Friday, August 09, 2013

Golden Sun: Dark Dawn review

I have a confession to make going into this review: I never completed either of the first two games in the Golden Sun series.  I did get a fair old way into the first one - about 20 or so hours, and then as so often happened I got distracted by some other new and shiny game and it got left by the wayside.  Even though I never saw how the story played out in the end, I know enough to recognise who all the returning characters are in Dark Dawn, and it's fairly easy to piece together how things went down in the end. The Golden Sun series is not the most original of creations, after all - being made up of mostly generic parts. That's not to say that these games don't have anything of their own to offer, however...

Developer: Camelot Software Planning
Expect to pay: £6

At the opening of Golden Sun: Dark Dawn, some time has passed since the events of The Lost Age.  Isaac and the other Warriors of Vale successfully managed to activate all of the Elemental Lighthouses, restoring life to the dying land. Yet there was a side effect to this... the Golden Sun event caused catastrophic levels of destruction to the world of Weyard... many lives were lost, save for those who were directly bathed in the light, whose lives were extended way beyond their usual span.  All of the Warriors and their companion Kraden were affected.  The world was saved at great cost, and would never be the same again.

Isaac and Garret continue to investigate anomalies that are occurring throughout the world as a result of triggering the Golden Sun - dangerous Psyenergy vortexes.  They are assisted in this task by their children. One day, Garrets son Tyrell gets himself into grave danger after taking a flying contraption invented by Ivan for a joyride.  Thus the game begins with you taking control of the son of Isaac, on a quest to rescue Tyrell before he gets himself killed.  Things spin off from there and eventually a new threat to the world presents itself.  It's up to the descendants of the Warriors of Vale to set things right.

Graphics: 8 out of 10
The visuals of Golden Sun: Dark Dawn are very well done, with nice bright colours, a cool cell shaded look and some very pretty water effects.  They are held back a bit by the usual limitations of the DS system such as a relatively low polygon count which makes the characters look a little angular, but that is hard the fault of the game.  As such, this is one of the better looking titles available for the system, easily on par with something like Dragon Quest IX.

Sound and Music: 7 out of 10
Firstly, the music.  Whilst the compositions of Motoi Sakuraba are of high quality, his work can get quite repetitive.  His music is certainly quite distinctive - chances are you will be able to tell one of his pieces just from the instrumentation and motifs used - but because is also quite prolific chances are the player is already quite fatigued concerning his work.

Also, I have to say I really really hate the noise that your characters make by default while they are talking.  Although it can be turned off, you have to get through the first portion of the game before you can get into a menu and switch it off.  It's a really grating squeaky noise which becomes absolutely maddening during the short time you are forced to be exposed to it, so thank the sweet furry king of the kittens that you can disable it or I would never have got through to the end of the game.  The rest of the sound effects are competently done though really nothing special - they do their job but do not stick in the memory.

Some puzzle solving early on in the adventure.
Game Mechanics: 8 out of 10
The fundamental mechanics behind Golden Sun: Dark Dawn are well established by this point - it is your typical RPG with random encounters, an overworld map, and towns - that sort of thing.  The random encounters are at least well balanced though, and you don't really need to go out of your way in order to level grind, at least until towards the end of the story and beyond.

There are a few unique aspects to the game though.  The first is the Djinn - these little creatures are hidden around the game world, and can be obtained either by defeating them in combat (which is never particularly hard) or by solving a puzzle within the environment in order to reach them.  Once in your party you can assign these Djinn to your characters, which both boost your stats and grant you access to Psyenergy (magic).  You can also select these Djinn in combat which gives some kind of benefit to your party (such as protection against physical attacks, or preventing your enemies from using magic against you for several turns) and also changes their status to "Set".  By setting multiple Djinn of the same type, you can then use summons - extremely powerful attacks by mythical gods and monsters that come with elaborate animations.  After using a summon, the Djinn that were "Set" then go into "Standby" status for a few turns, before returning to their default "Ready" state.

The types of Djinn that you equip on each character also have an impact on your character class - though I have to admit the intricacies of this system are beyond me and I simply matched Djinn of a given element to characters of the same type (Earth, Wind, Fire or Water). My main criticism of the Djinn system is that it makes the vast majority of standard offensive magic somewhat redundant, as you can simply spam the Djinn and summons over and over again at very little cost.

The other thing that sets this game apart (although similar things have been done in Lufia and Wild Arms) are the environmental puzzles.  Some of your psyenergy can be used outside of battle in order for you to interact with certain objects strewn throughout the various dungeons.  For example you can freeze puddles of water so that they become pillars of ice, you can make vines grow so that you can climb them, or you can use a whirlwind to propel yourself across a lake on an oversized lily leaf.  These puzzles are by far the best thing about this game and the Golden Sun series overall.  A couple of the dungeons were incredibly imaginative and fun to solve, and therefore will stick in the memory for a long time to come.

Innovation and Cleverness: 6 out of 10
Golden Sun: Dark Dawn scores most of its points here because of the aforementioned clever and fun puzzle design, because it certainly isn't especially innovative.  It is at heart a very traditional Japanese console RPG, and a fine example of one.

Value and Replayability: 8 out of 10
This rating is based on a combination of how long it will take you to complete the game, whether there's any reason for you to come back to it once finished, and how cheaply you can purchase a copy of your own. Some professional gaming review sites would baulk at the idea of factoring the price of a game into a review, but we live in the real world, money is hard to come by for many of us, and price can make the difference on whether a game is a worthwhile investment or not.  As Golden Sun: Dark Dawn came out a while ago now, it won't cost you very much to pick up a copy - roughly £6 when I checked.  I bought my copy a year ago for £15, and the game is a good deal at that price, so £6 is an absolute bargain.  Upon completion of the game, there are four additional optional dungeons for you to complete.  For me, the incentive for doing so wasn't really there, as all you gain from these dungeons are additional summons.  Given the fact that you already have access to many overpowered summons in the game, and the bosses of the extra dungeons are considerably tougher to beat than actual final boss of the story, I didn't see the point.

Overall: 8 out of 10
If you are clamouring for a high quality, traditional RPG experience to play on the go, then you can do far worse than Golden Sun: Dark Dawn.  Admittedly you can also do better (I would suggest playing any of the Dragon Quest games for the DS before this - especially Dragon Quest IX), but you would be hard pushed to find a better game for less money (the best RPG's on the DS are usually at least £10, and this is steadily starting to rise as collectors snap them up and they become scarcer). For the money, you can't really go wrong this game.  One thing’s for sure, now I have finished it I do want to go back and play the first two games on the GBA that are languishing in my collection!

1 comment:

SimonInsanity said...

Great review!

I've never played the game myself, but the quality of your writing and the detail you put into it was brilliant. You should think about doing this stuff professionally!