-Combat is simple and exciting
-Game requires exploration in order to proceed
-Beautiful summon animations for the GBA era
-The story and characters aren't the richest
-Game requires exploration in order to proceed
One of my favorite games on the Gameboy Advanced, hell, one of my favorite games ever, was the Japanese Role Playing Game from the company Camelot, known as Golden Sun. There is so much I love about this series, from the graphics, the music, the simple turn based combat, the different kinds of magic you can preform in combat and outside of combat, there’s just so much I love about this classic title.
Graphics and Music
Golden sun has incredibly iconic music and graphics, in fact as I’m writing this the main battle music jumped back into my head. The Graphics in battle have this very interesting style, I can’t even describe it, it almost feels dynamic, it’s not just you looking at your characters waiting to take their turns, they’re lined up with their weapons ready to strike. Outside of combat the graphics are charming and simple. There’s the world map which you travel between towns on, and here the graphics are actually rather blurred for my tastes, but when you’re in towns there’s so much more detail. The character sprites themselves are rather small and hard to make an opinion on, but each main character has their own little window of their face that pops up whenever they speak, and this has so much more detail, they almost look like anime characters or something out of Square Enix. While I love the music in the game, it’s not outstanding, it always fits the setting but it never really draws out much emotion from me when playing it. It’s more catchy then anything else.
I would say probably the weakest aspect of Golden Sun is the story and the characters. The protagonist Isaac is the cliche silent lead character, and only really speaks when someone asks you a yes or no question. The other characters do have a little more depth, you can certainly tell their personalities apart, but overall they’re rather bland. They become much richer in the sequel game, Golden Sun: Lost Age.
The story itself is about Isaac and his friends, who are tasked with gathering the 4 elemental stars which were stolen from the Sanctuary of Isaac’s hometown. The thieves plan to light the elemental Lighthouses which are scattered throughout the world, and if these Lighthouses were to ever be lit, the world would plunge into chaos. Isaac leaves home with his friend Garet to retrieve the stolen stars, as well as rescue their friends who are being held captive by the people who stole the stars. You travel across the land of Weyard, and make new companions who help you along your journey.
Golden Sun at its heart is a standard JRPG, it has turn based combat, 4 elemental characters of earth fire wind and water, you fight random encounters and you travel the world. That aspect of the game is solid, but there are 2 parts to Golden Sun that I find truly outstanding. Fair warning, this section is long.
The first part, is the magic system, or in Golden Sun terms, Psynergy. Psynergy is just another term for magic, it’s nothing really new, but many of the different abilities you have can work outside of combat and in the field. You start off with something very simple, the ability to move objects that are out of your reach, aptly called “Move”. But as you progress you can a wide variety of abilities, like the power to make sprouts grow into vines which you can climb, or the power to freeze puddles into pillars which you can hop across. One of my favorite powers is the “Reveal” power which can, well reveal, hidden things. You’ll often rocks arranged in a very recognizable pattern throughout the game, and if you use Reveal while standing around these patterns, you’ll find a secret, whether it’s a treasure, an entrance way, or something else entirely is up to the game.
A great example of how the game uses this field magic mechanic, is about halfway through the game, when Isaac is entering a tournament that involves going through a “Wipeout-esq” obstacle course and then a fight, but he’s not really at the same level as many of the other contestants, so you have to place your friends among the crowd of viewers, so they can use their Psynergy to help Isaac get through the obstacle course. If for whatever reason you don’t feel comfortable cheating, it’s entirely possible to get through it without your friend’s help, but you might be at a disadvantage when the fight comes if you didn’t get through the course first.
The second feature of the game that I absolutely love, is the Summoning System, or rather, the “Djinn” system. Many fantasy RPGs have some form of summoning magic, but in Golden Sun’s case, you meet and gather these creatures known as Djinn, and as you collect them, they increase your overall power (HP, MP, stats, etc). Additionally to the power boost, each Djinn has an ability you can use in battle, like a fierce strike or restoring HP/MP, or freezing the opponent so they can’t move this turn, there’s like 48 different Djinn so you can imagine the variety. Equipping a Djinn of a different element then the person using it (Earth user with a Wind Djinn) can also change their class and available Psynergy. Using a Djinn in battle puts it into a “Set” state, where it no longer grants you the power boost, and you can’t use it’s individual ability again until it returns to the “Ready” state, but when it’s set, you can preform a powerful summon, and the more Djinn you have set, the more powerful a summon you can preform.
The summons themselves have really awesome animations, from a dragon that appears to reign hell on your opponents, a giant pyramid that crushes your opponents, a blue whale which shoots a laser out of it’s spout and drowns the opponents. As this was the first entry in the Golden Sun series, there wasn’t a lot of variety when it came to summoning combinations, you could spend anywhere between 1 to 4 set Djinn to preform a summon according to the number of Djinn used. In later iterations of the game, they mix it up a little bit, mixing and matching elements and extending the number of Djinn used in a summon past 4.
Collecting the Djinn themselves can be anywhere from super fun to a bit of a pain. Some can be found in the world map in specific areas, some can be found in towns or dungeons, some require a fight before they join you, some will join willingly. Some Djinn can’t be reached without solving a puzzle first, one of my favorite puzzles in this case happens in a small town where you can see the Djinn on a cliff, but you can’t reach it. What you have to do is, talk to this woman carrying a jug of water so she spills it in the right spot. Then freeze the puddle of water into a pillar that you hop across to reach the Djinn.
Golden Sun was an incredible JRPG for it’s time, even now I’ve never seen such variety in puzzle solving and exploration. While the story doesn’t do much for the game, it does set up for a lot of potential and that potential gets used very well in the sequel, Golden Sun: Lost Age. The game does require a fair amount of exploration in order to proceed, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s not a world like Skyrim where you can just go wherever, whenever, it’s a big world that gives you a wide space to explore, but stops you from progressing until you’ve been to a certain place you hadn’t explored yet. There’s also a lot of different side missions that are presented to you very organically, like without someone waving to you or with a ! above their head. You actually benefit from talking to NPCs and learning new info. If you’re a fan of JRPGs, or the GBA era of games, this is absolutely a game you should play. It’s not overly complicated that you’ll feel overwhelmed, it’s not so simple that you’ll get bored of it.