After all, they’ve been waiting since 2003 for a sequel to the GBA titles Golden Sun and Golden Sun: The Lost Age. After such a long time coming, is Golden Sun: Dark Dawn, the series’ first DS iteration, worth the wait? Can Camelot capture that same sense of wonder that permeated the first two games? Read on to find out.
Golden Sun: Dark Dawn is a true sequel for the series, but in a little twist, it takes place thirty years after the events of Golden Sun: The Lost Age. At the end of The Lost Age, the heroes succeeded in lighting all four Elemental Lighthouses in order to create the Golden Sun. This unsealed the force of Alchemy which was needed to save their decaying world of Weyard.
In Dark Dawn you play as Matthew who is the son of the original protagonist, Isaac. In fact all three of the main characters are the children of the original heroes, who are now called the Warriors of Vale. While the Golden Sun was neccessary, it also had unforeseen, cataclysmic consequences. Weyard has changed since the last time the player was there. Continents shifted, mountain ranges erupted, and whole cities were wiped off the map.
While it makes sense to change the world map around so long-time players don’t get bored, it also lessens some of the sense of familiarity with Weyard. Certain important locations from the first two games are mentioned only in passing, and whole new places are added, but the game treats them as if they’ve always been there. It makes Dark Dawn feel a little incongruous with the series as a whole.
Dark Dawn plays how you would expect a Golden Sun game to play. The player explores towns, cities, dungeons, and a large overworld map. The protagonists are a special class of people called Adepts who are able to use Psyenergy–essentially the series’ version of magic. These various Psyenergy spells are useful not only in battle but also in manipulating the environment. Players use spells such as “Move,” “Douse,” or even a silly one called “Slap” in order to solve clever puzzles. This aspect sets Dark Dawn apart from other similar RPGs. It makes the dungeons feel more like places from a Legend of Zelda title.
Battles are pretty standard turn-based affairs, but with one special quality that makes the Golden Sun series unique: djinn. Djinn are elemental creatures that the player collects during their adventure. Each djinn is “set” to one of the characters, boosting their stats, changing their class, and unlocking new Psyenergy powers. But that’s not all they do. They are also able to be unleashed in battle with different effects. Some do damage while others heal the party.
Once they’ve been unleashed, the djinn are then put in “standby” mode. From here they are used to activate Dark Dawn’s best feature: summons. When enough djinn of a certain element are in standby, they are used to summon huge creatures to deal massive amounts of damage. The summoning animations are some of the best seen on the DS. They take up both screens, and you can’t help but stare in wonder as a giant archangel blasts the enemies with a beam of energy.
With that said, the difficulty of the battles is far too easy. While this keeps players from having to grind for hours, it also makes the difficulty spike at the very end feel even more out of place. To put it in perspective, the final boss of the game was the first battle in the game where I had to revive any one of my characters.
But Dark Dawn is an RPG, and story plays a big role in these types of games. How does Dark Dawn’s story rate? Sadly, this is the weakest part of the game. The tale begins simply enough with three friends setting out on a simple fetch quest. From here, things start to grow larger in scope until by the very end, you are trying to save the world from being plunged into darkness. However, the game is very dialogue heavy, almost to the point of absurdity. Multiple times one character will say something, and then two sentences later, another character will repeat everything that was just said! It is extremely tedious and slows down Dark Dawn’s already slow pace.
It took me over 13 hours to get the item that precipitated the quest, and by the end of the game, I still hadn’t used it. The main antagonists are introduced near the end of the game, and it feels like they come from nowhere. And of course when the game ends with a teaser for a sequel, it all makes sense. Dark Dawn is only half of the story.
This isn’t a new concept for players who’ve played the series before. However at least at the end of the original Golden Sun the player knew how the story had to go from there. With Dark Dawn, concepts and characters are introduced with wild abandon but are quickly dropped. One can only assume they’ll be in the sequel. The way the story is handled feels sloppy, especially considering how robust the djinn and class systems are.
Golden Sun: Dark Dawn is a Golden Sun game through and through, for better or worse. It features some spectacular battle animations and deep character customization, but on the other hand, the story feels disjointed and unfinished, with flat characters that won’t shut up at times. It’s recommended for fans of the series and gamers who don’t mind the fact that lots of dialogue might interfere with the vibrant battle system.
The graphics are quite colorful, and the effects during battles are some of the best on the DS.
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A good turn-based JRPG with deep class customization, but the game is too easy except right at the very end.
The music fits in well with the series as a whole, but there are no truly stellar tracks.
The main quest takes over 20 hours to beat, but there's little incentive to keep playing once it's over.
The repetitive dialogue, poor story, and problems with the difficulty keep this from topping the other games in the series.