One of the first original* RPG
s for the Game Boy Advance
, developed by Camelot
Software Planning and released by Nintendo
. Camelot are the modern incarnation of the team that developed the Shining Force
games for Sega
, and Golden Sun bears some similarity to the games of that series- the interface is practically identical and the game structure is similar, with the traditional "visit town-upgrade weapons-explore dungeon-beat boss-repeat and fade" progression by which most console RPGs
are defined. Golden Sun
takes a different focus to Shining Force
, with several key areas being modified:
Combat is now based around a 'face-off' (presented in panoramic 3D) instead of an Ultima-style game board. The result is almost exactly like Phantasy Star or some Final Fantasy combat- you can't move your characters, you can only dictate their actions, so there is less strategy and battles are generally shorter and more frequent. You now have four party members instead of the legion of reserve characters you could amass in Shining Force (allowing them to be better developed as characters, and more well-rounded in their abilities).
There is a new and somewhat deeper magic system called 'Alchemy', which can be used by all the party members. The magic in the game is loosely based around the four alchemical elements of Earth, Wind/Electicity, Fire and Water/Ice. Each party member gains spells, some of which can be used in combat, some in exploration, and some with different uses in each. (For example Frost, which is your standard ice-ball in combat, but can be used in dungeons and towns to freeze puddles into pillars of ice, which can be used to cross gaps.)
One smart aspect of the game world is that different towns are based on different cultures- such as China, Arabia, etc.- and each culture has interpreted the 'Psynergy' magic power** to be a different thing- such as Chi, Ki, or the Healing Touch.
As the magic system might suggest, there are now a greater number of puzzles in the dungeon sections of the game. There are a large number of ways to interact with the environment (switches, rolling logs, lifting rocks, pushing statues, and many more which would be spoilers...) which keeps you engaged between the random monster encounters, and rewards ingenuity. As many puzzles only become solvable with your later abilities, it also means you can re-visit previous towns and dungeons to hunt out more rewards, which goes some way to reducing the linearity.
It also brings us to the objective of many puzzles- finding and capturing Djinni. Camelot have introduced the obligatory collectible element to the game (see Pokémon, Faselei!, et al) by hiding elemental familiars around the game world. When collected, they can be 'set' to a party member, raising their stats and giving them new (and sometimes conflicting) spells. Different combinations yield different spells families. In combat, individual Djinni can be invoked to perform a spell of their own (causing them to 'un-set' from their host, lowering their stats temporarily). In the next few turns, any 'un-set' Djinn can be used to summon an elemental (yeah, like those things in Final Fantasy), resulting in apocalyptic damage to the enemy.
The game's presentation is fantastic throughout. Characters are detailed and well animated. Monsters are pre-rendered and sometimes pixelated, but always easily distinguishable. Combat backgrounds are also pre-rendered, and some of them are quite simply stunning. Towns and dungeons are tile-based, with some cunning perspective tricks and frequent use of blended lighting effects (such as flickering fireplaces). The most impressive graphical element has to be the particle effects used to represent spells in combat, however. The more powerful spells have an incredible visual impact (although some manage to cause slowdown).
The music and sound effects are technically well done, with the spot music (e.g. for leveling up) being the highlight. Some tunes are extremely irritating over prolonged periods though.
Another minor drawback is that the game manual is not that great, and there is a bare minimum of in-game help, meaning that you occasionally have to figure out things for yourself that you shouldn't have to. The translation seems to be pretty good, as far as I can tell, although sometimes the plot seems to jump rather disconcertingly. (such as -minor spoiler- the bit concerning the 'Silk Road' and the character Hsu.) One interesting point is the introduction of political correctness- you're characters don't get blinded or paralysed, they get stunned and deluded. Nintendo, eh?
Overall, I recommend this game almost unreservedly. It is one of the strongest titles on the machine so far, and if you are cynically expecting a rushed game trading on the strength of being the first RPG on the machine, you will be pleasantly surprised.
*Meaning, not a port (like Breath of Fire).
**basically The Force.