tutuboy95's Golden Sun: Dark Dawn (Nintendo DS) review

A Good Ol' Classic, Made New and Exciting

You know, I, as an avid fan of Final Fantasy IV, had picked up Final Fantasy IV: The After Years (the sequel), and found it a treat. Recommending it to my friend, someone who hasn't played IV, proved to be a waste of time, as The After Years turned out to be a treat (a very unoriginal treat at that) to Final Fantasy IV fans. Now, Golden Sun: Dark Dawn is set 30 years after the events of Golden Sun and Golden Sun: The Lost Age, but by no means is it a disappointing sequel meant to give fans a little tickle - rather, it's an approachable game for both fans of the series and newcomers who didn't have the chance to grab the first two (although there is no question that fans would enjoy it more).
 
Golden Sun: Dark Dawn is the third in Camelot's fairly successful Golden Sun series. Taken 30 years after the adventures of Isaac and Felix, Alchemy has been restored to the world through what has been called "The Golden Sun Event." Unfortunately, things aren't perfect, and the new problems that Isaac's son, Matthew, has to face, make up the core of this game. There's no need to spoil the story, except for the fact that you will control many of the children of the "Warriors of Vale," the 8 heroes from the first two Golden Sun games.
 

The Good

 Burning is the skill of Fire Adepts. At least it's straightforward.
In the 7 year gap between The Lost Age and Dark Dawn, Camelot doesn't disappoint with any sort of half-ass story. Using characters both old and new, they create new stories, such as the tales of the war-ridden Kaocho, and dating back to the beginning of Psynergy and Alchemy, creating a marvelous backstory that applies to the series as a whole.  But one thing that makes this game really shine over, say, The Lost Age, is its accessibility. The game gives a solid backstory of the first two Golden Sun games that allows any person to pick up and play this game, as compared to The Lost Age, which was confusing to anyone who hadn't played the first Golden Sun. Dark Dawn also features an encyclopedia with nearly 200 terms that not only give the game even more backstory, but allow you to find out where to go next.
 
Newcomers would be unfamiliar with "Psynergy." This is the series' form of magic, allowing the Adepts (wielders of Psynergy) to not only give them an edge in battle, but solve puzzles in the field. There are some Psynergy that can only be used in the field, some that can be used in battle, and some that can be used in both areas (given the situation is right). Psynergy can be divided
 Both the Stylus and the Control Pad can be used for Psynergy, battle, and just general movement.
into Earth (Venus), Fire (Mars), Wind (Jupiter), or Water (Mercury). In the full party of 8, there will be two of each class. 8 is a solid number - it's twice the number you can have in battle (you can have 4 in battle, for those who can't do the math), and it allows for solid class and party customization without getting too clunky.
 
Dungeons are full of puzzles, which range from easy to hard, although all are very creative. One must have the characters to use in-field Psynergy to complete these puzzles and traverse through the dungeon. This can range to using the "Move" Psynergy to... move pillars into a more desirable place, using the "Cold Snap" Psynergy to freeze pools of water, or use the "Fireball" Psynergy to... burn things. Psynergy costs PP, or Psynergy Points, but they can be gradually restored by roaming in the field or in dungeons.
 
 Nothing like giant clawed moles to ruin your day.
Battle follows a JRPG style. You roam in the field or dungeons for random encounters, and duke it out with the enemies you come across. They are very standard in the sense that you attack, use Psynergy, switch out your party members, and such (I never find such a system boring). Stats include HP, PP, Attack, Defense, Luck... the basics. Golden Sun: Dark Dawn makes the battle more entertaining with their moving camera. However, where Golden Sun differs from other JRPGs is their little "Djinn" system.     
 

 

Djinn (Djinni is singular) are these little critters, and like Psynergy, they come into 4 categories: Earth (Venus), Fire (Mars), Wind (Jupiter), and Water (Mercury). In the game, there are a total of 72 Djinn for you to use, 18 of each class. Each character can have up to 9 Djinn, but Djinn insist that they must be divided equally. If you have 8 Djinn, you can't give them all to one character - you have to give one to each character. So, until you have 65+ Djinn, no character can have 9 Djinn at a time. 
 
But what do Djinn exactly do? Well, they dictate two things - Class and Summons. You see, Djinn have three "modes": Set,
 Summons are really cool and really strong.
Standby, and Recovery. Set Djinn alter the class of a character, and can be unleashed in battle to produce different effects at no PP cost (such as restoring HP or reviving a character). Once a Set Djinni is "unleashed," it goes into Standby. Standby Djinn can be used to summon... Summons. Summons can be obtained throughout the adventure through Summon tablets, though you have a good chunk of Summons at your disposal by default. For example, Ramses on the right requires 2 Venus Djinn on Standby to summon. Once Djinn are used to Summon, they start Recovering. At a later point in the battle, or on the field, they will be set to their rightful owner.
 
 Go, Djinni! Do... something!
Now, you can just keep every single Djinn on Standby in order to "Summon Rush" the opponent, but that misses out on some of the true gold (pun intended) of Golden Sun - the character Class system. While one Djinni by itself won't do anything, having a group of Djinn on a character alter their Class, and with an altered Class comes an altered Psynergy pool and altered stats. Sure, you can saddle 9 Venus Djinn on Matthew since he's an Earth Adept, but that's lame. Give him 5 Jupiter and 4 Mars, and make him a Master that can crush anything in his way! There are dozens of classes to see, and while anyone can Google up the classes, it's far more fun to fiddle around with them and see what comes out.
 
Golden Sun: Dark Dawn impresses graphically over its predecessors (obviously), blending beautiful color with those chibi sprites. The somewhat grotesque dialogue windows from the previous games are replaced with cleaner dialogue "Cartoon bubbles" that make dialogue easier to read. Having a top and bottom screen allows you to see a Map at the top for navigation purposes and cleans up the Status window, allowing you sift through characters with general ease. Summons are absolutely gorgeous and intricate, and are always a pleasure to view... but you can skip them if you so wish.
 
Musically, Golden Sun: Dark Dawn showcases more of Motoi Sakuraba's excellence, throwing in the catchy synthesizers with more "orchestra" sounds.

The Bad

Golden Sun has never been an overly difficult franchise, and unless you starve yourself of levels, Golden Sun: Dark Dawn is no exception. In fact, this new installation is easier, save for the Superbosses (far stronger-than-usual bosses) that await you at the game's end. You can breeze through the game and think it went quickly. Dungeons, and even the World Map are disgustingly
 These things will be no match after you suit-up with the best.
linear, so while they are designed well, you aren't going to get lost anytime soon.
 
In Battles, you'll probably never lose. Soon enough, you are going to get reliable healing Psynergy, and then you'll have so much money pouring out of your ears that you can always afford the best equipment and items.

The menu system, while better, is still very clunky, and later on in the game, you are going to have to sit down and spend a good 20 minutes organizing items between characters and selling what you don't need.
 
But perhaps the biggest flaw of this game is that there isn't anything new. Despite the handful of new Summons, Djinn, Classes, and Psynergy, there has been no change to the overall formula of Golden Sun. Sure, the formula works, but Camelot should try and add to this success. 

The Verdict

If you played and enjoyed the first two Golden Sun games on the Game Boy Advance, go and buy this game. You won't be disappointed. If you are just a gamer with a hankering for RPGs, then take a look at Golden Sun: Dark Dawn. It may be easy, but it's a refreshing game that you will easily love. And hey, the story's great.
8 Comments
Posted by Video_Game_King

"You know, I, as an avid fan of Final Fantasy IV, had picked up Final Fantasy IV: The After Years (the sequel), and found it a treat."
 
Your very first line invalidates the rest of your review, since The After Years sucked :P. Other than that, I can't read any of it, since I haven't played a single Golden Sun game.

Posted by JackSukeru

A fair review. I'm one of those people who only played the first Golden Sun so going through the game I got both moments of "I recognise these characters" and "This must be referencing something in The Lost Age".
 
Totally agree with you on the difficulty, the only two challenging parts I came across in the game was the last boss and before that the Guardian of Water superboss. It's too bad that most if not all of the other boss fights were such a breeze and I really wish there was a higher difficulty setting sometimes. 
 
I played around with the classes for the first ten hours or so but ended up just putting a bunch of same element djinn on the characters because that was the easiest way to get results. I did this to everyone save for one "character" (and I use the term loosely since she basically got no character development due to being introduced so late in the game) and that was Himi. I turned her into a Ninja, which was fun. 
 
The characters I felt were a bit dull, not unlikable, there just wasn't a lot to them. The story was alright too, though the were some parts were I felt there wasn't enough justification for me to so willingly do exactly what the villains wanted, which seemed to be all you did really. 
 
Then there were the plot twists that those that have played the previous games see coming miles away, yet they take so long before they spell it out, I'm refering of course to 

The latter of which had not even been brought up by the end of the game. 
 
Speaking of which there's going to be a sequel, and that's painfully obvious by the amounts of things that are not tied up by the end of the game. That's alright though since it is a very well made, pretty fun game series. And hey, I've got 5 bucks that say the next one is going to be on the 3DS, so that will probably be pretty cool.
Posted by WinterSnowblind

I really liked this game, but without the nostalgia of having played the first two, I'm not sure I would have enjoyed it anywhere near as much.  It's a solid enough game, but like you said it does nothing new at all. 
 
I do like how they mix up the RPG/talking aspects with enough combat, exploration and puzzle solving to always keep the game interesting but I think the story would have been a lot more interesting if you were still playing as Isaac and Garret.  A story about them coming out of "retirement" and having to save the world again, would have been far more compelling than another gang of teenagers doing so, and it would have linked in more closely with the previous games, which is something I found rather lacking.  The few references were great, but if they wanted something to appeal to new players..  they may as well have made a completely new game. 
 
I also think you could have included something in the review about the points of no return.  There are three moments in the game that block you from going back to earlier areas, locking off anything you may have missed and forcing you to start a new file if you want to go back.  This is another aspect I feel was done to appeal more to casual players who may have gotten lost in a large world..  and a major flaw after Golden Sun 2 had such a massive world to explore.

Posted by tutuboy95
@Video_Game_King: Personal opinion, I guess. What I was trying to get at was to put an icebreaker that indicates that Dark Dawn would be fun to newcomers.
Posted by tutuboy95
@WinterSnowblind:  Ah, yes, you are quite right, that was annoying. I didn't find that a "flaw" as such, since other games have similar things, but I had to re-start so I could get all the Djinn.
Posted by yoshimitz707

I must be doing something wrong because I am always out of money in Golden Sun games and spend too much time grinding out more money. Also, after going back the the GBA games I'd have to disagree that the menus and UI are improved, the stuff in the GBA games are super fast compared to this game.

Online
Posted by Smallerz

For me, Dark Dawn didn't cut it. After the amazing conclusion of The Lost Age,

 
Not to mention the game is ridiculously easy, like you and so many other people have mentioned. At least the previous two Golden Sun games had a couple of challenging story bosses, like Kraken and Poseidon, but Dark Dawn had none. Not even one. Even the final boss went down without much of a fight. I was trying really, really hard to stay underlevelled too.
 
And the fact that the game had more than one point of no return? Absolutely shocking. I hate it when games do that. 

Posted by mariussmit

Thanks for the review. I'll actually consider picking this up now. 

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