Handheld of the Month: Golden Sun

“What’s your favorite console of all time?” My new acquaintance was playing twenty questions about what games I liked to play. He was lucky I was 3-0 so far in the night for Friday Night Magic, usually I wouldn’t oblige to answering the question.

“Nintendo DS.” This caused a lot of heads in the store to turn.

“Really? A handheld?”

“My DS might as well have been surgically attached to my hands in high school.”

As long as I can remember Handheld consoles have always been some of my favorites. Most recently I received a 3DS over the holidays, and have been playing it quite a bit, despite the fact that I have large amount of other games to keep me entertained.

The difficult part is however, several gamers find themselves only playing handheld devices when other devices aren’t readily available, such as on a road trip or on a flight. Not to mention also finding a quality game that will retain your interest like big triple A titles, can also difficult. So being the handheld lover I am, I’m going to help you guys get going on the handheld route. One of the things you guys asked for last year, was more reviews. Well in addition to my other standard reviews, I’ll be doing handhelds. Each month you can expect a review of a handheld game that recently came out, as well as one from the past. Sometimes they’ll be related, and other times they’ll just be great games.

So to kick off the first one I’m going to review an entire series that spans across two handheld console generations, Golden Sun. The games I’ll be reviewing today are Golden Sun, Golden Sun: The Lost Age, and Golden Sun: Dark Dawn.

Golden Sun was released on November 11th 2001 (WOW this game is older than I thought it was) by Camelot Software Planning. You play as the main character, Isaac, from a small town of Vale, in the world of Weyard. Isaac and his friends are tasked with stopping a few crazies from unleashing alchemy upon the world. They simply know that it was locked away from the world and it needs to remain that way. You travel throughout the northern continent in Weyard in order to prevent the crazies from doing the dastardly deed of unleashing alchemy. Isaac’s story covers all of Golden Sun and Golden Sun: The Lost Age. Golden Sun: Dark Dawn however features Isaac’s son, but we’ll get more into that later.

What made the game memorable was the fact that the game took a lot of cues from older RPGs, while almost defying several of the standard RPG ideas. To elaborate, every character in your party is considered an Adept, a magical being able to command and use elements. Each character is bound to a specific element, Isaac is a Venus Adept so he commands Earth. There are three other types of Adepts in the game which are Mercury (Water), Jupiter (Wind), and Mars (Fire).

This allows all the characters to cast spells, unlike in other traditional RPGs where only a few select characters casted spells. You can customize the characters further by allowing the to utilize elements they’re not necessarily bound to by using creatures called djinn. Djinn are classified like adepts themselves. By equipping certain Djinn to characters you can change the way they cast spells and use abilities in combat. Djinn can also be “unleashed” in combat for various effects, as well as harnessing multiple Djinn’s power to summon monster spells upon enemies.
The combat system was very simple, yet it could become extremely complicated if you choose to. In fact they even continue the tradition of older RPGs and have a series of secret bosses you can fight, all of which pose a very large scale of difficulty.

Another cue they take from older RPGs is the fact that Isaac is a silent protagonist. The only time he actually communicates with his allies are simple nods of yes or no. Which ironic because a lot of dialogue in the game your party members seem almost, over dramatic at times. Miss Katie Tiedrich (creator of Awkward Zombie) does a great job of explaining what I’m talking about. http://awkwardzombie.com/index.php?page=0&comic=082712

However one of the things that turned a lot of players off from this game (and all of the others) was that these games are actually quite hard. From the combat (Which can be solved by some old fashion Final Fantasy style grinding of fighting monsters) to the puzzles and dungeons the game seems almost relentless and hell bent on making you give up. It’s not quite as bad as Dark Souls, but the game can easily become very frustrating at times.
So Golden Sun and Golden Sun: The Lost Age, both have great game play (sometimes frustrating) and a great storyline to follow (Trust me, it’s a commodity these days when talk about JRPGs with good storylines). The only issue about playing them now is that they were both for the Game Boy Advance. Finding them might be a little difficult, but I’m sure the internet can solve that.

So moving on to Golden Sun: Dark Dawn, how does it hold up after it was released almost 10 years after the first game? Actually pretty well.

The game takes place 30 years after the events of Golden Sun: The Lost Age. The game instead of following Isaac, follows his son, Matthew, and his friends. Matthew and his friends unlike their parents are necessarily tasked with saving the world at first. They’re actually sent on an errand to fix something that Matthew’s best friend Tyrell, broke. It quickly however changes and becomes a very dire situation across the world.

The same combat system returns again with the easy on the outside, but deep down in the middle becoming very complex. Djinn return, and all the fun battle mechanics of the first two games come back, and are ready for a new game on the DS. There are tweaks to combat, such as usable items being much more powerful, and Psynergy (think magic power) recovering at a much quicker rate.

In addition to the changes to combat, Dark Dawn changes the entire world of Weyard. It actually has very little resemblance to the old world. This allows returning to players to explore the world without getting the, “Haven’t I been here before?” kind of vibe.

Other than that Dark Dawn largely remains similar to its earlier titles, just instead of Isaac as the silent protagonist it’s now Matthew.

The entire Golden Sun series is one that will captivate you for at least a good 100 Hours +. Golden Sun and its titles remain to be the best handheld RPGs, scratch that, best RPGs I’ve ever played. If you haven’t tried any of them, you should go and give them a try. I’m sure they’ll manage to entertain you.

I’ll be back next month for more handheld goodies!

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