Games You Should Have Played: Golden Sun

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Since I haven’t been keeping up with Games You Should Have Played as much as I’d like to, and since I’m currently replaying said game currently mentioned, I want to hit more in-depthly on a title I’ve spoken only briefly about in the past: Golden Sun. It was one of the five Game Boy Advance games I suggested make excellent additions to your DS-playing habits (assuming you still own a DS capable of playing GBA titles), so let’s talk about why Golden Sun is a Game You Should Have Played.

Cooler promotional art there never was.

In the early days of the Game Boy Advance, there was a lot of room to demonstrate why exactly an update to the holy handheld was required. Game Boy games were typically simple; even the RPG’s they yielded tended to be shallower then the SNES counterparts. The Game Boy Color gave us color (obviously), but beyond maybe the Pokemon games, there wasn’t much depth to handheld titles.

Camelot, a company previously known for making the Mario Golf and Mario Tennis titles, had a chance to try something extremely different than what they were known for. Instead of an arcade sports title, they made an RPG called Golden Sun, a game with enough flare to justify purchasing the GBA specifically to play it.

The main drive behind upgrading from the Game Boy Color to the Game Boy Advance was the processing power behind the colors and effects the system could generate, colors and effects the previous generation couldn’t possibly handle. What Golden Sun demonstrated within the very first minutes of the game was enough to say, “Yes, this is where handheld gaming is going.” And that’s even before the battle screens appeared.

Mm-mm, that's just tasty right there.

I was amazed when I first got into a battle and saw the level of detail in the characters, backgrounds, and even attacks. Golden Sun is gorgeous in presentation. You’d be hard-pressed not to say it’s stunning work laid out on a GBA screen. Not only does it show off how far superior it is to the GBC, it shows how it’s superior to even the SNES. Just watching the summons would push me over the edge of awesome. Go watch Judgment get called forth and tell me it isn’t one of the coolest attacks ever to make it into video games.

At the heart of every RPG is the story and Golden Sun certainly has one that got me curious. The game starts with Isaac and his best friend Garet running about in their village of Vale as a great tragedy occurs that forces Isaac to lose his father and his friend Jenna to lose her brother, Felix (wink wink). The story picks up three years later after Isaac and Garet have been training with the use of Psynergy, the energy force the game calls its magic system. They enter Sol Sanctum and get tricked into retrieving four elemental gem stars required to light the four elemental lighthouses of the world, an act that will supposedly destroy everything and be very, very bad. Supposedly. I think.

Sort of reminds you of Avatar...doesn't it?

While the story is somewhat slow and fairly basic at its core, there is a certain curious quality about it. I played the game to completion when I first purchased it, but as I remember correctly, I only completed two of the four lighthouses before the credits started rolling. Why? Because there is a sequel, The Lost Age, in which the story is resolved. I haven’t played that yet, much to my distress, but that will soon change as my wife recently found me a used copy for my birthday. My point is, Golden Sun as a stand-alone title leaves you begging for more, even though my first playthrough had me clocking over 40 hours. That’s a serious chunk of time for a GBA title.

Those that have played Golden Sun aren’t going to try and sell you on it based purely on the story, or even the graphics; they’ll try to sell you on the Djinn. Djinn are magical creatures you can collect throughout the game to the point that each of the four main characters can equip seven. The Djinn can be used in battle, each with its own special technique. The trade-off is that the Djinn provide stat-boosts for the characters, as well as abilities for the particular class the character happens to be. The more Djinn, the better the class, and the more varied the type of Djinn you have equipped, the more varied the class will be. When you use a Djinn, however, that stat boost and class change will be lost until it’s reequipped, done so by performing a Summon attack. Summon attacks require between one to four Djinn of the same type, allowing you to make use of the most devastating attacks in the game. Once summoned, the Djinn will then recharge and become reequipped to the various characters.

It’s this constant balancing of equipped and stand-by Djinn that make for a unique battle style in Golden Sun. While you may really, really want to use your Djinn and save up a few to unleash Judgment, you could be costing your character vital stats in the middle of the battle, or worse, forcing him to lose some of his key Psynergy such as Cure Well or Ragnarok. Even better, mixing around and playing with the Djinn combinations can become rather enjoyable since you can play it safe and dull (like I did) and use stack like-typed Djinn upon the characters with the same elemental type, or you can find grand combos that provide cooler attacks than ever before. Golden Sun provides a lot of room to experiment, room that players have seemed to enjoy.

No way! That totally IS Avatar!

My last little thing to mention regards naming the characters. I am a huge proponent of being allowed to name characters within video games whatever you’d like, permitting you to create your own narrative rather than just the one the game provides. It gives you the chance to forge a deeper connection to the story and the characters than you may otherwise have. Oddly enough, Golden Sun permits you to rename Isaac, but not the other characters…unless you know a cheat code. I happen to know said cheat code. I’ll leave you with the knowledge that if you’d like to rename the four playable characters, plus three others, enter Up, Down, Up, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, Up, Right, Down, Left, Up, and then Select while you’re on the screen where you can name Isaac. If done correctly you’ll hear a slight “ping.” You’re welcome.

So there you have it, a true Game You Should Have Played. Dark Dawn, the third game in the series, just released at the beginning of this week, so you might as well spend some time catching up before you dive head first into a righteously excellent game. I’ll leave you to comment on whether you’re a Golden Sun fan or not, but please, no spoilers here! I’m the only one allowed to spoil things!

Want more Games You Should Have Played? Check these out:

Homeward Bound: More Earthbound For The US

Games You Should Have Played: Super Mario Bros 3

Games You Should Have Played: Final Fantasy III SNES

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About Author

Chris was the former Head Writer/Editor of Toy-TMA. He did a great job overseeing the site and getting new content published regularly. Always more than willing to respond to a comment or two, but pitiless with trolls! He has since moved on from TMA, and we wish him the best.

3 Comments

  1. You’re welcome. I got into Golden Sun by accident, actually. A friend of mine had it for his GBA, and I heard good things about it, so I borrowed it from him. I didn’t make it that far, as I had to return it to him at school the next day, but I saw that this RPG was a diamond in the rough. I eventually scraped together some cash an purchased my own copy. I did the same for “The Lost Age” when that came out. I may just put “Dark Dawn” on my Christmas list this year.

    Speaking of people really loving Golden Sun, you’d be surprised how many people really like it. There’s this one gaming message board I frequent, and the moment Golden Sun is mentioned, a lot of them say that it was one of the best and most original RPGs for the GBA. There’s very few negative comments about it.

    I hope you get Bob to come back to Armchair Thinkers sometime. I’m an avid follower of his, and I even comment on his blogs regularly. He’s a very nice guy, and we share similar taste in films and games, so that’s a plus. Anyway, I’ve rambled on for long enough. Best of luck with everything! 🙂

  2. Thank you! Kyle and I should be able to hopefully get things going more and eliminate the audio issues since I’m moving closer to him, meaning less Skyping and more face-to-face interaction. Still trying to get Bob back on the program, but sadly he’s a busy guy.

    I’m just glad I found someone else who really loves Golden Sun. I picked it up on a whim, something I never do, but it was one of my best impulse buys, the other being Advance Wars.

  3. Thank you for recognizing this brilliant series, Chris! It was the was one of the first seeds planted that helped blossom my love of J-RPGs. Another was “Chrono Trigger”, but that’s another story. Personally, I tend to just go with the default names. It kinda helps me invest more in the world, characters and story. To each their own, I guess. Oh, I also love the Armchair Thinkers podcast, btw. Keep up the brilliant work with that.

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