When first released in 2001, the original Golden Sun with met with much success; critics and players praised the Game Boy Advance game alike. Camelot was prompt to release a sequel, Golden Sun: The Lost Age, which was the second half of the original’s story, and offered even a different perspective on all that happened. Despite is being the ‘end’ of the story, however, some questions were left unanswered, and the possibility of a third game was highly likely. Fans clamored for it, but Camelot did not give them what they wanted. Years passed… and in 2010, over seven years after The Lost Age was released, the fans got the game they asked for… Golden Sun: Dark Dawn on the DS.
Being a huge Golden Sun myself, I bought the game and my rose tinted nostalgia glasses allowed me to enjoy every minute of it. However, looking back on the experience… a lot seemed off. If anything, it is the classic case of ‘too little, too late’.
[NOTE: This post will have spoilers to the entire series in it, big or small. You’ve been warned!]
Dark Dawn takes place thirty years after the original and The Lost Age… and that might be the biggest problem with it. In thirty years, the original cast has grown older and had children… wait, that’s only half true. Due to some odd plot event or another, the main characters of the games haven’t really aged at all over the time elapsed, and even resident old-fogey Kraden still alive and kicking, most likely being over 100. However, while the old main characters are more than capable to traipse the world again, they instead allow their kids to go retrieve a magical feather. It makes sense in the scenario, but it’s still disappointing to not be able to continue the quest with the original cast. This could have been rectified with being able to meet the characters, but the only ones you even see are Issac and Garet at the beginning of the game. Barely everyone else got a passing mention! It’s unfortunate that fans don’t really get any fanservice with seeing what their favorite characters are doing.
Another problem sprouts up when exploring the world… and it’s how unfamiliar it is. Barely any of the towns will be recognizable to even those that played the first two games recently. It’s explained with the plot point of the Golden Sun (the in-game event, not the game itself) caused the land to shift and caused ancient ruins and machines to be revealed, but it’s really a poor excuse. Even so, why would all of the old towns change their names, or so many new ones be created? It’s only been thirty years, after all. Camelot even rubs salt in the wound by making many of these places have ‘ancient roots’, suggesting that the places have been around for quite a while; it’s easy to suggest that you simply couldn’t get to them in the original two games, but when a good majority of the towns visited were ‘inaccessible’ before, it leads to the game feeling isolated from the games it’s supposed to be a direct sequel of. It’s great to have new places to explore, but it’s not bad to have some familiarity, either!
Finally, there’s how linear everything is. Instead of being able to explore the world at least somewhat on your own terms, you’re completely railroaded the entire game… even when you get the ship. Where’s the fun in that? It also leads to an issue if you miss a Djinn… you can’t really go back to old places, so if you miss something, you’re out of luck. The original and The Lost Age both had problems with railroading as well, but you were able to return to old areas and complete sidequests as least. Dark Dawn offers none of the sort.
Of course, it’s not all bad. Dark Dawn’s battle system is upgraded a bit with new Djinn, Summons, and Psynergy, giving each character a unique feel; in the GBA iterations the same element Adept had the same skills and practically same roles, but in the third game each character has something different they can do. The graphics look great, and so does the out of game artwork. Puzzles are never really obtuse, and the handy guide and books you can find in the world offer a good summary of the first two games. The plot itself, points above aside, is transparent enough, but offers a few interesting points to carry you through the game and to the cliffhanger ending. Unfortunately, it doesn’t answer much of anything from The Lost Age, though.
Golden Sun: Dark Dawn was a greatly anticipated game… that can leave fans very disappointed. It feels like you’re exploring a brand new world wit ha fresh cast… until you realize that it’s only thirty years later and the original cast is well enough off to be doing this ‘world saving’ themselves. Instead of answering questions, it leaves the player with more (Shadow Psynergy? Where’d that come from?), and the sudden cliffhanger ending will leave a bitter taste behind, especially since there’s no whisperings for Golden Sun 4. Will we have to wait another seven years? If we do, hopefully Camelot will have learned its lesson from Dark Dawn.
So, you’ve heard my rant, let me ask… What do you think of Dark Dawn? Is it a great addition to the series, a terrible flop, or somewhere in between?