2001 must have been a particularly good year for gaming: we just celebrated Pikmin's tenth anniversary, and now it's time to look back on the birth of RPG franchise Golden Sun.
The original Golden Sun launched in North America on 11th November 2001, with sequel Golden Sun: The Lost Age following in early 2003. Created by RPG masters Camelot Software Planning — the team behind the legendary Shining Force series — the series is now one of Nintendo's most beloved RPG franchises.
On the surface, there's not much remarkable about Golden Sun: it's a fairly standard Japanese RPG, with turn-based battles, plenty of statistics and a tale about saving the world. The canvas might be familiar, but it's the palette that makes it worth remembering.
...it's a fairly standard Japanese RPG, with turns-based battles, plenty of statistics and a tale about saving the world. The canvas might be familiar, but it's the palette that makes it worth remembering.
Golden Sun's most noticeable innovation is in letting you use magic — or Psynergy — outside of battle. Far from turning the world into a sandbox to destroy with fire and ice, it opens up a set of precision puzzles that turn basic block-pushing into an art form: logs, pipes and rails all require manipulation, but it needs more than physical touch as Psynergy allows you to move items from a distance. This small but crucial change extends the possibilities immensely, but it's not all "push this there": you'll read the minds of statues, rotate rocks according to colour and more.
Magic's not just a puzzle device though: it also gives battles some of the best effects the Game Boy Advance ever produced, with fizzing particles and neat transparencies elevating the turn-based affairs to another level. Camelot veterans will note the similarity to fights in the Sega Saturn classic Shining the Holy Ark, and while the overall system isn't the most tactical out there, it's immediate and accessible, crucial in a handheld RPG.
Camelot also delivers atmosphere in spades: the fantasy setting might be overdone, but it's rarely achieved with such finesse. Peering into an oven tells you about regional delicacies and cooking methods, towns and cities have their own architecture and even economic dependencies. Graphically the game is one of the most impressive on the GBA, and its sequel made further progress in scale and detail.
Nintendo fans haven't been brilliantly served by exclusive RPG franchises over the years — with the notable exception of Fire Emblem and the recent emergence of AlphaDream's Mario & Luigi series — and it may have been that hollow feeling that helped the original Golden Sun sell a very healthy 750,000 units in North America alone.
For all its success with fans, though, it took seven years for Camelot to deliver a third game in the series, 2010's Golden Sun: Dark Dawn. The DS entry did little to shake things up, delivering more graphical beauty in battle and roughly sketched characters, but dedicated fans loved it all the same. We just hope it's not another seven years before we can all experience another entry in this classy RPG series.