Alex Phillimore: (alex.phillimore-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2013-09-07 06:42:45
The Majesty of Golden Sun
Golden Sun and its sequel, The Lost Age (GBA), are fantastic video games. Alas, in a world dominated by JRPG behemoths such as Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest and Shin Megami Tensei, it's sadly sometimes all too easy to overlook some of the titles that didn't spawn colossal franchises. While Golden Sun has three titles to its name, making it a bigger series than some of its contemporaries, it hasn't been 'milked' anywhere near as much as other JRPG worlds. With only three games released since 2001, developer Camelot's Golden Sun takes its sweet time, and it's all the better for it.
The original two games sync up to make an overarching story that spans hours of gameplay across enormous and entirely explorable continents. The scope of the GBA titles is mesmerizing, considering their native platform. Both games are huge, full of incredibly unique environments and countless enemies to battle. There are side-quests to take part in and adorable Djinni to collect, which provides the game with a Pokemon-esque element that increases the strength of your entire party with each new creature found.
For the time the games were released, there was nothing else like them in the market, and to this day there isn't a JRPG that springs to mind that competes with the original two games in certain areas. Golden Sun is, for example, wordy; incredibly so. Dialogue dominates the adventure, adding formidable amounts of information and detail to every single location and action taken by the player. The story is an engaging tale of elementally-savvy folk, Adepts, saving the world from ruin, but while the narrative is somewhat generic, its delivery is excellent. The translation of the enormous script is fantastic, right down to the small details - every NPC not only has regular dialogue when spoken to, but alternate dialogue when their mind is read by a particular player-character, which is just one example of how much effort went into creating these games.
Psynergy - the game's magic system - serves a unique role in Golden Sun: not only can spells be used in battle, but many can be used outside of combat to solve environmental puzzles. To this day, a lot of JRPGs neglect doing this, and it's a shame, because Golden Sun pulled it off with style and substance. Puddles can be frozen to make pillars that can then be jumped on; saplings can be watered to grow into climbable vines; objects can be pushed and pulled around to create platforms; piles of leaves can be blown away with whirlwinds to reveal secrets. That all of this is happening in a lovingly-crafted, to-this-day beautiful realm is the icing on the cake - Golden Sun looks absolutely stunning, and the wonderful soundtrack ensures that each new environment is a feast for the senses. Some of the songs in Golden Sun push the GBA's audio capabilities to their absolute maximum: I recommend that everyone reading this listens to 'The Elemental Stars' embedded at the bottom of the page to see what I mean.
Everything about Golden Sun sparks off images of joy in my mind, and while nostalgia certainly plays a part in that, even objectively playing the games today results in an extraordinary gameplay experience. While the latest title in the series, Dark Dawn, didn't excite me in the same way, the original two games on the GBA are some of the best and most rewarding titles in the history of the Game Boy Advance. Everything about the series oozes quality: the epic narrative that spans every entry; the expansive world that takes hours to explore; the gorgeous cities and dungeon environments; the puzzles and deep battle system; the unique music and visual style; and the great cast of interesting characters - all come together to form something truly special.
Golden Sun continues to hold its own despite being a decade old, and I would recommend the games to anyone who hasn't played them before. To those who have when they were first released, I recommend that you whip them out again and appreciate how great GBA games could be when the right developers took to the hardware. At the time I remember being floored by the sheer scope and production values of Golden Sun on such a small system; today, I look at the games with envy, and pine for more JRPGs of the same caliber.