Golden Sun Review
Posted by Corbie Dillard
Fun in the Sun
For a long time it was felt that portable gaming and role-playing games just didn't mix well. Despite some early attempts for the original Game Boy system, it was a widely accepted opinion that these portable game systems just didn't pack enough processing and storage power to be able to offer up a truly epic and engaging RPG experience, as well as the nature of portable gaming itself. It wasn't until games like Dragon Warrior III and Final Fantasy Legend III came along that RPG fans began to sit up and take notice of just what could be done on a portable game system when in the proper developer's hands. Camelot, probably best known to Nintendo fans for its Mario Golf series but also responsible for Sega's Shining Force series, obviously sensed that even more could be done using the increased horsepower of Nintendo's upcoming Game Boy Advance system and turned its focus to creating a truly console-quality role-playing experience on a handheld system.
The traditional Japanese RPG formula is intact in Golden Sun, but the developers didn't stop there when they put together the many mechanics used throughout the game. You'll still spend the majority of your time travelling across the world map and doing battle with enemies in order to level up your characters, but you'll also find yourself taking on the many challenges laid out for you at each stop along the way. Of course with all of these familiar touches, you can't help but mention many of the new and unique gameplay ideas the game brings to the table as well.
The best and probably most predominant feature of Golden Sun would have to be the game's puzzle elements. Whether it be pushing pipes together to guide various streams of water or using your Psynergy to push and pull obstacles that get in your way, there's never a lack of tricky challenges to solve. And if these puzzles weren't enough of a twist, there's also the game's unique Djinn elemental characters that can not only be summoned for devastating attacks in battle, but can even be used to manipulate your character's magical growth throughout the game.
Combat, while still very traditional in feel and execution, is also laced with innovative touches here and there. You'll still be able to select both physical and magical attacks to use during combat, but figuring out how to best use the Djinn can also play an equally important role in how effectively your party performs in battle.
The increased emphasis on magical attacks not only gives the battles a bit of a unique twist, it also tends to create added levels of strategy for times when you not only have to figure out what spells to make use of, but also which enemies to direct the attack at. It's all carefully crafted by the developers to give the game a very balanced level of difficulty, at least as long as you properly outfit your characters with better weapons and armour, not to mention take part in enough battles to level them up adequately.
While the single-player Story Mode is obviously the game's main focus, the developers did manage to squeeze in a Battle Mode that will allow a player to take on many of the game's enemies in the arena, or even link up with another player via the Game Link cable for a little 3-on-3 battle between your current party and that of your opponent. It's a nice diversion from the main game, but the two-player Battle Mode does require that both players have the cartridge and a Game Link Cable.
You can't help but appreciate the simple nature of the gameplay system used in Golden Sun, but by the same token, the new ideas do go a long way in adding a nice and often refreshing feel to the game's play control. When you couple all of these traditional and new elements together with an a wide degree of character customisation, you end up with a game that's not only quite easy to pick up and play, but also engaging enough to keep you coming back time and time again. Other than the occasional difficulty spike from time to time, generally stemming from a lack of character levelling, the game remains extremely smooth and rewarding.
The developers at Camelot certainly didn't waste any time in showing off the vast graphical capabilities of the Game Boy Advance with Golden Sun's vivid and lush environments. Every area you visit features the same attention to detail and you'll hardly ever see the same style of area twice, a testament to the broad level of diversity found throughout the game's vast landscape. The characters and enemies are equally impressive in their construction and there's even a hefty dose of scaling and rotation effects on the world map, although it tends to look a bit rough when compared to the extremely detailed standard visual elements.
You can't talk about an RPG without mentioning the game's musical score, and while the RPG soundtracks found on most of the portable game systems of the time period were fairly hit or miss, there's no denying the impressive audio presentation found throughout the game. The orchestrated musical effort is not only beautifully composed, but it seems to perfectly convey the various moods you'll experience during your travels. And much like the visuals, the music is every bit as diverse and varied. While there will inevitably be those who'll criticise the game for its lack of any voiced dialogue, given the ambitious scope of every other facet of the game, it's an understandable omission given the limited storage of the cartridge format. After a listen to a few of the amazing musical tracks, you'll forget all about any voiced dialogue or lack thereof.
There's no denying that Golden Sun is still one of the best original portable RPG titles ever created and a true testament to what can be accomplished when developers take the time to truly stretch the limits of what portable gaming has to offer. Not only do you get to watch an absolutely epic storyline unfold in front of you, but you also get to take on the game's wide range of monsters using one of the most strategic, albeit fairly traditional, turn-based combat systems ever to grace an RPG, portable or console. Toss in some mind-bending puzzles to solve along with a host of unique gameplay mechanics and what you have is one of the most enjoyable RPG experiences you're ever likely to encounter and a game no RPG fan should miss.