Golden Sun - Retroview

An Emoticon For You: =)

By: Stewart Bishop

Review Breakdown
   Battle System 9
   Interface 4
   Music/Sound 6
   Originality 7
   Plot 3
   Localization 5
   Replay Value 7
   Visuals 9
   Difficulty Very Easy
   Time to Complete

20-30 hours


Golden Sun

   Since the release of the Gameboy Advance, the system has been a dumping ground for subpar SNES ports in addition to a slew of unappealing and unoriginal titles. Golden Sun is definitely one of the best to hit the GBA thus far, with addictive gameplay, energetic music and some very sweet visual effects. It truly shows how much portable gaming has improved, and easily rivals many of the classic 16-bit RPGs.

   Golden Sun really delivers in gameplay, as any portable game should. Battles are fast-paced and follow a classic turn-based system similar to Dragon Warrior VII. You select your actions all at once, and they will execute them (along with your opponents) according to their different speed attributes. Enemies appear in a 'line,' and different attacks will target a different number of enemies. For attacks hit multiple opponents, you first select an initial 'target.' Depending on the range of the spell, it will damage opponents adjacent to the 'target,' and so forth until the range is too far. Opponents at the very center of the attack will take the brunt of the blast, while enemies on the very outskirts of the spell will suffer comparitively lower damage. Additionally, special creatures called 'Djinn' can be found and given to each of your characters. While a Djinni is under a character's possession, they can be used in different ways to unlock super abilities, use summon spells, alter character statistics and even change a character's class, depending on the combination of Djinn that a character has. Class becomes more interesting in the latter parts of the game, as classes affect both statistic gains and also determines what spells a character possesses. I say interesting and not important because the difficulty of this game is laughable; you shouldn't have problems in the slightest defeating any of the opponents in this game, even if your classes are seriously underpowered. However, Golden Sun also comes with a 2 player link-battle game, where you can go head-to-head against another person's team via game-link. It is a little different, and _here_ is where classes definitely become important, especially since only three of your four characters may participate.

   Although the battle system is intricate and fun, the greatest element of Golden Sun is definitely the graphics, especially in-battle. The camera is very dynamic, spiraling around both your party and the enemy as you unleash a barrage of colorful and light-intensive spellwork. Though everything is hand-drawn, the sprites appear quite 3D and have fluid animations. Summon attacks are incredible, and I find them more detailed and interesting to watch than SNES counterparts, including the legendary Final Fantasy VI. Out of battle, visuals are sharp and crisp, with a plethora of different terrains, buildings and character sprites for the townspeople. The only problem is pixelation of the character sprites when the camera zooms in on them, but even still, the visuals are some of the best you'll see on the GBA, hands-down.

All the pretty lights!
Mm... Plasma...  

   Another positive aspect is the sound. The music is well composed, and the battle themes are quite energetic, which compliments the fast-paced and action-packed animations of spells and attacks very well. On the downside, however, there is a surprising lack of sound effects. For example, every attack that hits on the field makes one specific sound, and every action that heals makes another specific sound. After about five minutes of gameplay, you'll have heard almost all of the sound effects to be heard in the game, and that can become irritating very quickly.

   The translation is a mediocre one. It has little or no grammatical errors but the dialogue is somewhat bland, all things considered. A redeeming factor, however, is the 'Mind Read' spell, which allows you to read the minds of most all characters, effectively doubling the amount of dialogue in the game. Not a bad effort in the least. Some item descriptions are rather archaic and misleading, but nothing that sorely detracts from the gameplay.

   The main protagonist of the story is a young hero named Isaac, who, along with a small population of the world, is an 'Adept,' a person that can use Psyenergy, the magical force in the Golden Sun world. There is a promising introduction to the game that could have lead to a much more intricate storyline, but eventually dwindled to a 'chase the bad-guy down' sort of deal as most RPGs tend to do. Because of a lack of a real plot and real development, the game is quite short in comparison to most console RPGs, topping off at about 30 hours maximum if you do all of the sidequests before the final battle.

   Controls are a bit awkward and require some getting used to. The select button brings up the character menu and status screen, which is somewhat annoying due to the placement of the button on the GBA. The Start button would have been more suitable since it is closer to the directional pad, but instead it is used to save your game, change gameplay options and access 'Sleep' mode, which sets your Gameboy on 'Standby' at a much lower battery usage. Additionally, pressing the A button while not close to anything that can be examined or spoken to will also access the menu. A bit troublesome if you're searching for items on tables and cabinets, but also a lot easier to reach than the Select Button. The last bit of bad news is that Isaac walks like a snail and runs like a turtle; you must always hold the B button down to actually proceed anywhere at decent speed. The lack of an auto-run feature is frustrating, especially on the world map (why you would actually want to walk on a world map is beyond me). Fortunately, however, you can use the L and R buttons to 'hotkey' certain spells that can be used on the field, such as Mind Reading. It is certainly a lot easier to press a trigger than to traverse a menu to cast a spell at a person.

So hard to choose screenshots, they're all so pretty...  

   Golden Sun is simply one of those fast-paced, action-packed RPGs that is just simply addictive and fun to play. It is an excellent portable RPG due to the fact that battles come and go so quickly and you can save anywhere. The inclusion of 2-player Link Battling is also a great idea, and will hopefully encourage future titles with this option (2-player Final Fantasy Tactics anyone?). Grab this one off the shelves before Golden Sun 2 hits!

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