Golden Sun: The Lost Age - Staff Retroview  

Everybody Loves Kraden
by Adriaan den Ouden

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20-40 Hours
+ Fantastic level design.
+ Complex class system with many more options than the original.
+ Surprisingly non-linear.
- Some djinni are easy to miss.
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   With Golden Sun DS announced at E3 2009, more than a few people seem to have found an urge to play through the original two entries of the series, myself included. After making it through Golden Sun, I replayed Golden Sun: The Lost Age, the 2003 sequel to the hit original. Continuing where the story left off, The Lost Age retains the basic gameplay of Golden Sun while introducing new features, expanding the world of Weyard, and driving the ongoing story forward.

   The end of Golden Sun saw Isaac, Garet, Mia, and Ivan sailing off in a Lemurian ship after they successfully defeated Saturos and Menardi, but failed to prevent the Venus Lighthouse from being lit. Where they go from here is a story that is left untold, as The Lost Age puts you in the shoes of Felix, Jenna, Sheba, and Kraden, antagonists from the original game, immediately following the lighting of the aforementioned lighthouse. A massive earthquake rocks the continent, breaking a large chunk off and sending it drifting across the sea. When it finally comes to rest against an unexplored new continent, the party has to find a way to get to the remaining lighthouses so they can fulfill their mission.

   As one might expect from the change of perspective, The Lost Age turns the Golden Sun saga completely on its head. The goals of the new party are in direct conflict with the goals of the original, and Felix and company are dead-set on lighting the remaining two lighthouses and restoring the power of alchemy to the world. The game offers up motivations for these characters, and shows that everything you thought you knew during Golden Sun may have been completely wrong. It's an unusual twist on what one would expect from a sequel, and provides for an intriguing plot that develops a very interesting world.

Visuals in battle are terrific. Visuals in battle are terrific.

   The gameplay of The Lost Age is very much the same as the original game. There's an extensive class system, where each character's class is determined by equipping them with djinns of four different elements. Combat is simple, quick, and turn-based, with most battles only lasting a few seconds, making normal encounters a breeze, though not particularly engaging. Boss battles can take a while longer and generally require more interesting strategies, keeping the game fun and fast. As before, there is a heavy focus on puzzle-solving, with even more puzzle-oriented abilities and longer, complex dungeons.

   A few new features have been added to the game to keep things fresh. For one thing, the player can acquire a total of nine Djinn for each character, as opposed to the seven from the original game. This opens up new, advanced versions of the classes seen in the original game. Once the game progresses to a certain point, the player will also have access to eight characters rather than just four, which leads to more interesting class and element distributions. There are also three special items to be found, which, when equipped, provide a character with a new, special class that is otherwise unobtainable.

   Players will also encounter new summon spells that require djinn of multiple elements to activate. These summons are all hidden deep within dungeons and are usually optional, providing plenty of sidequesting opportunities for intrepid explorers. Speaking of exploring, The Lost Age is also surprisingly nonlinear for a JRPG. Although in each "section" of the game, you'll need to go through all the main dungeons before you can move on to the next part, the order they can be completed in is extremely flexible. There are many points throughout the game where you'll have to return to a previously visited town in order to solve a previously unsolvable puzzle. This focus on exploration is very rewarding, as there are a large number of hidden treasures and areas to find and explore.

The puzzles of The Lost Age are more fiendish than ever. The puzzles of The Lost Age are more fiendish than ever.

   Many of the problems from the first game return as well, unfortunately. There are once again several djinn that are hidden on the world map and difficult to locate unless you have a strategy guide or meticulously comb every area looking for them. There are also a few hidden in optional dungeons which can be easily overlooked. Considering how important djinn are to the game, it would have been nice to have a feature that could help track down missing djinn so a strategy guide or FAQ isn't necessary.

   Since The Lost Age makes use of the same game engine as the 2001 original, it unsurprisingly looks very much the same, and that's not at all a bad thing. It's one of the more impressive looking GBA RPGs, particularly in combat where the characters almost look 3D. One of the more interesting aspects to the visuals that wasn't present in the original game is the "edge of the world." Once you get access to a ship, which wasn't available in Golden Sun, you can sail to the edge of the world, where the land is crumbling away and a massive waterfall flows into nothingness. The audio likewise remains impressive and enjoyable. Composed by Motoi Sakuraba, the soundtrack is similar to the original game's, including some of the older tunes as well as many new ones.

   Overall, Golden Sun: The Lost Age is a much better game than the original title. The story, characters, and world are all significantly more interesting as the secrets of Weyard are finally revealed. The gameplay, though mostly the same, is heightened by new class options and even more impressive level design. Unfortunately, the series ends abruptly, and there are several questions at the end of The Lost Age that remain unanswered. Golden Sun was already a great game, but The Lost Age is truly excellent. If you happened to overlook this series when it was first released, don't make that mistake a third time. If Golden Sun DS can live up to The Lost Age, it will be a truly marvelous game. And hopefully it can finally resolve the story that's remained unfinished for seven years.

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