Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Golden Sun: Dark Dawn

Ok, so a few weeks did go by (I'm lying, it was only 2 days) and again I had some free time to kill. So I pulled the DS out of storage and started playing Golden Sun: Dark Dawn again (2010 release). I was still in the middle of the intro, which focused on explaining the menu system, and demonstrating a little bit about the fighting and djinn systems. Djinn are magical creatures that you find throughout the game (72 in total) that give your characters spell and summoning techniques. For the most part, what's important is quantity and the number of times you perform summons with them, the rest of the details, like which spells you get and which character uses which djinn are less relevent to winning battles. Most of the djinn are pretty weak, and the defensive ones (those that raise defence or resistance to enemy spells) are kind of a waste of time to cast. The game is based on the four elements used in alchemy (fire, earth, wind and water), and you start out with a party of three: you play the earth-caster, and are supported by a wind and a fire caster. The djinn also fall into the 4 categories, and add pluses or minuses to the characters depending on things like whether a water caster is using a fire-based djinn.

After about an hour, I was finally out of the intro and could start playing the game as a regular RPG. Dark Dawn is the third in the Golden Sun series, and the first one written specifically for the DS. The graphics are very good, given the resolution of the DS screen, and there's lots of animation, building types and background scenery. In fact, the little game cartridge is packed full for this game.  The music isn't too distracting, but because I had to play with the volume turned down most of the time, I didn't get to hear too much of it. The story is fairly straight-forward: Following the ending of game 2, alchemy was restored to the planet, allowing it to enter a rebirth phase. Unfortunately, the ancients had sealed alchemy from the world because it was too dangerous, which conversely was causing the planet to die off without it. Now that alchemy is back, the upheavals caused by the rebirth are tearing the planet apart and creating power vortexes to appear. Enter our heroes. One, the fire-caster, is an idiot hot-head that destroys the only existing soarwing (a wind-powered single-person glider). The feather from a roc is needed to build a new one, and the three main characters set out to obtain it. Along the way, they discover that the power vortexes are becoming more common, heralding the start of the Dark Dawn, the cataclysmic event feared by the ancients. The heroes pick up some assistance in their travels, which eventually takes them to the final battle to prevent a new, fifth form of alchemy from plunging the world into darkness.

Overall, I like this game. Some of the characters are very cute, the story is interesting, and each chapter section has completely different artwork (the world is loosely based on Asia, with one set of islands resembling Japan, and at least one town looking like it is in old China). It's kind of a cross between Zelda and Dragon Quest, with lots of puzzle solving, but the battles give you experience that levels up your characters. The puzzles require different abilities (move, grip, freeze, melt) that get unlocked as you advance through the game, similar to that in Zelda. As for leveling up, unlike Dragon Quest, you can easily find monsters with large amounds of xp, and build up to level 90 in a few hours (but only towards the end of the game). There is a decent replay value, once, in that there are 4 secret areas that get unlocked just before the end of the game, and when you load the final save you get to explore them. Once they're looted, though, that's it, there's no particular point to continue playing.

One of the complaints mentioned by critics of the game is that you can recover psyonic power too quickly (the power needed for casting attack spells and and performing healing), so that there's never a sense of urgency in the battles. While this is true at the beginning, when you get towards the end of the game, the enemy get much harder very quickly, and I was using up a lot of my healing items real fast. It's worse if you're not using the online walkthroughs and are trying to figure out the puzzles on your own and keep getting attacked every 15 seconds. On the other hand, the game is aimed towards younger players, in that anyone experienced in Zelda-like games will be able to figure the puzzles out on their own after some messing around. I admit that there were a few things I missed, and had to resort to the GameFAQs walkthrough for help. At the end, I was missing 3 of the 72 djinn, and 2 of the unlockable summons combinations, but that didn't affect my ability to beat the toughest bosses (the one endgame boss, and one optional dungeon boss).

What I don't like are the really long cut scenes. If for some reason you want (or have) to restart the game prior to a given scene, there's no way to skip forward. Plus leveling up doesn't really increase the damage you deal in battles. Higher levels improve your max. hit and magic points, letting you last longer in a battle, but physical damage is related more to your equiped weapon, and I still haven't figured out what improves magic damage (I think it's related to the number of times you do summonings using a specific element; summoning a water-based djinn combination gives you between 10 and 100 points towards your water skill, but the status screens don't show your current elemental point levels, so I don't know how all of this relates to water-based magic attacks). The result, though, as that no matter how much I levelled up, the amount of damage dealt out by a given character using a specific attack to a specific enemy never changed.  The only important factor was the attack strength of the weapon used, or the specific djinn combination being summoned (summoning Iris compared to Thor or Mercury).)

I do recommend Golden Sun to anyone that likes puzzle-based Japanese RPGs, and I am curious as to whether another sequel to the series is going to come out (the ending of Dark Sun leaves the question open).

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