The sun rises again on this classic RPG series.
It’s been over seven years since Golden Sun had graced our DS’s and the wait has been difficult for many. Gamers such as myself remember the first two RPGs as two classic jRPG tales with incredible production value, satisfying puzzles, and a unique turned based battle system involving Djinni. The games also featured a lengthy story that spanned the length of the two games (seamlessly picking up in the second game where the first left off) and ended hinting at a future sequel.
For the past 7 years, many wondered when and if that sequel would ever come into existence as it’s been known that some past Nintendo projects have been less than successful at being released either altogether or just stateside (Starfox 2, Mother 3, and the Nintendo 64 Disk Drive all come to mind). Ever since the curveball thrown at E3 2009 showing off only a small glimpse of Golden Sun: Dark Dawn, I’ve been eagerly anticipating the release of this long-awaited sequel. Can it live up to the hype that has grown over the last seven years of Golden Sun absence or is “Dark Dawn” merely a foreshadow of a less-than-hoped-for sequel?
Dark Dawn’s protagonists are the children of the “Warriors of Vale”, the heroes from the first two adventures. Taking place 30 years since the rising of the Golden Sun (the last event in Golden Sun: The Lost Age), the quest begins with Matthew (son of Isaac and Mia), Tyrell (son of Garet), and Karis (daughter of Ivan). Though you’ll start with Isaac and Garet at your side as you play through a 1 hour tutorial style quest (they’ll assist you by giving you helpful tips and information if you’ve never played before, as well as fighting alongside the heroes in battle), the 3 soon go off on a quest of their own to save the world.
To catch you up on the events of the previous games, Dark Dawn features some explanation in the beginning sequences as well as optional books you can find along the way that tell an abridged version of the events in the form of a storybook (similar to the storybooks from Mario Galaxy or Professor Layton and the Unwound Future). Basically the gist of the original crisis is that the Warriors of Vale not only saved the world from destruction 30 years ago by unleashing Psynergy but also unleashed chaos unto it as well. Now a new phenomenon known as Psynergy Vortexes has breached the peace of Weyard and our heroes must set out to solve the problem.
This is where the story starts to become a bit of a conglomerated mess in my opinion. Let me fill you in on just a few of the beginning events to give you an idea of just how confusing the story can be (Minor spoilers ahead): [The heroes begin in search of a Tyrell in a forest and realize that the Psynergy Vortexes have gotten larger. So then they’re sent on a quest to gather a Roc’s feather to mend a Saurwing that Tyrell broke. On the way they’re supposed to meet up with Kraden. However, they then are diverted from their quest due to the evil bidding of an unknown group and find their way doing other random acts such as saving lives, intervening in wars, and starting up ancient machines (all of which are cool but cause you to lose track of your way). In the end, the whole Psynergy Vortex crisis seems to be forgotten up until extremely late in the game after having seen your last one only a few hours in and instead a larger scale issue comes into play]. I just found there to be so many new plot additions without resolutions that I almost forgot what the main task at hand was at times.
Secondly, another problem with the storytelling in the game stems from the pace at which events unfold. For instance, (More minor spoilers ahead) [the aforementioned Roc’s feather isn’t obtained until about 18 hours in and Kraden isn’t reunited with you until even later, not to mention the fact that you don’t obtain a boat until this late into the game and finally learn the true crisis at hand]. The game seems to slug along at times in the story department due to the lack of quick plot resolutions before new elements are added as well as the slow pace of events.
Finally, the third element of storytelling that suffers just a bit is the extremely large amount of text overload. If I remember correctly, the first two games also had a large amount of text but nothing to the extent of this game. I often found it difficult to find stopping points for me to save and quit my game because of the large, drawn out text sequences (thank God for sleep mode on the DS). I often found myself merely brimming over the text and sometimes missing key points because of my impatience (for if I carefully read each segment, the game could have lasted hours longer). Still, in the end, despite the long, drawn out text sequences, plot additions, and lack of resolutions, the actions of the characters keep the game exciting.
Along the way you’ll meet up with faces, new and old, and there are also many references to previous Golden Sun games. I found the homage to be a nice tie-in to previous titles but in all truthfulness, I found myself forgetting over half of the references merely due to the time difference experienced between the previous games and this one (I hadn’t played them since as long as been released). However, despite the conglomerated storyline at times and the forgotten details of events from the past, I still felt a sense of adventure when playing Dark Dawn (despite being a little confused at times) due to the fulfilling puzzles and magnitude of some of the dungeons and areas (the first major dungeon took over an hour to finish!).
Dark Dawn appropriately takes practically all of its mechanics from the previous two games with a few improvements and a few minor issues (in my opinion). Whether or not you enjoyed the first games will have a large impact on your experiences with this game. Expect turn based battles (though extremely speedy to limit frustration), the same Djinn customizations, character classes, and spells (for the most part) and most of the same psynergy to be used outside of battles (to solve the game’s many puzzles). Thus, if you experienced either of the first two titles, expect this one to be right in the same vein as its predecessors.
As with the first two games, you’ll progressively collect more and more Djinni throughout your adventure and these are extremely important to the overall battle mechanics of your characters. First of all, Djinni come in four different types matching the four different elemental psynergies: earth (Venus), wind (Jupiter), fire (Mars), and water (Mercury). Djinni can be equipped by your characters and they affect the stats, class, and Psynergy (spells) of your characters. Though I found it most effective to align Djinni of the same type with that character’s natural affinity, I remember creating some killer teams in The Lost Age by mixing up the Djinni.
There are 72 Djinni in all that can be found within the game and up to 9 can be equipped by any one character (though they must be dispersed evenly according to how many you’ve obtained). Despite affecting your characters’ battle skills, they can also be used in battle to perform the specific skill each Djinn holds (all Djinni have different skills, even ones of the same affinity). Once used, they are set to standby and can then be used for calling summons into the battle (summon combinations can also be found throughout the game and they require different amounts of different Djinni to be on standby to be called). The tradeoff to putting Djinni in standby and calling summons, however, is that it can drastically lower your characters’ stats and remove some of the techniques he knows.
Now, I love the overall mechanics of the game and I used them quite efficiently in previous titles. However, the biggest issue I had with this game compared to previous Golden Sun titles was that the game was a little too easy in my opinion. In The Lost Age, Camelot made up for this by providing a hard mode but this isn’t the case here. Thus, I often found it unnecessary to even use my Djinni in battle at all and instead just spammed the buffing spells, attacking spells, and standard attacks to destroy my opponents (even bosses). There is a time when standard battles do get much more difficult than throughout most of the game but even then I only had one character die ever in my experiences with the game, despite rarely using Djinni/summons (my characters were too powerful due to optimized equipment and high levels from never running from a battle).
As for exploration, the game picks up where the previous games left off with large scale, satisfying dungeons and puzzles. Though there is never really anything that stumps you too much, the puzzles are just enjoyable to solve and each new Psynergy technique you learn helps to keep them fresh throughout the experience. From moving and breaking blocks to freezing, evaporating, or adding water, Psynergy allows for puzzles that make the Golden Sun series unique. This alone separates the experience from other jRPGs and is one of the reasons the series is so beloved.
Golden Sun: Dark Dawn has seven years of anticipation and waiting on its side to help push players through the slow storyline and lengthy dialogue sequences. The classic game mechanics such as Djinni and Psynergy puzzles are what makes these games great, however, and Golden Sun: Dark Dawn is sure not to disappoint. Though it might not be my favorite of the series (I’d have to say The Lost Age is my personal favorite), it has definitely been a welcomed addition to the series after such a long-awaited arrival. Let’s just hope we don’t have to wait another seven years for another sequel.