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Golden Sun: Dark Dawn (DS) artwork

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.

True's avatar
Community review by True (March 28, 2011)

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jerec posted March 28, 2011:

I thought the game was quite playable, probably leaning towards a 7 myself. But yeah, I can't disagree with anything you said here. The story absolutely lacks direction. The fact that the villains only appear once within the first 15 hours of story does not help.
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CoarseDragon posted March 28, 2011:

I did have fun playing the game and did not feel the same way as you - entirely. However I will say that some of what you said is true. The puzzles were simple and dungeons were pretty short, while dialog was pretty "windy" at times. The problem is that this is a trend we are seeing in many games. I'll call it the "casual player syndrome". Seems to me most companies are trying to appeal to many more gamers so games are getting more simple in design and play. I recall in the original games there were some puzzles that were kind of head-scratchers but none of those to be seen in this game.

There were enough good parts to the game I don't think I'd give the game a three but it surely is not much over six. I'm not so sure I'd blame Camelot Software Planning so much as I would blame Nintendo.

A good review but I just do not agree with your score.
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True posted March 28, 2011:

Thanks for the comments Jerec and Coarse. I appreciate them.

I don't normally say this, but I would be interested to see someone else review this one and get their opinions. I hated it. Everything I was looking for in a Golden Sun game was either missing or I had seen it before. I was just very disappointed all around. If it was a stand alone game, it would have garnered a higher score, but given that it was a sequel to a very strong franchise it was just...tragic.
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jerec posted March 28, 2011:

I started a review a couple of months ago. I'd planned to finish writing it when I finished the game, but I've been drifting aimlessly on the seas (with random encounters every few seconds) after some big mid-way event, without the slightest idea of where I need to go next.
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honestgamer posted March 29, 2011:

So Princess of Landover is worth skipping, huh?
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CoarseDragon posted March 29, 2011:

I understand what you mean True. Although I did play both Golden Sun games, even transferred characters with all those crazy codes, I vaguely remember the games, bits and pieces really. As I played Dark Dawn and started to remember the other games I started looking for new things but as you say there were none, I don't think there were even any new Summons added. I think they did a disservice to the series because that sense of adventure from the original games was missing. Early on there was to much backtracking and sailing around in the ship later in the game was a bit boring. There were good parts though; the beast girl was interesting (except maybe for Slap).
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True posted March 29, 2011:

Coarse: Track was also kind of cool. I kind of forgot about that.

Jason: It's not horrible. Even on a bad day, Brooks is one of the greatest Fantasy writers of all time in my opinion. If you've followed the Landover series as religiously as I and a lot of others have you know he really tied everything up with Witches' Brew.

I would be interested to see if he writes another one later on, but Princess was not what I've waited over a decade for. Part of it seems like he's passing the torch from Ben to Misty in order to continue the series. It centers mostly around her and introduces a lot of new ideas and places without making any real reference to the past story or even the characters we know and love. I thought at first he was trying to create a brand new series, one that would eventually lead to Shannara, but he doesn't really spark anything that could be expanded on, if that makes sense. Any questions he poses or any enemies he introduces are taken care of by the end.

That's why I still get the impression that it was a story he didn't necessarily want or need to tell, but because he felt pressure to write and he didn't have any real ideas for.

It's a really long, somewhat dull epilogue to Witches' Brew.

Better put, it's no Defiant Light.
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overdrive posted March 30, 2011:

This is the game you were requesting I review (although my lack of a DS kinda hurts as far as that goes), wasn't it?

I was reading your review and the funny thing is that I got the idea you must have had a lot warmer and fuzzier memory of the first two GS games. I haven't played the second GBA one yet, but I did play the first and a lot of what you said about this one (particularly the dialogue) was how I felt about it. It just seemed that every time you did anything, you'd have a lot of circular conversation between your one-dimensional characters to set everything up. It was a decent game that could have been good if not for all that. I have a bit of trauma still from the boat ride from one continent to the next. Two nobody NPCs that disappeared from the game after you got across the ocean got a TON of dialogue and the trip took forever because you'd have little monster attacks on a regular basis. Guh...
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CoarseDragon posted March 30, 2011:

The Golden Sun series was not an awesome series to be sure but it did at the time have something no one else had and that was the Djinn and being able to change classes on the fly by switching those Djinn around. Then the next big draw for the series was being able to transfer your characters or different parts of the game to the next game. Those are the things I found good about the game. Although I thought crafting in Dark Sun was lacking the other games as I recall, and I could be wrong, seemed much better.
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True posted March 30, 2011:

O.D.: It was yeah and I think you still should. You're one of the great RPG reviewers and I'm curious about your opinion on it since you weren't the biggest fan of the first two. I think a lot of my hatred stemmed from the fact I was disappointed in what the series had become, so it would be interesting to see another review from a somewhat neutral standpoint.
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asherdeus posted April 05, 2011:

I almost stopped reading this after the Rosie O'Donnell comment.

I liked this review. I thought in the first two paragraphs that you spent a little too much time saying the same thing. But then you ramp up, and your last paragraphs perfectly captured my own frustration with the game. I am amazed you played it for so long; I gave up about 5 hours in and haven't looked back. They just kept saying the same thing over and over again, unnecessarily explaining things and then reexplaining and then clarifying and ... Oh my fucking God, just shut up and let me play! And I don't think the original Golden Sun or The Lost Age were that bad at it, either. If they were, you were right in that their game worlds and plots were so much more interesting that we were able to ignore the ugliness.

Oh, and Facebook gets a capital F. Good work, True.
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jerec posted April 05, 2011:

There's one thing a lot of RPGs are guilty of in dialogue that I wish we could just move past already. It's when a character says something, and then another character basically repeats it word for word, except as a question. Twice as much dialogue to say the one thing.
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joseph_valencia posted April 05, 2011:

Japanese people apparently do that. It's something localizers should weed out when porting games to Western markets, but they seem to get lazy.
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True posted April 05, 2011:

Thanks for the feedback, Ash. I fixed that capital F debacle but I will have to look at the first two paragraphs and see how I can clean them up when I have more time. I appreciate you pointing that out though.

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