Golden Sun: Dark Dawn Review

Return To A Lost Age Of Boring Storytelling And Enjoyable Puzzle-Solving
by Phil Kollar on Dec 06, 2010 at 03:30 PM
Reviewed on DS
Publisher Nintendo
Developer Camelot Software
Rating Everyone 10+

It’s been around seven years since the second Golden Sun game, The Lost Age, was released for the Game Boy Advance, but 30 years have passed in the world of Weyard, home to the Warriors of Vale. In this chaotic world, that passage of time is the perfect excuse for what is essentially a completely new setting. Gamers who played the first two games will run into a handful of recognizable towns and characters, but landmarks have shifted around considerably and new nations and rulers have come into power.

Aside from a few callbacks here and there, Dark Dawn probably isn’t going to provide as much fan service as the hardcore Golden Sun faithful might hope for, but that also means that the game is very easy for newcomers to jump into. In fact, it’s not just the story that’s easy for gamers of all experience levels to get a grip on.

The combat system has been dumbed down from the already simple style of the first two games, making it incredibly easy even if you’ve never played an RPG before. Characters level up at blazing speeds, and within hours you’ll have more powerful spells and Djinn -- elemental creatures that give you bonus abilities -- than you’ll know what to do with. Once you use Djinn in battle, you can call on screen-filling summons that can be used multiple times in that encounter, making even the longest boss battles a cakewalk.

Players familiar with how to play an RPG will find themselves mindlessly mashing through most of the battles, and the plot isn’t going to do much more to keep you awake. By hour 10, I had run into no less than five different ancient civilizations that I didn’t have motivation to care about or keep straight. Both the heroes and villains are shallow, driven forward by fetch quests that pile on top of each other at a comical rate.

The biggest change in storytelling from the previous Golden Sun releases is a new emotion system that allows you to choose how the silent protagonist responds to other characters. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to tell what choosing a specific emoticon means in any given situation. Sometimes the mad face means he responds with anger and other times with defensiveness, and it’s impossible to discern who the emotion will be targeted toward beforehand. Unlike other RPGs with extensive dialogue choices, your attitude doesn’t actually affect the game in any way, which makes the whole system feel superfluous.

Despite all of these problems, I found myself having a lot of fun with Dark Dawn mostly thanks to one aspect of the game: puzzle solving. The eight playable characters come pre-loaded with tons of magical abilities that are used like tools in a Zelda game. From freezing puddles of water to form platforms to crushing rocks with a giant psychic fist, you’ll need to use all of the powers you have to navigate the various ancient ruins scattered around the world. This blend of exploration and logic takes up a big enough portion of the game to make up for many of its other shortcomings.

If you’re searching for a first-class RPG with great writing and complex combat, Golden Sun: Dark Dawn shouldn’t even be on your radar. But if you can handle an unhealthy dose of JRPG stereotypes and don’t mind breezing through encounters, some fun is waiting to be unearthed here. Gamers looking for an easy introduction to the genre or fans of Zelda-style environmental puzzles should give it a shot.

Revisit a revered handheld RPG series seven years after its last entry
The spectacle isn’t as impressive as Dragon Quest IX, but summons and certain set pieces look great
Generic sweeping fantasy fare gets the job done but isn’t remotely memorable
Incredibly forgiving combat and fun puzzle-solving make this one of the best beginner RPGs ever
If you can get past the bland story and mindless battles, there’s a beautifully detailed world and great dungeons to sink 30+ hours into

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Golden Sun: Dark Dawn

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