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Golden Sun for GameBoy Advance

/ Sep 1st, 2001 No Comments

The Gameboy Advance finally has a unique ‘killer app’! Up until now I have personally been reasonably pleased by the GBA games released, that is all though, nothing has made me really sit up and pay attention. Golden Sun makes me wonder what all other GBA game designers have been up to for the past year or so, it is THAT superior.

So what exactly is making me flap my little gums so enthusiastically? Golden Sun is at heart a traditional RPG, it has a party based system with a (not too frequent) turn based combat and a typical fantasy setting, the thing is, everything it does is nigh on perfection. You begin the game in a small playable intro, set 3 years before the main game starts. Your main character is Isaac, a boy who has grown up in the town of Vale, a town who’s residents have access to psychic powers due to the nearby Sol Sanctum, the resting place of the elemental stones. As ever I don’t like to give a plot away, but I’m sure you can figure out that these stones have great power, therefore they lure in some dastardly villains intent on securing the power for themselves and steal them, you have to retrieve them.

The biggest complement I can pay to Golden Suns gameplay is that it plays like a Final Fantasy game with a few Zelda style dungeon puzzles thrown in for good measure. This is a very detailed RPG, weapons and armour are available from shops, curses and poisons etc can be removed at sanctuaries and there are a multitude of items and unique items to collect, detail right down to changing the colour of your menu screens. You navigate the game through a world map linking together towns, forests, castles etc, working your way through quests and sub quests, interacting with the locals. For instance, a character that joins your party called Ivan is found in need of help after his father has been victim of a thief. You have to talk among the townies and find out what has happened, even using your magic in the form of mind reading to find what they are really thinking.

This is the opposite of my main criticism of Breath Of Fire, where that game had little character interaction and drive in the story, this one has a real depth, it really does pull you in and make you want to build your characters and work your way through the story like you would a Squaresoft classic.

In terms of building your characters you boost your stats by gaining experience in the battles, your stats go up and you occasionally get an extra spell. What makes adds the spark to the mix is the Djinni. Djinni are elemental spirits, earth, wind, fire and water, they are little creatures and, in a Pokemon style twist, 28 are hidden through the game.They vary in power and abilities and can be used in several ways; they are similar to the Materia system of magic from Final Fantasy 7. There are two main ways to use them, you can equip them to a certain character, giving that character a boost in stats e.g. equipping a fire Djinni will increase the strength of his/her fire defence/attack and will give the character access to a one-off super attack to use in battle. The second way is to use them as summonable creatures in battle, they can be used, again like in FFVII, to attack all your enemies and do masses of damage. Overall, a flexible and clever system.

The link cable is used to good effect, it allows you to pit your team against your friends’ team, allowing you to see who has the best use of Djinni available. You can also play your own party against the CPU, seeing how many fights you can win in a row, again, similar to the sub-game in Golden Saucer in FFVII. Unfortunately, the opportunity to allow players to swap items, as done in Breath of Fire has not been taken.

Regardless of the excellent game we have here, what will really impress you is the graphics. Some of the effects here would not look out of place on the Playstation, I kid ye not. The basic game graphics are very detailed, colourful and cartoon-ey with smooth animation and bags of character. During conversations your characters gesticulate and are capable of carrying out a conversation at times without even using any text. There are lots of pretty lighting effects too, transparent streaks of sunlight streak through windows, while torches leave a glow in the dungeons. The real spectacular moments are I the battles though, the spell effects are nothing short of brilliant for the GBA, streaks of flames and lightening bolts flash across the screen looking generally gorgeous alongside the big colourful sprites set against a scaled, rotating backdrop. All this is accompanied by truly great music, pan pipes and strings back your adventure all the way, one of the first times I haven’t had to turn the volume down all the way on a GBA game.

What it shows is what the GBA is really capable of, we’ve seen a lot of cases of people trying to push the GBA further than it was intended, e.g. Doom. While this is commendable, it shows the cracks; Golden Sun works within the GBA’s boundaries and is a silky smooth experience. Golden Sun is the benchmark for all GBA games to match, the graphics, the sound, the depth of gameplay, all set the standard that others have to match. Simply put, this is the GBA’s flagship title.

Jamie Wharton

Jamie Wharton

Jamie Wharton was based out of Europe before disappearing off the face of the Earth. His contributions in the early days of Gaming Illustrated's history, however, shall never be forgotten.
Jamie Wharton

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