trying to save the world. Remember those lighthouses that Issac was trying to protect? Ironically, the lighthouses must be lit to save the world. So, all of Issac's fighting against the menacing duo of Saturos and Menardi accomplished the exact opposite of his desired goal. Smooth move, Exlax! It's up to Felix to continue activating all of the lighthouses, with or without Issac's help.

So we've gotten control of a whole new cast of characters…Or at least we're supposed to. The sad truth is that the new cast of characters is essentially a clone of the previous set of heroes. Sure, some of the Psynergy abilities and attacks have been switched around, but these are basically the same characters. Felix is like a shadow of Issac's persona, except with brown hair. A few new attacks are available, but plenty of older ones are still part of the hero's moveset. Sheba has taken Ivan's place as the humble wind mage with psychic powers. In an attempt to mix things up, the game developers decided to switch the roles of healer and warrior, giving Jenna's fire Psynergy healing attributes and Picard's water abilities a heightened attack. While the result turned out bland, we can at least give the developers credit for at least attempting a change. But for those of you that have played the first game, you won't have any trouble making the transition.

Sadly, the personality attributes of the new gang haven't changed at all from their predecessors. Felix has assumed the role of the semi-mute hero, usually only answering yes or no to questions that really have no importance. Jenna has become the headstrong healer that her boyfriend Garet used to be. Sheba and Picard are essentially placeholders that are used to round out the elementally charged group of heroes. Unfortunately, there is little or no improvement in terms of character appeal. You'll still be subject to countless conversations that have no meaning other than to present the perspectives of the different conversations. Of course, the dialogue gets stale quickly due to the lack of personality. And since this game has many more characters intertwined with the story, you're going to be wishing that you could skip the dialogues entirely.

And once the conversations have ended, you finally get a chance to roam the world of Weyward. In the first installment of Golden Sun, we were limited to a painfully obvious linear setup as we traversed through the continents. We were hindered by well-placed boundaries, like rivers, mountains, trees, and all other kinds of landscape features. This time around, we aren't limited by shorelines. Instead, we can cross the vast oceans of Weyward on a ship. This new approach to the game's progression adds so much more need for exploration, letting you take in all the locales that can be found. You can find plenty of hidden surprises in the far reaches of Weyward. Some time there will be towns with good equipment, sometimes you'll find a hidden dungeon or area. Other times, you'll have to go exploring for items that are vital to the progression of the game. And since Weyward is such a big place, you'll need a little patience in finding all the items you need to ensure your progress.

As in the first game, the majority of the gameplay revolves around the random battles with monster you'll encounter on your travels. The game uses a turn-based battle system for all of your encounters. You can use physical attacks, Psynergy, Djinni and items to defeat your enemy. Although you can develop strategies based on the different character classes, occasionally you'll find yourself falling into a set pattern of attack. Felix will almost always be attacking with fragile Sheba and Picard, while Jenna could either be dishing out damage or healing the party with her well-balanced Psynergy moveset. After you get tired of so many battles, you might start to rely on the Pysnergy or Djinni to end the battles hastily. Also, if you use enough Djinni, you can summon powerful entities to take out your enemies. Summoning a monster makes battling nothing more than a brief menu option and a wonderful cut scene. Once you've leveled up enough the random battles are meaningless, only to be used as experience fodder for your characters. And for all you perfectionists out, there, it's far easier to max out your characters in a timely manner. Luckily, there are a few challenging fights strewn around, but you won't have much trouble most of the time.

The only thing that makes this lack of challenge interesting is the class system. As in the first game, the number and combination of djinni in your party determine the character classes. Djinn are small creatures that have unique attacks and can boost the stats of a character. Different djinn can also yield different classes and Psynergy abilities. The varying Psynergy abilities correspond to the element of the djinn equipped. If you equip an Earth djinn, you can cast Earth spells. If you equip a Mars djinn, you can cast fire spells. And if you equip both, you can combine the powers and get new abilities and stats. Different combinations of djinn offer a wide variety of class and Psynergy customization. However, there is such a thing as too much customization. Some Psynergy abilities require that you have a specific combination of djinn equipped. Finding just the right combination to create balanced classes and unique Psynergy abilities can become a headache once you get enough djinn. While the overall djinn customization is excellent, it can be confusing at times. Also, you'll be able to find dozens of new djinni as you progress through the adventure. With so many of the little critters available, it's easy to get bogged down by the customization options. Few dungeons have puzzles that actually require you to have specific Psynergy abilities, so customizing your party is entirely up to you.

With so much going on, there's still one aspect of the game that remains the most prevalent: the wonderful graphical and audio presentations. Nothing here has changed from the previous game, and this particular case, that's a good thing. Everything is colorful and pleasing to the eye. Casting Psynergy attacks creates amazing lightshows on the GBA's little screen. The towns and dungeons offer a remarkable amount of detail. The Summon attacks feature amazingly detailed and epic cut scenes. Unfortunately, the graphical quality of the actual characters and enemies hasn't been improved at all. The monsters and characters still remain in a haze of mixed colors and blurry lines. You can see Felix's scraggly long hair, or the tip of Picard's sword. The problem is that they don't have enough detail for them to be appealing. After being spoiled by countless Pysnergy attacks and Summons, you‘ll find a huge difference between the characters and the attacks they can perform. And since the battles are a little bland already, the cloudy graphics don't help much.

Luckily, this shortcoming is balanced out by a superb audio presentation. If there's only one major improvement with this game, it lies with the quality of the sound effects. Evidently, Camelot invested a lot of time when creating the game's soundtrack. The wonderfully orchestrated themes create a more engaging setting and add so much more emotion to the game. Where the characters lack in personality, the music almost make up for it. Also, the Pysnergy attacks are stand out and sound realistic. As in the first game, the voice acting is limited to only a few electronic squeaks. But as long as you have that varied selection of music and loud attacks to listen to, you won't be complaining much.

And as we conclude this latest installment of the GBA RPG, I wonder: Will there be another Golden Sun on the GBA? I hope so. If Camelot continues on this gradual road of improvement, we could possibly see great things for the Golden Sun series. In the mean time, The Lost Age remains as a superior sequel to its somewhat lacking predecessor. While few things in this game are essentially new, we are still given a whole world of new adventure to explore. With a host of characters, dozens of collectible djinni to find, places to see, and monsters to fight, chances are that there will be enough here to keep you entertained. And if those little tidbits don't grab you, the graphics and sound likely will. With some improvement over the lackluster Golden Sun, The Lost Age is waiting to be visited.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 07/13/04

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