Golden Sun was one of the first Role-Playing games released for the Game Boy Advance, not long after the system\'s release back in 2001. Even so, it still stands up well in the sea of GBA RPGs. You take the role of Isaac and friends (eventually Garet, Ivan and Mia) who unwittingly take part in the releasing of the four Elemental Stars, which have the potential to control all four elements (Earth, Fire, Wind and Water.) Alchemy, an ultimate form of this power, is released when all four of the corresponding lighthouses is lit with each star. Your quest is to try to prevent each of the lighthouses from being lit, and in the process save your friends who were kidnapped by Saturos and Menardi, the arch-villians who are trying to harness the lighthouses\' power to unlock Alchemy. Your characters are special in that they are Adepts who live in a village of more adepts. Adepts are people who have a special (and somewhat secret) power called Psynergy, which is more or less what this game calls magic. The fate of the world is up to you!
So how does it work?
Golden Sun is a console-style Role Playing game, where you can have a party of up to four players which you take with you for the rest of your journey. Like many RPGs of this style, there is a world map view (a pseudo-3D walkable map), an above-view town/dungeon view (where most of your adventuring takes place), and a battle view, where you have a 3D isometric view of your party as you battle the opponents. Like many similar games, there are random battles as you travel the world map as well as most hostile places, like dungeons. One of the unique aspects of this game is that unlike many RPGs where most of your interaction with the environment is limited to acquiring items, the occasional locked door, and things like that, this game has you physically interact with your environment to solve puzzles to progress. For example, you might have to move a block out of your way to access a new area. Another is that you may need to use out of battle Psynergy to move a large object away from a wall (you can\'t push something that\'s against a wall.) There are several non battle Psynergy which really can make puzzle solving interesting, especially as several can require several different kinds at once to pass. There are also many puzzles in general that do not require Psynergy, but do require puzzle-solving skills. For example, you may need to roll away logs to get through a path in a forest, or walk across water on logs to get to the other side. Often, the game rewards those who are willing to take the difficult path to get more treasure than rushing to the next door might otherwise. All in all, the game\'s dungeon exploration becomes more interesting than an otherwise typical \'get to the end\' kind of exploration. The magic and summoning system works pretty well. Each character can have up to seven Djinn each, and each character is of one element (Earth, Fire, Wind and Water.) There are seven of each element available to find throughout the game. Every djinn has both a set of attribute bonuses when \'set\', and has a special effect when summoned. Several unset djinn can be combined for some truly powerful summon attacks. One of the neat things about summons is that they do not cost any magic points to cast, but during the time they are not \'set\', the attribute bonuses they would otherwise offer are not available. They also have to rest a round of battle in between summons, and the more powerful ones that require two, three, or four djinn to cast require that the djinn recover for up to four rounds, once recovers each round. Another area of complexity and customizability is that each character, though they have a natural affinity for a certain element, can mix and match their djinn among the party members to make different classes. There are quite a few combinations for each character, and the party styles can be almost endless with the many options available. And yet, a party could choose to leave things default and never explore the djinn types. A quite a lot of depth is available to a player if they choose to go down that road. Battles are pretty standard turn-based, with the agility attribute determing attack order. Characters can attack with their weapon, defend (and take less damage but do nothing), cast Psynergy, unleash a djinn, or summon an elemental power with their unset djinn. One of the neat things is that if you unleash a djinn, you can unleash others until you have enough for whatever kind of summon you would like at that time, though it does leave you vulnerable, as you have less hit points, and sometimes certain Psynergies (like high-level heals) become unavailable until a certain number of djinn are set again. It\'s a balancing act that works rather well. One somewhat controversial aspect of this game is that it was originally designed with its sequel in mind. When you beat this game (which is done before all four elements are taken care of..) the game tells you that the story is to be continued. To finish the story, you need to play Golden Sun: The Lost Age. One good result of this is that you can transfer your characters, including their Djinn and inventory, to The Lost Age, and interesting interactions, and bonuses result. On the other hand, some feel that they both should have just been one game. Regardless, though this game can be enjoyed on its own, full appreciation can\'t be had without the sequel. Fortunately, this can be done affordably if you take advantage of used game sales. Just keep in mind that if you enjoy this one, The Lost Age should not be far off.
What are the graphics like?
This game uses a rather standard almost top down view when exploring dungeons and towns. The character animation is quite good for all of the people in the towns and in your party. Characters often have somewhat realistic emotive responses in the form of noticeable nodding or head shaking, as well as emotive bubbles (like a comic book might have) which can show a smile, frown, or make another emotion clear to the player. The world map takes advantage of the Game Boy Advance\'s SNES-like scaling effects. Everything on the world map looks obviously scaled and pseudo-3D. Some may like the effect, and others may not like its apparent lack of detail. It reminds me of the map effects of Final Fantasy 6 & 7 somewhat. You can also zoom out some to get a better view of the map if needed. The battle view is probably the most spectacular, and also takes the most advantage of the scaling and rotation effects. The entire battle is rendered with low resolution sprites scaled up, and the scene is constantly rotated around and scaled as the battle occurs. Weapon and Psynergy effects are also rendered similarly. Some of the summons look pretty spectacular. Some of the battle effects remind me of Final Fantasy 7 somewhat, which is pretty impressive for a handheld game. It\'s an interesting effect overall, and I think it looks pretty good. I can understand if some were more critical because everything looks a bit blocky/blurry, but I think the effect is worth it. It makes each and every battle seem that much more epic, in my opinion. Considering the hardware this game was developed on, I think that the graphics really push the system quite a lot, which is an impressive feat considering the short amount of time the Game Boy Advance was around when this game was released.
How is the sound and music?
I find the sound and music to be more than adequate. I find myself humming the tunes every once in a while and I enjoy hearing it during the game. Weapon effects are convincing and satisfactory. Music is appropriate to the mood of each location. Good job, here. How appropriate is this game for Christians? The first and foremost consideration is that this game has a form of magic, called Psynergy, as well as various creature summons. If this is an area of concern for you, then think carefully before getting this game. There are a few interesting decisions the character has to make, including some that could be considered moral ones. Whatever the outcome, the game rewards you most of the time for the right choice, though sometimes the outcome does not change either way. There is no swearing or objectional words of any kind. There is no revealing clothing. The closest clothing offender is an enemy that is wearing a skirt and a straight-cut top. All lady characters in the game are very respectful. There is also RPG-style violence agains humans (though mostly monsters). Most of the issues are relatively minor, with the possible exception of magic/Psynergy. Appropriateness breakdown: Violence/Blood/Gore: RPG Violence (-3 pts) No Blood. No Gore. Foul Language/Sexual Dialogue: No foul language or sexual dialogue. Nudity/Sexual Content: Characters clothing is sexy or accentuates their sexuality (-1.5 pts) No Sexual Content. Occult/Supernatural: Game takes place in an environment with minor occult references. (-3 pts) Borderline magic (hard to tell if occult) is used by player. (-3.5 pts) Cultural/Moral/Ethical There are no Cultural/Moral/Ethical issues here.
Overall & Conclusion
Golden Sun is a very good RPG for Game Boy Advance, with only relatively minor appropriateness issues. The production values are absolutely top notch; it\'s a flawless game experience in a lot of ways. It\'s certainly not the best RPG I have ever played or anything like that, but it\'s a very good, solid adventure with many common (and some unique) RPG elements. If the appropriateness issues are not showstoppers and you don\'t mind the possibility of buying both this game and the sequel Golden Sun: The Lost Age to get the complete story, it\'s a worthy addition to any RPG lover\'s library.