News Article

Feature: Ten Years of Golden Sun

Posted by James Newton

Bask in its warm glory

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.

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User Comments (39)

Noire

#1

Noire said:

Wow, has it really been ten years? It seems like I picked the first game up only yesterday...

This is the game that cemented my love affair with the Japanese RPG. A beautiful world filled with colorful characters, amazing spell effects, an intriguing story, and yes, even the ridiculous amounts of dialogue all conspired to make this my favorite game ever created. I can't recall how many times I've beaten it all the way through ... it's such a meaningful game to me. I wouldn't even be on this site if it wasn't for that fateful E3 where Dark Dawn was announced. Dark Dawn only served to make me want more though ... c'mon Nintendo and Camelot, get it together and don't leave the series unfinished. It'd be a perfect fit for the 3DS ... I'll buy three copies if I have to!

JakobG

#2

JakobG said:

This game was my first GBA game.
I knew nothing about it, I just picked it up because I liked the cover.
Thank god for that.

theblackdragonAdmin

#3

theblackdragon said:

I certainly hope it's not another 7 years until they finish what they started with Dark Dawn — talk about your cliffhangers :/

shingi_70

#4

shingi_70 said:

say a copy of the first game for $8 bucks at gamestop. But If I were Nintendo I would buy Camelot (and a number of studios) and have them emblem made it too consoles, so Golden sun should too.

misswliu81

#5

misswliu81 said:

with talk of fire emblem coming out for the 3DS, a golden sun game with enhanced graphics and gameplay wouldn't go amiss. certainly one of nintendo's lesser known franchises but a good one nonetheless.

wqerty

#6

wqerty said:

OMG I remember playing the first golden sun on my purple GBA 8 years ago, and I never get to the ending... but it was great fun and I'll try to finally beat that game

Aqueous

#9

Aqueous said:

I remember hearing about the first one years ago must have been 9 or 10 and he showed me a bit of the first one but I never got my own copy or the sequel on the gba, years later when I heard of the ds one I could not help but pick it up after learning more about it and I've severally enjoyed it and have played from start to finish at least 3 if not 4 times now. There is just something about it that makes me keep going, like a good book you can't put down for long before picking it up again. Now I wish I had got the first two, even with the fill in books the game offers, I want to play the older ones. Hoping for eshop downloadable or ambassador games or at least one of them as a title so I can try them and it fits the whole a few smaller hits we saw with the nes games.

Magi

#10

Magi said:

This article rekindled more fond memories of Shining Force than it did of Golden Sun. Is that wrong? :0

zezhyrule

#11

zezhyrule said:

Golden Sun is okay I guess.
and by 'okay I guess' I mean totally effing awesome, but I dont wanna sound like some fanboy D:

Dynetheous

#12

Dynetheous said:

i love golden sun, i want them to make a golden sun for the wii u, that would be the best thing ever.

Unca_LzStaff

#13

Unca_Lz said:

The fourth game better answer questions...or else!!

I love how the third game didn't even address some of the mysteries presented in the first two and rather presented even more! :P

Still a great game series and a perfect opportunity to review the second game wink wink

FonistofCruxis

#15

FonistofCruxis said:

I've only played the first one and it is a great game! Its got some of the best dungeon design I've seen in an rpg and the same goes for the puzzles in them. The characters were good too with Ivan being my favourite and the story itself was nothing special but still enjoyable even though it had the worst deux ex machina I've seen in a game near the end of it, unless that gets explained in the sequel which I own but haven't got round to playing yet. Maybe I'll get round to it sometime next year.

drumsandperc92

#16

drumsandperc92 said:

haha i loved Golden Sun. I had that and the 2003 sequel on my GBA, the last handheld i owned.
I dont remember why picking it up, i think i just liked how it looked.
To this day my stomach churns at statistic based, turn-based RPGs. I absolutely loath it. When i get in a combat situation in a video game i want real time controls to counter, block, evade, attack, etc. But when i played Golden Sun it was the first game like that i ever played, but i was young.
I never realised until i played it again recently that it was a turned based RPG, i never thought about it, just knew that i loved it.
I still love it and to this day its the only turned based RPG i can play, i dont know why! Maybe it's just the magical way it pulls everything off, it doesn't seem as static as others.
Oh, and i guess what might've helped is that the Pokemon gameboy games were technically turned based RPGs. Maybe it was because of that i didn't mind it in Golden Sun.
Either way, if a Golden Sun ever comes to a Nintendo home console, i'd definitely pick it up.
Wii U, anyone?

komicturtle

#17

komicturtle said:

Hey, you can get Dark Dawn for $20 at Target. Jump on it. Spirit Tracks was also selling for $20 but was sold out :(

tovare

#18

tovare said:

I remember a co-worker got fired for playing it. Even after the second warning, he just couldn't stop. It inspired me to get my first nintendo a few months later, the GBA SP :-) Newer got around to playing Golden Sun, but it must have been one awesome RPG.

Omenapoika

#21

Omenapoika said:

I have The Lost Ark. Played until I got to the fabled "Other continent" through very tedious shipping episodes that made my hands hurt because of stupid controls. When I very finally made it to a spot where the screen didn't scroll further, I thought I'd made it through. Instead, I don't know if it was a boss or a random foe, a Poseidon appeared. It used "wrath of the seas" and wiped out my party with one blow. I said OK and ripped the cartridge out from my GBA without turning the power off and never played the game since.

iPruch

#23

iPruch said:

Too bad that Nintendo underestimates this saga. The two GBA titles were matchless, magic, awesome, beautiful... and the DS one does it well, but lacks some crucial points like difficulty, and the fact that it arrived too late. They had us about 8 years waiting! I hope Nintendo starts considering and caring a bit more about Golden Sun or a new Golden-Sun-related series.

PS: That boxart is the best I've ever seen and I admire it like a true art masterpiece. And it brings me nice memories... :-)

pikku

#25

pikku said:

The only thing even remotely special about these games today s the awesome GBA graphics. The rest was pretty passable, generic even. Bleh. and the DS game doesn't even look so hot compared to to ther games :P

HandheldGuru97

#26

HandheldGuru97 said:

I recently pick up the original Golden Sun for my Micro. It is truly an incredible game. I also have Dark Dawn but I didn't like it got stuck somewhere. Maybe I will restart it one day...

kurtasbestos

#28

kurtasbestos said:

I don't know what it is about these games that makes them so fascinating. Even though it's still a "kids set out on an adventure and end up saving the world" sort of thing, it just feels so different and unique, and that makes it way more memorable than other RPGs.

I absolutely loved these games on GBA many years ago, but never finished the second one for some reason. Before Dark Dawn's release, I started from the beginning and played the crap out of them both, and fell in love with them all over again. Sadly, as much as I was looking forward to Dark Dawn, I I still haven't gotten very far into it (I blame that on purchasing and becoming obsessed with Dragon Quest IX several weeks later). This article makes me feel like I need to get to work before they announce a sequel, or before seven more years have passed.

mizumaru

#30

mizumaru said:

Golden Sun is my favorite RPG. It was funny when I got Shining Force 2. When I started playing the game I was all like "Wow!? Why does this seem so familiar. Issac!? nah"

TheAmazingRaccoon

#31

TheAmazingRaccoon said:

is the story of the second dependent on the first? I have the second and I have been wondering if I should hold out until I have played the first.

Noire

#32

Noire said:

The Lost Age is highly dependent story-wise to the first. Camelot originally planned the games to be one single cart, but it were so big they cut them basically in half, so you literally start halfway through the story in the Lost Age. It's like Act 1/Act 2, you'll be pretty lost unless you look at the story details online.

LeasTwanteD

#34

LeasTwanteD said:

Happy birthday Golden Sun, (Since you were released on August 1, 2001 in Japan it's a bit belated but whatever.)

you might wonder why i’m writing to you because we never really got to know each other. I don’t know why but you just never truly caught my attention back then. I wish my eyes would have been open to your charm and beauty because for quite some time now i can’t stop thinking about how i’d really enjoy spending my time with you. I hope you show up at the Ambassador party sometime this year so we can see if we get along as well as i think.

With rueful and yearning regards,
your secret admirer

milojica

#35

milojica said:

All the Jin's in the house, please stand up! I loved the summoning spels in this game. Awesom expirience!

James

#36

James said:

@Magi As a huge Shining Force fan this game is second in my affections to Camelot's real RPG series. That's the real reason I love it so much: it's like a top-down Shining the Holy Ark in some places.

Rensch

#37

Rensch said:

These games are great. The only thing that annoys me is how unnessecarily long the dialogue is.

kurtasbestos

#38

kurtasbestos said:

vonseux -> I ended up consulting a guide or two the second time through so I could collect all the djinn and whatnot, but it was totally worth it to see the ending. Especially since it really is an ending to both games.

James -> I also totally saw the similarities to Shining the Holy Ark. It always sort of seemed like there should be some tiny detail hidden somewhere in Golden Sun that links it to Camelot's Shining Force world, much like the Shining Force games have very subtle references linking them together.

SLiM

#39

SLiM said:

I remember being in awe of the graphics of this game back when it came out. By far the best looking game on the GBA.

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