Golden Sun - Review

Classic RPGing Done Right

By: Paul D'Elia

Review Breakdown
   Battle System 9
   Interface 10
   Music/Sound 10
   Originality 8
   Plot 9
   Localization 8
   Replay Value 8
   Visuals 10
   Difficulty Medium
   Time to Complete

10-30 hours


Title Screen

   Mario Golf was a really great game, but certainly wouldn't lead me to expect this gem from Camelot. If I recall correctly though, they made the Shining Force Series for Sega, so perhaps they were just taking a (long) break in between great RPG making. Well this is simply the sweetest little thing I've seen yet for the GBA. It falters in no discernible way, with perfect implementation of SNES Era RPG elements used to churn out both unique and classic gaming fun. The only big slip up (to me anyway) with the game is that you can't beat it. However that has nothing to do with difficulty, the game just sets up the sequel quite nicely. This game is the beginning of what should be a nice little franchise for at the very least the duration of the GBA, seeing as it's successor has already been announced. Annnnyway, I think I'll go into the fun part, like pointing out just how many parts of this game are so, *checks a thesaurus, planning to use it extensively here on out*, oh bother Microsoft Word's thesaurus sucks hmmmmm how bout'... the game is stupendouslycarefreefundiddlyoscious, there that sounds good. Now if you care to, read why I chose to create such inane descriptive wordery.

   Battle system appears standard fare at first HP, MP (called PP here), agility-turn-based, and for the most part it is. Still it is executed flawlessly and this is supposed to be a classic RPG style game anyway. The way Djinni's are used adds a nice juicy layer of strategy too though. Suppose I should mention just what the Djinni's are first. Throughout the game you pick up little creatures of one of the four basic elements (Fire, Earth, Water, Wind) and attach them to your characters. This boosts stats, alters classes, and subsequently spell selection, and provides two means of battle assistance. First you can have a Djinni either set to a character or on standby. When set, the character gets stat bonuses, class change and such, and in battle they can release the Djinni. The Djinni then issues a fairly decent attack to an enemy, or aids the party in some way, depending on which one it is (they all have a unique skill). This puts the Djinni on standby, which means the character no longer has the stat bonuses or class changes the Djinni may have provided. However when Djinni are on standby they aren't useless. When 1 to 4 of the same elemental are set aside, any character can use them to call a summon of according strength. The summon graphics above 1st level summons are most thoroughly impressive, and 3rd and 4th level ones deal out the most damage of anything in the game by far. This also tires out the Djinni used, which must charge for one battle turn or by walking around (one at a time per char attached to). Deceivingly simple it adds a clever strategy element, which must be utilized properly in later battles.

   The game interface maximizes use of all the buttons to make the game very accessible and informative. Explanation of Djinni use is included in the coinciding menu, which is good since the manual is quite wordy and boring. Every item has all information about it provided to you and is concise and easy to understand. Item organization is a snap, but allocation of item actually matters as character can carry a limited amount. However unlike many games that do this, you will never have trouble finding place to put items, since there isn't an abundance of useless ones. That also has battle implications and characters can only use item they have equipped. Menus are easy to access, all available at the press of a button. Also what is exceedingly awesome is that you can save anywhere in the game... well except battles anyway. There is even a sleep mode (like putting a computer on standby) activated on the start menu or by holding L and R for 3 seconds (can be used anytime, at all). Surprisingly I've actually used it a couple times, and whether or not you do, it's still really cool. The puzzles in the game most often have to be solved using specialty Psynergy (magic) spells that manipulate objects in different ways. To avoid always having to go the menu to use these, the genius game designers made it so you can allocate these spells to the L and R buttons to be used instantly, and this is necessary for the groovy Mind Read skill since you can't access the menu without talking to the person you try to use it on. Everything is handy, accessible, explained, and convenient to use.

See, Particle Effects Are Shiny!
See, Particle Effects Are Shiny! 

   A perfect example of what the GBA is capable of with music. You absolutely have to play this game with headphones on, otherwise it sounds like crap. String arrangements are emulated very well, especially noticable in the opening theme. The most impressive part is the wind instruments used, first heard in the main menu screen, make me reminisce of Tales of Phantasia. They sound quite close to CD quality at times, and the rest is all easily up to par with better SNES compositions. The battle theme is energetic, but the rythim sets the mind to battle strategy when heard, so it's useful rather than tiresome. Town themes are nicely done, and fit the mood of the towns to a tee. Most dungeon music is well good for dungeon music, which I'm not really a fan of, in any case none of it is particularly bothersome. All the compositions are nice to listen too, and if you like collecting RPG MIDIs, you should pry pick up a few of these. I don't particularly care for sound effects, except how they are used to actually help the player. There aren't any puzzles or anything that are sound based, although without headphones, it'd be risky to do that. Only noticable use of sound to help the player is you get a nice ding to notify you when a tired Djinni recovers when walking on the world map. Other effects, such as battle sounds and such though, all sound dead on to what they should sound like. Ya know, ice sounds like ice, water like water, and so on. Point is everything is good, nothing is bad, and its all high-fi stuff, so play with headphones or you're missing out.

   As afore mentioned the battle system is a good unique strategic twist on standard turn-based stuff. Still mostly random battles though. The story is usual save the world type stuff, well sort of anyway. Debating over to give it 8 or 9, but the game is just so good I'll be nice and say 9. Besides the characters are very animated and pretty well characterized. Aside from the battle system, everything else is very nicely done. The puzzles are one of the coolest aspects of the game. Most aren't overwhelmingly difficult, if you have a clear grasp of how to use your Psynergy skills. In any case all are very cleverly done. The use of Psynergy skills to solve them is worked in a most excellent manner. For example in one dungeon there is a stone pillar with a opening in the top. You move it out from the spot in the wall it's stuck in with a movement Pysnergy, fill it with water using Psynergy, and then freeze that water, using Psynergy, to create a pillar that allows you to jump to the other side of the room. Also many of the areas had their own unique designs. A mazelike forest had you scare a monkey out of a tree trunk to find the proper path. A scorching hot desert had you use psynergy to reveal what truly lied in circles of stones. That way you had to try and find oasis' before you got scorched from the heat (which actually had it's own indicating meter show up). The Coliseum part of the game even had an obstacle course with items strewn across it and the two combatants raced to the center for better item before there was an actual battle. Not many of them, but there are a few nice mini games put in too for good measure. Aside from the battle system, there are surprises o' plenty to keep the game fresh.

   Well it doesn't start with evil people plotting to destroy the world, at least sort of, it's actually more your fault because you give them the opportunity. Anyway, it then seems you have to save the world after things go wrong, although you don't really know how or if you do. There are a few wackos trying to light the four elemental towers, which apparently will do something bad, although you don't really know what. What I'm trying to illustrate is that you never know what would, could, or will happen, even after you beat it. It ends with many questions unanswered, I would mention some, but that wouldn't be any fun. Anyway the game is still a mystery after you finish, and left me itching for the sequel. More easily put, the plot is incomplete, but done stlyishly, and I like that.As far as characters, they leave some development to be desired, however for a few characters this makes them seem more enigmatic. Besides, the little emotion icons, that you may remember from games like Tales of Phantasia are present here! I completely love those things, even if they do show up just about every time you talk, sometimes without much reason. The characters also seem to have a quirk of making an odd body fluctuation often, this seems to have mixed meanings at times, but adds characterization beyond the words as well. Maybe this is more an 8 but I like the game so much I'll say 9.

   I'm pretty sure a few enemy names were misspelled or something, and a select few moments of speaking seemed a slight bit awkward, but all in all it's a very solid translation. Don't suppose there's much else to say about that.

The Heat Is Rising
The Heat Is Rising 

   You will definitely should play this game at least a few times. It only takes 15-25 hours to beat, but every game turns out a little differently. Well at least you'll usually end up with slightly different items. Still slightly confused as to whether leveling up as a specific class changes your final spell availiability. Class discernation gets a bit complicated with lots of Djinni, but you can always play through as different classes for a different experience in any case. I didn't find every Djinni my first time through, and pry a few other things from what my friend has told me. There is an arena (not in the game, but on the main menu) has a thing where you can try to beat as many monster parties consecutively as you can, using a saved party. This doesn't seem to have any purpose other than just that though. You can save you final party after you beat the game, and use it in the arena as well. This lets you match up your final party against a friends in the multi-player mode! You can only use three characters, but hey there's only 4 in the game, and that adds a touch more strategy too it. At first it seems everyone brings out their big summon guns and tries to blow eachother up as quickly as possible. However upon careful examination, players can make a real duel out of it by properly utilizing defensive Djinni and spells. I've had battles last at least 15 minutes. There will be no one with a perfect game ever (I hope not anyway) at most you should get to level 30 by the end, so that won't be a reason to replay it, but that's just fine with me. With any highly abstract luck, you'll actually transfer your party from this game to the sequel somehow, that would be really nifty, and maybe make you play it one more time to get your party as good as possible before moving it to the next game in the series.

   Best graphics ever on the GBA, eeeeever i say! They are most definitely the highest high point of the game. The overworld map is a slick mode-7, looks like an off beat rendered version of real terrain or something like that. Character animation is detailed and EXTREMELY fluid. I swear there are like 50 frames or something just for walking. The towns and dungeons and such are lushly drawn, high level of detail and vibrant pleasing colours. The most excellent asset of the game was by far the battle graphics. Whatever that sprite technique they use to create pseudo-3-D effects was utilized perfectly here. The battle camera rotates around the battle when attacks are being done, even if it is only slightly. The fact is you see all the characters, enemies and your party, differently from every angle. Although they have a slightly odd pixelated look, it still is incredibly cool. Battle animation's completely rule in this game, some are better than Playstation stuff! (Well maybe early Playstation) Most magic spells are mostly just really really really cool particle explosions and effects, with a few lightly animated sprites. The particle graphic effect is the most awesome thing I've seen on this level of gaming system, I mean I never saw anything this good on any SNES RPG. The summons use these particle effects to their fullest extent, combined with well detailed sprites of the summoned creatures. Three of four 4th level elemental summons are really cool, like the Thunder one draws this cool 3-D looking spinning rainbowy symbol to call down Thor for some crafty particle lighting destruction. However the 4th level earth summon could almost pass for a FF style summon if it weren't sprites. You see this armoured guy in the air throw down a ball of energy. Then a overview of the world map is shown, the energy crashes down in the middle causing a big nuclear type explosion thingy. The you see a couple screens of battle maps showing energy rushing across them tearing up the ground. Then the sucker descends on it's target in a big ol' frickin' explosion. It's really an epic event in itself. Even if you do ever get tired of the summons though, you can always skip the lengthy part of their animation's if you want. The battle graphics are unruly-ly incredible, I think the game deserves an 11 in this category, however that appears quite impossible *sigh*, oh well.

Summon Graphics Are Cool, And This Is Just A 2nd Level One...
Summon Graphics Are Cool, And This Is Just A 2nd Level One... 

   For the most part battles aren't terribly challenging. However in the later parts of the game, when first meeting the random battle enemies, you might get killed if you aren't careful. Some of the bosses you might have to play once or twice too. The last battle is fairly difficult too, depending on your level, you'll pry need a little luck to beat it. The puzzles rarely will cause any game impeding brain blocks, but are so fun you don't mind. It's pry not going to stop any vets from advancing at will, but is enough to keep it from getting dull.

   This game is really, really good. If your a big classic RPG fan, I daresay it's a game that would get someone to buy the console if they don't have it. And if you do have a GBA then you can't pass this one up. An absolute perfect old-school Squaresoft game, except it's not made by Square. Here's proof that the RPG industry has a chance of a most abundant life outside of Sony. Everything is just done plain right with this game, and I most whole hearted look forward to the sequel, and from what i've heard the sequel after that. Rumors of a trilogy or something, but I don't care if it's two or twenty games, it's all good. So you, video game consmuer, reader of this article, go get it now, I mean go, now, quick, get off your arse and buy it!!! Or you COULD wait a few days... and die from anxiety knowing this game is so awesome and you don't have it! So get it now or you will die, that is your only choice!

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