Golden Sun: Dark Dawn – Staff Review

I’d like to start this review with a simple promise: I will not make a single solar pun or reference. It’s just too easy to make comments like that, and I’m sure that most other reviewers have fallen right into that trap. After a while, it’s just tiring. So, here it is, a straightforward review of Golden Sun: Dark Dawn.

The Golden Sun series first appeared almost a decade ago with two games spanning one story in which a group of heroes brought about the much-feared yet much-desired Golden Sun phenomenon. Thirty years after that world-changing event, we now see that the landscape has transformed radically, new nations and peoples have emerged, and the heroes grew up and had children. Of course, when the world is in danger again, these children inherit the job of saving it.

It doesn’t start out that way, however. The story introduces a basic goal then throws in roadblocks to complicate the journey. The group ends up pursuing a completely different objective along the way, and in the end, there are lingering unresolved issues. This could be frustrating, but knowing that this is only part of an ongoing series negates that sentiment. Camelot has created potential for a good follow-up where the climactic events of Dark Dawn — as irrelevant as they may be to the pressing issue at the start of the game — end up being relevant after all. Dark Dawn has the same vibe as the first Golden Sun; it’s Volume One, and Volume Two can surpass it. Simply put, however unsatisfying the story may be, the follow-up could make up for it.

Overall, the plot isn’t top-notch and some of the dialogue can leave you a bit bewildered at times. Sometimes characters talk unnecessarily, and I often wished that they would shut up and let someone finish explaining the situation or giving directions. Then again, it is a group of kids, and kids tend to interrupt adults pretty frequently with their enthusiasm or presumptuousness. Oddly enough, they never mature and outgrow this, in contrast to most characters throughout the course of their adventures. In fact, character development is so limited that one of the party members never has any development beyond her very brief introduction.

Not only does Matthew's character portrait vaguely resemble our own Derek 'Roku' Cavin, he also communicates exclusively with exclamation points, ellipses, and emoticons.
Not only does Matthew’s character portrait vaguely resemble our own Derek ‘Roku’ Cavin, he also communicates exclusively with exclamation points, ellipses, and emoticons.

Though Dark Dawn continues the tradition of a silent protagonist, you can still have Matthew react to dialogue in different ways. Sometimes you’ll be prompted to respond with an emoticon — smiling, cheerful, sad, angry — during a conversation. Other characters will respond according to your choice. Cheerfulness can be seen as confidence and inspiration or flippant arrogance. Anger may be appropriate at times or it may earn you a lecture for being too harsh. It’s hardly Mass Effect or Fallout, but it’ll do for a JRPG with a silent protagonist.

The big draw of Golden Sun games – for me, at least – is the wide variety of somewhat elaborate puzzles that can be manipulated and solved via the use of Psynergy. Dark Dawn sticks with good ol’ Golden Sun gameplay, only this time you can use the stylus. Fortunately, it isn’t forced on you; the buttons work just as well. I played through the entire game without having to use the stylus, even for precise targeting, because the button controls work well enough. There’s a larger variety of Psynergy and the puzzles are sometimes more spectacular than ever, but there are still a few extremely easy statue-pushing exercises to insult your intellect.

You won't get anywhere in life if you fail Statue Moving 101.
You won’t get anywhere in life if you fail Statue Moving 101.

Other aspects of the game are quite player-friendly; the game kindly works with you instead of against you. The encounter rates are balanced so that you can adequately level without feeling harassed, and while you’re working on a puzzle in a dungeon — pushing objects, flinging Psynergy, and plotting the solution — the encounter rate drops to zero so you can better focus on the task at hand, just as it was in the first two games. The battle system is straightforward and mostly unchanged from that of its predecessors; it’s easy to use but not challenging or exciting. Unfortunately, Camelot did not scrap Golden Sun‘s limited inventory system. I guess you can call it “an item management challenge” or “quasi-realistic distribution.” What party has a physical infinite pool of items anyway?

The world of the Golden Sun series has always been pseudo-3D. In Dark Dawn, the visuals are actually 3D, and they pull it off without compromising the classic feel of 2D graphics. The camera rotates the scenery during cutscenes or as you move around. Djinni are no longer copy-pasted sprites but rather unique individuals with different appearances and, in some cases, distinct personalities. It’s a subtle change but it’s quite refreshing for the series.

Music and sound effects, much like those of the previous games, are acceptable and none are thrilling, aside from the title theme of the series. For some reason, Camelot kept the odd squeaky chatter sound effects during dialogue, but fortunately they can be turned off.

Dark Dawn keeps what’s good about the first two games in the series — for the most part, at least — and even builds on it. By these criteria, it’s a good sequel. It also happens to be a good game, though it’s difficult to express exactly why. Everything works the way it should, the text is nearly error-free, the game is highly playable, and I can make very few complaints about it. Though nothing about it is highly outstanding or mind-blowing, it also doesn’t have any major problems. It’s relaxing to play through the story and work through the puzzles. It’s just a good game — one that’s certainly worth playing if you remotely enjoyed the first two in the series.

This game was played to completion and reviewed using a retail copy.

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