Preview: Golden Sun: The Lost Age

Calling all Sun worshipers...


Always count on statue moving.

Only 71 to go...


No amount of mint is going to touch that breath.

Felix: The man, the hero, the trapeze artist.

My bonnie lies over the ocean...

Disco inferno!

Easter islands.


Fun, fun, fun.
Platform: Game Boy Advance
Developer:Camelot Software
Publisher: Nintendo
Rating Pending

Three different battle themes, harder puzzles, more combination-friendly Dijins, improved graphics, four more characters, and a few mini games. For those who have played the original Golden Sun, feel free to stop reading. Thatís about all thatís different.

The original game was a pleasant surprise for many gamers: it was a classic, decently-sized RPG with swell graphics and good gameplay, despite the similarities to another game developed by Camelot, which wonít be mentioned. Golden Sun showed just what the Game Boy Advance was capable of when it came to RPGs. The game sold well and is able to claim many non-typical RPGamers among its fans. The level of disappointment can be easily imagined (for those who didnít experience it first hand) when the game ended abruptly with a cliffhanger ending. The saga of Golden Sun hadnít ended though Ė it had merely been put off until the next installment of thirty dollar cartridges could arrive. Well, that installment is coming up soon. Rather than fix what ainít broke and make an entirely true sequel, they have instead released an expansion that is the same size as the original, if not bigger.

The series uses a dated but not hated battle system. It is turn based where the player gives commands to the party at the start of the turn, and the characters and enemies attack in an order based on their speed. All very well, but the game even continued the old-fashioned practice of having the party members skip their turn if the enemy they were commanded to attack perishes in the meantime. The result tends to be button presses with no thought except to guess how much HP the enemy has left so a characterís turn isnít wasted. Of course, the player has the option of releasing a Dijin (summoned creature) or using Psyenergy (casting magic), but in practice it isnít necessary in non-boss battles. Still, snazzy rotating camera angles and powerful critical hits should break any potential monotony Ė potential that exists due to the continuing tradition of constant random battles.

Actually, "constant" isnít quite accurate. Golden Sun: The Lost Age has even more involving puzzles than its predecessor does; and there the battles blessedly stopped during the trickier puzzles. Although consisting for the most part of standard "move the statue over the pressure plate" type stuff, Camelotís puzzles also had a very original side. Rather than the characters having tools like bombs and hookshots, the player manipulated their "Psyenergy" in creative ways. For example, casting a wind spell to start a vine swinging so a player can grab on to it. Impressively, the interface used for all this spell switching isnít nearly as cumbersome as those of other games. The Lost Age promises to feature more of these Psyenergy mind-benders.

The graphics of Golden Sun were among the best ever for a handheld game. The little cartridge boasted bright colours and splendid 3-D spells and wasnít the least bit afraid to show them off to its 128-bit cousins. The only problem was, inevitably, that the field characters had to be small enough to fit on the tiny screen. Not so bad in itself, but in order to convey the characterís feelings and body language, Camelot decided it had to have the characters do weird stuff like vibrate, stretch and bounce in bizarre ways. Since this could go on for minutes at a time during story sequences, often with trite or non-existent dialogue, the previewer found himself being irrationally driven crazy and thinking that maybe being inundated with battles wasnít so bad after all. At any rate, The Lost Age will feature some improvements in animation both on the field and in battle. Also, the cinematic scenes in this game are a sight to behold. Somebody obviously forgot to mention that this is a handheld game!

Story wise, The Lost Age is a continuation of the originalís story, only with a different set of characters. Felix and Jenna, the sympathetic villains in the first game, are joined by Picard and Sheba for the gamer's adventuring amusement. The plot takes its inspiration from that historical pseudo-science, Alchemy, and makes good use of the old tried and true elemental crystal idea. Things get a bit twisted when Isaac and company join their rivals, and the player gets a choice of which four characters to have in the party at any one time. And yes, and Isaac will still be named KupekFan or whatever you named him before. This is because the end game file from the original Golden Sun cartridge can be copied into the new one via a link cable and another Game Boy Advance. Since that option isnít viable for everyone, there is also a long code that can be entered manually. The code is 250 characters long, but it allows items, levels, Dijins, and money to be carried over. Smaller codes can be inputted for those willing to sacrifice some stuff.

One of the most charming features of the original game was all the Dijins that could be found for summoning. Altogether, The Lost Age has 72 Dijins to be found, but the Dijins will be more picky when it comes to what character they attach to. Still, since Dijins can also have more than one element, there are a lot of combinations to get through. The player can also spend some time fishing, trading animals and collecting cards that wield bonus Psyenergy powers. Thatís about it for the replay value however, although the two-player link battle is still available.

If Golden Sun: The Lost Age takes its place in the handheld RPG pantheon, as it almost certainly will, it will be through heredity. It is little different from the original game. Although some extra originality would certainly have been appreciated, it wonít mar this gameís success. The Sun comes up again sometime in the first quarter of the upcoming year.

by Matthew Scribner

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