Saturday, October 15, 2011

Golden Sun 3 - Dark Dawn

A worthy sequel that reaches expectations in almost every category

I've been waiting for this game to come out for a long time. People called me crazy, thinking that Camelot will release a sequel to the critical favorite Golden Sun: The Lost Age. I knew that a powerful fan-base like the one Golden Sun has would be able to catch Nintendo's eye. The purpose of this review is to review this game and give a bit of compare/contrast between this and the two games that came out before.

GRAPHICS: The original Golden Sun games were always praised for their outstanding graphics on a system that was about as powerful as a SNES. To this day I'm still impressed by the graphics on a game that came out around 9 years ago. Having said that I feel that they could have done a better job with the graphics on this game. If I had to describe the graphics I would use the word "blocky" a great deal. While the overworld is in much greater detail than the first two Golden Sun games I still feel that they could have made it look smoother. The overworld character sprites also suffer a similar case of blockiness (new word I just made up). The one thing I can say is that they use animation to its fullest potential. Characters seem much more animated (in both uses of the word) and I can't fault them for that. So why did I give it an 8 out of 10? Well, the battles are in much greater detail than the overworld. The detail and animations used in the battles far surpasses what they use in the overworld. If they had given the overworld map and characters the same sprites and details they used in battles I would have had to raise this to a 9 or even a 10. At that point I would have figured they could go into no greater detail; they are limited by the technology of the system after all.

STORY: Just note, I'm keeping this part of the review spoiler-free. You don't have to worry about the story being ruined for you. The original Golden Sun games had a great story. Across both games you uncovered schemes and discovered plot twists. While the characters in the first game could have had a little more personality (especially the silent protagonists) I couldn't fault them, because they had told an excellent story that I still enjoy to this day. In my opinion, Dark Dawn's story surpasses that of the first two Golden Suns. Without using a strategy guide it took me about 23 hours to complete this game, but even if I had used a guide I don't think I would have cut down on the amount of time it took by more than an hour or two. You can pretty much guarantee a 20 hour story from this game, at least. From an early point in the game you feel like your characters are apart of something epic and this feeling continues to grow until you reach the climax. The characters do have a greater range of emotion in comparison to the first two games and you feel more connected to them. 

This would have gotten a 10 out of 10 if not for one large problem and one small problem I have with this game.  The large problem is that Dark Dawn suffers from a bad case of SPS, or Silent Protagonist Syndrome. I had the same problem with the first two games (which also featured silent protagonists) and I really did hope they would have corrected it. I suppose they wanted you to feel like you were the character and all of the dialogue in your head was supposed to be your words in game or something along those lines. When playing an RPG, unless I'm creating the character myself, I can't really get intimately connected with who I'm playing as. It's a rather large flaw, and I believe that it took away from the overall presentation. I do also have one small problem with the game, and that is that a couple of characters that are introduced late into the game did not have enough time in the spotlight. Because of this they seem to have about as much personality as a robot. The rest of the characters have way more personality, and almost makes up for this minor flaw. I just wish I could have gotten to know them better. Finally, I do have one point to make. There is a lot of dialogue in this game, and the same holds true for the first two games. There are some scenes that seem to take 5 minutes to complete. I ENJOY THIS, and I enjoy it because this is a single-player, story driven game. I mention this because it is noticeable and not every enjoys spending 5 minutes reading what they need to do next.

GAMEPLAY: The first Golden Suns had a great (and unique) battle system. The battle system featured many creatures to aid you in battle, called Djinni, and when unleashed simultaneously you can summon powerful allies to bring on the pain to your foes. The originals also had a large amount of puzzles and dungeons that would always keep you guessing. I've played the first two games a number of times and try as I might I still have to look at a FAQ for at least one puzzle.  Dark Dawn was almost identical to the first two with one minor change. If the first two games had a flaw it was that if you had several of your party members attack a single monster and the monster died before all of your party members attacked it, the remaining party members would simply defend instead of attacking another monster. While this wasn't a huge deal it was a bit annoying at times in the first two games. Dark Dawn corrected this, so now party members will move onto another monster instead of defending. Dark Dawn also maintains a large number of playable classes. While there are a lot of similarities between classes they are all useful in some way or another. Puzzles have changed slightly and I believe they improved upon the way you solve them. It's not a huge deal, but basically it's much easier to target things you need to target in order to solve puzzles. There is only one flaw that I think needs to be mentioned, but first one thing needs to be explained. This game can be controlled one of two ways. You can either use the buttons and arrows on the DS to control your character or you can use the touch screen for all commands. I've tried it both ways and I much prefer to use the buttons and arrows (what can I say? I'm old fashioned.). I feel much more out-of-control when using the touch screen commands and I feel that it takes much longer to issue orders.  The good thing that comes from this is that you don't need to make a menu selection to switch between control types. You can simply do one or the other, and at times you can do both at the same time (which I did frequently). The bad thing that comes from this is that it is sometimes hard to move your character in certain places when using the D-pad. I believe that Camelot and Nintendo wanted you to use the touch screen as much as humanly possible and I think that in some small cases it's a bit of a hindrance. One final thing worth mentioning is that there is no transfer data between Golden Sun: The Lost age and Dark Dawn. Though there is an option in The Lost Age to save your data for what appears to be transferring, this was never implemented in Dark Dawn. It was a bit disappointing to find this out, but as the story takes place 30 years from the events of the last game it's not that big of a deal.

SOUND: Golden Sun has a history of GREAT music, and it spans across the entire series. The first two games had some of the best music I've ever heard in a video game, and to this day I'm still impressed by Motoi Sakuraba's skill. While it pains me to say, Dark Dawn falls SLIGHTLY short of its predecessor when it comes to sound and music. Don't get me wrong, there are some absolutely amazing musical scores in this game, and most of them are great. There are, however, at least two dungeons/areas where the music is TERRIBLE... I mean so terrible that I almost wanted to turn the sound off. I believe that for these particular dungeons they were trying to make it sound creepy and scary but it came across as sleepy and boring. If it weren't for those two dungeons I would have given the sound a 10 out of 10. I want to move away from that, because the rest of the music in this game is really great, it never feels old and it's always exciting. The battle music is where the game shines, I have never had a boss fight (in any of the Golden Sun games) where I didn't enjoy the music. One thing that is small, but still enjoyable, are the speech effects. When a character "speaks" a speech bubble appears and while the words are being written out it almost sounds like they are talking. Some find this annoying, but I think most (including myself) enjoy it.

OVERALL: This is one of the greatest games that I've played on a DS, and by far the best RPG I've played on a DS. Dark Dawn stands up to some of the best RPGs I've played in my life (and I've played a lot of them). This game took around 7 years to come out (the time between Golden Sun: The Lost Age and Golden Sun: Dark Dawn), and even though my expectations were very high Dark Dawn reached them in almost every category. This game is not without its flaws, but MOST of them are nit-picky at best. The sun has truly risen again for this series, and I look forward to the next installment. 




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