Roundtable: Remembering Golden Sun

In 2001, Nintendo released Golden Sun, an RPG made by Camelot Software Planning for the Gameboy Advance. It took both critics and gamers by storm, quickly earning a devoted fanbase. Its 2003 sequel, Golden Sun: The Lost Age, met with similar praise and solidified the series as one of the best on the GBA and a must-have for RPG fans. However, it’s cliffhanger ending also left fans clamoring for a third game. Their hopes were met with little more than teases.

Finally, at E3 2009, Golden Sun DS–now titled Golden Sun: Dark Dawn–was revealed. As the resident Golden Sun fanatics, SilentAki and I can’t wait for its North American release, which is just a little over a month away. Since both of us recently replayed the first two games, we decided to meet on Skype to discuss what made Golden Sun such a great series. So if you want to join us on our trip through nostalgia lane or simply learn what all the fuss is about, follow us after the break.

But be warned: there are SPOILERS ahead!

Dustin: I think we should probably start a Golden Sun discussion with the aspect everyone seems to remember most: how great the graphics were. For a Gameboy Advance game, the battle animations really were spectacular. I would constantly try out new spells just to see how the game would render them.

SilentAki: The graphics were very good. The game had nice pseudo-3D environments that worked well for it. Though for some reason it looked like clay-mation from time to time, but maybe that’s just me.

Dustin: Yeah, the textures on some of the enemies did look like putty, and the admittedly stiff animations of physical attacks certainly didn’t help. That said, Camelot was able to do a simplistic style quite well when it suited them. The character sprites used outside of battle took a bit of getting used to, but I did eventually find their Lego-like simplicity endearing. The emoticons were pretty cute, too.

SilentAki: The character designs for the main cast for both games were very stylish in and out of battle. And the designs for the towns and dungeons were done quite well, using different styles instead of just the generic Medieval Europe theme.

Dustin: Yeah, they varied the environments nicely. You did have some clear Medieval Europe influences, but there were also places inspired by the Middle East, Africa, Native America and even Russia. Which brings me to another point: the world is big! You barely scratch the surface in the first game, which makes acquiring a ship a pretty huge deal in the second one. In other RPG’s, it’s like, “Oh, okay, I got the requisite ship. Whatever.”

SilentAki: Even if you couldn’t explore areas from the first game, in the second one the world is still large; and it is bound to get bigger.

Dustin: I hope so. I mean, that was the point of the end of the second game, right? The world was slowly shrinking and the so-called “bad guys” were actually trying to save it.

SilentAki: Yeah, which also brings up another point: the story in the first game made it your priority to save the world by stopping the other party. In the second game, the “bad guys” were trying to save the world to begin with. So, for the cast, it was a question of who is right and which method would be most likely to kill them: not lighting the lighthouses or lighting them?

Dustin: I loved that about the games. Saturos and Menardi–the antagonists of the first game–may have been total jerks, but they had good intentions. Their homeland was on the brink of annihilation. A lot of people would probably stop caring about the consequences if their entire nation’s survival depended on their success.

SilentAki: It was actually a shocker for me when I found out that the villians were just a couple of angry Adepts [ED: magic-users, basically] that just ransacked a sanctum because the village that was protecting the Elemental Stars declined their proposal to light up the beacons again. Lost Age provided very good twists to the story, along with improvements on a number of things.

Dustin: And one of those improvements was with the class selection. My favorite parts of the Golden Sun series were the Djinn and how you could equip them in different combinations to give your characters new classes and spells. It was neat to play around with different classes in the first game, but not entirely necessary. In Lost Age, though, you have eight party members instead of four, and each character gets more Djinn than in the first game. So Lost Age had many more options for diversification. And plenty of the end-game bosses encouraged you to try new party configurations.

SilentAki: The Djinn not only offered class options for each character, but also allowed you to form different strategies.  Aside from building classes, you could assign certain Djinn with similar abilities, such as healing, or Djinn that can raise a certain stat on a character. You could also “set” your Djinn before battle so they could immediately perform a powerful summon attack; or you could “set” them during battle by activating their abilities. The game allowed you to have some freedom with your characters and battle method.

Dustin: For a game that was firmly grounded in RPG tradition, the Djinn mechanic was suprisingly modern. Sure, there were some old-school annoyances, like characters defending if an enemy they were supposed to attack dies. I honestly can’t understand why that wasn’t fixed in the second game, since I can only think of one boss where I wouldn’t want my characters to automatically attack a different target. Still, it was really clever how Camelot lured fans of older RPGs in with the graphic style and turn-based battle system, and then presented them with this whole new way of approaching combat.

SilentAki: Another interesting part of these games was the puzzles. Sure, Legend of Zelda may be one of the first RPGs that had cryptic puzzles, but name one Zelda game where Link had to rely on psychic powers to solve them.

Dustin: Since Psynergy [ED: the “magic” used by Adepts] was an integral component of exploration, it let the level designers create more elaborate and fantastical puzzles than they might otherwise be able to. What other game makes you reverse the direction of a waterfall to progress through the dungeon? That’s pretty cool.

SilentAki: Yes, it was cool, and Lost Age went all out by expanding on the puzzles. One that had me stumped was at the Jupiter Lighthouse. How was I supposed to know you could ride a beam of pure purple energy up to higher levels?

Dustin: Yeah, sometimes the solutions got a little too abstract. The Jupter Lighthouse one could be especially tricky, since you’d been conditioned by the first game to think the beam of a lighthouse is pretty dangerous. And then you had the problem of trying to remember which door led where. The later dungeons were complex, occasionally to a confusing degree.

SilentAki: But everyone loves a challenge, whether it’s a puzzle or a boss battle.

Dustin: True. But I tried not to backtrack any more than I needed to, since the random-encounter rate was fairly high. And oh man, the boss battles in Lost Age. The later ones–and especially the optional bosses–could be really brutal. Dullahan is probably the hardest boss I’ve ever beaten.

SilentAki: I’m still leveling my characters so I can beat Dullahan.  Speaking of bosses and monsters, the arena that you unlock after you get your first Djinn is a nice feature. You could battle all the monsters and the bosses from the games, including the final bosses.  Though one feature I found useless in the arena was multiplayer battle. Sure, it’s fun to battle with a friend, but the problem is finding one who has a copy.

Dustin: Yeah, it wasn’t like modern multiplayer where you can just connect to Wi-Fi and battle a random person. You had to actually meet people who owned the game and hope that one of you had a link cable. It was a progressive feature, but kind of useless at the time. Though it might work better for Dark Dawn, now that Nintendo has reluctantly embraced the Internet.

SilentAki: But knowing our luck, it might be strictly Friend-Code based, and we would be the only two battling each other until we found someone else online that has a copy. Though I wouldn’t mind if they did bring back the arena in the DS title.

Dustin: Speaking of which, we’ve talked a lot about the original games. We should probably wrap this up by sharing what we hope to see in Dark Dawn. Personally, I’d like to see a completely new list of summons. Except for Eclipse. He gets to be reused, because he’s totally awesome.

SilentAki: I’d like to see another file transfer.  I’m not asking to carry over all the Djinn I collected from the last game, but some reasonable features such as names we used to rename the cast or have some kind of fanservice for all the hard work we did.  Another thing I hope to see is party members from places like Prox, so we can see different characters with cool features that we saw with Saturos and Menardi.  Who doesn’t want a blue-skinned fire Adept?

Dustin: Oh, yeah, the file transfer. I’d gladly enter that absurdly long code if it meant getting some neat callbacks to my previous playthroughs. And as for your second request, at least one of the playable characters will be a human-beast hybrid. So that’ll be neat.

SilentAki: Really? Well I will gladly welcome the human-beast. And I hope you won’t have to enter a code if you still have your Nintendo DS Lite.

Dustin: So you can just stick the Lost Age cartridge in while playing the new game? Yeah, that would be nice. And according to the information we have now, you’ll get at least eight characters in your battle roster; so I guess they know as well as we do that Lost Age was fantastic. Anyway, we’ve probably waxed nostalgic enough now. You have any final comments?

SilentAki: I’m eager to get my hands on Golden Sun: Dark Dawn, and I hope everyone who played the previous games will support the release and receive their copy at the end of November.

Dustin: Definitely. If it’s as good as the first two, it’ll be a must-buy for RPG fans.