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Retro Game Reviews: Golden Sun (GBA)

by: Hollan ; edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom ; updated: 4/17/2012 • Leave a comment

Psychic energy, capturing djinn and saving the world: what else could you want in an RPG?

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    Developed by Camelot and published by Nintendo, Golden Sun was released in 2001 exclusively for the Gameboy Advance. While it wasn't ported to any other console it still ranks high as one of the best RPGs of all time. With its old school RPG combat (with some new tricks thrown in) and its engrossing story line, it is no wonder Golden Sun was and still is so popular.

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    Story

    In the land of Weyard there are certain people with psychic power (called Psynergy in game) known as Adepts. Isaac (the main character) and his best friend Garet, are two Adepts who live in Vale, the town that protects Mt. Aleph and the secrets it holds. You see, in Weyard's ancient past the art of alchemy was sealed away because people misused it and created conflicts worldwide. The secret to unlocking alchemy again lies in the Elemental Stars hidden in a shrine on Mt. Aleph. Can you see where this is going?

    A couple of Adepts from a different country decide they want to revive alchemy and steal all but one of the Elemental Stars. Oh, and they also kidnap Isaac and Garet's friend Jenna just for good measure. Now, of course, Isaac and Garet must set forth on a journey to prevent the baddies from returning the power of alchemy to the world and save their friend. Along the way they met Ivan, an Adept who can read minds (very cool and useful!), and Mia, an Adept who can heal (bet you didn't see that one coming).

    The only problem with the story is Golden Sun is really only the first half. The story isn't even wrapped up until the second game Golden Sun: The Lost Age. It's like reading a book that comes to an abrupt end just as it starts getting really interesting. But, while the beginning of the game is a bit slow, the story is engrossing and it is worth the wait to see where it goes.

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    Gameplay

    Golden Sun plays a lot like a traditional RPG. You guide Isaac around the world map (with the control pad, in case that wasn't a given) and into towns. You talk to NPCs to gather information, gain experience in battle and all that jazz. However, there are some interesting quirks thrown in. For one, Psynergy (which is based upon the elements wind, water, fire and earth) can be used by your characters inside of battle (for special attacks) and outside of battle. In fact, Psynergy is needed in many cases to solve puzzles in towns and dungeons. The second quirk are the Djinn, magical beasts that you can collect throughout the game (who correspond to certain elements as well). You can set up to four Djinn to each character and they change the character's status, title and Psynergy. There are 28 Djinn to capture throughout the game (some come peacefully, while you have to fight others), so there are many combinations you can use.

    Djinn don't just change character stats, they can also be summoned in battle for the most powerful attacks in the game. By combining Djinn of the same element you can unleash devastating attacks. It is a lot of fun to play around with.

    One downside of the gameplay in Golden Sun is the random enemy encounters. While I love RPGs I really wish developers would get over this concept. It is annoying to not be able to see what you are walking into. Also, later in the game you cannot walk a few inches without running into baddies. It is really annoying! My only other complaint is the ease of the game. I didn't die once! Not that I want to die while playing a game, but not dying once it pretty ridiculous. If it was just a little bit harder it would have been perfect.

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    Graphics and Sound

    This is a GBA game, but the graphics are really beautiful. The colors are rich and bright. You can actually see the characters cute little faces (while their expressions might not change all that much). I'd say it's a step up from some SNES games even, and about equal with the really great SNES graphics (Link to the Past, Tales of Phantasia).

    Also, the music is well done. Like most RPGs every town has their own music, and most of it is soothing at best and palatable at worst. Also, when you talk to NPCs they beep at you in a very Beaker-like fashion (a la The Muppets). It's cute that the developers are trying to simulate talking, and I give them props for doing so.

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    Fun

    Golden Sun is an RPG, and RPGs are never straight up fun. They are engrossing and time consuming. I did enjoy most of my time spent playing this game, however, there were some puzzles that were annoyingly difficult. But it is better than all of the puzzles being too easy. All in all, Golden Sun is a really solid good time, if you have 30 plus hours to spend playing a game.

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    Overall

    Golden Sun has earned its place in RPG history. As a classic RPG with some fancy (and fun) new elements thrown in it really is one great game. The story is interesting, the game play is (mostly) fun and the world is a beautiful place to explore. If you are an RPG fan who hasn't tried Golden Sun, what are you waiting for?