The lights are on
Back in 2001, as the gaming world was entering a new generation of consoles and games, the "golden age" of the RPG was fading into memory. And then a little game called Golden Sun for the brand-new GBA came and rocked our worlds with its stellar graphics, mind-bending, intuitive puzzles, and a soundtrack fit for a John Williams concert. Its sequel, The Lost Age, was no less satisfying, as the entire world of Weyard was opened up for the grand finale atop Mars Lighthouse that would decide the fate of the world (of Weyard). Seven years later, the sun rises once again in the form of Golden Sun: Dark Dawn, taking place thirty years after the return of Alchemy. Has this series maintained its luster? Mostly, but while not perfect it is certainly a worthy sequel: a must-buy for fans of the series and worth a look for DS owners.
In my eyes, one of the central themes of Golden Sun has been human fault: it was the reason that Alchemy was sealed away to begin with. Throughout the GBA titles, the main character is exposed to the often shallow, greedy and selfish denizens of Weyard, from the narcissistic Lady McCoy to the power-hungry Babi, the evil theif Dodonpa to the selfish mayor of Alhafra, the list goes on. Minor characters like these really make the player question "Is this quest worth it? Wouldn't the world be better off without Alchemy?" This "dark side" of Weyard had fully manifested itself in Dark Dawn: Alchemy has been back for naught half a century and the peoples of the world are at each others throats. Powerful, warlike kingdoms have arisen across Angara, and those victimized by these aggressive powers are forced to respond likewise for their own survival. The story of Golden Sun is as epic as ever; one just has to look deeper to find it.
Ever since the first title, fans have been dying to see how the "lost age of man" may have looked, when Alchemy was widespread throughout Weyard. Dark Dawn offers just what fans have been waiting for: the civilizations of the world have begun to awaken, and the drab settlements of titles past are replaced with great kingdoms and vibrant cities. Even the once-grand ruins have gotten a facelift, many of them covered in gold and decorated in a fashion that would make Lemuria glare in envy. Perhaps it's because of my background as a student of anthropology, but I have always found the way that Golden Sun mirrors the real world fascinating, with its culturally distinct cities and beautiful ruins. Fans waiting to see how Weyard has changed will not be disappointed, and without spoiling too much, let's say that Matthew and company have a hand in hastening civilization's progress...
Paradoxically, as great as the environments may now look, graphics are one of the game's weak points. The original Golden Sun, being one of the very first titles for the new 32-bit GBA, blew gamers away with its stunning visuals, redefining what a handheld was capable of graphically. Dark Dawn, unfortunately, cannot claim the same; the graphics are acceptable at best, and rather disappointing considering they're on a system in the later stages of its life cycle. The music, on the other hand, is as spellbinding as ever: RPG composer extraordinaire Motoi Sakuraba has returned to give this game the golden treatment, with boss themes that would make the Star Magician jealous.
And of course, there's the gameplay. The intriguing, mind-bending puzzles of Golden Sun have always been one of the series' distinguishing features, and Dark Dawn has no shortage of them. A slew of new abilities join old favorites such as Move and Whirlwind, adding new possibilities for progressing forward and sniffing out treasure. Now granted, the puzzles of Golden Sun aren't the most challenging in all of gaming history, but a fair few of them are particularly vexing, and the game as a whole could qualify as steady brain exercise. The battle sequences are where the real fun is, and where the graphics slightly redeem themselves. The psynergy animations and summons of the GBA titles have been adapted to a third dimension, turning them into pure eye candy. Summon sequences are particularly impressive: seeing Eclipse on the GBA screen was one thing, but seeing him take up both screens of the DS and raining down destruction is a visual I won't soon forget.
As one can obviously tell by my screen name and avatar, I am a rabid fan of Golden Sun. Its about all I can do not to give this game a 10 and be on my merry way: fellow fans of the series who have waited seven years for this title would likely think the same. However, I thought it prudent to view this game as objectively as possible: although the story is epic, I admit that virtually all the characters of the series (bar Felix) are rather one-dimensional. The game's difficulty, while appropriate for the game's targeted age level, won't be enough to challenge more experienced RPG gamers; Dark Dawn is admittedly less difficult than the GBA titles. However, Golden Sun as a series is a refreshing break from the worn-down RPG franchises that have become the norm, and certainly worth a look from anyone with a DS.
Very persuasive! I don't care for turn-based RPGs, but I'll give this one a try.