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Golden Sun (Game Boy Advance) artwork

Golden Sun (Game Boy Advance) review

"On a platform filled to the brink with sixteen-bit rehashes, it is pleasing to know that the Game Boy Advance does actually have some new games. Golden Sun has generated a bucket load of hype due to it being the first RPG to hit the GBA, but sadly, the bucket has a hole in it, as Golden Sun unfortunately falls short of being a classic in a few key areas. "

On a platform filled to the brink with sixteen-bit rehashes, it is pleasing to know that the Game Boy Advance does actually have some new games. Golden Sun has generated a bucket load of hype due to it being the first RPG to hit the GBA, but sadly, the bucket has a hole in it, as Golden Sun unfortunately falls short of being a classic in a few key areas.

One of those areas is sadly the story and characters. In RPGs, if we can’t love, or love to hate the characters, we generally lose interest in their exploits to save the world, and whatever else they do along the way. Isaac, the lead protagonist, is about as exciting as a soggy pancake. He never has anything to say except yes or no, which you choose for him at particular intervals. This is a poor attempt at making the character represent the player, as in many of cases there will be no difference in the outcome, and you will usually be asked the question continually until you answer correctly. Check out this kick-ass example!

Isaac! Those villagers look like they’re in trouble. Do you think we should save them?
Isaac! How could you, we must save these villagers!!
Isaac! How could you, we must save these villagers!!
Oh Isaac you’re so kind!

Yep, I’d call that ‘becoming the character’. The truth is that reticent main characters really suck. They’re pointless! I would much rather see a character that is actually a character, a character we could get to know over the course of the game. Sadly, this is not the case. This is made worse by the fact that Isaac’s supporting cast is not much better either.

Garet is built like an ox, but has the mental capacity of a brick. Garet spends most of his time making idiotic statements, then asking Isaac a yes or no question. “He’s making fun of us! Calling us children! That’s just irritating, don’t you think, Isaac?” Thank you Captain Obvious. I could see that some NPC’s were insulting the party, but instead I must listen to Garet point it out. Come back when you have something meaningful to say. The other two party members are Ivan and Mia, the typical nice boy and nice girl who would never do any wrong. They could be envisioned as the perfect children you’d find at a church picnic, or volunteering to help the homeless. That’s great and all, but they make for boring RPG characters.

So this uninteresting band of four travel across the land, attempting to foil the villains plans to light the ancient lighthouses, and to rescue two friends who were kidnapped in the start. The adventure is basically traveling, and stopping by to help out at each town in some sort of mandatory side quest. You’ll be going into caves to retrieve items, or competing in a fighting tournament, and of course, engaging in long conversations. With all the adventures the party goes through, you’d think they’d change in some way. They don’t. By the end of the game, Isaac can still only say yes or no, and Garet is still stupid, and Ivan and Mia are still goody-two-shoes. Golden Sun doesn’t even attempt character development, and as a result, it makes what little story there is completely boring.

It doesn’t help when every conversation is incredibly long, and you can’t save the game while they are speaking, even when the little red light of your GBA is flashing ‘battery low’ at you. I can’t believe how many times I nearly lost a chunk of progress to that. The conversations are incredibly drawn out and usually when something is said, the next five lines are spent repeating it (and then Garet asks Isaac a yes or no question). I’ve actually yelled at the game saying something along the lines of “yes, yes, get to the bloody point!”

In addition to your lame crew, all the characters you speak to and interact with, are hollow husks. They have their purpose. You have mayors and guards, thieves and children, but they lack emotion, despite the emoticons which pop up in every conversation. The villains aren’t much better. You never really know why they do what they do, and why they are actually evil, until right near the end, and even that isn’t really explained properly until the sequel: Golden Sun: The Lost Age.

Thankfully, that’s all of the negative stuff out of the way. Despite having a nearly non-existent story and poor characters, Golden Sun does shine.

Golden Sun is a beautiful game. The world map looks absolutely stunning; from every mountain, to snowfield, to every plain and field, to the flowing rivers and sparkling ocean. Yes, there’s nothing quite like a leisurely stroll down the world map, going from town to cave to town with your band of lame characters. Lame as they are, with Golden Sun’s excellent character design, no one looks short or fat as was common in many old RPG’s. They might be lame characters, but at least they look cool!

Of course, your strolling will be interrupted by RANDOM ENCOUNTERS! The battle mode looks incredibly good, as a simple trick is used to give the illusion that it is three dimensional; characters and monsters will rotate as the map stretches. You won’t always be on the world map though, obviously. Sometimes you will visit towns and caves, and they look great too!

Towns are boring though. They usually mean long conversations.

The many caves and dungeons you will need to explore and solve will make up for the tedious story segments of the towns. Each of these areas are stocked full of puzzles, and some of them will really test your lateral thinking. Puzzles range from pushing logs around to clear a path or freezing and unfreezing icicles so you can jump across them. Of course, these are only two of the many you will inevitably have to solve. The only slight criticism I have is that your puzzle solving can become distracted by an inconvenient random encounter.

Being distracted isn’t bad though, as Golden Sun’s battle system is easy to use. Every command is labeled and has a little icon next to it displaying what it does. When battle begins, you get the option to fight or run, and if you choose to fight, you will get to enter commands such as the standard attack, magic, summon, or item for each party member. The battle is then played out in order of agility rating. There is no auto-target function, so if your party gangs up on one monster and he dies, your remaining party members will simply defend, rather than attack the next monster. This can be irritating at first, but it teaches you to be more tactical.

Each member of your party is capable of using Psynergy, which is essentially magic and skills. Each of your four party members will have an element assigned to them (earth, fire, wind and water). As you level up your party, they will learn new skills which can be used in battle. Some skills can be used in the field to help you with puzzles. You don’t need to be leveled up to use most skills you require for the field, as they will be learned throughout the story.

A huge element of Golden Sun are the Djinn. These are monsters that you can summon in battle; they come in the four different elements. When equipped to a character, the Djinn can be used in battle, and they can do a wide range of different things such as attacking the enemy, causing status ailments, adding protection to your party and healing. Once they have been used in a battle they are on standby. Once on standby, the summon feature will be activated. This lets you summon a mighty beast capable of dealing some heavy damage to your foes. The more Djinn you set to standby, the better summon you can call. You can also set them to standby before the battle so you can summon straight away. You are encouraged not to summon too often though, as you can temporarily lose access to some of your psynergy skills. It’s a double-edged sword which teaches you to use them sparingly.

The way you equip your Djinn affects your character, and allows you to access several different types of psynergy that you might not normally obtain with that character. There are many different combinations, so it lets you customize your party how you like them. It can become slightly tedious, but it isn’t objectionable in the least.

Before I skip to the conclusion, let me tell you about Golden Sun’s music! With each track always fitting the mood of the scene, it is a brilliant soundtrack. From the emotional music of Sol Sanctum to the creepy or tense music heard in many of the caves and dungeons to the quiet ambient music of some of the towns to the grandeur of the world map score, there is something for everybody. My only problem with the music was the battle score; it comes across as being dull. There’s little to no tension to it.

The ‘speech’ is very irritating, and much like the sound of a crying baby, it can just gnash at you. Thankfully, this unwanted feature can be switched off. Okay, here is an obvious segue to the conclusion.

Had Golden Sun been a dungeon crawler, would’ve been a success. Every dungeon is full of interesting and challenging puzzles, and plenty of enemies to fight. What lets it down is the fact that every town has a long, boring conversation sequence. It tries too hard to be an epic, but it ultimately fails in that respect, and it shows. If you decide to play Golden Sun, you will most likely finish it, just to enjoy the caves and dungeons. It is strangely compelling if you just ignore the story, the characters and the conversations.

It doesn’t quite live up to the hype though.


jerec's avatar
Community review by jerec (July 09, 2004)

On very rare occasions, Jerec finds a game that inspires him to write stuff about. The rest of the time he just hangs around being sarcastic.

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