"If you're unsure of what you'd be enjoying visuals-wise when you buy Golden Sun, expect lush, detailed backgrounds with the most variant and complex color palette of any GBA game so far. Sprites are well-animated and look better than many PSX sprites."
Well, after much anticipation, Golden Sun, the first true RPG for the GBA was released in the US. Having never played any games by Camelot, I was skeptical... Sure, I'd read the great reviews, and seen the sweet screenshots, but because Golden Sun was a brand new game, coming out of practically nowhere, from a developer I knew nothing about, I really wasn't sure what to expect. I was sure it would be good, but I didn't see how it could possibly live up to the incredibly high standard of reviews I'd been reading, but to my surprise, it pretty much does.
The main standout in GS is the graphics. If you're unsure of what you'd be enjoying visuals-wise when you buy Golden Sun, expect lush, detailed backgrounds with the most vibrant and complex color palette of any GBA game so far. Sprites are well-animated and look better than many PSX sprites. Expect to see some wonderful lighting, like sun shining through windows, and fire providing very realistic light.
The battle engine is something else entirely! In here, sprites look even more detailed, and rich tapestry-like backgrounds provide nice depth. And while the game is entirely 2D, during battle scenes, the camera angle rotates and switches around frequently to give the game a psuedo-3D feel. Battle effects are stunning, with some of the summon-spells being totally out of this world! Expect the graphics to surpass those of most 2D PSX RPG's like Suikoden and Beyond the Beyond. Golden Sun's graphics are actually very near as eye-pleasing as games like Saga Frontier, and Legend of Mana.
Of course, the graphics aren't without their flaws. While the battle engine is truly impressive, the animations can be jerky, and in certain parts of the game, sprites look extremely pixelated and sloppy. Why the sprites are bad in some places and great in others never ceases to puzzle me, but 'tis so, and it continues to disappoint me. All in all, however, the graphics are out of this world, and I often just basque in the fact that I'm playing handheld game with such breathtaking graphics!
Like any RPG's gameplay should be, that of GS is very involving yet easy to work with. It uses the basic equipment and item system which most RPG's use, but spices it up with a couple new elements. The first is the presence of a magic system called psynergy, where characters use their own special magic to attack enemies, aid party members, etc... While the system is very similar to the typical magic system you'd expect from your average RPG, it's slightly different in a few ways. The first is how your PP (Psynergy Points) automatically replenish as you walk around. This is incredibly handy, and pretty much abolishes the need to use any PP recovery items.
The second real difference in magic system is the fact that you actually have to use PP out of battle. Sure, it seems a bit stupid at first, but after a while, you'll learn to like it. For example, you'll often have to use the ''move'' psynergy to move around objects from a distance to solve puzzles, or open doorways. Little ''minor-obstacles'' like these are laced throughout the game, and frankly, I think it gives a very nice charm to the game.
Another new element that Camelot mixed into GS is the Djinn idea. Djinn are little creatures you can ''collect'' which are much like other key magical items found in RPG's, like Materia in FF7, Genes in BOFIII, etc... They have a variety of uses, but the main one is the ability to summon them in battle. Not only can they attack your enemies, but they can also boost stats, and provide a number of other pros.
Naturally, the gameplay isn't perfect. The few pet-peeves I have are the often stupid and incredibly annoying options of saying yes/no to rhetorical questions like ''isn't that right, Isaac?'' This just makes the game seem a bit less serious. Plus, conversations often seem to drag on, and repeat themselves often... But Overall, I love the gameplay. I was hooked from the first few minutes. Personally, I believe that the battle system and overall feel of the game is gold, and lives up to that of other great games such as the FF series.
Just like any RPG should, Golden Sun has a deep, creative story-line to propel the characters, and to drive the gamer deep within the heart of the ingenious gameplay. I don't want to spoil anything, but in essence, the game starts out with Isaac (the main character) being woken up by his mother, because there is danger of some kind of bolder crashing down and causing harm to the village and it's inhabitants. It's basically your job to help out. The story takes off from here, and later, and basically, it turns into one helluva journey! That's all I'm gonna say, but believe me, you won't want to miss it.
Top-notch audio here. Music is melodic, and more real-sounding than that of a game on any 16-bit console. Battle themes and other familiar anthems laced throughout the game are nice and upbeat. Dungeon music acts as a nice, driving and somewhat spooky almost background drone to really give you that feeling of danger. World map music is a sweeping, adventurous melody to make you want to travel. Battle sound-effects like swords slicing and fireballs blasting are nice to listen to, not sounding at all ''tinny'' or ''cheap.'' The only real complaint I have in the aural aspect of the game is the fact that often, many towns share the same tunes... Sure, they're good tunes, but lack of variety can give a repetetive feel of ''haven't I already been here?'' Other than that, prepare to be impressed. For an added bonus, listen with headphones.
I've found very few problems with Golden Sun. It stands as a landmark for me at the moment, with being the absolutely most impressive handheld title to date. Sure, Tony Hawk may have some impressive Psuedo-3D effects, and Mario Kart is truly remarkable, but Golden Sun shines in ALL aspects... The reason GS is so impressive, is because of how truly console-like it is. It could have been a psx game in every way imagineable. I often just can't help but forget that I'm actually holding my addiction in my hand, rather than having to sit on my couch. I can play my current favorite unfinished game on the toilet, in the car, on the airplane, while watching tv, and a thousand other places of my choice. The only limit is the battery power left. Welcome to the next generation of handheld gaming.
Staff review by James Gordon (Date unavailable)
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