Let’s face it; there are hardly any original games for the GBA. Don’t you dare argue with me either, Nintendo fanboys, because I’ve got dozens and dozens of examples ready to be busted out. This is a sad fact because at the end of the day the GBA is a pretty competent handheld that can most certainly play a great game, but when new, original games do come out for the GBA like Golden Sun, the results are fantastic.
Golden Sun opens with a town in peril. Somehow a giant boulder is about to fall off of Mt. Alp and crush the town of Vale with its boulderness. The residents of the town flee to the south, hoping that the boulder that will inevitably destroy them won’t pick up any speed as it rolls down the hill. A few prominent members are using their Psynergy (magic) to hold the boulder in place while the residents evacuate. Your friend Jenna’s brother, Felix, has fallen into the river, clinging for life. It is up to you to find some one to save him, and you do, but on your way back, the boulder falls and the town is at its mercy. The boulder lands in the water, apparently killing Felix and knocking you out.
Three years later, the real game begins. You control an adept (think magician) named Isaac, and you are patching a roof. Your friends Jenna and Garet come along and want you to come with them and work on your training with Kraden. Kraden is a master of alchemy, and wants to bring you to Mt. Alp. Along the way, you bump into two suspicious travelers whom seem vaguely familiar. The story moves on from there, and in highly clichéd ways I might add. I won’t get into it too much since I don’t want to spoil anything, but your quest eventually gets to stopping the villains, saving the world, and rescuing the damsel in distress.
The main religion in the game adopts the belief that life comes from four main elements: fire, wind, earth and water. A select few people in the world can master any one of these elements, and harness its power for good or for evil. Isaac, Garet and the few other party members that join them along the way are all capable of harnessing this power, and as Adepts, they use this power for good. Son though, you’ll discover that your enemies also harness these powers and they will use them for much darker reasons.
Golden Sun is essentially a combination of Pokemon’s critter collection and Final Fantasy’s everything else. As you first leave Vale, you come into contact with Djinn, a special little creature that was released during previous cataclysmic events. The Djinn joins you and then allows you to utilize its awesome powers during battle. The first time you summon a Djinn, you’re given a few options like attacking or boosting your parties’ abilities with it, however; it is after the original summoning when its maximum potential is revealed. Depending on how many Djinn you have summoned, you can use their combined power for an incredible attack (think Guardian Forces in Final Fantasy) that will vanquish a majority of the foes you encounter in a single shot.
Djinn are the best part of Golden Sun. Getting new Djinn and being able to see the effects it has on your party is worth the hunt to find all of them that are hidden around throughout the game. Some Djinn are essentially worthless if not equipped on the right characters, and there really is no ”perfect” combination. It’s all about experimenting. Some combinations can lead to deadly results: for you or for your enemy. It’s a great way to keep you interested in the game, and they really help out during battles.
I can honestly say that I’ve never actually understood random battles. The whole concept seems flawed and negative. How come every rat and spider that I encounter is trying to kill me? I don’t understand why anything that is different from me must be destroyed. It’s almost Communist. Golden Sun utilizes a turn-based battle system that works very well. For those not familiar with a turn-based system it goes a little like this: your characters are on one side of the screen, while your enemies are on the other. You take turns attacking one another and whoever kills the other first wins.
Leveling up is very rewarding, and actually extremely necessary with Djinn use. Using Djinn makes you extremely powerful; however, they hurt your hit points and other stats when released. If you aren’t of high level and you have somehow amassed a large amount of Djinn, you could actually end up severely low on hit points. And what good is a powerful offense without a rock-solid defense? Magic in Golden Sun is gained in numerous ways. Some items that you equip give you access to new spells. Other spells are gained from equipping different elemental Djinn on a party member. Most are gained through tried and true, good old fashioned leveling up. Magic is built on the same standard elements that Djinn are; you can cast fire, water, earth, and wind attacks against your foes. As you progress, naturally your spells get more and more powerful.
Magic is useable by all of your party members but of course some are better at it than others like in all RPG’s. In your initial party of Isaac and Garet, you are limited mostly to combat, with a few magic spells here and there that you can use. Once you gain the last two party members and they take the role of the casters. The system stays the same throughout the game, which severely limits any personal character development outside of equipment and Djinn. This can also make the battles repetitive. Most of the gameplay is a dungeon crawl, though the crawl is more of a brisk walk. There are a few confusing puzzles here and there that can slow you down a bit, but the game should take only about 20 hours to complete. Using a spell on an object in the world solves most of the puzzles. There are also a few “push the switch puzzles” that can get annoying.
Lately, lots of RPG makers have been incorporating cuss words into the dialogue of the games. That is one thing that you will not find in Golden Sun. Through out the entire game, I believe that only once did I even see ”damn” in the text. I could be wrong on that, but I know for a fact that the game is designed so that it is playable without offense to anyone. This does not mean however that the story line will not be enjoyable for adults. Amazingly, the translation is perfect. I didn’t find a strange sentence, and if there was one it wasn’t odd enough to say ”hey that’s messed up!” about. There are literally thousands of lines of dialogue in the game, and fortunately the translation isn’t keeping you from reading them.
As you begin the game, there is something that you will notice: the story is told through text, and to keep up you have to read a lot of it. Now, if you have played a 16-bit RPG before, then it won’t be any problem. But if the only RPGs you have ever played are modern RPGs with less emphasis on text like Final Fantasy X, then you may grow bored. I had no problem with this, and can tell you that the story line is thoroughly engrossing, but at times is given out in huge chunks at a time. Lots of colorful animations help narrate the plot and keep you interested, but it’s not uncommon to sit through 20 minutes of text at a time.
Golden Sun features top-notch graphics with a colorful, vibrant world filled with characters that are very well detailed. The world map is a bit grainy but it really doesn’t detract and once its size is considered it’s instantly forgiven. The towns are all a little small and clustered, but finding your way around isn’t too tricky at all. It’s during battles though that the graphics are really shown off.
When you enter a battle, you are looking at your enemies from behind your party. You select your attacks and suddenly, the camera swoops around to get a close up of you casting. It then turns and shows the effect on your foe. Now, it’s your opponents turn. They fly in and punch you, you fall back or you dodge the blow. Then, you start over. The first time I saw it, I was amazed. Another very impressive graphical feat is that the enemies that you will encounter are nearly as well-detailed, if not equally, as your party members. Enemies have eyes and clothing that is distinguishable from their bodies, and if you get close enough to the screen, you can make out mouths and noses. The attention to detail is quite good.
The music in the game is amazingly well done. Anyway, the music is nicely orchestrated, with a huge amount of variety between the different scores. I never grew tired of the music and turned down the volume and actually have…sad as this may sound…been caught humming along with one of the songs. As for the sound effects, they’re pretty blah with nothing too impressive to hear outside of some swords, spell noises and an occasional “hop of amazement” noise when something great happens.
As one of the most critical Nintendo fans around, it’s nice to see a game come out for the GBA that’s original, pretty, fun, and doesn’t involve any one of their stupid mascots. The GBA and indeed all Nintendo systems need more games like this. Golden Sun is a fun adventure that seems much bigger than the system it’s played on.