Friday, March 18, 2011

Nothing New Under the Golden Sun

Golden Sun: Dark Dawn

The first Golden Sun game was released just under a decade ago, and last year it got threequel treatment with Dark Dawn on the DS. So how could I, someone who remembers the original and it's sequel with great fondness, not give this new one a try? (the answer: I couldn't)

Let me preface this with: in the end, I enjoyed this game.

Overall the game is much the same: turn-based fighting, djinn unleashes and summons, a djinn-based customizable class system, different magic spel-*ahem* I mean forms of Psynergy, and takes place in the "flat" world of Weyard. You're on of the few in the world who can use these powers, and you go around saving people who are so lame they can't save themselves (seriously, I'd think one vicious sneeze could wipe out half of Weyard's population).

Its new weapon system was intriguing: instead of a single always-possible unleash, each weapon had a multiple unleashes which you slowly learned via killing enemies. As such, as you stuck with a weapon it'd get more and more powerful, up to where it would nearly always unleash.

Also, there were more types of weapons (bows, e.g.), and which type you had on a character could make a difference. If you stuck with one type, you'd find later weapons had already unlocked unleashes on them for those characters only, which was a big help as to deciding who gets what. I'm not clear on the determining factors with this, but it's possible once a character unlocked an unleash on a type of weapon, it was unlocked on all weapons of that type (some were shared, such as Critical Hits). Either way, this added an interesting twist on equipment, though all the other items were your standard Golden Sun fare.

Also, Psynergy was much less limited in range in this one. Instead of having to stand at most one-away from something, you had a much larger area to target (yes, area, not just up-down-left-right). This allowed for slightly more room in puzzle design, and was a good idea in the long run.

Now, with the opening to this, you'd expect this to be a very critical review. And you'd be right.

So, to the guts of it: What went wrong?

First off, it was way too easy. The other two weren't necessarily tough, but this one was a cakewalk. The hardest part of this game was the fact that I once absentmindedly shut it off without saving. That's right, it wasn't I died somewhere and had to try again. No bosses got in my way. No, I got in my own way. I haven't given the end-game dungeons a shot yet though, but at that point it's too little, too late.

Something that made it easier: In this one, you don't lose a turn if the enemy you targeted died before your attack. That's right! No more lost turns! Awesome! Except, no. I know, everyone just gasped that I'd call this a bad thing, but hear me out. While I admit this annoyed me in the earlier games, I didn't want to see it go. Many things annoy me, but this was an annoyance which forced me to be more strategic with what I did. Others will claim it was a bug in the other games, should've never been there. I think this argument is like saying it's a bug that a Bishop can only move diagonally in Chess. In other words, it's not a bug, it's a rule you have to play by. Overall, every time I was annoyed it was only because it made me pay attention. How dare they?! Obviously, I didn't want to play, I just wanted to run around! Well good, because this time they removed it and all I had to do was attack-attack-attack, win, occasionally heal all, and then go again. Oh wait, that's right, that's called boring gameplay.

What's more, this game felt like it was missing out on fights in general. I remember the others feeling like a fight every few steps. This one you could run through whole dungeons and get fought once. WTF is up with that? This is an RPG, the purpose is to fight.

While on dungeons, they were freaking short. I know The Lost Age greatly lengthened them, and some were just awesome in both size and enjoyment. But this one seemed to regress to even smaller dungeons than were in Golden Sun. Maybe it was because of my next point?

Rehashed puzzles, if you can call them puzzles at all, occurred way too often. It seemed odd to come across unique puzzles in this game. When you did, such as in the Watchtower and Yamata, it was great. When you didn't, such as the very end of the game, it was less than stellar.  And by that I mean it just plain sucked.

About Psynergy, why didn't they take advantage of using the same names from previous game? Why "Sense" instead of "Mind Read"? Or "Search" instead of "Reveal"? Or "Crush" instead of "Pound"? Not to mention many of these took more time to do then wanted: "Reveal" was instant; "Search" took 5-10 secs to finish, which is a lifetime when you're doing nothing. Then, such as the The Lost Age somewhat suffered, there were some which were horribly underused: "Track", "Sense", "Whirlwind" (what happened to blowing away leaves?). In fact, giving a "solve this puzzle for me" Psynergy ("Insight") was just lazy. They did add some new interesting ones, like "Grip".  But at the cost of losing "Hover" and "Sand"? Lame.

Also, where were the bosses? By the numbers, there were more in this game (in-story and extra) then there were in each of the last two, but in that case why did it feel like there were none? I think it has to do with the short dungeons. Most didn't have a boss; I wanted to kill the golem in Yamata, but it didn't get up to fight me. That alone could've made the game feel longer and more full.

Note that now I go into some story details. Not much, but if you don't want to know of it go ahead and skip the next two paragraphs.

So, here goes. As for the story, I'm still somewhat confused. As we know, in the original "Golden Sun" the baddies are just after power. Not necessarily purposefully hurting people, but apathetic to everyone else. Of course, we learn that they weren't after power (other than Alex), but happened to be trying to save their village. But it's ok you killed them, because they were assholes (and there was much rejoicing). Although, such as in the The Lost Age where Felix "plays" into Alex's hands by doing the right thing, this whole game you play into the baddies' hands and you aren't doing it for any necessarily noble reasons. The difference is that these guys apparently just want to kill everyone. It's not even really like you have to save the world: you let who-knows-how-many die just to save two prisoners. Then, in the end, the baddies try and stop you from ending the calamity, only to admit they were going to end it after you deliver your final blow. I'm trying to understand the point of it, but from what I can tell you release a catastrophe and then destroy it, for no real reason beyond someone "forced" you to. That same someone who was going to stop you from ending it, just so they could end it. But there's nothing to be gained by a specific person ending the calamity other than the end of the calamity itself, so what does it matter who ends it? If you think about it even more, the plan was around for a couple decades too, as one of the heroes wouldn't even exist if not for this "master plan"! Man, it'd suck to find out you were only born so your father could use you twenty years later.

Oh wait, but then there's a cliffhanger! Good, because all that stuff they talk about for the first third of the game gets dropped as soon as the baddies show, only to reemerge right at the end of the game with the ever annoying "The End?" (no one likes that question mark, it's just obnoxious, do they think you really care at this point?)

The rest of the issues were small recurring annoyances: same weapons from the old game, with only a few new ones; removed shortcuts on menus such as djinn "set/standby all"; why were there even touch controls?; annoying inventory (one of the few poor uses of the dual screen); permanently-missable items and djinn; no minigames or real sidequests (not till the game is over, at least); forgettable music; tiny world (I thought the map was getting bigger, not smaller); having to leave Champa while forging (why not immediate? a.k.a. BORING); so much not available till right at the end of the game.

But I digress.

I know I ragged on it a lot, but as I mentioned when you started this article so very long ago: I enjoyed this game. I don't know if it was out of nostalgia, or because it really was fun, or even possibly from a tiny bit of masochism, but I enjoyed it all the same. And that's with still zero clue what they were thinking with the end of the story.

All in all, this game almost lived up to the original two, but not quite. It tried to fix unnecessary things while leaving those needing the improvement stagnant (or worse), but it was still enough to enjoy. It's still worth playing, if you have some time to kill. And if you liked the others, you'll like this one as well.

As for a rating, I'd give it a solid 7 out of 10: good but with flaws. Only it was half a game, so it gets a 3.5 out of 10. We'll see if its certain-to-be sequel will raise that a bit.

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