When it came to the handheld, you just didn't have that many fantastic RPGs. The original Gameboy and Gameboy Color received games like Final Fantasy Legends and such, which weren't really that strong. On the other hand, the GBC did have Dragon Warrior, which was better than its NES counterpart, but until the GBA dropped down in 2001, there wasn't much reason to buy an RPG on the handheld... ever. When the GBA dropped down, however, the RPG became worthwhile for the handheld. In fact, if you wanted RPGs the GBA was probably one of the best systems you could get besides a Playstation 2 at the time (now it's the DS and 360). One game dropped by on the GBA that changed the course of the system itself forever. Of all the games released on the GBA, Golden Sun is probably one of the best games the system ever received. Maybe even the best. To give you an idea of how grand Golden Sun was, it was eventually compared to Final Fantasy. It became a game that many gamers said was just as good. But more than that, it dropped down early on in the GBAs life and showcased what the GBA was capable of. More than that, it gave us an RPG on a handheld that was as epic as an RPG on a console.
Golden Sun takes place in a world where people often rely on Psynergy (magic) for some of their everyday needs. At the heart of it all is Alchemy, a power that allowed for civilization in the fictional world of Weyard to come forth. Of course, with great power comes great responsibility... which people in Weyard's past didn't have. It's why the power was sealed. The game's prologue centers on the small village of Vale, where bad things are already happening. Mt. Aleph has erupted, a big storm has come forth and along those lines... a rock slide, which threatens the civilians. Among them are the families of Issac and Garrett. And they're trying their hardest to use their Psynergy to keep the rockslide from happening while Issac and Garrett are to get to safety. Things don't work out entirely. There's nothing to stop the rockslide and the terrible disaster. After the terrible rockslide Issac and Garrett stumble upon two warriors. Saturos and Menardi, who are responsible. After fighting a losing battle (no really, you can't win) the story jumps three years into the future where you find out the secrets of what really happened three years ago. Saturos and Menardi are back at Mt. Aleph going through the secrets again. Only this time you get a front row seat as to what's in there. While going through the Sol Sanctum you'll discover the secrets of Alchemy.
As is the case with just about every RPG, it becomes really huge and becomes a quest to save the world. Golden Sun is such a large game it couldn't be contained in just one game. There was a sequel released a year or two later, and the DS game is coming real soon. Think of the first Golden Sun as Disc 1 of a three disc game... except each disc is 30 hours long plus many more hours for sidequests.
Golden Sun isn't extremely story driven, though. As you go on your adventure you'll go through a lot that doesn't seem like it has a lot to do with the story at all. You'll meet a surprising cast of characters and go from one town to another discovering more about the world your in, but the story itself doesn't actually pick up until the later half of the game. In spite of that, however, there are times when there's so much dialog and exposition that you may find yourself spending a lot more time reading dialog than actually playing the game. The Golden Sun games are VERY dialog heavy. Nothing in the first game will even come close to preparing you for what you'll get in Golden Sun: The Lost Age... but it's still very dialog heavy. So while the story may not pick up for a while, there's a lot to learn. Many characters introduced you'll be with for a long time but at least you'll really come to know them. Except for Issac, that is. Golden Sun is old school in a very strange way. The story doesn't pick up until the later half, you're just about never told where to go from one spot to another (and when you are you're not told how to get there) and the main character is a silent mute. Issac doesn't have a single line of dialog. And while most RPGs like this will make you make decisions, all of Issac's are "Yes" or "No" answers. And if you choose the wrong answer your characters will keep harassing you until you give the answer. Why even bother giving you a choice?
All of this may seem like Golden Sun isn't as good as I opened up with it being. But we're still just scratching the surface. We haven't even talked gameplay, which is among Golden Sun's best qualities. Golden Sun is very non-linear. You're never told where to go from one moment to another and when you are you don't know how you get there. But the game lets you explore to your hearts content. But you can't get too far ahead of yourself because throughout each dungeon you're given lots of puzzles to solve thanks to the many Psynergy powers you'll find. These magics aren't just for battle, you'll use them outside of battle too. You can move certain pillars, douse out flames or water vines to make them grow so you can climb and so much more. Golden Sun isn't so simple as just running from the beginning of a dungeon to the end. And some puzzles are VERY interesting, some even challenging. From time to time I found myself so stumped that I hopped on GameFAQs just to see what I was doing wrong.
Most dungeons are big and as a result you're definitely going to get into a lot of battles. Once again this is where Golden Sun shows its old school charm. Battles are pretty straightforward. They're turn based. Each round consists of you choosing commands for those in your party and then watching a round of battle play out. It's simple, straight-forward... but surprisingly addictive because of some good animations of magic spells and the fact that the game looks so good in battle. If there was any problem with Golden Sun's battle system it would be that it doesn't have an auto-targeting system in place. By that I mean that if you order all your characters to attack the same enemy... they'll all do it, unless that enemy dies. They won't automatically attack a different enemy, instead they'll simply sit by and guard. That's... a waste of a turn. This hasn't been a problem since the days of... Final Fantasy II on the original Nintendo.
On the other hand, there is a pretty deep customization system in Golden Sun. Djinn. As you go through the game you'll find several Djinn. The more you equip th emore spells you get and also the more your stats are manipulated. There are four elements in play. But the biggest is that they make a difference in the job your character has. You can do a straight shot by simply giving a character all of the same element like say... Earth or Fire or Wind or Water. But in particular it's always better if you mix and match. You can have several different mixes that make a huge difference in the spells you can cast and how your abilities are done. You may or may not find all of them on your first play through. They make sure that you have a ton, but there are some that are well hidden that unless you're willing to battle around or go out of your way to solve a puzzle to solve you won't get them. The good news is that the "hidden" Djinn are not hard to find. The only ones that might be tough are the ones that are wandering around in certain areas. But since Golden Sun is a game which requires some level grinding anyway, even they're not too hard to find.
Without a doubt, the strongest part of Golden Sun is its production values. Golden Sun may very well be the best looking GBA game you can find. The environments are vibrant and colorful and incredibly detailed. They showcase some 3D effects, but mostly there's a big artistic flair to Golden Sun. In battle it also looks good. There are very few GBA games that look this good. And this game came out near the start of the handheld's life. Best of all? The soundtrack. This is probably the best sounding GBA game out there (well, if you forget that Castlevania: Circle of the Moon came out...). The soundtrack is orchestral in its delivery. You may even forget that sometimes you are enjoying it on a handheld. The music just sounds that good. The soundtrack isn't huge by any means but what you're getting is of extraordinary quality.
While Golden Sun is far from perfect (mainly it's inability to get to the point in conversation making for very LONG dialog exchanges) it was pretty much the quint essential RPG for GBA owners. It was a handheld experience unlike any other at the time of its release. Even now finding a handheld experience as breath taking and as magestic as Golden Sun is few and far between. There are plenty of good RPGs for handheld gamers to enjoy, but few make the dent that Golden Sun did.
If your a GBA owner (or a DS Lite owner) and you love RPGs, there's no reason not to give Golden Sun a try. It has flaws, but what it does well are strong enough that you can get beyond them real easily.
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About the reviewer
Sean A. Rhodes (Sean_Rhodes)
I'm a more analytical person. I believe that the purpose of the review is not for me to give you my opinion but for me to give you an analysis and help you decide if you want to get it. If you reading … more
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