Golden Sun


    When most people think of the first traditional RPG on any given system, the word "quality" usually does not follow immediately after. With such dubious examples as Beyond the Beyond and Summoner coming before it, Camelot's Golden Sun could have easily been another of these throwaway titles. However, as it turns out, Golden Sun is anything but a title to ignore.

    Originally revealed alongside the Game Boy Advance at Spaceworld 2000, Golden Sun quickly became one of the most graphically impressive titles on the young system. Using a traditional two-dimensional view, combined with a tiny bit of well-used 3-D, the game shines graphically, rivaling practically any 2-D RPG in the past, and coming close to matching the standards of excellence set in Square's Legend of Mana and SaGa Frontier II games. Locales are brilliantly constructed, using such a wide array of tiles that most people will not notice they are tile-based. The game takes advantage of the Game Boy Advance's large color palette; the game is very bright and colorful, even to the point that it is quite easy to play under minimal lighting. Occasionally, Golden Sun even manages to make the graphics part of the gameplay. The most impressive example of this is when the party is traversing through a tree-covered area, with only the area directly around the player being visible and leaves disappearing and reappearing as the characters walk around, thus making what could be a very boring area into a brilliantly constructed maze.

 If he pushes angels around, I'd hate to see how he treats a date.
Dungeon puzzle fun.

    The excellence in the location graphics translates into the battles as well. Battles take place in a three-quarter view, similar to the one that is found in the battle cutscenes in another Camelot-developed series, Shining Force. However, unlike the fairly static Shining Force cutscenes, Golden Sun's are full of action; using a simple 3-D layout, the battles actually feature a camera which rotates back and forth, focusing the character or enemy as it attacks. Add to this the impressive magic animations, as well as full-fledged summons, and it can easily be said that the battles are just as graphically polished at the rest of the game.

    Of course, the battle graphics would be nothing if there wasn't a well-constructed battle system to back it up. Luckily, Golden Sun delivers on this aspect as well, mainly thanks to the magic system employed by the game. Each character has a base set of spells (called Psynergy in the game) available to him or her. The player can then attach elemental creatures called djinns to each character, which not only adds (or takes away) spells, but also alters their stats. While some developers might stop there, Camelot has taken things one step further. Each djinn can be used in battle, and has its own unique affect; some are elemental or status attacks, others boost party offense or defense, and still others can be used for healing and resurrection. However, once a djinn is used, the spells added by the djinn are no longer accessable, and any spells that the djinn might have taken away upon being equipped are once again able to be cast. Camelot still wasn't satisfied to stop there; each time a djinn is used, it is then ready to be used in a summon spell. If only one djinn has been used, the only available summon will be a level one summon of the djinn's corresponding element. However, if a player uses multiple djinns of the same elemental type, increasingly powerful creatures can be called upon. Better yet, djinns that are used can be carried over from battle to battle so that powerful summons can be stored up for a major battle. Once the summon is carried out, the djinn rests for a few turns, and then goes back to its initial ready position, spells once again available for casting.

The enemies just don't get any tougher than this.
Fighting mushrooms in the rain.

    Using the djinns to their fullest requires the player to think out his moves more carefully than he might in a more traditional system; while the djinn attacks are powerful, they also may remove important magic from the available spells, thus hindering the battle more than they help. In addition to this, if an enemy dies halfway through a round, any attacks targeted on the dead enemy won't be re-directed to another like many RPGs. These aspects of the battle system make it complex enough that it is enjoyable, but still simple enough to not drag out the time spent on battles.

    Of course, a good battle system does not make a game by itself; Camelot has made the game's dungeons equally complex and enjoyable. Instead of being traditional maze-based dungeons, Golden Sun frequently requires the player to solve a number of puzzles to proceed. Many of the puzzles go beyond the general block-pushing that shows up quite often in RPGs, and involve a large number of the game's spells, many of which are usable only outside of battle. Players will find themselves with access to spells such as Lift, Carry, and Move, moving around rocks so that they can proceed, as well as using elemental spells such as Frost to freeze puddles of water into pillars that can be used as stepping stones. There are a wide enough variety of puzzles that players will rarely get bored of them, and right when they do start to get old, Camelot lightens the amount of puzzles that are encountered, thus preventing frustration from setting in.

 Like you're going to say no.
One of the many yes/no questions in the game.

    However, while so much of Golden Sun is done so well, the game does have its drawbacks. The most blantant of these is the plot; while it is far from bad, it has been seen so often that RPG veterans will find it quite dull. The game centers around a character named Isaac, who is one of the few humans that is able to use Psynergy. While on a field trip to a nearby Psynergy-filled mountain, Isaac watches as one of his friends and his teacher are both kidnapped. The remainder of the game entails Isaac trying to find the characters that did the kidnapping, freeing his friends in the process. Of course, the kidnappers are also bent on reviving the art of Alchemy, which would allow them world domination, and thus combining the two most typical RPG plots into one. Camelot has also seen fit to throw a good helping of fetch quests into the game; the player will often find that in order to proceed, he must lift a curse so that a king will re-open a road, or wait for a bridge to be built/re-open. To make matters worse, the game doesn't do a very good job of directing the player, and quite often you'll be faced with what appears to be a few options, when in fact only one is a valid one (the remaining options undoubtedly requiring fetch quests to be completed first). Luckily, the translation has been handled well, though this is both a blessing and a curse, as the main characters all act and sound their age, which ranges from 15-17.

    Storyline aside, Camelot has crafted a fine RPG for the fledgling handheld. Though a longer game would have been nice (most people will find that they can finish the game in 20-24 hours), it is easily one of the best RPGs to grace a handheld. Add to this a small but welcome 2-player mode where gamers can square off with their parties in a battle arena, and an excellent soundtrack by Motoi Sakuraba (of Star Ocean and Valkyrie Profile fame), and Golden Sun becomes one of the best portable RPGs in a long time, not to mention one that is not likely to be bettered any time soon. Though it may be the first traditional RPG on the Game Boy Advance, it proves to be one that won't be easily forgotten.

Review by J.T. Kauffman, GIA.
Golden Sun
Developer Camelot
Publisher Nintendo
Genre Traditional RPG
Medium Cartridge (64 Mbits)
Platform Game Boy Advance
Release Date  July 2001
E3: New Golden Sun details
12 new screenshots
4 main character designs