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Game Profile
Game Boy
Camelot Software
PLAYERS:   1-2
April 15, 2003
Golden Sun: Dark Dawn

Golden Sun

 Written by Ilan Mejer  on April 29, 2003

Review: Book 2 of the Golden Sun saga begins?

Golden Sun: Book 2 ? The Lost Age is the formal title of this RPG, and it is a sequel to 2001's Golden Sun in a very literal sense. Newcomers to the budding series are urged to go and play through the first game, as it features a rather unique and very rewarding link up feature which allows you to transfer your characters, gold, equipment, magic, bonuses, and even carry-over quest data to the new game. Regardless, Golden Sun TLA manages take every single feature of the original, redefine it, expand it, and add to it in such a way as to create a game that is so much better than the first that it almost shames it.

The GS experience is probably nothing new to most of you reading this, so those of you unfamiliar with the basic gameplay mechanics and story are invited to read our review for the original RPG. TLA begins moments before the previous adventure terminated, in which Isaac and company succeed in destroying Saturos' and Menardi's threat to the world of Weyard, but fail to prevent them from lighting the second elemental lighthouse of Venus. TLA begins moments before the cataclysm that results from the lighting of Venus Lighthouse, before Felix and Sheba leap from the lighthouse into the roiling seas.

TLA commences dramatically by going in a bold new direction. Instead of continuing the tale of Alchemy, the elements, its Adepts, the lighthouses, and the eventual fate of Weyard from the perspective of Isaac, TLA focuses on last game's ?enemies,' Felix, Jenna, Kraden, and Sheba. Not true enemies, perhaps, but by siding with Saturos, Menardi, and Alex in their quest to restore Alchemy, these four set themselves against the heroic and noble Isaac and his companions. Needless to say, the perspective change dramatically affects the story telling to come.

Perhaps the best way to begin explaining just how much Golden Sun ? The Lost Age succeeds is by discussing where exactly the original went wrong. The first game had one of the worst story executions since the early 8 bit days of Role Playing Games. The story itself was quite intriguing, incorporating relatively clever twists to the classic elemental storylines of early RPGs. The world was surprisingly well realized, and the elemental magic known as Psynergy was integrated into many aspects of everyday life on Weyard. Honestly, who could hate the sheer power of being Elemental Adepts amidst a world mostly inhabited by normal civilians, particularly when said power can be focused upon the world and those living in it? It's a shame that the story, which was relatively non-existent beyond the extensive opening, was further burdened by plodding, vaguely worded dialogue and a general inability to remain relevant. Finally, it was never able to graduate beyond an elementary school level.

What a complete 180 Camelot has pulled with their Book 2. While the dialog is still quite prevalent, and almost as long-winded as before, it also features an absolutely top notch translation. Furthermore, the writing itself is inspired, well paced, and powerful. Some of our heroes still tend towards the obvious when cracking open their mouths, but not to the degree of the first game, and not at the expense of the scene itself. The story itself is greatly improved over the first game. Whereas Golden Sun offered a shallow story rife with black and white clich?s, The Lost Age begins in a deep shade of gray. Likewise, where Golden Sun completely failed to surprise, TLA never stops you from asking questions. You, the player, will constantly be asking yourself what exactly is going on, and in much the same way the game characters are constantly questioning the motives of all those involved. It all comes together in a highly satisfying and original manner, one sure to please newcomers and blow away GS fans.

Golden Sun was a ground breaking technical achievement in graphics when it debuted, early in the GBA's first year. Naturally, TLA was created utilizing the same engine as the first game. Consequently, it looks almost identical to the first one. There are more special effects, of course, both in combat and out. The dungeon and world design is practically unparalleled in 2D RPG gaming, still. Every single location in the game, all crafted by seamlessly blended tiles, is entirely unique in architecture and visual presentation. The new interactive Psynergies are marvelous. The old Djinn summons, which are as beautiful as before, have been joined by Djinn combination summons which are, as a whole, mind-blowing. Add to that a slew of new enchanted weaponry, most capable of unleashing fearsome and howling pyrotechnics against the hordes, and you've got a presentation that is still amongst the most technically and aesthetically pleasing available on the GBA yet! The only gripe is the occasional pixelization that occurs in combat, which is, quite frankly, more than offset by the insanely great transparencies and even polygonal 3D effects incorporated in the game's combat wizardry.

Golden Sun was also a watershed moment in handheld audio. Quite frankly, the Camelot sound team was able to do unbelievable justice to Motoi Sakuraba's breathtaking and epic soundtrack. Sakuraba is one of the most respected composers in the industry, and has scored a surprising variety of games. Some of his most famous works include Valkyrie Profile and the Star Ocean games, all released by Enix. However, he has always worked closely with Camelot, and has been involved with the Shining Force series, all of their Mario sports titles, and of course Golden Sun. Sakuraba succeeds in topping his previous efforts in the original game significantly. The breadth, scope, and intensity of The Lost Age's soundtrack are simply unrivaled on the Gameboy Advance, and its sound quality is matched only by a select few, such as Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, Pokemon Ruby/Sapphire, and Metroid Fusion. It bears mentioning that the sound effects are identical from the first game, and sadly sound 8-bit at times, early 16-bit at best. It's not at all terrible to listen to, but it can be a bit jarring when compared to the game's actual soundtrack.

The gameplay in The Lost Age, like its story, is an improved extension of what was established in the original. It has been tweaked, made more difficult, and infused with much more variety. However, if the gameplay didn't grip you the first time around, chances are you will not be too impressed this time either. The game doesn't bother to cushion you like the first one did for that matter. Both the combat and the puzzles start off much harder than the first, even a bit more extreme than what the end of the previous game offered. You now recover Psynergy at a much lower rate, and are subjected to dungeon puzzles which span multiple screen lengths, devious and complex.
The in-combat strategy is even deeper than before, thanks in no small part to the addition of almost double the amount of Psynergy and Djinn than the last game. With a world tripled in size, a quest more than double in length, bonus dungeons, multiple optional areas, incredible rewards for transferring your characters and data, and an unrivaled amount of non-linear exploration and puzzle-filled dungeon tackling, Golden Sun: Book 2 ? The Lost Age, offers up more RPG gameplay than any single title in years. In a closing note, fans of the Collosso timed obstacle course from the first game will be thrilled by the scenario known as Trial Road?

Bottom Line
This is quite simply the greatest single RPG to be released in many years, and a must have for any Game Boy Advance owning enthusiast. Golden Sun was a flawed, though insanely fun game, and still worth playing thanks to its unique ability to link up with The Lost Age and transfer over information. Indeed, an entire dungeon and quite a few side quests and rewards remain exclusive to those who utilize this ingenious design decision. However, whatever your feelings on the first game's story and characters, The Lost Age demands to be judged on its own merits, and it will not be found wanting.

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