Customer Review

46 of 58 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars It's my own fault, really, February 18, 2011
= Fun:2.0 out of 5 stars 
This review is from: Golden Sun: Dark Dawn (Video Game)
It is! It's my fault for being desperate for a good JRPG on my DS. I'm so desperate that I'll pick up the aggressively mediocre spawn of one of my favorite portable RPGs, and you know what? I'll probably even play it to the end. Golden Sun: Dark Dawn is a disappointment, made all the more so by the excellent first installment of the series, which came out way back in 2001. The sequel, Golden Sun: The Lost Age, well-reviewed but unplayed by me, came out back in 2003. I'd always wanted to pick it up if I found it for cheap, but haven't had the opportunity. Now I'm not so sure.

The gameplay of Dark Dawn is fairly standard turn-based RPG fare, which is just fine with me. There aren't enough games of that description coming out anymore, and even Square's Final Fantasy series doesn't really fit the mold anymore. The problem isn't with the underlying system, which hasn't evolved much since 2001 and doesn't need to, but the balance of the game. Somehow, and I have no idea how this happened, Dark Dawn manages to have very few random battles and simultaneously be easier than just about any RPG I've ever played. I'm not asking the game to make me grind, but at 15 hours I have yet to use an item for healing. I also have yet to have a character knocked out. The last 2 boss battles are the first ones where I've needed to heal at all.

I never thought I'd complain that an RPG had too few random battles, but here it is; Golden Sun: Dark Dawn has too few. Since they're so easy, one can blow through them by tapping A over and over again to use the regular attacks with no strategy, no peril, and no challenge.

And that's not getting into the lack of boss battles. It used to be standard procedure- finish a dungeon, there's a boss. The bad guy shows up? Fight his underling, and/or him. Creepy plant look at you funny? Kill it dead. But for some reason, modern RPGs miss this, and Dark Dawn is a particularly bad offender. Somehow, the developers thought that after a long conversation with the game's villains, we would be all geared up to... exit the dungeon and return the world map. How hard is this? Color swap some late-game enemies, add a single line of dialogue ("Enough talk! Face this thing I found under my sink!" or some such), and cue the special music. You can even skip a couple of those steps if you're lazy. Just give me more bosses! Or stronger regular enemies! Anything to make the game more challenging!

The basic strategy for any boss battle can be summarized by this; unleash all your djinn, cast the highest-level summon you have, and if the boss is still alive, attack until the djinn are reset and repeat. I've fought one boss so far that lives through the first step. I assume the game thinks that unleashing djinn is a trade-off to the increased stats that they grant, but honestly? I never even noticed. A risk-reward system of this type would be an interesting was to improve on the old RPG formula, but it's a wasted opportunity here.

And that's not even touching that statuses hardly have any affect on gameplay; I've been "wrapped in delusion" more times than I can count and I still don't know what it does. Locking an enemy's psyenergy sounds useful, but why bother, since the game is so easy? And once again I have the question of why regular attacks don't wake sleeping enemies or party members. The game also seems to think that packing dungeons with items that heal these will somehow balance this, when really it just makes me think, "Aw, I wanted new armor."

AND money is a joke. I never had to sell equipment or anything else in order afford new equipment, and the one time I couldn't afford new equipment for everyone, it didn't even matter because the game is so easy. Since there's no point in buying healing items, and the statuses that actually do something (like being haunted) can't be cured with items anyway, I am sitting on a big pile of money that can't be used. The buying and selling interface could be better, too, but it's a minor complaint among these others.

But let's step back from all that. Golden Sun: Dark Dawn's dialogue is wretched, even by JRPG standards. I expect some of this. I expect people to talk too much in these games, as a rule. I still don't know what happened throughout most of Final Fantasy XII. But that game was great. There's a sequence in Golden Sun: Dark Dawn, in which the characters indicate that they are rushing to save someone's sister, and that she will be boiled alive if they fail (really). During this section of the game, the characters WILL NOT SHUT UP. Forgive me if I can't sweep this under the rug of "RPG conventions," but can ANYBODY play this sequence and doubt for a second that the sister will be rescued? Can anyone think that their actions will matter in the slightest as to whether the sister will live or die? There are times I can buy this; I understand that Sephiroth's Meteor will hit earth "sometime soon" even as I endlessly force chocobos to mate for my amusement. But there are sequences in that game that involved real urgency, where the player's actions could actually make Cloud and friends fail.

It doesn't stop there. Dark Dawn's dialogue endlessly repeats itself, even when it writes in sequences that seem designed to avoid doing so. An example; the character Sveta can read minds, and once she does, what does she do? Repeat the same thing that all the other characters in the room, we, and everyone else in the game world ALREADY KNOWS. AND THEN THE OTHER CHARACTERS, WHOSE MINDS HAVE JUST BEEN READ, REPEAT IT TOO. Who can defend this writing?

The game's puzzles are marginally better than its dialogue. That is, until one picks up the "Insight" psyenergy, which literally puts a filter on the screen that shows you the solution to puzzles. Some of them overcome this by being about positioning and/or some other cleverness, but they are the exception when they should be the rule. Stuck? Use Insight. Now you're not.

The looks great and sounds pretty good (though many of the tunes are less memorable than in the first game, and the color palette seems a bit muted compared to that, too), but art design can only go so far. At this point, we need better than competent and good-looking. The only reason to consider Golden Sun: Dark Dawn is if you're like me; starved for a traditional JRPG on a portable system. Lord knows I won't blame you for picking it up, but if you do so before getting the infinitely superior Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy 4 remakes, you've lost your will to be entertained.
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Showing 1-10 of 13 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Mar 6, 2011 1:43:43 PM PST
Peragulator says:
No fast travel. After 14 hours in this clunker I'm done.

Posted on Mar 19, 2011 10:10:01 AM PDT
Justin B. says:
Well I have not played this one yet but I definitely recommend you play lost age. It is amazing and it blew my mind how good it was.

Posted on Apr 13, 2011 5:38:37 PM PDT
Jasmine says:
It sounds like the answer to your problem is Etrian Odyssey III if you've never played it. I'll warn you though, it's more about gameplay and puzzles and being clever than it is about a story (though there is some of that too) ... if you've never played one in the series, you'll like the amount of depth it presents you with character customization and party formation. Five healers? Go for it. Four fighters and one mage while you spend the bulk of your money on healing items? Knock yourself out.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 13, 2011 5:42:22 PM PDT
Felllix says:
Thanks for the heads up! I just might do that.

Posted on May 6, 2011 11:31:02 AM PDT
thewindwaker says:
Felllix, I too despise Dark Dawn because of the terribly written plot and bland characters (you summed it up pretty well).

But, if you have the chance to play Golden Sun: The Lost Age, play it. TLA was even better than the original Golden Sun, and one of my favorite games on the GBA (it actually had characters that you grow to care about, unlike Dark Dawn).

Posted on May 6, 2011 10:11:48 PM PDT
Well, thanks for the heads up since I am a huge fan of Golden Sun, and I'll tell you, Golden sun the Lost age is just as challenging or even better than the first Golden Sun so I suggest you give it a shot. I've been yearning for a new golden sun to come out that featured their children and such so I think I'm still going to give Golden Sun Dark Age a chance. I was reading the story and it seemed like a vicious circle from the precious games but... eh. I think that lately people have been focusing too much on the graphics and too little on the story, too. The story IS what makes the RPG worth playing. The story is the core of any rpg, it's what makes you feel like you're playing the role.

In reply to an earlier post on May 6, 2011 10:12:50 PM PDT
totally agree with you! Lost age WAS awesome

In reply to an earlier post on May 6, 2011 10:27:23 PM PDT
Felllix says:
I'm tempted to jump in front of you while yelling "Nooooooooo" as I would a loved one. I think you and I look for different things, though- the storytelling is what's lacking in Dark Dawn, but the gameplay doesn't give the play many options either. Let us know what you think!

Posted on Jun 12, 2011 3:21:39 PM PDT
C. J. Smith says:
The first two games had all these problems and more. Rose-colored nostalgia goggles will do wonders to make you forget them.

Posted on Sep 9, 2011 2:39:03 AM PDT
S. Rhodes says:
I totally agree with your review, but I want to point out that the other two Golden Sun games were like this as well... and not to mention the JRPG has had some of these issues for some time. Take your "Tap A without any real strategy." I have been able to do this in almost every JRPG released since Final Fantasy VI on the Super Nintendo. No joke. I can't remember the last time I had to use a spell other than one that healed in a JRPG (aside from games where your mage HAS to in order to actually survive). The option is there to use other means, you just don't often find yourself in a position where you have to anymore. Take almost any JRPG and they're designed so that just your normal attacks will do. The JRPG hasn't really changed, the audience has just progressed onto to bigger and better things but we like to hold on fondly to when the genre was in its heyday. Chrono Trigger, for instance, is one of the most notoriously easy RPGs out there. The remake on DS was designed to be even easier. And very few JRPGs on the original Playstation were really "difficult". They only became so if you went after some of the ultra powerful optional bosses (although Legend of Legaia did provide a decent challenge). I rather like Golden Sun Dark Dawn but even in my review I pointed out some of the very same issues.

The original Golden Sun was similar. Take the "characters talking to much..." thing. The first Golden Sun does this. And so did Golden Sun the Lost Age. In fact, Golden Sun: The Lost Age was far more dialog heavy than this game could ever hope to be. But I don't think the problem is that there's too much talking. I think the issue is that a lot of it is redundant. You did a good job pointing that out with the Mind Reading but you hit the nail on the head with the sister bit. The characters will say something, echo their own sentiments (several times) before moving on. And don't even get me started on how annoying it is to answer the "Yes" or "No" questions. Again, this is something the first two Golden Sun games did. What they DIDN'T do, however, was force you to respond with one of those attitude like faces that doesn't have an impact.

I think when it came to the first Golden Sun game it was actually more so that on a handheld system we'd never seen anything like it. The original Gameboy just couldn't give you that kind of experience. So we let these issues slide because on a handheld scale Golden Sun didn't have anything to really be compared to when it was released. But Golden Sun hasn't changed. Most of us are just a lot older now that the wow factor of what it once was has worn off. I believe I was fourteen or so when the first Golden Sun came out. Back then I'd play any game that was pretty. And for the GBA that sure was a pretty game (but I liked the gameplay experience). But I don't recall ever finding the original Golden Sun to be a challenge either. Nor did I find The Lost Age to be a challenge. As I said, the number of challenging JRPGs released within the past fifteen or so years can probably be counted on one hand.
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