Thursday, December 9, 2010

REVIEW- Golden Sun: Dark Dawn

First, a note about my format. I can be very long winded when writing about things, as you will most likely notice soon. If you’re too lazy/busy/impatient/whatever to read ‘the long version’, I sum things up in the ‘short and simple’ bit at the bottom. This will probably be how I do all of my reviews in the future. Also, this is by no means a final review. I will probably update this in the future, whether with updated thoughts (especially if there’s a lot of post-story content), or revisions, or whatever. If I do update, I will make it clear in the title of the post. Finally, I will assign a numerical score to the game at the end of my review, but it will be mostly nonsensical, so just pretend I didn't assign it one. Now, for the review:

Golden Sun: Dark Dawn Review

The long version:
To start things off, I should make it known that I am a huge fan of the Golden Sun series. Golden Sun was the very first game I played on the GBA, and it has been one of my favorite series ever since then.

The series as a whole has very addictive puzzle-based gameplay, while the traditional JRPG battle system spices things up with the Djinn system, allowing for great class customization and mixing up the flow of combat by forcing the player to choose between having high stats and more advanced Psynergy or being weaker but being able to call upon devastating summons to wreck enemies.

That’s the gameplay for Golden Sun in a nutshell, and Dark Dawn doesn’t change things up very much at all, which is absolutely perfect. Dark Dawn adds more Psynergy to be used on the field (and changes the names and types of a few other staples), and field Psynergy can now be directed in any direction and can be used from a slightly larger distance from the target. Both of these are welcome improvements (you still have to be on the same vertical level as your target to affect it with Psynergy though), and then there are small touches, like having access to Growth without needing to switch Djinn around.

The weapon unleash system from the original games has been upgraded. Characters can now master weapons by attacking with them in combat. Mastering a weapon increases attack damage and unlocks the weapon’s unleashes, which have also changed. Rather than having each special weapon have a single unleash, most special weapons have several possible ‘unleashes’, which it will unleash randomly during attacks. Some of the unleashes are even capable of hitting multiple targets now. Bows and fists have been added to the possible weapon categories (long swords, short swords, axes, maces, rods, and staves return), but there aren’t very many of them.
Unfortunately, Dark Dawn as a whole is a pretty easy game. Battles in were generally pretty simple, there were very few enemies/bosses that actually needed any strategy. The puzzles also tend towards the easier side, but I still had quite a bit of fun (and had a pretty good sense of accomplishment) working through the series of puzzles in a dungeon. The encounter rate in dungeons is also blissfully low, perfect for working out a puzzle in peace.

One of the main complaints I have with Dark Dawn is that in some respects, there are not enough ‘new’ things. The game is set up perfectly to start things anew, which is reflected in the world map, but despite this many objects in the game end up being the exact same as in the original games. Most of the weapons you find in the game are repeats of weapons found in the original games, as are many of the Djinn. Six of the eight characters in your party are essentially carbon copies of characters from the original games with slight variations in available Psynergy. The classes available for your characters are also essentially the same. There is one new summon (more on summons later).

Dark Dawn begins 30 years after the end of The Lost Age, and you play as Matthew, the son of Isaac (protagonist of the original Golden Sun). At the start of Dark Dawn, Garet’s son Tyrell causes some trouble and you set out on your journey to fix his mess. This setup feels somewhat sudden and arbitrary, and as the driving force for 2/3 of the game it fails to impress a sense of urgency upon the player the way the original Golden Sun did with its beginning. The last third of the game shifts focus to a different problem, which ends up feeling a little too sudden. Another issue: at the start, Isaac and Garet make a big fuss is made about the Psynergy Vortexes that have begun appearing in the world, but this very abruptly disappears from the story a short way into the game. In the end, the overarching story feels rushed and disjoint, and even at the end of the game I was expecting to encounter some new scenario to deal with. On the plus side, the story definitely left considerable room for another installment in the series, which would be amazing.
In addition, there are several points in the game where regions of the world become inaccessible to the player, making it extremely easy to miss important things like Djinn and summons. An oversight that makes this problem even worse is that there is only one point in the game where the player is warned about leaving an area and not coming back, but the area that the player is leaving at that point is actually fully accessible later in the story. Another problem is that some things, like the most advanced summons, don’t appear to be unlockable until after the game has been beaten. Unfortunately, at time of writing I haven’t yet had the option to fully complete the game yet, so I can’t make any judgment about the post-story content, but I will update this review with that information at some point in the future.

However, the story is improved considerably by the side-stories along the way, At least earlier in the story, each location visited in the game has an interesting sub-plot, and each one ultimately results in something spectacular happening along the way. This is helped greatly by the graphics of the game, which have been considerably improved. The battle animations, including the Psynergy and summons,  have been fully revamped, and are even more incredible than before. The music of the game is average. There aren’t any tunes that stuck in my head, but nor were there any that were awful to listen to. Tunes from the previous games have been remixed into this one as well, for a nice shot of nostalgia.

Short and simple:
It’s a Golden Sun game. If you enjoyed the previous ones, you’ll most likely enjoy this one.
If you haven’t played a previous game, then the gameplay is somewhat similar to the Zelda games, but with JRPG battles.

Puzzle-based RPG gameplay is still intact and great (albeit somewhat easy), weapon system has gotten a nice overhaul too
Very interesting world to explore: some of the places, scenarios, and events are absolutely amazing
Updated graphics make using Psynergy and summons in battle even more spectacular

Story is a little choppy: Not very pressing at start, a key story element is apparently forgotten about partway through
Numerous points of no return, but the player is never warned about them.
Not enough new things: Most playable characters/classes, weapons, Djinn and summons are repeated from the original games

My 'Score':  2787 (days between the release of Golden Sun: The Lost Age, and Golden Sun: Dark Dawn)

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