A Shining Example – Game Boy Advance – Golden Sun – 2001

Golden Sun (UE) [!]t

Golden Sun
Game Boy Advance
Camelot Software Planning
© 2001
Genre: RPG

There are many forms of media I enjoy.  I am fairly picky in most regards, although I am willing to try many books, movies, tv shows and games from different genres.  Unfortunately, my predilection lends me to pile up things in epic proportions.  I’ve got a series of infamous ‘lists’ that I always throw things onto: piles of books I want to read, TV series to watch through, games to play (both retro and modern).  It should come as no surprise to anyone that this game, which I received from a friend back in high school and played through for a little while, got put down at some point.  I remembered enjoying it, but I had some other things to get through – other things on ‘the list’.  So I said I’d come back to it later.

The time has come.  I finally got back to playing Golden Sun.  I can finally scratch it off the list.

Golden Sun (UE) [!]

Your teacher is some sort of proto-hipster. He also explains how he’s been doing alchemy since waaay before it was cool, the merits of eating all natural non-GMO foods and only purchasing locally hand crafted items.

The game starts off in the middle of a crisis.  You control Isaac, the silent Venus adept, as he tries to get to the bottom of the mountain.  Quickly, you bump into Garet, a Mars adept who is trying to take all of his valuables with him to escape, and continue along your path after convincing him to just leave it.  Running down the mountain, you see tragedy right off the bat: people are dying, or too exhausted from using their psynergy to save others to move on.  The younger brothers of Isaac’s friend Jenna is even swept away by the river.  And in the midst of all of this, you run into a mysterious man and woman who end up knocking you both out while you are trying to get help.

Needless to say, it’s intense for a Game Boy Advance game.  The storyline continues after you wake up.  You set off at the behest of your alchemical psynergy instructor, Kraden, to go into a forbidden mountain to just take a quick peek at the source of all these super powers.  Things go bottom-up, and you accidentally release the seals on the four pillars of alchemy, with the mysterious Saturos and Menardi (as you discover the strangers to be named) arrive with another man named Alex, and… Jenna’s brother, Felix.  They apparently rescued him after knocking you out those years ago when he was swept away by the river, and taught him what they knew about psynergy, instilling a deep sense of loyalty.  They proceed to kidnap Jenna and Kraden, leaving Isaac and Garet to be rescued by an immensely powerful stone sphere (which looks supiciously similar to a beholder from dungeons and dragons).

Golden Sun (UE)2 [!]

Kidnapping is so last year. Seriously.

Confused yet?  Excellent.  The game continues to go at about this pace story wise.  Things are a bit generic in some regards, but I would say it’s a strong example of how tropes can be used for the better, rather than falling back to rely on them due to lack of skill.  The source of psynergy, which powers all superpowers that the characters have, are based on the four classical western elements of Earth, Fire, Air and Water – the game refers to them as Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Mercury, respectively.  Each of your characters will correspond to one of them.

In your travels, you have released Djinn from their slumber, and many of them can be convinced to join the party (specifically, seven from each of the elements).  You can do various things to improve your characters, either by summoning them in battle to use, or setting them to characters to upgrade their classes, change their powers and start mixing and matching to customize your party to be what you’d like them to be.

Golden Sun (UE)3 [!]

Many weapons have abilities attached to them which can be unleashed at random. It’s always amusing to watch your mages “let out a howl” as they attack and unleash them, though.

The character personalities are simple, but have a surprising amount of depth to them.  Even NPCs you don’t interact with as much can tend to come alive.  Kraden, your mentor, has an insatiable hunger for knowledge; at times, its tinged with a hunger for power, and he seems almost ready to try and use you to conquer the world before he is kidnapped.  Ivan, the Jupiter adept of your party, has a stunning lack of social understanding when you first meet him.  He makes frequent use of one of his powers, Mind Read, to everyone’s chagrin, causing a bit of a stir and discomfort in everyone he meets.  Characters are given little pseudo-emojis to express their feelings, to make up for the lack of facial expressions present in the graphics.  It’s a charming effect to get the point across, and adds to the games quirky sense of humor.


Graphically, this game has done pretty well for itself.  It’s got lovely backgrounds, and the sprites are vibrant and different enough to give everyone a distinct look.  In fights and out, the psynergy that you sling around is well animated, and shows just what someone could do with the graphics on the little handheld system.

Which brings me to another aspect of the gameplay: psynergy can be used both in and out of battle.  In battle, it’s used for the typical attacks, buffs, debuffs and healing spells that you’d expect in any RPG.  Out of battle, the game rears its head with a variety of puzzle elements, where you will have to use Psynergy to push around statues, cut away vines, and freeze ice to make your way across maps.  While most puzzles are simple, there are a few which can prevent a challenge.  None of them caused me to tear my hair out, and I thought it overall added to the game.

Golden Sun (UE) [!]4

I kept saving screenshots under the same name and deleting others I took. That’s what’s the matter!

Golden Sun is currently available in the Wii U virtual console store.  This charming title took the 2D JRPG genre, played around with a series of tropes that most people have come to expect, and did something new and awesome with them.  Special items can be found that have powers to them.  Djinn can be used to alter classes or unleash powerful attacks in battle.  Psynergy is used in and out of battle to solve puzzles as much as to fight enemies.  Hell, the story may be linear, but it’s well told, and in depth for a hand held title.  My only strike against the game was the ending, which was left at a cliffhanger knowing they were going to be releasing the sequel within a year – even then, it’s not like it’s a problem these days to pick it up.  I haven’t gotten to it’s direct sequel Golden Sun: The Lost Age yet, but I am certainly going to.  It’s on the list.

2 thoughts on “A Shining Example – Game Boy Advance – Golden Sun – 2001

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