Golden Sun: Dark Dawn (DS) review
"They then thrust them into a meek storyline that does nothing to supplement the Golden Sun epic or answer the questions made at the end of The Lost Age, only gives you random, useless insights to the after-effects of Issac and his group’s end goal. Most of these are meaningless—what alchemy did to the land, how vibrant the earth has become—or long-winded recaps about what happened in the first two games. "
If you had asked me two months ago what the most deplorable act a gamer could commit was, I might have answered pirating games, donating to the “Help Uwe Boll Keep Making Movies” foundation* or even cosplaying Bloodrayne when you look like Rosie O’Donnell. Ask me that question today and I would give you a far different response: egregiously demanding a sequel when the company seems to have no desire or heart to do so. I admit that I’m guilty of the same thing. Blogs and Facebook walls alike have seen me cry out “Give me a new Chrono Trigger!” That was before…before Golden Sun: Dark Dawn. Now I say to Square, leave it alone. I worry you will do as Camelot has and ruin it, tainting the two previous games in the process. You’ll give in to demands and not ambition, attempting to skate by, foolishly believing the gaming community to be populated with nit-wits who will love any pile of garbage you hand them with a dazzle-eyed naivety simply because it says “sequel”. Shame on you, Camelot. For what act is worse than avidly requesting a follow-up? Submitting to the protest and producing something half-hearted just to shut them up.
I know that many of you think such a thing isn’t possible. I, too, with my avid adoration of the company that brought me Shining Force III, had tried to excuse it or gloss over it. Maybe Camelot was rusty, maybe they didn’t have the best budget, or maybe--simply--they just screwed up. Such a thing I would willingly accept and go on about my way, eagerly anticipate the next title to be designed by this once incredible developer. That isn’t the case. Mistakes arise from being bold, glitches happen during strides for improvement. Camelot has simply rehashed their old games, tweaked it ever so slightly and given the illusion that it’s new. Meanwhile, they’ve removed the magic.
Well, not the actual magic mind you. The Psy powers and the Djinn that made the first Golden Sun so incredible are present. The problem is they’re almost exactly identical. The Djinn have the same names and the same skills that we’ve already seen and most Psy powers are simply copies of those we had before, all in a story that takes place almost thirty years later. I don’t know about the rest of you but when I play a sequel I want to see it become bigger and bolder than its predecessors, I want a new world to explore and new magic to discover. Would you have played Mega Man X2 if you knew all you could find was the dash ability or the improved body armor again? No. You’d save your money and simply replay the first one, though I’m not suggesting you do that here…
Okay, yeah I am.
No, not because they used the same magic and Djinn template. That’s bad, but not detrimental. Using virtually the same characters even though, again, this is thirty years later makes it so much worse. Unforgivable. And don’t say to me Oh True Baby, it’s not that bad. You sure? The game starts with the main character (of which you get to name, for the sake of argument we’ll call him True) the earth adept and his friends Tyrell--the spike-haired, burly fire adept with a knack for speaking his mind and getting into trouble--and Karis--a wind adept with a calm demeanor and sensible nature that binds True and Tyrell together, forming the perfect team. Later, they meet a nerdy water adept… Why…does this sound so familiar? Because it is! It’s almost exactly the same. Deplorable. You could have at least thrown me a curve. Let True be a wind adept. Make my fire adept a gorgeous Amazon with blazing red hair. Something. Anything. I got nothing. I feel like Camelot gave me the same characters with different names.
They then thrust them into a meek storyline that does nothing to supplement the Golden Sun epic or answer the questions made at the end of The Lost Age, only gives you random, useless insights to the after-effects of Issac and his group’s end goal. Most of these are meaningless--what alchemy did to the land, how vibrant the earth has become--or long-winded recaps about what happened in the first two games.
The dismal adventure is further marred by a lack of any real focal point. The original Golden Sun started slow, but would eventually snowball into a grand epic where all your actions culminated in one extravagant event. The Lost Age had you chasing down Alex, who became a very dominant antagonist. Dark Dawn is devoid of both. There is a “mysterious” masked group that thwarts your progress early on (one with teal hair and a menacing demeanor, like we don’t already know who that is) but they don’t show up again until the end. Most of the quests you find yourself appear to be useless favors that almost always consist of finding an item to open a new path, like some cruel, redundant scavenger hunt. To make matters worse, in order to initiate these events, the game forces you to suffer through over-extended dialogue that exists merely to stretch playing time, if it can even be called that. For example, the forge--a powerful alchemy tool which serves as the only way of crossing a vast ocean. Once it’s been restarted by solving a simple block puzzle, you learn via the village elder that it won’t have full power until you find the Sol mask. Awesome. Let’s do it. It sounds simple enough. Which, the task, actually is. The arduous part is dealing with your idiot team while they’re trying to decipher that oh-so enigmatic clue You need to find the Sol mask. It’s in the Ouroboros dungeon. Seriously. The village elder stated it that directly but Tyrell doesn’t comprehend so he asks again. The elder rewords it, Karis verifies, the elder reaffirms, Karis checks with True…and on it goes for almost ten paragraphs. And it’s like that every single time.
Maybe, just maybe, I’m being overly critical. It’s been a long time since I’ve played Golden Sun or The Lost Age so it’s quite possible they both had the same looping dialogue. Such things are easy to forget when they’re over-shadowed by the fantastic, incredibly unique dungeons that had you solving intricate puzzles with both your Psy powers and common sense. Those are present as well, but they seem tired here, as Camelot only rehashes the same tricks of moving pillars, growing vines and freezing water, even eliminating the joy of puzzle solving by granting you a new power “Insight” that tells you exactly what to use and where. Hell, they even have you run through a mock-up of Golden Sun’s ingenious lighthouses as one of the first real levels. It’s almost as if they designed the game entirely for new comers, utterly dismissing long-time fans of the series.
I think it’s that which has made me the most disappointed. When I heard about the sequel I had high hopes--hopes that were crushed within the first hour. I would love to make a reference to Terry Brooks and his disastrous Princess Of Landover, as they both have the same qualities of a berated artist pressured into quieting the masses and utterly failing, but at least Brooks tried to make it original. That, and I don’t think many would understand it. Instead, I will simply say this: Golden Sun: Dark Dawn is the perfect example of a game company using a once great franchise to take advantage of a devoted fan base. The only good thing I can say about it is that--at times--it would rekindle my fading nostalgia and remind me of an era when RPGs ruled the market. Even that, though, was barely.
So Camelot, Sega. Say you’re sorry to each other, reconcile, hug it out. I was hoping you both could make it independently, but now I’m not so sure. Get over it and get back to making great RPGs. We need them.
* - True Baby Disclaimer: The Help Uwe Boll Keep Making Movies foundation does not actually exist, and if any of you attempt to start such a charity I will punch you in the face.
Community review by True (March 28, 2011)
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