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By: Michael Beckett
While Golden Sun has a number of things going for it - a solid visual style, a spectacular soundtrack, and a solid whack of elder-RPG flavor - these positive aspects cannot mask the fact that Golden Sun is a highly derivative RPG with problems in character development, pacing, and a severe lack of innovation.
This game is meant to be a SNES style game, and it fulfills that goal admirably. Therefore unsurprisingly, originality is somewhat lacking. The plot is fairly interesting, and the combat system is engaging enough, but Golden Sun lacks that extra something. It has a vaguely repetitive feel and left me feeling as though the game was a bird who couldn't understand flying. It walked very well, sure, but it walked where it should fly, it walked where it should have dived and soared. It never even looked up.
Golden Sun does make some minor deviations from the standard turn-based combat system with the inclusion of Djinni, elemental creatures who can be equipped to change class and alter the magic available to each character. Investigating the myriad effects the Djinni have on the player characters is one of, if not THE, most interesting and enjoyable things Golden Sun. The combat system itself is fairly dull and rote, though the music does go some way towards alleviating this.
The soundtrack, composed by veteran Motoi Sakuraba, is one of the true highlights of Golden Sun. Mr. Sakuraba uses a fantasy-classical style to create an entrancing mood, one that helps draw the player into the game. It has been said that a good score can make an average game a good one, which is precisely what the soundtrack of Golden Sun does - makes a dull experience feel interesting.
The visual style, again, is highly similar to that of some of the later SNES RPGs. Short, super-deformed sprites in a fantasy setting form the basic structure of the visual style. What Golden Sun excels at is working the GBA's little ARM processor for everything it's worth. Sand effects, water effects, particle effects, sprites, reflections, lighting, - all highly impressive, even this late after its release. While the design of the style is nothing special, the talent of the programmers certainly is.
Control can be a bit of a sore point. While general field movement is solid and the menus work well, checking bookcases and barrels for treasure is annoying and tedious, as the button used to search your surroundings is also the button used to call up the menu. This means that if you aren't properly positioned or the barrel/bookcase/whatever isn't searchable, the menu pops up and forces you to close it again. This may not seem like a big deal, but trust me, after checking thirty barrels, none of which contain anything... Luckily, the interface goes some way towards alleviating overuse of menus through the use of shortcut buttons to which the player can assign spells. These come in very handy when dealing with the game's many logic puzzles.
The story behind Golden Sun is highly fractured in places- it was sometimes very difficult to tell what I was meant to be doing. The story itself isn't horrible, in that the characters are likeable, the overall tale is entertaining if not particularly intellectual, and in that it provides the player with motivation to move forward. However, it lacks any real meaning. The characters simply go forth to save the world and at the end of the game, it doesn't really make any difference to the player that they've won. The plot simply has no impact, no teeth to it.
Golden Sun hardly qualifies as a difficult game. Even without collecting all of the Djinni, even going into the final battle a little under-leveled, Golden Sun can be conquered fairly easily by anyone who pays a bit of attention to character setup before battle and healing during battle. Time to complete is a bit more variable than most games, clocking in somewhere between twenty and thirty hours.
In conclusion, Golden Sun has its ups and downs. I'm afraid to say that in my estimation, the negative aspects of this game slightly outweigh the positives. While investigating the possibilities of the Djinni system was interesting, it didn't hold out over the course of the game. While the plot had a promising beginning, fractured plotting and sheer meaninglessness made it far too lightweight to support the dull mass of the combat system. However, Golden Sun does manage to do one thing which I think other traditionally-styled RPGs could learn from - the inclusion of a multitude of mind-bending puzzles makes Golden Sun worth playing for those gamers who enjoyed titles such as Lufia and Wild Arms.
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