Review: Golden Sun: The Lost Age (Game Boy Advance)

Golden Sun: The Lost Age
Genre: Traditional RPG
Platform: Game Boy Advance
ESRB Rating: Everyone (Violence)
Developer: Camelot
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: April 15, 2003
Official Home Page:
www.goldensun-games.com

When it was released, Golden Sun was the first RPG available for the Game Boy Advance (not counting previous Game Boy and Game Boy Color games), and helped push the system to its limited with lush artwork and nice music, and also provided an RPG experience that hearkened back to the olden days, before full motion video was standard. The game played like it was straight off of the SNES, and that’s what people loved about it. Based on the ending of the game, it was obvious that a sequel would be made, and it was likely planned that way from the start. That sequel was to be called Golden Sun: The Lost Age.

WARNING: This game is a direct sequel to Golden Sun, and thus to go into any details would spoil parts of the story. So if you have not played it yet, it is highly recommended you play the original Golden Sun before reading this review. If spoilers do not bother you, however, read away. I will try to limit any spoilers to the Story section, but read at your own risk.

Released two years after the original, Golden Sun: The Lost Age (or GS2 for sake of brevity) is a direct continuation of the story from the original GS. Despite that, you play the role of different adventurers trying to accomplish a different task than the original party. Many aspects of the game are similar, but the question is, does it play exactly like Golden Sun but with different characters? Will this game suffer the same fate as .hack//MUTATION? Let’s examine the game, in detail, and then we shall see what the answer to that question is.

Story
The story begins during the last moments in the original GS. We see Felix walking Jenna and Kraden out of the Venus Lighthouse, when he decides to return to the aerie to make sure that Saturos and Menardi do not harm Sheba. Alex appears and takes the two captives to Menardi’s waiting ship. After the lighthouse is lit, and splits in two, apparently killing Saturos and Menardi, along with Felix and Sheba, the part of the continent that Alex, Jenna and Kraden returned to breaks away from the mainland and floats out to see. After a while, Alex shows the other two that Felix and Sheba had survived and had washed up on the shore of their own floating island. Not long after that, a tidal wave caused by the Venus Lighthouse incident crashes into the island and pushes it into a nearby continent. After they awake, they realize that Alex is gone, and so is their ship. And so their adventure begins…

In the previous GS, you controlled the party of Issac, Garet, Ivan and Mia. This time around, you control Felix, Jenna, Sheba and Piers (though not initially), with Kraden in tow. This adds somewhat of an odd dynamic to the game, since you’re now being chased by the party in the original. Felix’s motivation for wanting to light all the lighthouses is somewhat cloudy, but it has something to do with returning magic (or Psyenergy, in this case) to the world. Jenna follows because she is his brother. Sheba, though once a captive, is now a willing member of the party since she feels it is her destiny. And Kraden, being the scholar he is, simply wants to observe and see what happens.

The story is pretty refreshing, considering the fact that Felix was considered to be a villain of sorts in the original, and now you’re basically playing that villain and are being chased by the heroes. Imagine what will happen when they meet up?

Gameplay
Originally, I was somewhat apprehensive of playing this game, because I thought it’d be “more of the same”. Fortunately, I was wrong. It was quite nice to be able to play different characters, but be a part of the same story. In this one, your characters start at level 5, and you start out with 3 people, so you’re better off than in the original Golden Sun.

Most of the gameplay elements return from the original. Your characters walk around in towns and dungeons, like any standard RPG. Occasionally, you’ll find areas that you need to use your Psyenergy (magic) on to be able to progress or access a secret area. Examples of this include Move (to move pillars to a different place) and Whirlwind (to clear brush from hidden doors and such). There are even several new abilities that were not in the original, such as Lash (which takes a rope and ties it to a faraway post) and Pound (which crushes certain pillars that block your way). Most of the puzzles in this game are solved using these abilities, and like the original, they add a lot to the gameplay.

Battles themselves are almost identical to the first Golden Sun. When traversing the World Map or while in dungeons, you’ll randomly run into enemies like in most RPGs. Occasionally you’ll get a free attack on them, but sometimes they get a free attack as well. Battles are turn-based, where you pick which attack each person does, and the order is determined by the character’s agility. What you can do in battle is pretty standard stuff. You can do a standard attack, use an item, run, or use Psyenergy. When you defeat enemies, you gain experience and money. And of course, after gaining enough experience, your character gains a level, which increases their stats and occasionally earns a new spell.

Since the world is ruled by magic (even though not everybody knows it), and each of our main characters is capable of using Psyenergy, each character has an Elemental affiliation. Felix has an affinity to Venus (Earth), Jenna uses Mars (Fire) magic, Sheba goes with Jupiter (Wind) magic, and Piers utilizes Mercury (Water) Psyenergy.

Also returning from the original is the Djinn system. For the uninitiated, the Djinn (or as Western culture has bastardized it, “genies”) are little creatures, each with an elemental affinity, that you meet up and help you out in battle. To gain one, you have to find it, and when you find it, you’ll either have to battle it or it will join automatically. Some are easy to find, others are easy to find, but like to run away and you have to catch them. Some even appear on the World Map as a random battle. Once you have captured a Djinn, you can assign it to one of your party members, and they will gain stat increases by having it equipped. Each character has a title, and depending on what Djinn you have equipped, the title could change. For example, Felix starts out as a Squire, and after equipping two Djinns of his Element (Venus in this case) he will become a Knight. But if you equip one Venus and one Mercury Djinn, he will become something else entirely, and his stats and magic will change. It’s a really interesting play mechanic, and it’s a lot of fun to play around with the different types of combinations and seeing what sort of character you can produce because of it.

The Djinns also serve a very important purpose in battle. One function they serve is that when they are equipped on a character, you can use one Djinn per turn to do an attack or specialty skill, like increasing everyone’s defense. Once you use a Djinn, they are on standby mode, and once that happens, they can be summoned. But the best part doesn’t occur until you have several Djinn on standby, then you can combine them into a larger and more powerful summon. The drawback to putting Djinn on standby is that you don’t gain the stat increases and magic earned from equipping them. It’s a small price to pay for a big attack though. One thing that was added in GS2 was Combination summons. In the previous GS, you could only combine same affinity Djinn into a summon, but by reading Summon Tablets, you can use different combinations of Djinn to make a summon, which is pretty nice. It’s something extra to seek out, for all of us who are in to that sort of thing.

All in all, the gameplay is about the same as the original Golden Sun, but was improved in some areas, and a better game was the result. I’ve played too many sequels where it was either identical to the original, or too different to even be considered a sequel (see Final Fantasy). Though the things that were changed were small things, like adding new weapons, enemies and magic, it really adds to the game. The game wasn’t broken in the first place, and nothing needed to be fixed, but they improved in probably every area they could.

Graphics
The graphics aren’t much different from the original title, but that’s not a bad thing. As with the original, the graphics are beautifully drawn sprites that look like they flew off an SNES cart, but better. Playing the game makes me reminisce about the good ole days of RPG games where it wasn’t about the graphics, it was about the story and gameplay. Nowadays, it’s the opposite, but I digress.

The game features a color palate that uses all of the Game Boy Advance’s colors, and it looks simply wonderful. The characters are all super deformed, but it fits perfectly into this game since the characters and their portraits when talking look similar to their actual faces. During battle, each weapon type looks different, and the characters look more “realistic” in that they are proportioned like a real person. The spell and ability effects look really cool, and overall, the game is very pleasing on the eyes.

Sound
Sound is another aspect that has not really changed much. Again, the music is really good, and the different music IS different from the original, but still has the same high quality feel to it. Even though it is only MIDI, the instruments are used the best they can, and the songs have a lot of atmosphere to them.

As for the standard sounds, well, they’re standard. Since it’s a handheld game, not much could be expected in this aspect. Sounds usually include menu beeps and such, as well as weapons and magic strikes during battle. I can’t really complain about anything here; it’s about what you’d expect from a GBA game. As with the original, the text sound changes depending on the gender of the character you talk to.

Fun Factor
While it’s very much like the original Golden Sun, this game is still very enjoyable. The gameplay, graphics and sound are on par with each other, but you start out with a new group and get to improve your characters anew. In addition, with the improvements to the systems, it’s an even more pleasant experience.

One of the coolest things that the game lets you do is transfer your save data over from Golden Sun. This can be achieved by doing one of two things: using a GBA link cable or typing in a password. The link cable is the preferred method, since if you decide to transfer the highest amount of data allowed, you have to type in a 6 page password. YIKES! It’s definitely a pain, as I can attest. The benefits of transferring your data are not so obvious, since you play as a different party, but I do know that some events will be different, or will not occur at all, if you don’t transfer from the original. While not a big thing, it’s still a nice touch.

Ratings
Gameplay: 9
Graphics: 9
Sound: 8
Fun Factor: 9

Short Attention Span Summary
Though not perfect, the game itself is as good of a sequel as could be expected. The story continues right after, and it plays almost exactly like the original, but there is enough difference that it proves that it is a different game. Fans of the original, go get your copy now. You won’t regret it. Fans of RPGs in general, you’re doing yourself a disservice by not picking up both of these games. Hell, if there’s any game out there that could start someone on the path of an RPGamer, it’s this game and it’s predecessor.