Camelot, a company famous for their Shining series of games on the Sega platforms have produced what may be forever touted as the first great traditional RPG on Nintendo’s Game Boy Advance. Golden Sun is a true masterpiece, and technical proof of the capabilities of the Game Boy Advance.
Golden Sun’s story begins on the Continent of Angara, in the Village of Vale. Players witness a scene where a storm rages in our hero Isaac’s village when he was a child. The storm is not what it seems, and in the events that ensue, Isaac loses his father, and his friend Jenna loses both her parents and her brother. Eventually our hero accidentally stumbles upon the 2 culprits responsible and is promptly knocked out. Several years pass, and the seal on Forbidden Art of Alchemy is broken. Now our hero, Isaac, and his companions have to set out to stop the forces behind it, before the world as he knows it is destroyed.
The most important fact that players must know about is that Golden Sun is the first part of a greater story which will be continued in the next chapter sometime in 2002. Golden Sun is much like the lesser-known Eldorado Gate series released on the Dreamcast. Players take note of this fact, lest you be disappointed when you near the end of Golden Sun’s story.
Golden Sun is in all ways a very traditional RPG, in which players set out in the usual Town to Dungeon routine. The game is unique, however, in the sense that it provides some interesting and simple quests, complex but solvable puzzles, and well designed dungeons. The puzzles are the main gameplay element. Isaac and his companion posses the ability to use Psynergy, which is this game’s equivalent of spells. Psynergy is used not only in battle, but also in the field. Isaac will have to use Psynergy like Push and Douse to solve the various puzzles laid out in the game. For those of you who have played Beyond The Beyond, take heart, the puzzles in Golden Sun are a lot simpler!
The most important system in the game will have to be the Djinn System. Isaac will eventually find Djinns in his quest, which he can persuade to join simply by talking to them or winning a battle against them. Djinns are then allocated to a character. Through this allocation process, a character’s class may change as will the Psynergy in their possession. Though the simplest route is to just allocate Djinns according to their Elements of Fire, Water, Earth and Wind to their respective characters, mixing them around opens up unique classes, which determines a character’s status and Psynergy. It pays to experiment. Djinns can also be placed on Standby if the player wishes to summon them for an attack in battle.
The battle system is turn-based and all 4 characters participate in it. The player first chooses to Fight, Flee or view Character Status. Choosing Fight begins the battle in earnest, where the player has to select Attack, Psynergy, Djinn, Summon, to use Items or to Defend. Attacking execute a normal attack and Psynergy allows the character to use spells. Djinn allow a character to use a special ability of his/her equipped Djinn and place it in Standby mode. Summoning requires at least 1 Djinn on Standby; upon summoning, that Djinn will need 1 turn to recover before it can be set back on the character. The more Djinn of the same element on Standby, the more powerful summons the player can execute. The real danger is that Psynergy and status improvements that the Djinn gave the character will be disabled until they recover, so it is wise to plan out and overall strategy, lest you have a weakened character at the mercy of any enemies that survive the Summon attack.
The game’s controls are responsive enough and navigating menus and positioning Isaac to solve puzzles is a breeze. The only major complaint is backtracking in the game, as there is no means to warp instantly to previously visited locations. This can be extremely frustrating if players find out they missed a Djinn or just want to revisit a certain town to play the mini-games. The game’s multiplayer option is just to pit the player’s characters against another player’s, and this can get really boring with time. Hopefully Camelot can come up with something more innovative in the next game.
Graphics in this game utilize a psuedo-3D effect. Backgrounds and locations in the game are very well created and bright, character sprites are functional, and battles are pure eye candy. The Summoned Djinns in battles are the most graphically impressive, and the occasional rotations in Battle give players a panoramic feel. Some enemy designs are rather impressive as well. The World Map also seems to have a sort of Mode 7 graphical feel to it.
Music wise, this game provides quite a catchy score, one I suspect is from Motoi Sakuraba. The tunes are usually inspiring, to say the least. There are also several that add atmosphere to certain dungeons. The only complaint I’d have is that the Sound Chip of the Game Boy Advance doesn’t seem to do the game’s score any justice. Sound effects in the game are reasonably well done; the usual explosions and spell sounds, coupled with the usual beeps are reminiscent of old 2D RPGs.
Golden Sun is a worthwhile effort from Camelot and also proof that they have worked out the flaws in their earlier attempt at a traditional RPG, Beyond The Beyond. For you handheld RPG lovers out there, you’d do yourselves a favor to get this tiny portable gem before your Game Boy Advances begin to get dusty from its lack of decent RPGs.