When the Game Boy Advance began making its first impression, it was immediately compared to a handheld Super Nintendo. That was not a unique impression because the Game Boy Advance library quickly filled up with ports, remasters and spinoffs of classic Super Nintendo games. None of them were unwelcome to see with updated graphics for a handheld system. It was great to see such a jam-packed collection of games on a brand new system. The only foreseeable drawback is that it would be difficult for something new and original to stand out from the crowd of classics. Thankfully, with the help of a huge marketing campaign spearheaded by an unforgettably good commercial, one game stood out. That game was Golden Sun.
The Role You Play
You play as Isaac, a sixteen-year-old from the small town of Vale who is learning to become an Earth adept. He is joined by his best friend Garet, another up-and-coming adept who specializes in fire. They are later joined by Ivan, an apprentice wizard who is learning to be a wind adept. Rounding out the group is Mia, who is learning to be a Water adept.
The general story of Golden Sun is that Isaac and Garet’s hometown of Vale is home to a place called the Sol Sanctum. It contains four elemental stones which are necessary to prevent the lighting of four elemental lighthouses in the world. One of Isaac and Garet’s friends gets kidnapped and held hostage. Isaac is forced to hand over the four elemental stones in exchange for her safety. She gets kidnapped anyway and Isaac and Garet have to set off and stop them from lighting the lighthouses and unleashing evil upon the world.
Golden Sun is a pretty traditional RPG with a turn-based combat system. The different areas you visit, both the towns and dungeons alike require a fair amount of puzzle-solving to get access to treasures and elemental spirits called djinns. The djinns appear in the four different elements (Earth, Fire, Wind and Water) and depending on which djinn is equipped to which party member, it affects their attributes and their skills. The only restriction is that characters have to equip a proportional number of djinns to the size of the party, meaning one party member can’t take all the djinns for themselves.
The pacing is pretty linear and straightforward. There is rarely a moment where you will not know where to go or what to do, though there may be some confusion on how to do it. Some of the djinns can be in plain sight but require some extensive problem-solving to acquire them. Besides that, there is not a lot of grinding that is expected out of this game. There are not a lot of side-quests either, since all of the special weapons and armor are found in the dungeons or for sale in the stores. All-in-all, finishing the game should easily take between 10-15 hours.
To go along with its retro 16-bit look and feel, Golden Sun has a SNES-inspired soundtrack. The towns are made to feel very calm and peaceful and the rest of the soundtrack matches very well. The overworld has a bold feeling that lets you know that something big and daring is about to happen. Then suddenly you can get blasted into a battle and it does. The battle music is very charged and up-tempo and gets going very suddenly. It often fades outs just as fast as you are usually transitioning from one scenario to the next rather suddenly.
The sound effects in the game can be a bit cartoonish. You are bouncing across platforms a lot, casting a lot of spells and activating the special effects of weapons. However, it is compressed to that signature 16-bit sound that makes it seem just a bit more artificial than it should be.
The main villains of this game, Saturos and Menardi, are not your typical evil villains. They are much more comical and personable than the types I’ve seen before. They have a personality and they offset each other well. But they don’t come across as the most evil people to ever walk the earth. They’re very kind to a person they’ve taken hostage. They’re also chivalrous to Isaac’s party even though they are trying to destroy the world and they are just peculiar in general.
The Talking Parts
Golden Sun doesn’t quite emulate the best of the SNES RPGs by putting in facial expressions for its characters during the dialog. However, it compensates by adding little windows above the characters above their heads with emoticons to display their current emotions. It is peculiar, but effective in helping to give better expression to the characters. They didn’t need much help anyway, as they were already pretty bouncy and animated anyway. However, they don’t convey any facial expression, despite there being other games on the same system capable of pulling off the same routine.
Z…We’ve Reached the End. Anything Else?
It was amazing that Golden Sun had a successful launch on a system that was loaded with great games. It also got a sequel in Golden Sun: The Lost Age that begins right where the first game ends. Having a direct sequel to an RPG is a rare feat on its own. Golden Sun was a tough enough game to get launched in the first place, so it feels like an especially difficult feat to have pulled off.
Without all of the publicity it received, Golden Sun may well have easily slipped into obscurity. It would have become an unknown classic that people would only play in the days of rediscovering great retro games because Golden Sun has the look and feel of every other classic game that got added to the Game Boy Advance library. It plays like a traditional Super Nintendo RPG with its turn-based combat system, but adds to it in a lot of ways. It’s a classic that should not be overlooked.