Poll Winner: GOLDEN SUN
Another game I always heard good things about but never got to play for myself until now. Several people have told me how I need to play this game over the years, namely my cousin Austin. So this was the perfect opportunity to see for myself if Golden Sun really was as good as they say. Golden Sun was created by Camelot Software Planning, who have often affiliated with Sega, but have partnered with Nintendo a lot too (for not only this game but also for the Mario Tennis and Mario Golf games). It released in 2001 to phenomenal reviews and pretty solid sales, quickly gaining a name as one of the better JRPGs made up to that point. It spawned a sequel called The Lost Age (also on the GBA) the very next year and then a third game Dark Dawn years later on the DS.
So I can already tell you I may do a lot of comparing of this game to Chrono Trigger, I can’t help it. That’s because they’re both 2.5D JRPGs from close to the same era and also are both JRPGs I’m playing for the first time. I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t really care much for Golden Sun at first. It was slow in both action and story, none of it interested me all that much. Maybe I was spoiled by recently playing Chrono Trigger for the first time, but I found the early game of Golden Sun overall to be unexciting. But as the game progressed I got more and more interested, especially as I learned the slight mechanics twists it uses and as the puzzles got more difficult. For example in Golden Sun your mana pool regenerates itself as you move about the environment instead of you worrying about having to make countless trips to shops for items when you’re grinding. This simple change would make me enjoy so many other JRPGs more and I personally wish they all would adopt it. The rate you regain it is slow so there’s not really much worry about it breaking the game by making it too easy. It greatly improved the fun of battles because I wasn’t scared to use my various mana abilities with my characters, I didn’t have to be frugal with my MP. I tossed out fun spells left and right even on normal mobs. I also liked that pretty much all party members felt useful, since in every other RPG there always seems to be one member who you would never take with you on an important battle. The story, while still not super interesting to me personally, did pick up and finish stronger. What impressed me the most out of everything though was as I ran into more and more variety in the game worlds and dungeons they all felt unique. Again, reminiscent of Chrono Trigger. Some areas were significantly different, like the desert area or ship area. Speaking of the ship it was probably my favorite part, and the kraken fight was probably my favorite battle. It was all just a nice change of pace after the many hours I had into Golden Sun at that point. On the technical side of things the game is ultra impressive for a handheld title. Its sprites, animations and soundtrack were on par with great SNES and Genesis classics like (once again) Chrono Trigger, Earthbound, Secret of Mana, etc. Actually it may be the best looking game on the Game Boy advance.
On the negative side, Golden Sun had far too many random encounters. This is a personal preference though, some gamers may like that. I think its also because I’ve been spoiled on modern JRPGs that have the ability to adjust your encounter rate. I also felt at times the game had far too much text and useless dialogue. Also, without spoiling anything, the final boss was pretty damn easy, which I personally don’t mind but I know a lot of hardcore JRPG fans will hate. A lot of you hardcore JRPG guys want your characters to have to be fully grinded out, max level, max equipment, max everything to be able to defeat a final boss. I think you’re crazy and that Golden Sun, while a touch on the easy side, was more in line with what I prefer. If I’ve put a decent chunk of hours into a game and thought into my character builds and strategies I should be able to beat the game without grinding for another 100 hours.
Golden Sun ended with a pretty obviously open ending, making the player assume there would be sequels, which there were. After finishing this blog I will be adding those sequels to my Games To Play list for sure, at least the GBA sequel. Any self respecting handheld collector or RPG collector should own Golden Sun. Its technical quality was pretty much unheard for its time and platform, it was a bit ahead of its generation and definitely deserves recognition for that. Kudos to Camelot Software for that.