The Golden Sun games for GameBoy Advance were, in 2001 and 2003, two of the most beloved handheld RPGs of their time. Not only did they receive vast amounts of critical acclaim, but the titles collectively enjoyed high sales of almost 1.8 million copies worldwide. The buzz over the announcement of Golden Sun: Dark Dawn for DS awoke the droves of fans that had been laying in wait for the seven years that have lapsed since the second Golden Sun. What they found waiting for them was another solid, story driven RPG in which developer Camelot Software Planning has used the previously successful formula they built the first two entries in this series upon.
The storyline of Golden Sun: Dark Dawn picks up 30 years after the events of Golden Sun: The Lost Age took place. Once again, players are transported to the flat world of Weyard where the oceans pour off the edge of the world. There you are introduced to a young trio of “adepts”, which are people who can channel magic power called “psyenergy” related to the four elements of earth, fire, water, and wind that makes up all life matter in Weyard. Players will assume the mantle of Matthew, who is the son of two of the heroes from the previous games. Through a chain of events, Matthew and his posse will set out on a mission to save the world from the aftermath of the cataclysmic events that transpired three decades ago.
The developers did great job of making this game’s intricate story accessible to people, like me, who didn’t have the pleasure of experiencing the GBA saga. They implement two tools to keep players up to speed; one is that key words and phrases are clickable in characters’ speech bubbles. Once you click this text, an encyclopedia on the top screen will display detailed information on that topic. The other tool implemented is extensive dialogue. Unless you are a speed reader, the average player will log 20 to 30 minutes of play time being briefed on events both past and present before they actually begin the game’s main quest. Reading through this immense amount of text is about as much fun as reading the phone book, mostly due to a real lack of noticeable humor or charm from the characters. It seems there may have been an attempt at humor, but the localization team dropped the ball on making it appeal to a Western audience. Unfortunately, you will have to wade through these very long reading sessions numerous times before you see the credits. Fortunately, the game that happens in between the novella make it worthwhile.
Gameplay in Golden Sun: Dark Dawn is pretty typical turn-based RPG fare. You will guide your party across a world map, traveling between towns and randomly engaging in battles with monsters such as harpies and hydras. Along the way you will earn experience and find or buy new equipment that will make your group stronger. Most of the monsters and bosses you encounter will be pretty easy to take down by simply launching your most powerful spells at it and making sure you upgrade your party’s armor and weapons every opportunity you get.
The aspect of this game that sets it apart from the RPG crowd is the use of Djinn, which are spirits hiding throughout Weyard that you can collect. Once you get them to join forces with you, they will exert their influence over the character they are “set” to, which will affect the character’s statistics, class, and what psyenergy they have access to. You can swap the Djinn between characters to create a team that best fits the situation you need to conquer.
Aside from modifying characters’ statistics, Djinn can also be unleashed during battle to make use of their powerful attacks, sat enhancing buffs, or debuffs which lower your enemies’ stats. However, this comes at a price — once a Djinni is unleashed, it goes into a standby status and your character will lose the benefit of its influence. Depending on the enemy you are battling, this may be a fair trade because once the Djinn have been used they are available to help perform summon attacks. These summon attacks are some of the most powerful and best looking attacks in the game. Once the Djinn perform a summon, you must wait a few turns before they are set back to your characters. This unique method of modifying your party’s stats and abilities is deep and complex, but easy to master with a little experimentation.
Overall, the presentation in Golden Sun: Dark Dawn is very good. It would actually be superb if it wasn’t for the strange differences in graphical quality between various areas of the game. For instance, when you are in a town or dungeon, the quality looks exactly up to par with similar recently released games on the DS. Buildings and the surrounding environment are brightly colored and detailed to the fullest extend of the DS’s capabilities. Characters have a slightly cell shaded look to them which keeps them from blending into the background. When you leave a town or dungeon, you are running around on the world map. Proportions between Matthew and environmental items are slightly askew, and the level of detail seems to be more in line with a high end GBA game. Battle scenes are where the looks of the game really shine through, because the style and level of detail seem to be pushing Nintendo’s hardware to the limits. All of the attack animations look great, especially the aforementioned summon attacks. The animated sequences for these attacks can seem a little lengthy, but you can easily skip to the damage dealing portion with the push of a button.
For fans of the first two Golden Sun games, Golden Sun: Dark Dawn is a solid and true sequel that is sure to tie up any loose ends you have, while still leaving room for a fourth game. Inconsistencies in graphical qualities and styles may roughen the playing experience a bit, but it by no means ruins it. The strong plot is only slightly sullied by the intense amounts of text you must forage through to get to the action, but it is a necessary evil to get the good story through to players. The returning Djinn mechanic works well, is something players haven’t seen before unless they played the GBA games, and is sure to keep RPG veterans interested in getting a glimpse of the Golden Sun — even if it’s for the first time.
Golden Sun: Dark Dawn
|Gameplay sticks true to RPG fundamentals, while utilizing the Djinn system to add a fresh twist. It is at least up to speed with the graphics of this generation of DS games, with some areas even looking superb||Cut-scenes are pretty long winded and seem to fall flat, the overall pacing is pretty slow, big differences in graphical style make the game seem fractured at times|
|Verdict||If you are looking for a RPG to play on the DS that mostly follows the 'rules' set up for this genre of games, or are a lifelong Golden Sun fan you'll get plenty of enjoyment out of this game.|