Game Review

Golden Sun: Dark Dawn Review

USA USA Version

Posted by Corbie Dillard

Worth its weight in gold?

When the Golden Sun series kicked off on the Game Boy Advance in 2001, it was lauded for its unique visual style and challenging puzzle elements, but after two releases the series took an extended break, so long in fact that many fans wondered if the series would ever see another entry. Now, over seven years later, Camelot has resurrected the series for the DS, and while the game features a complete visual makeover, most other aspects of the game have remained virtually unchanged.

The gameplay system itself should feel quite familiar to fans of the series as most elements feel like they were carried directly over to Golden Sun: Dark Dawn with very few adjustments. You'll still travel to towns and dungeons via the world map, where you'll do battle with random enemies in order to earn money and level your characters up. You'll also spend time speaking to various townspeople in order to gain clues as to what you'll need to do next in order to progress on to the next part of your quest. In fact you'll quickly find that the game is extremely heavy on dialogue, maybe even more so than the original releases, not to mention featuring a lot of breaks in the action that tend to unload a wealth of story elements on you at steady intervals.

Of course it wouldn't be a Golden Sun game without puzzle elements strung throughout the areas and dungeons, and once again you'll be forced to use your special Psynergy powers in order to traverse tricky sections. This will mean moving items around and burning obstacles that get in your way, as well as a host of brand new special twists to keep things interesting. The puzzles tend to be far more creative this time around, although they are also quite a bit easier, especially with the way the game cuts down the number of random enemy encounters you'll face while tackling these puzzles.

The battle system is another staple of the Game Boy Advance releases that makes a return pretty much intact and unchanged. Combat is still carried out in turns and you'll have the standard attacks and Psynergy spells at your disposal, as well as the Djinn that can be used in battle as both special attacks and summons. You'll find that once again locating and capturing Djinn will be most useful to your adventure and experimenting with their class-changing abilities can give you quite a bit of freedom in how your characters will act and what skills they'll have access to. Of course given their power, they also give you a fairly significant advantage during battles, especially boss fights, something that sharply cuts the difficulty down when coupled with the constantly-refilling Psynergy points.

To make things even more intuitive, the game makes great use of the dual screens of the DS making menial tasks like setting up Djinn, perusing your characters' inventory and skill sets and buying and selling items from the various town shops quick and painless. The game even offers the ability for you to set your two most used Psynergy skills to the two shoulder buttons of the system, very useful during puzzles that require the same basic set of skills repeatedly used. These minor touches might seem rather trivial in the overall scheme of things, but you'll find out quickly just how user-friendly they make the overall playing experience.

Although the familiar layout of the game makes it extremely easy for long-time fans to pick up and play, you can't help but wish the developers had taken a few more chances and tried a few more new ideas. The combat system is still quite strategic, but the low level of difficulty in battles makes using some of the more in-depth attacks almost more trouble than they're worth, especially considering you can often win the majority of battles using just standard attacks. The puzzles will please fans of the series, and you'll find them quite a bit more enjoyable without having to stop every few steps to complete a random enemy encounter battle. It's clear the developers wanted to make the game more accessible to a wider audience, but the radical drop in difficulty might end up turning off more seasoned RPG fans looking for a challenge.

The most radical change of Dark Dawn easily lies within its visual presentation. The pastel sprite designs of the original releases has been replaced with a more 3D cel-shaded look that really kicks the graphics up to a whole new level. Not only do you get a lot more detail, but the scrolling and rotation effects have never looked more fluid or flashy, and even the world map is much easier to navigate and recognize with the new visual style. The same applies to the monsters you'll encounter as they too have never looked better and some of the bosses are downright striking. There will obviously be those who'll wish they'd stuck with the 2D visuals, but after seeing a few of the game's impressive landscapes rotate around a few times, you'll see just how incredibly the 3D graphics perform.

It must have been difficult for the developers to choose which classic tracks to bring back and how many new tunes to create for the game, but they've done an fantastic job of creating the perfect balance of old and new tracks for the game. Not only have they carried over some of the best musical pieces from the original games, but they've given them new life with unique new remixes. But as catchy as the classic tunes are, the new ones are every bit as solid and there's a huge level of variety between the various moods of the songs you'll hear throughout the adventure. There's still no real voiced dialogue, but the voice sound effects make a return and can even be turned off if they're not to your liking.

Conclusion

Golden Sun: Dark Dawn is certainly an enjoyable and engaging RPG adventure, but you can't help but wish the developer had been a little more ambitious with the game, especially considering the seven year wait. The wealth of classic Golden Sun elements should please most long-time fans of the series, but the return of the lengthy dialogue, not to mention the somewhat short quest and tame difficulty level, might not be quite as welcome among veteran RPG fans looking for a more considerable challenge. Dark Dawn might not be the major upgrade many were hoping for, but it is yet another solid DS role-playing adventure and a golden opportunity to revisit yet another classic RPG series.

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User Comments (76)

Noire

#1

Noire said:

yay review is fantastic, covered pretty much everything i can think of~

If I was being honest with myself that’s about what I figured. I mean I already know it’ll blow my world up, but I’m a crazy so you know... It still sounds like a lot of fun so hopefully it’s enough to get new people into the fold in anticipation for a more radical change in GS4 (please), yay

Aviator

#2

Aviator said:

i thought that would be longer feenie.

nice review corbs, want to pick this up, damn my money woes. maybe when i go to america...

Azikira

#3

Azikira said:

Thats a great review, and I like the little catch phrase! Its one that makes you go "Uh oh, this could go either way", and luckily for us, it got the thumbs up :D

Cipher

#4

Cipher said:

I'm playing through The Lost Age at the moment - recently completed the first as well - and I'm very much looking forward to this. I would certainly hope it's not too short and not too easy - how long is it, out of interest? - and I'm not too fussed about the lengthy dialogue and time spent outside battles, since that's one of my favourite things about the first two games anyway. I would certainly hope we get a fourth title somewhere down the line as well.

J-Forest-Esq

#5

J-Forest-Esq said:

After playing through Chrono Trigger and Dragon Quest IX, I'm not sure I can go back to random battling. I just find it too annoying.

Supermegaman

#7

Supermegaman said:

Sucks about the difficulty level... that seems to be the only blemish on an otherwise fairly good game... theres really no unlockable hard mode?

And of course, I wont get the same joy out of cameos and nostalgic stuff like that, but it still seems better than DQIX :)

ignLovesAirJordans

#8

ignLovesAirJordans said:

as Always,Good Review Corbie, I was planning to pick this up anyways. Judging from the review, it sounds like I will be enjoying this game, even with the random battles, you have yet to steer me wrong.:D

Toleboy

#10

Toleboy said:

When I saw the name "Corbie Dillard" at the top, I knew this would get a high score. But it did not get as high a score as I thought it would. :P

motang

#11

motang said:

tame difficulty level

I was a bit afraid of that, but that's ok I will still buy it for it's traditional JRPG gameplay.

CanisWolfred

#13

CanisWolfred said:

^Probably the best reason of all, the one this game seems to be made for. I hope the sequel is a bit more...substantial, though.

CanisWolfred

#16

CanisWolfred said:

@14

Well, how about fixing the "problems" they've been harboring since the first game? Greater difficulty, update the battle system, get rid of random battles, reduce the text bubbles, etc. There's plenty more that this series could do, man.

pixelman

#19

pixelman said:

@8. You sir, have the best username I've ever seen on the internetz. XD

Also, I'm experiencing serious amounts of woe about the copious amounts of redundant dialog. That's the one thing that I hated about the first game. Even Mario Tennis GBA had a problem with it too. Seems like Camelot likes their text.

RyuZebian

#20

RyuZebian said:

I didn't like the dialogues the first time around, but when I grew up and learned to actually understand all of it, I found it really engaging. I'm getting this game, but with a prayer that Camelot has a REAL challenge in there for the hardcore players! Like the Crosbone Isle of the first game, or all of the cool side locations of Lost Age.... When calling it easy, have you really found all extra summons and Djinns Corbie? I remember that being a real pain in the bum in Lost Age. Ah, the memories... :)

Token_Girl

#21

Token_Girl said:

@ReddLionz

Oh man, I remember when Corbie used to only give out 7's. Those were the days....Oh man, got to go. Some kids are on my lawn. Shoo!

Roopa132

#26

Roopa132 said:

I didn't want to get any DS games except Okamiden before the 3DS launch anymore... but I got really bored with my old DS games in the last few weeks so I may pick this one up after all.

Punny

#28

Punny said:

Looks great (Seriously. I'll have to use a boat to travel through all the drool that I've produced in order to exit my computer room!)! I'm actually fine about the reduced difficulty. The first Golden Sun was really hard! I know what I'll spend the most time with this Christmas with my DS! :)

Pokeman

#30

Pokeman said:

I haven't even heard or seen any of these Golden Sun games and they seem awesome!!! Anyways nice review!! It told us basicly everything we need to know about the game thats juicy or not juicy at all!! I would've given the game the same rating,an 8/10.

Bankai

#31

Bankai said:

Thanks for letting me know I'll hate this game. Right at the bottom of my to play list now.

Radbot42

#32

Radbot42 said:

After you beat it do you unlock the hard and easy modes that were in The Lost Age? If so it could make 2nd playthroughs more challenging.

Crystalking18

#33

Crystalking18 said:

Good review. Im debating whether or not to get this game because ive never played the other games in the series. Would it be hard for me to follow the story since I havent played the other games or is it not a big issue?

Slapshot

#35

Slapshot said:

My RPG backlog is so long right now between all the DS and PSP games I've even yet to open the box on its crazy. I don't think I'll be sneaking this one in between any of them, but I will grab this at some point as I did really enjoy the GBA versions of the series: with exception to the constant random encounters, glad they fixed that one.

Great review Corb ;)

theblackdragonAdmin

#36

theblackdragon said:

to be fair, waltz, i do believe you said you didn't like the first two games either :3

that said, after 4HoL, i would relish an easy RPG. sounds like good times for me :3

Bankai

#37

Bankai said:

That's what I meant, @theblackdragon - the good review here confirmed my fears that this game was exactly the same as the GBA two.

Great for some (most) people, not great for me. :-)

Looks like Ni No Kuni will be my final DS game before I jump over to 3DS

kurtasbestos

#39

kurtasbestos said:

I think I've got two dungeons left in The Lost Age... hopefully I'll find time to finish it in the next couple of days because I don't know if I'll be able to resist tearing into the package as soon as Dark Dawn shows up. I've noticed that Lost Age is easier than the first game, so it's a little disappointing to hear that this one will be even easier, but I've been waiting so long for this game that I'm sure I'll love it. Don't stop now, Camelot!

CanisWolfred

#40

CanisWolfred said:

Yeah, I'm disappointed that it's so similar to the first as well, but I'll still give it a chance eventually. Meanwhile, I hope to enjoy Ghost Trick, Radiant Historia, and Okamiden before moving to a 3DS.

Slapshot

#43

Slapshot said:

Has Ni No Kuni been confirmed outside Japan yet? I really hope so as that will keep me from having to use a translation guide the whole time :)

Its a must have in any language I can get it in!

theblackdragonAdmin

#44

theblackdragon said:

@slappy: i don't think it's been officially confirmed yet, but holy hell i still want it D: with the popularity of Studio Ghibli's films here thanks to Disney picking 'em up and distributing them (thus giving them a bit of a successful track record at least in movie terms), i think not giving it a NA/EU release would be a big mistake.

Retrogamer88

#45

Retrogamer88 said:

this game looks amazing,i didnt get to play 1 and 2 on the gameboy advance so maybe they should have them to download for the 3DS

Bassman_Q

#46

Bassman_Q said:

Well, if its really almost the same game as the first game, then... perhaps I'll pass this one up. The first was good and all, but I never was able to finish it; it got too boring later on. Maybe someday I'll finish it... someday.

But anyway, excellent review, Corbie!

Old_hand

#47

Old_hand said:

Basically, if you liked the first two games, you are going to like this one.

I wonder if the difficulty really is 'tamer'.

I see a lot of reviewers mentioning this hand in hand with 'you can just use the normal attack to get through the majority of battles'....

And honestly... thats exactly how the first two games were.I replayed them often out of nostalgia and semantics, and I know well, the jamming of the a button to spam normal attack left left right right (Putting two guys on each bad guy...) over and over and over again.

The only time the games took off the kiddie gloves were int he secret areas, that you had to be a real gamer to find in the first place....

I have no reason to suspect this one is any different.

CorbsAdmin

#48

Corbs said:

I have no reason to suspect this one is any different.

Except for the fact that all of these reviewers have played the game and you haven't. :D Trust me, Dark Dawn is significantly easier than the first two games. You'll find out soon enough for yourself. :)

Old_hand

#49

Old_hand said:

Yes, I actually use my pattern recognition of how off the mark and sensationalist the average reviewer is when coming to my former conclusion.

The contrast between the statements makes it sound like the original golden suns were some grand machine of infathomable design to conquer.

Which they simply werent, in fact, they are exactly as Dark dawn has been accused of.

Maybe they need to replay the games, maybe they forgot they had been playing them on the unlockable hard mode.

But you can play through golden sun 1 and 2 95% of the way doing nothing but spamming normal attacks.

Maybe it IS different, I wouldnt know, as you said I havent played it yet, because if it truly is, no review has adequately expressed this, as direct comparisons of what they have complained about.... are present exactly the same in the first games they claim are different.

And, unfortunately, and frankly, trust in the competence of 'professional game reviewers' is on ever thinning ice.

Just out of curiosity. How many djinni did you finish with? Highest review Ive seen so far finished with a respectable 65 of the little buggers.

CorbsAdmin

#50

Corbs said:

Well I'm slightly below that. I'm at 52 Djinn. I agree the originals weren't brutally difficult, but I was shocked at how much easier this one was than the previous GBA releases. As I said, you'll find out for yourself if you give the game a go. Come back and tell us what you think.

Old_hand

#51

Old_hand said:

Easier than easy? I dont recall ever losing a battle in the normal areas of either Golden sun, and unless there is an element the reviews arent mentioning, like it plays itself we have a matter of relativity here I don't see getting resolved... Perhaps the story course of the original golden suns were harder for most others than they were for me.

Well, we both agree the series has always been easy to play through the storyline. Its in the nature of golden suns design. The game was likely even 'easier' for the reviewer with 65 djinni than it was for you. With djinni offering far more power than even leveling up, the designershad to think that the average person wasnt going to find the large majority of Djinni, probably considering them finding around a little over half like you, or even less. With djinni, being somehthing the player mostly found by exploring, and not being garunteed like leveling up, this left the designers with an obvious design choice to make sure the average person could see the game through to the end.

This is also why the only times the golden suns ever became difficult, were in the hidden areas the players required all djinni to gain access too.

These areas were able to be designed with all players being equal in mind. A dungeon designed for people who had the power of ALL the Djinni Which is why they were harder than than the last dungeon and boss by lightyears.

Being that you need at least 72 Djinni to even see this area... You know as much about this part of the game, which is the ONLY part of the games I have been referring to in my posts, as I do.

So my statement still stands, despite you reviewers having the game, and me not.

The only time the games took off the kiddie gloves were in the secret areas, that you had to be a real gamer to find in the first place....

I have no reason to suspect this one is any different.

Old_hand

#52

Old_hand said:

The reviewers haven't experienced it either. Which is, you know, my entire, and only, point. We are EXACTLY on the same level here.

The only part of the golden sun games that ever posed anything that can remotely be considered a challenge, were the secret dungeons you needed all Djinni/secret psynergies to access/complete.

Without the requirements of at least 72 Djinni, the reviewer hasnt seen this area, which is the only thing I have been talking about in regaurds to difficulty.... As its historically the only part of the golden sun games that have ever had any difficulty.

CorbsAdmin

#53

Corbs said:

I don't remember saying the Golden Sun games were difficult. I merely stated that Dark Dawn was quite a bit easier overall than the original two games. Perhaps I'm not understanding what you're trying to say, nor what you mean by a "real" gamer.

LightSamus

#54

LightSamus said:

Great review Corbie :), I'm so excited for this game, I will definitely be picking this up in a few days on the 2nd when it's released =D

Old_hand

#55

Old_hand said:

Sorry, I know you didnt say they were difficult, I was responding to a post that... eerily vanished. I'm not crazy, really.

I just think we have a clash of relativity, what is 'easy' and thus 'easier' to you, and to me. I dont see myself making much of a distinction between easy and easier, unless its something ridiculous like the game has an option where it plays itself and always wins for you.

No review I have seen has adequately described what makes the game so much easier that it must be announced beyond, well, 'trust me'. As when they try specific examples, I can point to the exact same things in the games they claim are harder. (Such as psynergy being more or less useless in battle when you can just normal attack spam and win faster).

Lol, 'real gamer' was simply for Golden sun fans to instantly recognize what part of the games I was talking about. Its simply people who spent the time to find all the secrets, like every djinni, and every secret psynergy to gain access too, and complete the secret portions of the games, which were the only parts in the golden sun series to actually have something that could be considered a challenge. A challenge in exploration and secret finding, and then, in the secret area, actually a challenge in battle.

Typically, without prior knowledge (Like playing GS 1 before GS 2) you have no way of knowing about the secret dungeons, and they arent found in the first playthrough, but by gamers who come back after beating it to find everything, and then are pleasantly surprised by this discovery.

The casual gamer typically plays through the story and is done. Never knowing what they are missing.

Popyman

#58

Popyman said:

"especially with the way the game cuts down the number of random enemy encounters you'll face while tackling these puzzles."

I might get this now. I quit playing the first Golden Sun because of how stupid that was.

Old_hand

#60

Old_hand said:

Well, I finally found the info I was looking for.

If anyone was actually worried, Golden Sun 3 didnt leave anything out.

There are a couple of secret bosses, and a secret dungeon, the boss of which early reports say makes Dullahan look like a cubscout.

nefisto

#61

nefisto said:

I think it's very good game I do not understand why IGN gave him a low score.

Slapshot

#62

Slapshot said:

@TBD... I was very lucky and got to see the premier of Ponyo in a small independent theater we have in my local city. Amazing on the big screen, and it was film, not digital which gives it that classic look. Priceless! One on only showing in the theater and we got in.

@nefisto.... some reviewers have different taste in games. Corbie is a long time Nintendo fan with expansive gaming knowledge and his reviews are spot on and can be trusted! ;)

Old_hand

#63

Old_hand said:

Interesting point on the long dialouge.

I found I skipped about 15 minutes of repeating dialog about fireballs by figuring out simple puzzles on my own before the game intervened (Watch giant bombs quicklook to see the over explanation of fireball/psynergy puzzle usage in general, figure out the puzzle yourself to skip it all).

I also have found no discernable difference in difficulty between the games at all, and I replayed both of them right before picking up GS3.

I think seven years is simply a more than adequate amount of time for people to get better at video games, and they don't make the distinction between them being better, and the game being easier. They should replay the first titles to put things into perspective.

CorbsAdmin

#64

Corbs said:

I played through Lost Age three weeks before I reviewed Dark Dawn and I've been playing video games for over 30 years, so I think I reached the peak of my "getting better at video games" a long time ago. :) I don't think you'd admit it was easier even if it were after the debate we've had going on here anyway, would you? LOL :D

Cats

#65

Cats said:

I agree with your last sentence Corbie. Maybe if you used the words "more accessible to people new to the series" it wouldn't have offended anyone.

Obviously none of the GS games are insanely difficult, and there's a reason that some people never play battletoads again after they beat it. Furthermore, difficulty is really subjective, so if Corbie felt that this game was easier than the others in the series, he's entitled to his opinion as are we all. No explanation needed.

Nice review.

theblackdragonAdmin

#66

theblackdragon said:

i'm enjoying this game, but i can definitely see why people keep bringing up the lengthy dialogue. it's almost painfully redundant in some sequences, lol.

Rensch

#67

Rensch said:

They should've learned that long dialogue was the main critique in the first two games but it's still here somehow. Everytime you think it's over, someone starts talking just like in the GBA games.

You have to do your BEST to put so much redundant babbling in it. It's like a an episode of Star Trek.

axelay80

#68

axelay80 said:

The dialogue in this game is like the fight scene in They Live, just going on and on. I'm not that far into the game yet, so maybe the plot will be similar as well.

axelay80

#69

axelay80 said:

The dialogue in this game is like the fight scene in They Live, just going on and on. I'm not that far into the game yet, so maybe the plot will be similar as well.

retro_player_22

#70

retro_player_22 said:

Another thing they fix in this version was the enemy targeting situation during a battle. In the first two Golden Sun games, if two or more characters target the same enemy in battle, if one character kill the enemy before anyone else, those characters who originally target that same enemy will automatically be set to defend. In Dark Dawn this is fix, instead of putting them on defend, the game will set them to target a new enemy. To me that was a big improvement.

SwiftHawk

#72

SwiftHawk said:

heya guys just got the game but ds is charging is game good ? i just went by the pictures :P rpgs are fun

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