11 January 2011

Golden Sun: Dark Dawn

I liked Golden Sun: Dark Dawn. I liked it a lot. I got this game for Christmas, and despite falling ill, still managed to put in a full work week beating it. Yes, I beat it in about a week, logging just over 38 hours of gameplay. I still have some post-game bonus material to tackle, though most of my gaming time has been devoted to Red Dead Redemption lately. Still, I suspect I'll be picking it up again shortly to do the bonus challenges.

At any rate, this game topped my list of Best Games of 2010, primarily for one very big reason: This game is everything I loved about the originals, but with better graphics.

More of the same
My favourite games on GBA as a kid had to be Golden Sun and Golden Sun: The Lost Age. That's not to say that there weren't other great games on GBA, but they were still superb entries. They were very fun RPGs, replete with plot-twists and puzzles, and it's all there again with Dark Dawn.

Although within the story, the world of Weyard has undergone radical changes in the 30 years since the end of Teh Lost Age, very little has changed gameplay-wise. Yes, small towns have become countries, landscapes have changed, a new race of beastman have emerged, and there's been the appearance of dangerous psynergy vortexes, but when you look at the gamplay mechanics? It's just more of the same. Which isn't a bad thing, mind you. I loved the originals, so it's good to be back there again.

Is it just me, or is it easier?
There is one thing that has changed, or at least feels different. It feels... easier. But maybe I'm just misremembering things. After all, I was 13 and 14 when I played the originals. I'm 22 now, nearing 23. Still, I couldn't help but shake the feeling that it was just... easier than those originals were.

Hey, look! It's Isaac!
Er, wait... I guess it's his son.
In the context of the story, you play as the children of the Warriors of Vale, who were the protagonists of the original series. Maybe that adds to it. After all, even though the Warriors of Vale were kids too in those first two games, they were doing it for the very first time. No one had mastered psynergy (i.e. magic in the Golden Sun universe) before. But now you're just following in your father's footsteps. It makes the characters feel more like kids than those original heroes were.

At any rate, I never really struggle much with this games puzzles. As it went on, there were a few where I had to try it a few more times to get it, but I was never left staring at my DS, scratching my head and saying, "I have no idea how I'm supposed to do this." If I tried a solution and it failed, I would see the correct solution shortly thereafter.

Still, the sheer complexity of the final dungeon was, at the very least, impressive. There is one par where you must line-up shadows to create an image, which is really cool to see come together (if easy to solve).

Using Djinn
In addition to the more involved puzzles that involve the use of psynergy outside of battle, something that already makes the Golden Sun series stand out from your generic RPGs, there is also the addictive combat system. In addition to your standard Attack/Magic/Item/etc menu-driven combat system, there is the option of using Djinn.

Djinn are cute little creatures that aid your party. When you equip or "set" Djinn to your characters, they provide statistical increases and can alter your available Psynergy, making you stronger in general. You can then unleash the Djinn to perform special attacks. For example, one might allow you to disregard an enemies Defence for that attack, or it might have a chance of poisoning the target. Other Djinn will heal the party's HP, PP (Psynergy Points), status ailments, or revive characters who have been knocked out. Once unleashed, the Djinn enter "Standby," and are ready to help you summon.

In order to use a summon, you must have a certain number of Djinn on Standby, after which point they will slowly re-equip onto their respective characters. The system provides for various levels of strategy. You don't want to unleash all your Djinn and have your stats drop, but they perform strong attacks and allow for you to use powerful summons.

Overall, combat was, again, pretty easy. That is, except for the final boss. He was way harder than the rest of the game ever suggested. The first time I fought him, I lost. It was the first time I lost a battle, and it reset me at the beginning of the dungeon with half my money. I don't know if this is normal or if it's for the final boss only, as the game did seem to go easy on you even with this daunting foe. See, all the random encounters in the area just before him were set up to help you grind and get ready for the fight. They gave you tons of EXP for relatively little work and also consistently dropped Waters of Life (Golden Sun's version of the Phoenix Down). I think just running back to where the final boss was netted me an extra two or three levels, easily. I also had a better strategy up my sleeve, and made short work of him the second time.

Okay, maybe not that short. It actually took a while, so I barely got through the final cut scene and was able to save before I had to rush off to work. I finished him off while hastily changing into my work clothes. This is how all the cool kids live.

The story of Golden Sun: Dark Dawn is about as complex as the originals, but this time, the plot-twists feel way more obvious. Maybe it's because I played the old ones and know their style. And there's a lot of similarities in the basic plot. Also, Dark Dawn ends with a lot of things left unresolved, and a significant cliffhanger. They are obviously intending a sequel. And I, for one, would welcome it with open arms.

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