Golden Sun - Review

Golden Fun


Review Breakdown
   Battle System 8
   Interface 9
   Music/Sound 9
   Originality 7
   Plot 8
   Localization 8
   Replay Value 5
   Visuals 9
   Difficulty Medium
   Time to Complete

20 - 25


Title Screen

   Besides Pokemon, what business have RPGs had on handhelds, lately? More importantly, since the Final Fantasy VII debacle, what business have RPGs had on a Nintendo system lately? None, basically. The N64 had very few RPGs, even fewer of them considered "real." The Zelda games and Ogre Battle 64 were all that existed to quench the parched throats of Nintendo RPGers near and far. On the Gameboy Color, gamers were treated to Metal Walker, Magi Nation, Dragon Warrior remakes, and of course Pokemon. On Gameboy Advance, there was Breath of Fire.

If there's anything I'm missing, it's probably not much. The RPG markets for Nintendo and portables have been nothing like the one for the Sony Playstation, which usurped Super Nintendo's RPG throne. So what's a gamer to do, if s/he doesn't own a Playstation? Is Breath of Fire really enough to satisfy the Advanced gamer? Was it even enough to satisfy gamers back when it came out for the SNES?

I vote nay. As such, I'm ever so grateful to Nintendo and Camelot, who've brought us Golden Sun, the first original RPG for the Gameboy Advance. Falling just short of an unbeatable masterpiece, Golden Sun is some of the best role playing I've ever treated myself to on any system, handheld or not. With stunning graphics, captivating music, and gameplay that tugs at your brain, Golden Sun is the RPG Nintendo and portable gamers have been waiting for.

Most notable when you begin play are the tear-inducing visuals. Golden Sun uses a color palette that beats out Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger both technically and aesthetically. The artwork is also marvelous, with the characters sporting small personal details and lively animation. Town maps are very well drawn, with different styles matching the different environments that each one resides in. The graphics for dungeons are also pretty, if a bit on the repetitive side, but remember that you're dealing with tile-based graphics as opposed to pre-rendered art - and not many people minded when they played Final Fantasy VI.

"Get down outta there, ya little rascal!"
"Get down outta there, ya little rascal!"  

The world map is mode 7, similar to Final Fantasy VI, giving off a more dynamic feeling to exploration. But the battles, which are mode 7 intensive, are where the graphics really start to get hot. The background graphics for battles appear to have many layers, and scroll in parallax whenever a party member or enemy makes his/her move. The sprites zoom and whirl around accordingly, for an effect that gets your heart racing. All that movement radiates the sense of frenzy in battle, and I got a real kick out of watching it, never once getting bored. Spell effects and hit sparks are also intense, with glowing particles flying everywhere. The most impressive summons rival those found on Playstation, even though they're in 2D. (Just wait until you get the Judgement summon! =D) My only complaint with the battle visuals is that spell effects could have used more variety - for instance, Clay Spire, a stronger version of Spire, uses the exact same spell animation.

While your eyes will be pleased with the pretty colors and effects, your ears will no doubt become attached to the music that sounds awesome even through the Gameboy Advance's tiny speaker. The music is not as heart-tugging as that found in Chrono Cross or Xenogears, but it's still breathtaking and it did toy with my emotions. The soundtrack, courtesy of Motoi Sakuraba who also did work for the stunning Valkyrie Profile, made me stop playing for minutes at a time just to hear the music run through. Music for the towns is where Sakuraba-sama really shines through, with varying themes that match the visuals. Some towns have a beautiful pan flute lead, where other more "depressed" towns sport a somber oboe melody, and some other tunes combine a smorgasbord of instruments and themes for a carnival setting. The world map music, while not quite as good as Square's best, screams "adventure" and is certainly appropriate. The battle music is a bit clichéd, but it gets the blood running and I caught myself humming along with it during routine @$$ kickings. The title theme is perhaps the best track in the game, starting off with a soft, silent guitar-like instrument, and leading into a gorgeous pan-flute melody. One track, the one for the lighthouses I believe, sounds scratchy and a bit raucous to my ears - but this is perhaps the only blemish on an otherwise fine soundtrack.

Sound effects are standard, beefy fare, with satisfying battle slices and explosions guaranteed to bring smiles to the faces of sadistic gamers everywhere. There's nothing really extraordinary about the sound effects, but they do a good job. The only thing that may annoy you is the little speech "blips" that accompany character text, but a short trip to the menu screen will get rid of that nuisance.

   Psynergy, which is this game's version of spells, is the main force behind the game, being useful both in battle and in your exploration. The magic system is one that I like to think of as a simpler variation of Espers, Materia and Junctioning combined. Instead of Espers, Materia or Guardian Forces, the world of Golden Sun is populated with Djinni - little creatures that stick to your party members. There are four classes of Djinni, each class adhering to the elements of earth, fire, wind and water. "Setting" a Djinn to a character changes his or her class to bestow a different arsenal of Psynergy. The easiest way to go would be to set all the Djinni to characters according to their elements, but mixing and matching could produce interesting and sometimes important results.

I hate the undead... Worse than bloody cats!
I hate the undead... Worse than bloody cats!  

Djinni can be set in battle in addition to being set in the menu screen. After a Djinn is set, it can then be "unleashed" as an Esper would be. Unleashing a Djinn alters your stats for better and for worse, so it's important to look at what changes are being made to your character. Once a Djinn is unleashed, it has a certain effect in battle. Sometimes, the character simply attacks with a mighty blow or a hit that adds an elemental/magical effect (i.e. ice, or stun). Others raise barriers for your party, increase agility, and restore hit points. Summons become available as you unleash more Djinni of the same element. For instance, unleash a Mars Djinn, and you can summon it for a fiery attack. But waiting until you've unleashed four Mars Djinni in battle gives you the ability to summon the (much) more-powerful Meteor. After summoning, the Djinni require a short resting period lasting anywhere from one to four turns. However, you can choose to reset the Djinni yourself. While you're taking away the opportunity to summon, you'll be able to unleash the Djinn for its effect in the next turn without having to wait for it to recover, something you'd want to do to constantly call upon a powerful shield effect.

   The meatiest aspect of your Psynergy comes with the puzzle-like structure of the game. Finding Djinni and navigating dungeons all involve little brain teasers that make you work for the right direction. Inducing memories of Lufia II, the dungeons and forests have you moving statues and rolling pipes. You'll also be using Psyergy to "reveal" the truth behind mirages, freeze puddles and grow vines, among other activities. The same thing applies in towns, where you must find ways to get to hiding Djinni. Most of the puzzles are cleverly devised and can't be solved in a finger-snap, but none of them are too hard to get you stuck for hours at a time.

Binding the Psynergy aspect of the game into both the plot and the actual gameplay gives the story some continuity. Reading through the plot may give ways to some clichés, but overall it's worth playing through the game for and will motivate you to push on until the end. Characters aren't developed as well as they are in some of the more "epic" tales out there, but considering that the game is relatively short (more on that later), it's excusable. You're also stuck with the same four characters through the majority of the game, but this gives you time to really familiarize yourself with your characters' abilities through the Djinni. I generally liked the way the plot unfolded, and the world that Golden Sun created for me. The only big flaw that may tick you off - Soul Reaver players will pull at their hair - is that the very end of the game is quite anticlimactic. The ending sequence screams "sequel" and will guarantee my wallet getting $30 lighter in the future.

If you can't burn 'em out; freeze 'em out.
If you can't burn 'em out; freeze 'em out.  
If the anticlimactic ending doesn't get you beet red, the short amount of time it takes to beat this game might. If my memory serves correctly, I completed the game in under 20 hours. The game's also on the linear side, with few sidequests and a couple of extra Djinni to find along the way. However, the game's short length may tempt you to breeze through it over and over again, if only to complete every one of those sidequests and catching all of those Djinni you missed the first time around. The biggest problem with the game's length is that, since Golden Sun is such a great game, you're really left gasping for more. There is a battle room where you can battle various monsters you've met on your quest, and even link up with a friend to see who's got the better party. It's nothing more than a fun diversion on the side, but it helps keep the game in your system rather than collecting dust.

All in all, Golden Sun is a commanding must-buy. I've fallen in love with the intricacies of the game, and have little doubt that I will be a huge fan of the series as Camelot decides to continue it. A throwback to the SNES days, it is an aural, visual and mental treat for RPGers everywhere. And hey, even though I breezed through it in 19 or so hours, it was some of the funnest 19 hours in recent gaming memory. Play Golden Sun now. That's the bottom line.

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