Golden Sun Review

Golden Sun

I really have no excuse for not playing a title after five years of owning it.  Other things kept coming up, leaving me with three half finished save files.  But now that I’m picking titles out of a hat, more or less, I decided I would dive into the Golden Sun series.  And I kinda wish I didn’t.

Golden Sun Review
Release Date: 11/11/2001
Platform: Gameboy Advance
Developer: Camelot Software Planning
Publisher: Nintendo

Golden Sun was essentially the first JRPG, a term I’ll use until I find a better alternative, for the Gameboy Advance.  Developed by the people who originally made Shining Force, which was basically Sega’s answer to Fire Emblem, I think.  But decided that they would much prefer to do a very standard RPG for Nintendo, which gets to my biggest issue before I even talked about the premise.  Golden Sun is pretty much the typical JRPG.  Two children suffer from some tragedy, need to leave their village to find someone and something.  Encounter more outcasts along the way, and go through four element themed dungeons.

Well its only two, because the journey pans out into two games, most likely due to memory space and money.  So you just go to two big old dungeons, with several other unrelated ones.   While doing several other misadventures along the way that have you fight off a big baddie.  Now, I love the genre of JRPGs, and if Dragon Quest IV was any indication, I am perfectly fine with ones that are not particularly unique.

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Simplicity is not an issue as much as the game’s general tone, or lack thereof.  The reason why my description of the plot is so dismissive is that there is just not a lot of anything interesting inside of it.  As far as I could tell, it is really just about some kids going on an adventure.  But I never really was able to see it as anything more.  From there it plays the idea straight faced, when it was considered to be a cliche a decade beforehand.  There is just not much character, and I barely even remember the personalities of the main characters after diving in for 23 hours up until the final boss.  Who I didn’t have enough motive to try and beat after a second form where it used the powers of space to crush me.

As an entity, Golden Sun is my least favorite type to describe, being one where I just feel of apathy.  Nothing is particularly wrong with it, rather there is not a lot good about it, as I coasted through each town and took down every adversary.  In fact, I pretty much coasted through it from a gameplay perspective as well.

It’s a pretty typical combat system, with the characters avoiding the architectural healer, brick, magicer, and main character.  By removing the two magic users, spreading it about to everyone, and just having two characters who aren’t particularly better, except for one who has multiheal.  Instead, magic is divided into four elements, and every character gets one.  However, I barely used most of the magic in this game, because of the Djinns.

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Represented as a set of 28 little creatures with four designs, Djinns serve as stat boosts for the characters that can also be used as magical spells depending on the Djinn.  And after being used, or, “set” as the game says, you may then use the ever powerful Summons at the cost of needing to have the Djinns recharge as turns pass and your stats being nerfed a bit.  It is actually a pretty interesting system, but it was handled by people who didn’t take advantage of it.

Namely that, it makes the game an absolute breeze.  Where I used Djinns and Summons as my command for a good 70% of the game, and only used magic to heal with the two characters who knew how to heal.  In theory, you should be able to mix and match Djinns between characters to create movesets for the four character.  However, why would you not give the fire guy all the fire elemental Djinns, so he can use the best fire moves and the most clearly increased stats?  The only time you would end up switching them around is for the other part of the gameplay, the puzzles.

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Taking half a page from Final Fantasy Mystic Quest, Golden Sun has you interact with sections of the world using your magic.  You do this to make vines grow, freeze water, move platforms, lift boulders, and so forth.  In practice, it is not unlike the puzzles in the normal Pokemon titles, where you are essentially just making a path.  But despite being give a lot of attention due to their prevalence, they are not particularly challenging or interesting.  Which I think is due to how you aren’t using the same magic as you use in combat.

And beyond that, you just rummage across a country, talk to the chaps, never really feeling much character, but I think I just really, really, really dislike the presentation.  There are very few things I find to be outright bad.  But the whole Donkey Kong Country-esc visual style this game adopts encompasses the worst bits of early 3D in games, without actually being in 3D.  Even the portrait spritework strikes me in the wrong manner, like the game is a bit embarrassed hot it is 2D, despite the very smoothly made backgrounds.

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It’s not like I didn’t give the game time, but as I kept on watching the blurred and converted models for the twentieth hour, I only grew more bitter towards them.  With the enemies in particular looking like blurry meshes as they waddled around in five or so frames of animation.  Sure, there are some neat visual effects, but seeing a blurry bit of energy bloom out loses all meaning since it is my primary attack command.

Fortunately, I am not as bitter about the soundtrack, with two of the most commonly heard tracks, the overworld and battle themes being pretty darn catchy.  Along with some very pleasant sound effects for the combat that really do help it to feel lively than it actually is.  With the rest of the score being fairly unmemorable to me.  Although it could be due to how it’s one of the few games where I did not use headphones, because the GBA SP lacks a headphone jack.

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It is never a good feeling to dive into a game and end up disliking it.  Well, with Golden Sun it is hardly even that.  Everything from the visuals, narrative, and even both segments of the gameplay all feel very meh to me.  While the possibility of the title being charming to some is not unfathomable, I personally did not see what made this title so great to form a trilogy with a fourth installment in the future, according to the ending of part three.  Some might call me out for getting to the final boss, and then giving up.  But the fact I didn’t care enough to beat it certainly says something about the game itself.

Alright (9/20)
Fans of the genre or premise might enjoy the product, and there is a kernel of goodness, but is still surrounded by some non-goodness, making the final product a bit “bleh”.

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