It looks even better in the flesh

This truly is a rich time for DS RPGs: Dragon Quest IX, Final Fantasy the 4 Heroes of Light and of course Golden Sun: Dark Dawn should ensure we remember 2010 as the Year of the RPG, and Golden Sun could emerge as the best of the bunch.

The demo offered two available modes: adventure and battle, and we had time to try both. The former mode puts you in a puzzle-filled obstacle course where you must make use of your Psynergies to overcome the challenges along the way. Move was mapped to L and could be used to push blocks in one of four directions, and was as simple as tapping the object to be moved and sliding it in the desired direction.

Fireball was activated with a tap of R and brought up a circle and aiming line, the idea being to rotate the line until facing the target and then smoothly slide the stylus to let loose a fireball. We found this a little fiddly and unresponsive however: sliding the stylus often did nothing, and it seemed trial and error as to whether this would work. Perhaps we were doing it wrong, but it was frustrating nonetheless.

Lovely RPG battles

The battle mode, you’ll be pleased to hear, suffered no such problems. Sticking to a simple menu system, your trio of heroes took on three battles that gradually increased in difficulty. The controls here are completely intuitive, tapping menu icons and targets to activate straightforward attacks, Psynergies and Djinn attacks. Those familiar with the battle system from the previous two outings will be right at home here, but newcomers should also find it easy to jump straight into.

Graphically the battle sequences are extremely impressive, even after we’d just seen the 3DS in action. The character models are solid, detailed and animate well, and the special effects for Psynergies are a pleasure to watch. The real stars however, as with the GameBoy Advance originals, are the Summons: from robotic pyramids to arrow-shooting goddesses, they’re some of the finest visuals seen on the system in its near six-year history.

Completing the battle gave us chance to explore one of the demo’s towns, and here we saw more classic Golden Sun elements: houses with golden straw roofs, strange delicacies being cooked and plenty of hidden items to be found. It may not be groundbreaking, but for fans of the series it’s like coming home.

Puzzles are still important

Golden Sun: Dark Dawn was already high on our most-wanted list for the rest of 2010, and going hands-on with the title has only pushed our expectations for Camelot’s latest RPG ever higher. The developer’s calibre – they created Shining Force, you know – and the long wait between instalments could result in the DS receiving one of its finest RPG adventures yet.