Golden Sun - Reader Re-Retroview  

Beyond the Beyond, but Good
by Harrison Gallen

15-25 Hours
+ Solid combat and puzzles.
+ Nice music and graphics.
+ You can save anywhere.
- Dashing is way too slow.
- Backtracking can be tedious.
- Awful story.
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   In the land of Weyard, the force of Alchemy allowed for the development of great civilizations, although this gave way to worldwide conflict that ultimately led to Alchemy being sealed away. The keys to unlocking the ancient power, the Elemental Stars, reside in the mountain shrine of Mt. Aleph, with two warriors, Saturos and Menardi, attempting to steal them, failing their first time and unleashing a cataclysm upon the village of Vale, but succeeding their second time three years later, although two teenage adepts, Isaac and Garet, and their companions manage to keep one of the Stars for themselves. Afterward, Isaac and Garet venture across Weyard to prevent Saturos and Menardi from unsealing the deadly power of Alchemy upon the world. Golden Sun, developed by Camelot and published by Nintendo for the Gameboy Advance, is a reasonably polished title with solid game mechanics, but is burdened by a few shortcomings.

   Most dungeons in Golden Sun have an emphasis upon puzzle-solving akin to other series such as The Legend of Zelda and Wild ARMs, but instead of tools, characters have Psychic Point-consuming Psynergy powers the player can use on the field to accomplish things such as telekinetically moving objects, freezing water puddles into ice pillars, and so forth. Another notable gameplay element is the Djinn, special elemental spirits the player can find across the world (some requiring a fight to recruit) and equip to each character to affect their stats and abilities, with the player also able to put them on standby to use summon spells in combat.

   Battles themselves are randomly-encountered, following the typical "input all characters' attacks and let them and the enemy beat each other up in a round” setup of most turn-based RPGs. Commands include attacking with a character's weapon, defending, using Psynergy, using a Djinni's ability (which will put the Djinni on standby while decreasing a character's stats), using a summon spell with Djinn on standby (which consequentially must "recover" for a few turns) or using an item. During each round, characters and the enemy take their turns depending upon agility, with turn order fortunately remaining consistent, although it can nonetheless be a bit annoying to memorize when characters will take their turns in case of things like the need to heal.

It ain't easy being green When evil sockpuppets attack

   It's also somewhat annoying to have to scroll through all the battle dialogue, though punctuation at the end of each damage command indicates how effective different kinds of attacks are: a single exclamation mark indicates normal effectiveness, while triple exclamation marks indicate greater effectiveness than usual and periods indicate lower effectiveness than usual. Despite the battle narration, battles are generally well-paced, with some boss fights sometimes posing a tough decision on whether to keep Djinn equipped or put them on standby beforehand for using summon spells at the expense of lower stats. Another nice feature is that PP slowly recovers as the player wanders dungeons. All in all, the game mechanics are reasonably solid.

   Control-wise, Golden Sun has many things going for it, such as an always-convenient save-anywhere feature and a generally-easy interface setup. However, there are some problems, such as the fact that dashing is only slightly faster than walking, and that inventory management can become somewhat tedious late in the game, given the lack of a "sack" in which to put excess items, and dozens of different item types. Revisiting previous areas once the player has acquired more field Psynergy abilities can also be somewhat difficult given the absence of warp magic. Ultimately, control in the game is passable, but could have certainly been better.

   Golden Sun is superficially similar to Camelot's other titles such as Beyond the Beyond and the Shining Force series, and features an emphasis on puzzle solving similar to the Zelda and Wild ARMs franchises, although it does have some mildly inventive elements such as the Djinni system, and the use of each character's own magical abilities to solve puzzles, which help it feel reasonably distinct.

A good balance The puzzles are actually pretty decent

   The story, however, doesn't really help Golden Sun feel distinct. The prologue is asinine at best, and begs the question of why the residents of Vale couldn't simply try to destroy the boulder while holding it back with Psynergy. The rest of the story doesn't fare very well either, with Saturos and Menardi ranking among the worst antagonists in RPG history, and the narrative lurching from tedious, unnecessary fetch quest to tedious, unnecessary fetch quest like a drunkard. Conversations, moreover, tend to drag out unnecessarily, and consist of characters saying painfully obvious things and insulting the player's intelligence, with a superfluous number of yes/no decisions that have zero effect on the plot's outcome. Overall, the story is the game's worst aspect, often lending the impression that the programmers wrote it themselves.

   Musically, however, Golden Sun fares significantly better, with Motoi Sakuraba providing a reasonably diverse soundtrack with better quality than average for a Gameboy Advance title, although better musical quality apparently came at the expense of the sound effects, which sound unusually crinkly and crackly, with hints of blips and duts. Cutscenes, moreover, have "voices" in the form of annoying squeaks for characters that the player can mercifully turn off. Still, the music largely compensates for the game's aural shortcomings.

   The graphics are similarly well-executed, with nice, colorful scenery and flashy battle graphics with a rotating camera adding to their dynamic nature. While some of the best visuals on the Gameboy Advance, there are nonetheless some occasional blemishes such as a heavy degree of pixelation on the overworld and the lack of emotion from the character sprites and portraits during cutscenes. Even so, Golden Sun is still a nice visual treat.

   Finally, a straightforward playthrough of the game takes about twenty hours, with some sidequests such as hunting down every Djinni and returning to previous towns with new Psynergy powers to find all their secrets, tasks stretched out by the lack of teleportation. In the end, Golden Sun is an enjoyable title, given its solid game mechanisms and polished music and graphics, although it is somewhat burdened by a terrible story and lousy control decisions such as a slow dash and the aforementioned lack of warp magic. Even so, it still proves to be one of Camelot's more enjoyable titles, and those in particular who enjoy puzzle-driven RPGs will likely get the most out of it.

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