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Golden Sun

Review By:  Christopher Coey

Developer:  Camelot
Publisher:  Nintendo
# of Players:  1-2
Genre:  RPG
ESRB:  Everyone
Date Posted:  8-29-02

Isaac, the young leader of a reluctant party of would-be heroes discovers the truth behind his heritage. The adventurers set out to rescue their life-long friend, and in turn save the entire world from those who would see it crumble underneath dictators who wield awesome power. "A brave soul must now arise!"

Does that sound familiar? Ya, well, itís the standard RPG story that we all know and love. But go with what works, right? Thereís something to be said for a game that takes the standard ingredients, pours them into a new mold, and creates a solid game.

Nevertheless, this game is not without some innovation. Characters, aside from leveling up with the usual experience point system (and random battles), can power up by finding and equipping magical creatures known as Djinn. Djinn come in four types, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Mercury, which correspond to each of the four elements. These creatures are spread throughout the game, and some are difficult to find (maybe not as difficult as the Ultimate Weapons in FFX, although you may still need a guide, or online help), but itís well worth the effort. Each Djinn, when equipped, gives the character boosts to attack, defense, luck, HP, etc. As well as bestowing some powerful spell effects (in game terms known as psynergy) onto the bearer. In addition, the Djinn can be unleashed upon your enemies, and combined with other Djinn of the same type, can summon even more powerful spirits for devastating results. Each character can equip up to seven Djinn (but every character must have an equal number), and the number and type that each player carries can change that characters class, which in turn provide added psynergy.

Again, as with most RPGs, Golden Sun boasts an elaborate weapons, and equipment system. This one, however, is surprisingly deep. Not only can you buy, find, and equip the usual weapons, armor, helm, and shield; but you can also equip boots, shirts, bracers, rings, and more. The only problem I had is that there is usually little in the way of decisions to be made. At each step in the adventure the equipment available to you is almost always better than the equipment you currently own. So you sell your old stuff, and buy the new stuff, itís a no-brainer. There are various artifacts that you can find along the way, but they donít seem to be all that rare, and there are often multiple copies (I think I had about 7 or 8 "assassin blades" at one point.) The subtle differences in elemental resistance, or the slight difference in attribute bonuses, donít effect the game as much as the sheer attack power or agility bonuses. Thatís a shame.

The music in this game is also surprisingly good. Because of the fact that in the current generation of consoles (even the previous generations), we as gamers are used to CD quality musical scores, the 32-bit mini-powerhouse that is the GBA usually falls very short in the auditory ambiance category. When playing on the subway, or plane, I prefer to turn the sound off on most games rather than use headphones (while trying not to offend fellow passengers.) It may not sound like high praise for a game when I say "I didnít even turn the sound off", but seeing as how the sound is generally agreed to be the weakest part of the Game Boy Advance, it can be considered high praise indeed.

The graphics, particularly during the battles, are excellent, when you can see them. I wonít get into why on earth Nintendo would go ahead and release yet another handheld system without a backlight. And then go so far as to ignore that a problem even exists by refusing to manufacture a first party game-light. Obviously the powers that be thought that the addition of a backlight would be a prohibitive costs, and add too much to the weight of the unit. But at least admit that it is damn hard to see the graphics more than half the time, unless sitting in a brightly lit (with fluorescence) room.

With graphics, sound, and music that push the limits of the system to new, higher levels an innovative combat and level-up system, and an intriguing story line. You would think that we were discussing the latest in the Final Fantasy series, or some new PC title shooting for game-of-the-year. Itís amazing in itself that this title is appearing on a handheld. Nintendo, once again, has outdone itself by surpassing everyone expectations. This time, producing an RPG for GBA that stands up against any RPG, on any system. It may not be the most innovative game, it may not have the best graphics, but itís all around solid. And Iím sure that it with be considered one of the great RPG series for years to come (Golden Sun 5 for PS3 anyone?)

Highs:

  • Superb RPG for any system, much less the GBA
  • Good story and world map locations
  • Good battle system and 2-player mode

Lows:

  • Abrupt ending
  • Limited variation and party development

Final Verdict:

This game really sold me on the Game Boy Advance in general. I havenít played that many GBA games in total and mostly the ones I have played were just to pass some time. I thought that was what handhelds were for: on the bus, on a plane, on a train, etc. Why, I thought, would I ever choose to play my GBA when I could play PS2, or GameCube, or just watch TV, or anything? With Golden Sun, I found myself spending nearly ALL my Ďgame timeí playing right through to the end; And itís by no means a short game. This is a quality RPG from start to finish. It has everything any good RPG should have, and more. It might not be a flashy as the Final Fantasy series, and it may not have the complexity of something like Chrono Cross, but it IS in the same league. And donít forget, itís a handheld. Iíll never underestimate my pocket systems again.

Overall Score: 9.0

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