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Score: 9.0 / 10
If someone were to say that during this
crazy time of system launches and blockbuster debut’s you’d be looking
no farther than the palm of your hand for a great experience, usually
they’d be either crazy or talking about something totally unrelated to
videogames. Yet Golden Sun for GBA, created by the same geniuses who
made the beloved “Shining” series for the Sega consoles, is laying to
rest some aspects of the 2D vs. 3D conflict with gorgeous graphics,
dazzling audio, a charming storyline and overall appealing game play --
and it all fits neatly inside your pocket!
While Nintendo inductees marveled over Final Fantasy, Sega lovers were
creating a niche with the beautiful and imaginative “Shining” series. It
never quite broke
through to the masses but it refreshed the
RPG landscape along with it’s many spin-offs. Golden Sun is the last of
a long line of great RPG’s and it innovates like its predecessors
bringing much-needed depth to the GBA line-up.
Adhering to the tried and true formula you begin with the story of a
young man from an isolated village called Vale whose shoulders carry the
burden of not only saving his village but the entire
world. The village of alchemists called Adepts has been guarding a
sacred temple called Sol Sanctum since ancient times. When the sanctums
seal is broken and the sacred stones are stolen our hero Isaac and his
friend Garrett are asked to retrieve them before the culprit awakens a
power capable of destroying the planet.
Even while the story doesn’t smash any statues it’s delivered at a
comprehensive pace with condensed believable text and plenty of
personality. The pleasant, thoughtful spirit of the entire experience is
reminiscent of Camelot’s old adventures with a few new embellishments.
Equipped with a special power called Psynergy that can be used to move
objects, read minds or conjure up various alchemic attacks, Isaac and
his crew set out on a journey that spans the whole continent of Angara.
As one of the first Game Boy Advance RPG’s Golden Sun uses a great deal
of the systems power. The environments feature 3D scaling and rotation
effects on par with the best offerings from the SNES although the
characters are tiny on an already small screen and it can be a little
hard to maneuver. The graphics are among the sharpest yet seen on the
handheld during exploration of towns, caves and castles but they
especially excel in battles where players unleash elaborate, polygonal
magical effects and vivid sprites sprinkle the screen. Add to that the
old-school balance of strategic game play and character level-ups and
you have a 2D hand-held RPG rivalling those of the “next generation”.
One of Golden Sun’s prime assets is its
fully orchestrated soundtrack with lovable tunes slightly more textured
than the normal tinny handheld RPG music. The dark, stringy classical
compositions played during times of distress and when entering caves are
noteworthy and imaginative for any console. Even through the GBA’s weak
sound system, the rest of the games sound effects are satisfying.
The games format is pretty typical. You’ll travel from town to town and
stumble upon characters that provide plenty of supplemental side-quests.
There are many items, weapons and power-ups to search for and a variety
of separate sub-plots circulate simultaneously. Unlike Shining Force,
the battles are randomly encountered and avoid becoming protracted and
boring with a quick interface and rotating transition. The majority of
the frequent battles are fast paced making it easier to explore deeper.
Players can catch elemental monsters called Djinni that unleash special
attacks and change character stats and class. Psynergy and Djinni are
skillfully woven into the progression of the game. Psynergy can be used
to complete puzzles by moving remote objects or clearing passageways.
Djinni strike with the force of their element and enable the player to
use a scenic summon attack after their initial use.
Luckily, Camelot was thoughtful enough to include the option to save at
any point in the game which is very useful with a portable system.
Additionally, there is a link-cable mode so you can pit your characters
against friends once you build them up.
Overall, this is the RPG that every GBA owner has been waiting for.
Beyond the traditional pleasures of Role Playing Games, Golden Sun is a
particularly pleasant backward glance at the reason why we all loved
them pre-FFVII. It shines not only because its portable -- it’s the same
kind of game that kept us glued to the television way back when and it