(GBA / Game Boy Advance)

Golden Sun (GBA / Game Boy Advance)

Game Review

Golden Sun Review

Europe PAL Version

Posted by Robert Hughes

Magic Hands Make Light Work

The more formulaic counterpart to RPG oddball Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga, Golden Sun expands on proven genre archetypes to deliver an experience that both pays tribute to and refines the classic role-playing adventure. It also gives some Wii U owners, potentially, their first experience of a franchise that has a loyal following; whether it'll return with a new title will be a hot topic for those fans in the coming months and years.

The game opens with protagonist Isaac awaking to the sound of a terrible storm threatening to destroy his hometown of Vale (that's two RPG clichés in the opening minute — sleeping protagonist AND village destruction, for those keeping score at home). The residents of Vale are able to harness a powerful energy known as Psynergy, a supernatural force that manifests in a variety of ways such as telekinesis, and are in the midst of doing so to stave off a giant boulder when the game begins. The village is ultimately spared (though not without casualties), and begins in earnest once these events have unfolded.

Without spoiling much of the plot, Golden Sun takes a leisurely attitude to establishing an overarching narrative, instead prioritising character introduction and explanation of the game's rich setting. It's a gamble that ultimately pays off, allowing it to craft interesting characters to which you can relate, but those easily frustrated with such a stifling pace may find themselves turned off before it even truly begins. It can be a little hard to keep tabs on what's going on at times, an issue largely caused by its tendency to talk perhaps a little excessively and drown out important information with extraneous chatter, but the patter does make for a more endearing experience on the whole. Golden Sun also loves to make the player feel included in the many exchanges, constantly throwing Yes/No questions into the mix, but these never feel important to the plot and rarely fit naturally with the dialogue itself, instead feeling more akin to contrived interactivity.

The gameplay itself is fairly standard RPG fare, for the most part — the protagonist and his eventual cohorts traverse the world, exploring varied landscapes, unearthing ancient dungeons and pilfering any objects not nailed to the ground. Battles are commenced entirely at random on the world map and follow a standard turn-based regime, enriched with an impressive variety of attacks and abilities at the party's disposal. Overworld exploration is made more interesting by the use of the character's Psynergy abilities – Isaac's telekinetic powers, for example, can be used to shift certain objects in the environment to solve puzzles, giving Golden Sun a Legend of Zelda meets Final Fantasy setup.

It's unique and entertaining, although a little fiddly – the player often has to stand in a fairly specific spot and face a specific direction to have the short-range abilities activate correctly, otherwise they fizzle and Isaac is left with nothing but fewer magic points for his trouble. Harnessing these abilities comes with practice, but it's frustrating in the early hours of the game to drain your character's energy trying to shift a statue that's inches from your character.

An interesting wrinkle to the otherwise fairly conventional combat system is the inclusion of elemental Djinn, small creatures that aid the heroes in battle by bolstering their stats. Equipping one of these creatures to a character greatly increases their offensive and defensive parameters, but also allows for the use of a powerful attack, healing spell or the like depending on the individual Djinni. The caveat is that, once this attack is used, the creature enters a standby mode where it is no longer adding to that character's stats; hence, a risk/reward strategy comes into play when using the monsters. Is it better to continue with higher stats and play it safe, or to unleash the Djinn's powers early on in an all-out attack? It's a simple mechanism with surprisingly deep results, although it's not explained particularly well from the outset – again, this is another aspect that is better understood through practice than explanation.

Graphically, Golden Sun was a marvel on its native system, and is no slouch on the Virtual Console. Environments are detailed, particularly building interiors that are decorated with a real sense of detail and believability, whilst overworld characters are well designed, if not somewhat bland. It's in combat that Golden Sun is a true visual marvel, though, and Camelot's ability to create the effects seen in Golden Sun within the GBA's limitations is laudable. The dynamic camera swoops all around during battles (despite being comprised of 2D sprites – there's some clever trickery taking place here), whilst magic attacks explode with a flourish of impressive particle effects. Golden Sun has aged well, owed in part to it's intentionally classical, retro aesthetic, and ports fairly well to the big screen, especially with the Wii U Virtual Console's optional smoothing feature activated.

Aurally, Golden Sun is adequate, although it's unfair to say it delivers much more than that as a whole package. The soundtrack is fine and well-suited to the environments, but lacking in many real earworms that gamers will be humming ten years down the line. Thankfully, the battle theme is one of the more enjoyable tracks — always important when it's the song players will hear ad nauseum — brimming with the energy and up-tempo melody that matches even some of Final Fantasy's finest. There's nothing to complain about with Golden Sun's soundtrack, really, beyond being fairly unmemorable, but it's inoffensive and competent tunes accompany the adventure well enough. Sound effects are more than adequate, however; the satisfying clunks and slashes during battles give weight to the combat, and nailing an enemy with a powerful strike feels all the more satisfying because of it.


Golden Sun is a fine RPG, perfecting the classic formula whilst introducing unique mechanics of its own. The setting is interesting, the characters are likable, and the story is gripping. The first few hours are a slog, to be sure, but role playing adventures were never designed for the impatient. Stick with this one through the opening issues and you'll be rewarded with a rich, deep RPG that desperately awaits (and deserves!) a modern day instalment. Golden Sun isn't without its imperfections, unfortunately — the incessant dialogue can prove tiresome at points, and mechanics aren't always particularly well explained — but for what Golden Sun delivers, these sins are more than absolved.

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User Comments (66)



noctowl said:

10/10. I don't like RPGs. I love Golden Sun. Any game that accomplishes that did something special.



rjejr said:

This was a great game, one of the few I played on my GBA before I sold it, but I can't read the review b/c I'm distracted by the Bound by Flame ads everywhere, which seem like yet another kick in the nuts to all the Wii U owners. Time to turn ad block back on I guess.



Marakuto said:

Part 2 was my favourite by far and more challenging than the first, but I still enjoyed it nonetheless. Definitely is a 8/10.



Expa0 said:

Ah it's pointless banter the game.

The mass amouts of dialogue that goes nowhere and the djinni system in general are what (kinda) kill this game for me, I did get some enjoyment out of it when I played it, but I'll probably never return to it. 6/10 seems fair.



Spoony_Tech said:

@noctowl Funny you like this so much and it's not all that different from a traditional jrpg. Maybe you just haven't given enough games in the genre a chance or you have been picking the wrong ones.

Even though it's not on Nintendo systems I find the the Wild Arms series is very similar to the Golden Sun games. If it's an option check them out!



Lalivero said:

Wow, I have to, honestly, disagree with the review in numerous ways. One particular thing is that I definitely disagree with the music being unmemorable for the most part; I've practically memorised the entire soundtrack(and enjoy listening to it).

Yeah, the chatting could put some newer people off, but it's mostly the beginning where it feels more unnecessary. It does make the game a lot more endearing though, as was put, because it's one of those games that makes me not mind it.

I'm satisfied, although a bit saddened at the same time, that it got an 8/10 here(though it gets an instant 10/10 in my book). That's only because of how much TLA greatly expands on things(especially the music).

Whomever did this review has killed me a bit on the inside.

P.S. Pretty funny how I got this game randomly for my birthday from a distant cousin years ago...



TreesenHauser said:

Playing it for the first time, I've noticed that the first couple hours really are kinda tiresome, along with the constant dialogue. But that's what some of the greatest RPGs have to begin with. With that said, this is a great review and anyone else who has yet to play it should give it a try, because after those beginning hurdles the game only gets better.



noctowl said:

@Spoony_Tech I think I just have bad luck picking the wrong ones. I don't like any of the final fantasy games I've tried. (NES, ps2, ps3) I bought earthbound soon as it came out for wii u, and I played ni no kuni. I like them ok, but I just have a hard time sitting down to play through them.

Wild arms one and two are 6 bucks on PSN, I'll have to check it out.



T7L3RB said:

Well Lost Age improved on the first but wasn't a perfect 10 either. So if Lost Age is a 9 then this game's score of 8 is definitely justifiable.



noctowl said:

@Chriiis I was 13. Saved up money to buy a GBA on my own. Picked the game purely based on the box art.

@Maelstrom yes, but not really. I borrowed it and played for a very short time. Had too much going on at the time to play it(or anything for that matter) I've always heard good things about it though. Is it good for rpg noobs?



Cinaclov said:

"The soundtrack is fine and well-suited to the environments, but lacking in many real earworms that gamers will be humming ten years down the line."

Actually, I've found it has one of the most memorable soundtracks of any game. Some of Sakuraba's best work. Mention 'Venus Lighthouse' to anyone who played it through to the end, even if it were just the once when the game was released, and I bet they'd be able to hum its theme.



Maelstrom said:

@noctowl I really have no clue what JRPGs are beginner friendly. It does take a bit to understand all that is going on, but I think that makes it fun. Out of all the Jrpgs I've played Bravely Default could be considered the most beginner friendly, but might be more tedious at times than other JRPGs.



Andremario said:

@noctowl I highly recommend playing Chrono trigger. I'm on my first playthrough right now. I'm not an rpg noob but i am a noob when it comes to chrono trigger. I've been hook since the beginning of the game but if you are anything like my girlfriend(who is very short on patience in video games) then you might not be ready for it but if you keep an open mind just because it's not a platformer or shooter or racing sim doen't mean it's a boring game. So sit down take your time with it and have fun. Heck it doesn't even get hard until you get to the last boss!



noctowl said:

@Andremario I'm a pretty patient person but I do get bored with games that don't draw me in right away. I try to play through it though to give it a fair chance. I don't want to be one or those people that says "whatever game sucks" when I dont feel I gave it a chance.

@Maelstrom it's embarrassing to admit, but I kept dying in the bravely default demo on easy. I just couldn't make it work. It's like fire emblem all over again for me.



sinalefa said:

Maybe later on. I have FFVI and Chrono Trigger on my Wii, waiting to be started.



DreamOn said:

@MrWalkieTalkie Ask me and I'd say: Golden Sun then Advanvce Wars then Superstar saga. Unless you really have a thing for M&L then put it first. I just love all GBA games, they're all first place to me really



Kosmo said:

@Cinaclov I totally agree, Golden Sun made me fall in love with Motoi Sakuraba's music (also, Baten Kaitos). My favorite track is clearly Kolima Forest, but all the songs are great.



Meaty-cheeky said:

Sorry to be the party pooper in here, but why doesn't Nintendo release the GBA games on the 3DS as well as on Wii U? They did it for Super Mario 3, is it because they don't want people talking about cross platform transactions or universal account systems?



Ninhau said:

Since when is 8/10 a bad score? Played it back in the day, and its certainly not a 10/10. No one, outside of a fansite, would ask a 10/10 for this game... its just not amazingly good. Its just "good".



Liam_Doolan said:

For me, the original Golden Sun is up there with the likes of Yoshi's Island and Ocarina of Time. In other words - it's one of the greatest games I've ever played.

I had never really got into a JRPG prior to GS, but would have to say this game/series was the perfect introduction. It's absolutely charming from start to finish, and I might even have to award the sequel with an 11/10 due to its brilliant connection of the two storylines & parties, and epic finale.

If anything deserves an 8/10, I'd probably award it to the third entry in the Golden Sun series on the DS.

EDIT: Funnily enough, I just had a look at the Nintendo Life review of Golden Sun: Dark Dawn, and it was awarded 8/10.



retro_player_22 said:

This game was amazing for GBA back 2001, now I want Camelot to finish what they started on Dark Dawn and make Dark Dawn 2 already. C'mon Camelot, we still know nothing about those damn black holes.



Kaze_Memaryu said:

Yeah, I don't see how the soundtrack could be unmemorable, it's epicness all over the place! Just listen to the Saturos Battle theme! It's among the best Sakuraba ever composed (he's been really mediocre lately).



Lalivero said:

@Ninhau It's not really that 8 is seen as a crappy score.

Chop off the score and have a look at how the review is written; Apart from the conclusion summary, it makes it sound like the game maybe was a 6-ish(between that and 7 at best).

The two just don't seem to line up well really...

@Kaze_Memaryu @Liam_Doolan Agree with you both.



Prof_Clayton said:

@Liam_Doolan What? How can those two get the same score? One is a timeless classic RPG, which has worked its way into the hearts of players everywhere... and the other was a decent attempt at modernizing a game which ended up mediocre when compared to the first two.



Lalivero said:

@Prof_Clayton I'm positive he puts the original well above an 8, if he considers it one of the greatest games he's ever played.

@Kaze_Memaryu To add on to my last response, yeah, it should be a crime to say this game lacks in memorable music.



AyeHaley said:

GBA games on Wii U look absolutely stunning. Just look at Yoshi's Island and Metroid Fusion. Can't wait to play this one the same way



Rezalack said:

I bought this game because I never played it and was always a fan of RPG's.. but I'm having a hard time getting into this. I just finished the lighthouse of Imil and I'm finding the game pretty.. uhhh typical? Maybe I expected too much from all the raving I've read about it. I'm still going to give it a chance and continue playing, but I have the feeling I'll stop the minute Child of Light comes out. :/



unrandomsam said:

@noctowl Try Dragon Quest V (DS) its quite short (So finishing it won't be an issue) but if you don't like it then I wouldn't bother with anything else in the genre at all. It is as good as it gets.



DreamOn said:

AyeHaley said:
GBA games on Wii U look absolutely stunning. Just look at Yoshi's Island and Metroid Fusion. Can't wait to play this one the same way

Fully endorse this comment.



GreatPlayer said:

I remembered I played this game for an hour or so. Although it was a good game, I thought it was nothing compared to Shining Force 1, 2, 3, or 4, which this game is based upon.



LasermasterA said:

10/10 from me!!! Golden Sun and Golden Sun 2: The Lost Age are the only RPGs that I can never get tired of. I really like RPGs but none of them have ever hooked me as much as these 2 so kudos to that! Final Fantasy and all were great especially Chrono Trigger but this one is top on my list Can't wait for GS: TLA on the eShop and another title in the series following Dark Dawn (although great but not as awesome as the originals).

I hope this release foreshadows a new Golden Sun game! Isaac for Smash Bros!



Captain_Gonru said:

I loved this game when it was first released. Though, funny enough, it wasn't until very recently that I played it on a GBA. I always used my Game Boy Player.



Dak908 said:

@Chriiis I don't think I can actually add anything to this. I was going to give this review a piece of my mind but you hit all the points. Thank you.

P.S. I enjoyed the former game rather than the latter more



SKTTR said:

I was very disappointed because of the game's anticlimatic, sudden ending.
The game basically wanted me to "Write down that password, wait one year or more until Golden Sun 2 is released, and then go buy it to have the other half of the game." A half game on full price only deserves a 5/10.
However, now for just 6.99€ I guess it's priced right.



Arcamenel said:

I love the Golden Sun series, although Dark Dawn was rather lackluster in comparison to it's predecessors. I don't know why this isn't on the 3DS e-shop though :[. Hopefully we get a Golden Sun 3DS game that is better than Dark Dawn.



retro_player_22 said:

@SKTTR Even for half the game, the game itself did get the full treatment feature to that a full RPG. It would last you around 30 hours to finish the first half and another 30-40 hours to finish the second half of the next game. In total, that's around 60 hours of an RPG you have there but look at it this way, Chrono Trigger was a full game but it only lasted 25 hours so in terms of if you got your money's worth, well if you play it for the story, you might felt disappointed but in terms of gameplay you may had already got your money's worth. Also the fact that GS1 let you transfer data to GS2 was a nice feature as most RPG with sequels doesn't let you carry data from the first game to its sequel. RPGs like Ys 1 & 2 doesn't do that even as compilation, same goes for any of them Final Fantasy XIII games or those Tales of Symphonia games. Be glad Golden Sun had that feature.



-Crystalline- said:

This along with The Lost Age is one of the greatest RPG titles to ever grace Nintendo's consoles. 10/10 for me.

Such a shame they're not bringing all these great GBA games to the 3DS. I want a portable experience.



Lalivero said:

@SKTTR It was originally supposed to be one game but they switched development for it to be on the GBA and had to split it due to hardware limitations.

As retro_player_22 noted, it pretty much gets the full treatment on it's own, despite the game basically being one half.

As for the password thing, that's the reason I feel it wasn't maybe the best decision to release it alone because, due to how poorly the VC has been handled in general, who knows when TLA will be released. Maybe they will put in a way that let's you transfer save files if you have the first downloaded? :s



SKTTR said:

Well, comparing Golden Sun to Chrono Trigger isn't very wise in my eyes.
I mean, I spent hundreds of hours on CT, playing it for months, maxing out chars, collecting stuff, playing multiple times through newgameplus, and finding all 12 endings... in comparison GS didn't even have one real ending, and it was over in a few days. ;P

I might get back to it though when Golden Sun 2 is released on Wii U, because I'm surprised it's so highly regarded, at least by those who have played the whole game (GS1+GS2).



BinaryFragger said:

I'm currently on my third playthrough, it's such a wonderful JRPG. I wish the characters would talk a little less but it's an otherwise fun game with great graphics and excellent music.



Einherjar said:

The game itself is awesome, but i was rather unamused by the fact, that they released the US version on the EU eShop out of the blue, while all other (GBA) games were released in their proper version.
Having played the EU (german) version SO much, its rather off putting to be confronted with a different translation.
And its a "Nintendo translation" meaning that it isnt translated word for word, but names etc have been drasticly altered. Its pretty confusing.



Henmii said:

Nice review and nice score! Only few hours in, but so far I like it. Though I am not a fan of random battles. And there is a tremendous amount of text, a little bit to much in my opinion.



J-Manix98 said:

This definitely makes my top 5 favorite RPGs list! (Still hoping to see Isaac in smash!)



LasermasterA said:


I do agree that Chrono Trigger is a classic due to all the endings, the time travel concept and many characters, much more than a party holds. Getting the multiple endings personally to me was like a chore but I really liked the endgame. The DS remake was also spectacular. In the end, I still like Golden Sun more though making the comparison worthwhile. If I would choose my favourite RPGs ever they would be Golden Sun, Golden Sun 2 and then Chrono Trigger. I don't know what but for me personally and for my sister, it holds a specific charm that Chrono Trigger doesn't have and makes it so much more fun. It is a game that I can not let go off till completing it and have done consequent playthroughs as well lasting me weeks, especially switching classes instead of characters. The game seemed sort of incomplete at the point they end the first game but it was still pretty long and fun. Lost Age was not as good but great nonetheless.

Even Dark Dawn which was comparatively a let-down, still had enough to get me hooked. I even did 2 consecutive playthroughs totalling 50 hours but that was primarily due to me hitting a game breaking bug in my first playthrough at the 30 hour mark.



retro_player_22 said:

@SKTTR Not saying that Golden Sun is equal or better than Chrono Trigger but I am saying that to make up for gameplay in length Chrono Trigger had the story aspect all cover for you whereas Golden Sun may not had the epic story but it does make up in gameplay. You can play Chrono Trigger for as long as you want and get the ending you want (whether via New Game + or the main game) but it will always end around that short 25 hours time-span (and if it doesn't then you are probably wasting time grinding yourself), whereas Golden Sun though only half of a story already equal to a full 30 to 40 hour game in gameplay. Meaning that even though the story isn't completed yet, you already got the full experience of what the game offered. Playing Golden Sun: The Lost Age is for story purpose and completion.

It's like reading story in a book let's say for example Goosebumps. Golden Sun is like regular Goosebumps where you can read the first book but then it came to a to be continue and you had to seek the sequel book to get to the end, both books (though only one story) will last you hours to get through. Chrono Trigger is like the spin-off book, Give Yourself Goosebumps, you will start the same story but you can choose how the story ends for example your story could end with the main character dying thus in a sad ending or with him still alive and with a more joyous ending but to get to those endings your time for reading is less than a full one. Anyways those Goosebumps books were awesome, you should try reading some of them too. Of course you'll be reading the Give Yourself ones more than the regular one because of the multiple endings. I do that all the time too.



LasermasterA said:


Well I wouldn't have ever took the example of Goosebumps even though I used to love them before, but I get your point. It was the main ending and the new ending in the DS version that were really interesting while the others were just slightly varied versions of the same events. Myself, I think Chrono Trigger and Golden Sun are different enough to not be directly compared by how they work but how amazing experience playing the game was (I hope that sounded right).

I was more enthusiastic about getting to the end of the story of Golden Sun than Chrono Trigger but it must have been a lot of enthusiasm since Chrono Trigger was my favourite RPG before Golden Sun.



Fandabidozi said:

10/10 from me. I've returned to this game so many times over the years. Playing through it again now in fact. Perfect.



Vader_MIB said:

One simple advice: wait for number 2 to be released before buying this one. This is great game, but the developers left DS players with a cliffhanger without sequel some years. Be careful, this game needs Golden Sun 2. (i love the games, but if they don't release n°2 at the end, don't complain).



PrincessEevee9 said:

@noctowl Have you ever played Dragon Warrior Monsters: Terry's Wonderland or Dragon Quest 2: Cody's Journey/ Tara's Adventure? That got me started on RPGs along with Final Fantasy and they were pretty easy. Or how about Tales of Phantasia?

@Maelstrom Strangely enough I think the Paper Mario series could count for this.

I'm not sure you understand how to review this game. All of the points that have been discussed are completely wrong. Did you even bother researching the game as a whole?



SyFyTy said:

I have the orignal Golden Sun And Golden Sun Lost Age Catriges Along with the Original Guide books written when the game first came out when guides were guides not cheat books. God i love this game, and to those trying to decide between this and advance wars? GET BOTH or miss out, BOTH of these are responsible for my addiction to gaming today. I have all of my original carts for that series (A.W.) with first print guides too. Oh, BTW if you like Chrono Trigger? You OWE it to yourself to check out the (not so ) recently released Atlus game about Time travel, frequently compared to Chrono Trigger, entitled: 'Radiant Historia'. Beautiful graphics but somtimes a bit difficult to get ahold of, went through a second printing recently.Great and very unique battle methodolgy as well. well worth a look into.



SyFyTy said:

@Andremario You should also try 'Radiant Historia' by Atlus if you enjoy Chrono Trigger and later (if you own a PSP maybe even a 'Chrono Cross' originally on the psp I believe.



CanisWolfred said:

I can understand why a lot of people like this game, but I can't stand it. It doesn't help that the first few hours sucked so bad. First impressions are very important.



AsafeMaycon said:

I LOVE < 3 I Am From Brazil ..Golden sun ..is PERFECT !

i buy nintendo wii U ...play game in my TV ---



james_squared said:

I've been playing this one lately and it's a very good RPG game. The story is very good and I enjoy the unique abilities and spells used by the characters. The battle scenes are very typical of an RPG and I do like how the camera angle changes when certain spells are used. Very nicely done.

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