Golden Sun: Dark Dawn – A Retrospective

After the GBA released, there weren’t many truly killer RPGs for the handheld in question. The genre existed, sure, but none of them had the feel. Most fell flat, either from a technical perspective or story perspective. The few good ones suffered from a different problem: bad marketing. All, except a certain little game by Camelot Software Planning.

Golden Sun.

Quite a bit has already been said about this gem of a GBA game, so I won’t go too much into it.  Suffice to say. It was pretty darn awesome at the time. It had excellent combat for the time, and technically, it was gorgeous. The plot wasn’t anything to scoff at either, but that’s standard for JRPGs.

Dark Dawn, on the other hand, wasn’t received nearly as well as everyone was expecting. Technically speaking, it was applauded. But plot-wise it dragged. It just lacked that . . . Spark, for lack of a better term. It was a Sun game, no doubt, but it wasn’t a great one. That truly grandiose feeling had vanished. It was great for its time, but even the most positive critics implicitly admitted it wasn’t going to be timeless.

As Nicholas Bale of GamingExcellence puts it (Full review here.):

There’s not a whole lot to say about Dark Dawn. It’s a polished, visually-appealing, cliche-filled, trope-ridden jRPG that is seemingly made exclusively for the fans of the previous games.

This opinion has only become more popular over the years. Especially among YouTubers, from the four retrospectives that I’ve reviewed. Hopefully, I’ll be able to bring something new to the table.

Let’s start with the elephant. This game was probably not as good as the original Golden Sun, that’s just a fact. Despite the original’s memory and technical limitations, It still felt Dark Dawn was smaller than the original Golden Sun. That should tell you something about just how shallow it all was in comparison. And keep in mind that this is coming from someone who got Dark Dawn FIRST before the other games! So this isn’t just nostalgia speaking.

That’s not to say it’s bad. It’s just not as good.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s move onto the plot. As usual, I’m not going to go into too much detail.

The game starts out several years after the events of the original Golden Sun. Isaac has a kid now – all of them had kids actually – so, yeah. It actually doesn’t require you to have any knowledge about the earlier games, surprisingly. It explains all the need to know events quickly. There’re several collectible storybooks that actually tell you all of the extras as well in a lovely storybook type thing.

Anyway, you (default name: Matthew), are the aforementioned kid. You have two buds, Karen and Idiot Tyrell. After some introductions, Tyrell drops an oversized model airplane and you have to go kill a twenty-ton bird to steal its insides – as history has always shown to be necessary. Blah blah, plot stretching/world building, blah blah, more distractions to pad out the game and so on and so on.

As many, many people have already said, the first half drags hard. There are some legitimately awesome moments. When you finally manage to cross a massive mountain using a magic flying cloud (no joke) and slowly push towards the peak, it feels awesome. Lemme tell you something right now. First half or not, this game does an amazing job when it comes to atmosphere. The second half, on the other hand, is really, really good plot-wise. The pacing feels quick and snappy, while the climaxes climax hard. In a game so silly for so long, The dark moments hit really, really hard. 

About mid-way through the game, you’re forced into making your way through the Lunar Tower. The tension kicks into ridiculously high gear. Working your way through the haunting dungeon as the eerie music plays, all leading up to one of the most intense climaxes I’ve ever played. And I’ve played Chrono Trigger and FF6, to completion. It is seriously, seriously great.

The climb to the Apollo Lens is similarly awesome. Not quite as good, but still decent.

So yes, Golden Sun has some of my favorite climaxes in all of video game history. But the rest ranges from great to really, really mediocre. Remember when I said it gets dark? I wasn’t joking at all. That stuff is what plays as you explore the ruins of Kaocho. What’s in Kaocho? Dead people. It’s unbelievably disturbing because you usually explore Ayuthay and a couple other towns first. They’re ordinarily safe, so it’s not too bad, just somewhat depressing. Take the time to explore Kaocho and all you’ll find is skeletons pleading with you, along with the boarded up palace which may or may not have been well defended enough to actually hold up against the monsters.

This isn’t even the worst example. Immediately after the Lunar Tower, you’re treated to the lovely sight of the people you were talking to less than an hour ago on the ground, dead. Especially since this is a bloody E10+ game, it really, really surprises most people.

Unfortunately, the rest drags out.

 

Part_02-04
90% of the game in a nutshell.

Take a look at the image. This bull is what most of the game actually is. Constantly, consistently, the game will interrupt an otherwise smooth experience to meander off into this absurdly long snail-pace text stream.

I just want to get back to the game! Stop interrupting that! AGHH!!!

 

One of the worst crimes committed by this game is the fascinating tidbits dropped about the world that is never followed up on. Look at the Tuparang, the Dark Adepts, the Apollo Lens, The Lunar Tower. So much interesting history that is just never followed up on. These guys were seeking omnipotence? That’s interesting! Tell me more! No?

Camelot really wasted these opportunities. I get the feeling they were saving it for a sequel, but seeing as how that DIDN’T HAPPEN, well, It just comes off as really annoying in context.

So, how do I view Golden Sun: Dark Dawn?

Good. Not as good as the original, but still good.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s