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Golden Sun (Game Boy Advance) artwork

Golden Sun (Game Boy Advance) review

"Beyond Beyond the Beyond"

Beyond the Beyond...

I muttered the name under my breath, having played maybe fifteen minutes of Golden Sun. Lights flickered, my dog whined, and a car alarm mysteriously went off. Something nagged at me when I started this title way back, circa 2002. I couldn't put my finger on it, but everything from the presentation to the combat system seemed eerily familiar. And no, this wasn't the good kind of recognition. This is like bumping into someone from your past that you didn't particularly like, fearing they might try to strike up a conversation with you in the middle of Safeway when you just want to grab a bag of Doritos and get the hell out.

You see, developer Camelot was responsible for both games. Once upon a time, they unleashed a slew of fairly good 16-bit RPGs that were part of the Shining franchise. Soon, though, they would have to move onto more advanced hardware, and they became one of the first devs to launch a JRPG on Sony's original PlayStation: Beyond the Beyond. If you were like me, you were excited to get your hands on this one because the thought of playing one of your favorite genres on advanced hardware developed by a team with such prestige gave you goosebumps.

And, if you were like me and you bought and played through the whole thing, it probably left you unsatisfied. Over time, your apathy for what was a middling roleplayer at best only grew into mild disgust, as later PlayStation RPGs would lay its flaws bare. You thought back on it as a slow, antiquated adventure with a painfully average plot and characters, not to mention irritating dungeons.

Now, you're worried that Camelot has done it again, except this time on Game Boy Advance and with a modest amount of hype behind their new project. At the time, Golden was advertised as two separate games that would intertwine, with about a year between their release dates. The idea was you could complete one, then either use an adapter and two GBAs or a lengthy password to transfer data from the first installment into the second. With that, you would export things like items, stats, and other goodies you earned during your first playthrough.

However, all of that seemed to come crashing down for me the instant a synapse fired in my brain and spoke the name of that sub-par PlayStation disc. Yet, I was determined to push through it and give Golden a fair shake.

Thankfully, a few factors broke the funk straight off. Yes, this game's combat system resembles Beyond's, but the two function somewhat differently. For one thing, the slow, tedious crawl felt in the console game wasn't present here. You could blaze through fights quickly, not having to wait for a disc to slowly load. As with any turn-based offering, this one sees you executing your standard commands, from “fight” to “defend.” Any time a creature perishes, anyone assigned to strike it automatically goes into defense mode rather than attacking the next available target. Typically, I would slate a title for a feature like this because I always found it weird, but Golden's combat remains so swift and smooth that you don't even notice such a small setback.

We're off to a better start now, having pounded a few stock enemies into the dirt and established the game's conflict in the early outs, but things don't get truly promising until you set off on your journey in earnest. That's when a not-Pokemon appears in front of you and tells you it's going to join your cause and there's nothing you can do about it. You just go along with the magical little guy—who happens to be called a djinn—because why the hell not? He offers to be paired up with one of your troops, thus altering some of their stats in exchange for newly acquired spells and special techniques.

You see, each djinn falls into one of four elemental categories. If you pair an earth djinn up with your earthy protagonist, for instance, he'll only earn small positive boosts to statistics and simple spells. However, if you give that guy a fire djinn, he'll see a multitude of positive and negative attribute changes, as well as spells he wouldn't ordinarily have. What's more is you can command any djinn to hop into battle, either damaging the opposition, bestowing buffs unto your party, or even reviving fallen comrades. Releasing a djinn also grants you the ability to summon elemental forces for added damage.

Hell, each character can have more than a single djinn, too. In fact, every such pet can be equipped between all four allies.

So here's where I say Golden did everything it could to separate itself from Camelot's late '90s disappointment and ride off into the sunset as one of the best RPGs on GBA. However, that's not quite how it went...

Yes, this title is a quality work and feels like an enthralling tale from the outset. However, its narrative declines steadily after you exit the first village. The campaign sends you off to stop an opposing party from accessing elemental lighthouses in an effort to unleash a long-sealed magical art. Obviously, major plot beats involve the lighthouses, with everything in between serving as your standard RPG travel fare. The only problem is each stop between the lighthouses comes off as a distraction or padding. It all feels like it's there to stretch out the game's paper-thin premise, which may as well be the original Final Fantasy with a fresh coat of paint.

It takes a while to access the first lighthouse, and in between you fall into situations that feel episodic in nature. You come across a wealthy man attempting to build a palace for his wife, not realizing he's stirred the wrath of a sentient tree from deep within the forest where he harvests lumber. Another segment sees you crossing a landlocked sea and battling aquatic monsters in an attempt to keep the innocent lives on the boat safe. Sure, there are stakes involved, but none of these moments feel personal to your entourage. The only things that challenge them personally pertain directly to the lighthouses, of which you only visit two in this installment.

Yes, there are four lighthouses, and you only take on two of them. More than anything, this reinforces the notion that Golden is only half a campaign stretched out to be a full game, with filler added to make it seem longer. Bear in mind that the first two games in this series were marketed as companion pieces, with the selling point being that you could transfer your data from the first title to the second one when it came out a year later.

Sure, there are other irritating snags, such moments where you revisit dungeons and completely redo puzzles you've already completed. The aforementioned sentient forest sticks out the most in this respect, forcing you to finish log-rolling challenges at least twice before moving on. Plus, boss encounters don't utilize the combat system's full potential like they should. Most villains fall with basic strategies, like using your strongest spells and healing when necessary. Even when things get complicated, you only end up using most of your troops to dogpile your opponents while telling your healer to use a multi-target restorative spell just about every round. Even the final boss doesn't test you in the utmost, unless you ran from a lot of encounters throughout your playthrough and didn't allow your party to upgrade. You know, standard RPG stuff...

Yet, the game doesn't feel like a total flub. Sure, much of its content is forgettable, but ultimately pleasing. It moves quickly, it provides some neat features, and it passes the time better than that other Camelot vehicle. However, a game that presents itself as epic should have gone for broke. No, it doesn't need to have a complex story or deep characters. It just needs to offer a little more than rote material. Sure, Golden Sun is a step up from its not-quite-spiritual-predecessor, but it shows that, at least in 2002, Camelot had a more climbing ahead before they could reach the top again...

JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Community review by JoeTheDestroyer (June 01, 2024)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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