It seems almost impossible to talk about games without making the inevitable comparisons between this medium and cinema. As gaming grows and evolves, it is adopting many of the traits of film — compelling plots, nuanced characters, and even its own version of ‘auteur theory’ wherein men like Hideo Kojima and Shigeru Miyamoto are revered almost as much as their creations are.
Unfortunately, games have not emulated just the positive aspects of cinema, but also some of the problematic aspects as well. Nothing is more disturbing than gaming’s recent tendency toward creating sequels that do little more than rehash the original title. Sequels have long been an overused bane of cinema, and are now becoming an annoying staple of the game industry as well. After all, why spend millions of dollars creating something new and daring when the market will gladly plunk down their hard-earned cash for a new iteration of last year’s hit?
The problem with most sequels is they are often poorly conceived. Fortunately, that is not the case with Golden Sun: The Lost Age, the follow-up to the 2001 Game Boy Advance release of this first Golden Sun. The Lost Age marks the second installment in a planned trilogy of games, and picks up right where the first title left off.
So, while the story is not entirely unnecessary, the game does fall back on that old sequel mantra of ‘if they liked it once, they’ll like it again’. Golden Sun II is essentially a carbon copy of the first game, only longer, with more dungeons, more summon spells, more djinn to aid players in combat, and more tedious puzzles to solve. For fans of the first game, this sounds like a good thing. It is a shame that the execution leaves so much to be desired. If anything, Golden Sun II is proof that too much of a good thing can ultimately be bad.
It is not necessary to have played the original Golden Sun before playing The Lost Age, but those who do will have a richer experience because of it. Not only will players have a better understanding of the plot, but Camelot has been nice enough to include two methods for importing post-game saves from the first title. The first and easiest method involves two GBAs and a link cable, while the second is more daunting, requiring players to input an extremely long password. The benefits of doing this are not readily apparent, though, as players are greeted by new party members at the start of The Lost Age. Instead of taking control of Isaac and crew on their quest to stop the lighthouses of their world from being re-lit, players find themselves guiding Felix toward the goal of, instead, lighting the lighthouses. Fear not, though, because all of the password inputting will not be in vain. Isaac and the rest of the Golden Sun party will be joining the quest later in the game, complete with all of their items and abilities.
The story is once again the strong point of the title, although it retains many of the problems the first game had. The biggest offender is still the unending dialogue scenes that happen with a frightening amount of regularity. While the game (like most RPGs) certainly has a plot best described as convoluted, it stands to reason a good copyeditor could have eliminated tons of extraneous dialogue. Also returning are the pointless yes or no questions that have absolutely no bearing on the plot.
Things are not all bad though, as the game is easily one of the best-looking GBA games to date. The graphics have not received much in the way of an upgrade from the first Golden Sun game, but since those graphics were so far-and-away better than anything else on the system, they are still looking good. Spell effects and summons continue to be breathtaking in their presentation, easily rivaling anything from the Super Nintendo era in terms of visual splendor.
The musical score still shines, too, with a selection of songs that challenges some of the greatest RPGs of the 16-bit generation. What makes the multitude of tunes even more impressive is that they sound so great even when coming out of the GBA’s primitive sound system.
However, the gameplay is where things start to go astray. Fans of the original game will certainly like this new adventure, since it keeps all of the same elements from the first title. However, the shortness of the first Golden Sun prevented the game mechanics from becoming trite; something the sequel lacks.
Beating The Lost Age is going to require at least 30 hours or more if the player wants to do all of the side-quests and find all of the hidden goodies. There is nothing inherently wrong with a game lasting this amount of time as long as the gameplay warrants it. However, the glamour of The Lost Age that seems to wear out in the first 12 hours or so.
The game follows the traditional RPG paradigm: go to a town, talk to people and stock up, go to a dungeon, solve puzzles, beat boss, and then go to the next town. The game does this its entirety, never really deviating from the same pattern. Dungeons soon become incredibly tedious because each one is entirely convoluted and littered with ‘puzzles’ that require the gamer to reuse the same special skills over and over. See a stack of leaves? Use whirlwind to find what is hiding behind it. See a pillar with hyphenated lines around it? That means pushing it somewhere sooner or later in order to advance. There are no straightforward dungeons in the game — every area is a circuitous affair with the same banal puzzles presented over and over again. Couple this with the fact that it is actually required to teleport back to the start and go in a different direction at several points, and the whole thing just winds up becoming monotonous.
Still, despite the flaws, the game is good. It is not as great as the original, and it certainly suffers because Camelot has decided to overload the audience with more of everything that made the first game decent. Hopefully, they will remember that to be a successful entertainer is to leave the audience wanting more.