Golden Sun

released on Aug 01, 2001

RPG from the makers of Shining Force, featuring an adventure filled with tried-and-true overhead-wandering, random-battle gameplay that looks absolutely sweet on the Game Boy Advance small fact, this game arguably rivals most of the classic RPGs that have ended up on the console systems, like Dragon Warrior or the aforementioned Final Fantasy series, for example. You play Isaac, a young swordsman and resident of the town of Vale, and at the beginning of the adventure a storm is brewing outside that forces Isaac to flee to safety. But every virtual adventurer knows that it's never as simple as that, and eventually you're thrust into the role of the world's savior, befriending other skilled adventurers that will join your crusade...there's strength in numbers, as the phrase goes.

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Very large amount of meandering, repetitious dialogue gets in the way of very good looking GBA game. Cool but pointless class system that you can't really fully utilize until the second game.

Unfortunately, this game was plagued with bland characters and too much text. I never finished this as a kid and never had any real interest in going back to finish this either.

Got about 5 hours in before I gave up. It has a great visual presentation, and the gameplay is good! But the story and characters are so painfully bland that I just cannot keep myself engaged. It fails in one of the most important aspects of an RPG. I don't get why people hold this game in such high regard.

This is a pretty good entry level handheld RPG with some good systems design and enjoyable dungeons, clearly riffing on Zelda, but it's doing more than your typical RPG dungeons. The real flaw with the game is how bland the main cast are and how simple the story is, despite the games abundance of text to tell it. It can just get absurd how long some scenes are when what's actually communicated to the player could be boiled down in a fraction of the words used. Overall its a decent RPG, but kind of the epitome of a comfort food game that doesn't ask terribly much from the player nor challenge them in its mechanics or writing.

Nintendo recently released 'Golden Sun' on Nintendo Switch Online, offering people who missed out on its initial release on Nintendo's GameBoy Advance another opportunity to play this beloved RPG classic.

After playing ‘Final Fantasy VII: Rebirth’ with its copious amount of systems, it was nice to play an older RPG with a lot simpler mechanics. Unfortunately though, the one mechanic it does have is vast and can be very confusing. I have started ‘Golden Sun’ on numerous occasions but never got past the first area due to the slow pacing and lack of interest.

You start in a town called ‘Vale’, home to Isaac, Felix, Jenna and Garet. They are your starting party members. The town is being bombarded with falling boulders as the nearby volcano is erupting. Boulders block your path meaning you need to find alternative routes around town. This can make the starting area feel like a bit of a maze as you get used to the game’s traversal mechanics.

Some time after the eruption, Isaac and the others discover elemental stars located in a sanctum. As they retrieve them, the antagonists of the game, Saturos and Menardi, ambush them and steal most of the stars. Isaac, Garet, Ivan, and Mia pursue the antagonists to retrieve the stolen stars, prevent them from lighting the 4 lighthouses with the stars, and save their friends who have been taken by Saturos and Menardi. What sets this game apart is that the antagonists don’t all share the same views; in the scenes where they appear, they often argue with one another about what should be done with the stars and their prisoners.

The beginning of the game sets up all the basics, movement, fighting and using Psynergy. Psynergy is the magic that your team can use either in battle or on the field. While on the field you can use Psynergy to interact with the landscape, clearing or creating obstacles.

Psynergy is very much like the items found in the Zelda games where you can backtrack to a previous area and unlock passages previously blocked to reveal items. The bad thing about this fun gameplay mechanic is having to perfectly place Isaac in front of the obstacle to successfully use the magic. Sometimes this could get quite frustrating as I couldn’t find the right placement or I would interact with the object normally rather than using psynergy due to the GameBoy Advance’s limited buttons. The game does allow you to hotkey the moves to the devices shoulder buttons which can be a godsend.
The battle mechanics are pretty standard for an RPG: attack, magic (attack, status effects and healing), summons and items. The elements do matter as some enemies are weak to some elements and stronger against others.

As mentioned earlier, Golden Sun debuted in 2001 for the GameBoy Advance, embodying the characteristics of a classic RPG from that era. Compared to RPG games nowadays with upgrade and unlock systems galore, ‘Golden Sun’ has Djinn, equippable summons much like ‘Final Fantasy VIII’ with your usual battle levelling and armour/weapon shops. Those are the only 3 ways to improve your character and I like it that way. However, akin to older RPG games, Golden Sun lacks a quest tracker and fails to effectively remind players of their objectives and where to proceed next. If you have a few days gap between play time you may completely forget what you were doing and why.

For my playthrough I opted to use guides for parts where I was absolutely clueless what was going on. I did love the equipment shops in this game where it tells you how each weapon affects each character. Then you can buy and sell your old equipment in a quick series of prompts to save you wasting time going in and out of menus.
For character levelling, ‘Golden Sun’ does not require much grinding, fortunately. Just fight every battle, seek out additional areas, collect Djinns, upgrade weapons and you’ll be good as gold for the end game.

The Djinn summon system may be one of few mechanics in the game but the game does not do a great job of explaining it so players may figure out its full potential. So I will try to explain the Djinn system as short and concisely as possible. Each one of your 4 party members has an elemental affinity. There are 4 elemental Djinns corresponding to each party member. You can just stick Djinn on their respective party member based on the elements but if you experiment with mixing and matching you will be provided with different character classes and abilities. To fully understand the potential of your characters you will need to do a lot of research online to figure out how to allocate the Djinn for the best outcomes.

Once assigned to each character, you can opt to allocate the Djinn to be ready for summoning in battle or to be "set," granting the owner of the Djinn a significant stat boost. For 90% of my playthrough I opted for this method over summoning to help strengthen my team. Most of my battles were basic attacks or spells for the boss battles.
Players can collect Djinns akin to Pokémon; however, each elemental type only has four distinct designs available. You can either find Djinns in secret areas or out on the world map. Some will come with you without a fight but some require battling and may even run leaving you out of pocket for a wasted time battle. You can leave the area and come back to try again.

For a GameBoy Advance game the Graphics of Golden Sun are incredible. The game features a pseudo-3D effect, with the camera panning around the battlefield during attacks. The summon cutscenes are awesome too. The environments are vibrant and well detailed. ‘Golden Sun’ has such a wonderful design style.

The music isn’t much to write home about, the most memorable song is the battle music which you will hear very often. The game has fantastic background sound effects which can make the game feel atmospheric, much like “The Legend of Zelda: Link of the Past’. I felt that the music didn't effectively convey the emotions of the characters during dialogue scenes. The game relies on speech bubble sounds, and emotive faces appearing above the characters to let the player know the attitude of each character in a scene. I found the speech bubble sounds irritating so I turned them off immediately after I started the game.

The dialogue in this game is one of its biggest downfalls. Too often conversations will be lengthy and go around in circles without progressing the story much. ‘Golden Sun’ has a dialogue selection feature like all other RPG games where you can select ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. However, your choices ultimately hold no significance, giving the impression that the choice system was merely included as a checkbox requirement for RPGs. I can imagine that if there were ever a remake, this would be a feature greatly improved upon.

Playing this via Nintendo’s Online GameBoy Advance emulator allows for rewinding gameplay. This will make the game more palatable for modern gamers. Full disclosure, I used this feature from time to time if I made a poor decision in battle or messed up a puzzle. This is because I have a massive backlog and want to complete & review games within a reasonable timeframe.

Golden Sun is actually part one of a two part game. 'Golden Sun: The Lost Age' has also been released on NSO, offering players the chance to delve into the conclusion of the story initiated in 'Golden Sun,' akin to the two-part finale of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

I enjoyed my time with Golden Sun. The stunning gameplay design, smart puzzles with satisfying outcomes. Casting epic attacks or summons on enemies in battles is thrilling and as your team gets stronger you feel invincible. However on a downside, from the midpoint of the game I felt it started to drag a bit. The last two areas felt long and complicated as you need to unlock certain areas in each of them to progress. These areas are frequently concealed, requiring players to utilise a Psynergy called "Reveal" to uncover the secret passages. The game isn’t always clear when you need to do this. Even after consulting two online guides and a YouTube video, I remained lost about what to do next, as none of them offered consistent guidance.

‘Golden Sun’ is an iconic game and worth the time spent playing it that’s for sure. While I wouldn’t recommend this to someone who is new to RPG games as the game doesn’t do a great job of explaining itself but the game doesn’t sting you for making bad decisions. It's certainly one to play for gamers who are RPG fans and already have a few franchises under their belt. The game has become much more accessible with its availability on Nintendo Switch's Online service. I hope we see a remake of this game one day because it definitely deserves it.