Golden Sun Game Boy Advance
In 2001 Nintendo made the first big step up in technology for the release of their long running, and highly successful, handheld, the Game Boy. Released as the original Game Boy Advance, the system sported a 32-bit processor, a new, wide colour screen capable of displaying 32,000 colours simultaneously and support for four players. To add to this, the Game Boy Advance featured two new shoulder buttons and prolonged battery life over the Game Boy Color, all on two AA batteries.
Golden Sun was in development at Camelot long before the announcement of the Game Boy Advance the year before, and it is painfully obvious. This game exploits the Game Boy Advance for all it’s worth and more. With rich sound, vibrant graphics and explosive special effects, Golden Sun demonstrates just how a 2D game can be as enjoyable as, if not more so, than a 3D game in the modern video game arena.
From the very start, you are thrown right into the adventure as young, adept Isaac, in the foothill village of Vale. A tragic accident greets you in the first few minutes of the game, claiming the lives of villagers near and dear to you. Three years after that accident, you, along with Garet, a friend of yours, and his cousin Jenna, are on their way to meet with a scholar, Kraden, for a lesson. Soon, you begin to learn the mysteries of the magical power known as Psynergy, or Psychic Energy. After a run-in with thugs at Sol Sanctum, a sanctuary for mythical elemental stars on Mount Aleph, you are given the task by the townspeople of Vale to set out on a journey. This journey is to travel the Continents of Gondowan and Angara, recover Garet’s kidnapped sister Jenna, Kraden, the elemental stars and to prevent their use in igniting the beacons of the four elemental lighthouses.
The lighthouses were built centuries ago, by the last great alchemists of Weyard. They saw the damage mankind was inflicting on itself by its sense of greed mingled with the desire to become ever powerful with Psynergy. As a result, the wise men decided to seal up all alchemy and the majority of Psynergy. Now, only a select few inhabitants know the ancient technique of Psynergy, and are not allowed to reveal its secret to common people. There are four kinds of Psynergy, Wind, which is aligned with Jupiter Adepts, Earth, which is aligned with Venus Adepts, Fire, which is to Mars Adepts and Water, which is to Mercury Adepts. These elements will aid you on your quest, as eventually one adept of each kind will join your party. These include you, a Venus Adept, Ivan, a Jupiter Adept, Garet, a Mars Adept and Mia, a Mercury Adept.
Unfortunately, despite the advantages of the construction of the lighthouses to seal away alchemy and Psynergy, there is one adversely negative affect; Gaia Falls, the edge of the world where the ocean meets the air, is eroding at Weyard, and, if nothing is done, soon, it will all be gone.
As you progress, you meet little creatures called Djinni. Djinni are Pokemon-like, in that they join you and provide their techniques to aid you. Djinni are also element-orientated, providing special abilities in their field. Once a Djinni is equipped, it will boost the character’s stats that it has been equipped to. Using a Djinni in battle will provide the elemental power it contains so that a Summon may be called, very much in the style of Final Fantasy. Sometimes, in order to capture them, you will need to battle them and defeat them. This particular gameplay element gives brilliant depth, as you can mix and match different Djinni with different characters, changing stats and attacks.
As with traditional RPGs, you level up by experience points gained defeating monsters and enemies, which pop up randomly. Furthermore, you can buy and sell weapons and items that contribute to stat building (and repairing) forging new equipment from items found in dungeons. There are many side quests that are not necessary, but add exceptional length and depth to an already long and challenging adventure. Additionally, the benefits will be reaped when you continue your game in the second chapter, The Lost Age.
As you may have realised, Golden Sun has an incredibly deep and engrossing plot, paving the way for highly emotional connections and relationships with NPCs. Not to give anymore of the storyline away, but if you are told something in this title that does not make a whole lot of sense, then it will become completely clear in The Lost Age where you continue (and hopefully finish) your adventure. Everything fits in, and connects solidly, with no anomalies occurring even when carrying over to the next title.
During battles you are able to use items, attacks, Psynergy, Djinni or just run. Ordinary attacks are based on your weapon, your Psynergy, your element and ability, items that individual characters are holding, and Djinni. (All dependant on what you have equipped.) Just like most RPGs, critical hits can be achieved. You take turns battling your enemy, getting as many attacks per turn as you have characters (maximum of four) while your enemy does the same. Order is dependant on speed, and elements work better on some than others. On top of the single player adventure, you can try your battle skills against another adventurer by linking Game Boy Advances. You must each have a copy of the game.
Graphically, Golden Sun stands up even against today’s Game Boy Advance games. Battle background screens are rendered beautifully. The overworld map is a rendition of the Super NES’s Mode 7 scaling effect which make things closer to you larger and things further from you smaller. Towns are dotted along the journey. Stepping into one brings up a detailed and intricately planned town, full of people to talk to, things to do and puzzles to solve. Everything is high in detail, peoples’ animations are fluid and effects such as water rippling or animals chasing each other are splendid and full of life and character.
However, the real beauty of the graphics department is in battle. Characters are, once again, animated beautifully. But, what is truly amazing are the transparency and scaling effects rendered by the hardware of the Game Boy Advance. Pseudo 3D effects for rotating spells and camera angles, blasts of pixels for explosions and Psynergy spells, and the magical Summons. Gloriously animated creatures come to life on screen with blistering, dazzling special effects and high ‘wow’ factors. Nothing compares to the mighty hammer of Thor, or the ravenous staff of Judgement. More than eye candy, it’s like an Orgasmitron for the eye.
The sound of the Game Boy Advance is not great, we’re all aware of that. However, this title seems to cram orchestrated sound pieces into the tiny 8MB cartridge. It is easy to distinguish percussion, brass and even woodwind instruments in the delightful scores presented in this title, even though they are all midis.
In terms of adventure, music really helps to set the mood, providing persuading, eerie tunes for dungeons, bright, happy tunes for towns and largely optimistic tunes for the overworld, as a large and brilliant adventure lies ahead. All in all, brilliantly composed scores by Motoi Sakuraba, who also had a hand in the musical compositions of Tales of Symphonia.
To finish everything, including side quests and collecting all the major items, there is a good thirty hours of gameplay. Of course, you could go and rush everything in about fifteen (as I did in a three day period, one long weekend). There is plenty to do, and plenty to see. The stroyline keeps you captivated for the entire length of the adventure, and after the end, you may feel inspired to go and find things you missed before, such as Djinni, items, weapons and shields, or secret items of considerable worth in the next chapter. For an RPG, it ensures you are never bored.
Unfortunately, as with all RPGs, once you have completed the adventure two, or more, times, there isn’t really an incentive to pick it up and play again. Camelot tries to remedy this by including some mini games and a truck load of hidden secrets, but once these are exhausted, it’s time to plug in The Lost Age.
Overall, a tremendous and exceptionally high quality RPG for the GBA. and today it still retains the unrivalled position of the best of the best (including Pokemon). Golden Sun‘s graphics are unparalleled as is its musical score. If only Pokemon would have utilised the same graphics engine, rather than a slightly updated Game Boy engine. The world of Weyard is an epic land to explore, and hopefully, you will take up the challenge to save it from certain ruin.