Customer Reviews: Golden Sun: Dark Dawn
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on December 3, 2010
It wouldn't be quite right to say that the world of gaming was rocked in 2001, when the first Golden Sun game was released. Still, it would also be entirely wrong to say that it generated no enthusiasm; to the contrary, Golden Sun, and its continuation, Golden Sun: The Lost Age, were both solid, highly playable RPG adventures with excellent graphics, catchy music, a fun battle system, and likeable characters, and they were well received by fans and critics alike, the former winning a Nintendo Power Award for Best Video Game in 2001. But for much of the fanbase, a duology just wasn't enough. The ending of the second game left obvious sequel hooks, loose threads were not all neatly tied up, and the ambiguity of the ending only exacerbated the pervading feeling of "then what?". Basically, the story wasn't done. In fact, considering the possibilities unlocked at the ending of the second game, it felt more like it was just beginning. But years passed with no real sign of a third Golden Sun game. There was plenty of talk by the creators of the first two games, and a few hoaxes... but nothing solid.

Not until Nintendo's 2010 E3 presentation, anyway. There it was revealed finally that a new Sun would be rising: There would be another installment in the series. Golden Sun: Dark Dawn is that installment.

The premise is easy enough to grasp. The world was saved by the Warriors of Vale at the end of Lost Age (in the titular Golden Sun event), but 30 years later, a new threat has risen in the world. Matthew, son of Isaac, the hero of the first game and another character whose identity is kept mum about until well into the game is your player character. Like his father, he is the strong, silent type, a mix of cute young boy and fierce warrior, who is joined by a hotheaded bruiser named Tyrell, a sharp-minded telepath named Karis, and the nerdy scholar-in-training Rief. More characters, some familiar to players of the first two games, will also join up later on to help aid you in your blossoming fight against the world's destruction as the game progresses.

As far as graphics go, Dark Dawn looks nice, with well-matched colors and nostalgic backgrounds. The battle graphics are also rather attractive, although the camera angle here (and only here) can be dizzying, as it tends to move in and out at great speed as characters attack. Things have looked better on the DS, yes, but props must be given for being rather visually appealing while still sticking to the feel of the original two games. In addition to 3D graphics, the game has segments where the display switches to hyperstylized flat drawings resembling illustrations in a child's storybook - Appropriate, as these sections are accounts of the first two games, for players newly picking up the Golden Sun series. More on that in a moment.

Complementing this, Motoi Sakuraba, the composer for the first two Golden Sun games, outdid himself with the music for Dark Dawn, which accomplishes exactly what's needed for the moment without ever being obtrusive or irritating. Old favorites find themselves remixed and interspersed with all-new tunes, and it sounds great.

As a game, Dark Dawn is extremely playable. The menu and field interface is smooth, intuitive and usable, and can be navigated either by touch or control pads. Nothing is particularly novel about the exploration style of the world - standard town/dungeon/worldmap wandering with obstacle courses thrown in - but neither is it bogged down by formula. It's simply not exactly new, and well-travelled RPG fans may yearn for something more.

The battle system is turn based, and is mostly unchanged from past games, though the user interface has been slightly modified to better suit the DS's touchscreen system. With fairly standard options for fights, the most dramatic change from the series' early days is that everything is in 3D. As previously mentioned, the camera's tendency to quickly pan and zoom can be quite dizzying. When not swinging around to show who's attacking what, it remains thankfully quite static as players choose between a fairly standard array of either physical attacks, magical spells (called Psynergy), items, or use of special elemental Djinn, which are one of the stronger points of the system.

One of the things the Golden Sun series was known for was its advanced customizability in the form of the Djinn system. These creatures are collected as the party travels throughout the world, and can be used in battle on their own for a variety of useful effects, used to summon powerful attacks, and/or used to give a character a new class, unlocking spells and stats previously unavailable. Otherwise, battling is simple, adaptable to play preferences, and for the most part not overly challenging. Nor are battles particularly frequent. Battling is not the point of this game, and to judge it harshly on how easy or rare its battles, though perhaps valid, is missing the point.

What is the point? Well, first, puzzle solving. Puzzles range from very basic in concept - classic block puzzles, for example - to more complex obstacle courses that must be manipulated using a range of Psynergy, mental energy that can produce a variety of effects and which sets apart your party as special, from starting a fire to summoning a rainstorm. Difficulty varies; most will likely find the puzzles pleasantly challenging without wanting to beat their head against the wall.

Second, story. No, Golden Sun's plot is not Shakespeare... Nevertheless, lengthy, dialogue-filled cutscreens are used to advance the plot rather regularly, and it's not a bad plot, nor are the dialogue sequences usually tedious. Characters are easy to like, some more than others, and, for players who enjoyed the first two games and connected with the characters therein, continuing the stories of the previous generation is at times amusing, at others quite sad.

One thing that must be made clear is that the Golden Sun games, while well-made and highly playable, are not for everyone, and specifically aren't at all for fans of bleeding-edge action-packed adventures. Dark Dawn, like its predecessors, caters to a slightly different type of gamer who prefers their games to be a little slower and less flashy. Fans of puzzle games, story-driven RPGs, and adventure games (or all three) will likely get the most enjoyment out of this game.

Finally, it's important to look at Dark Dawn as a standalone game independent of its predecessors, despite its status as a sequel. It's been almost ten years since the first game in the series was released; Lost Age was released seven years ago. A long time in the world of gaming, this delay means that, while Dark Dawn will have devoted Golden Sun fans from the olden days flocking to buy it, new players who have never picked up a Golden Sun game before may also be trying out this title. Does it pull its own weight as a game? Well, yes, it does, but only just; events of the past are extrapolated on gently, through use of charmingly-animated story sequences as well as an encyclopaedia system integrated into speech, but it's apparent within the first half-hour that, like many games meant to expand or continue older series, the game is definitely improved by having played the previous entries.

Good graphics, ready playability, a fun, unique Djinn system, and likable characters help to propel this game out of the realm of strictly average RPGs; lower difficulty and lack of particularly groundbreaking exploration are what primarily keeps it from being a masterpiece. Still, as a whole, Golden Sun: Dark Dawn is a title well worth the time and money for players drawn to its genre. Fans of the first two games will probably adore it, and an obvious sequel hook should leave them with anticipation for more; fans of RPGs as a whole may find the title at times hit or miss. I adore it, and have rated it accordingly.
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on April 29, 2011
Having played my way through the GBA iterations of the series (and actually reviewing them nearly a decade ago as a 13yr old), I was pretty much doing backflips when I heard they were finally making a new Golden Sun. I even played through the old ones again to get ready for this one. Unfortunately, we've taken a step backwards. How big a step, though, really depends on what you expect from this game.

The story gains traction at a decent enough pace, and the game provides plenty of opportunities for newcomers to get familiar with the series in general in creative ways. It's graphics are still pretty captivating and cameras are cleverly used to make battles seem 3D. The GBA Music Composer has been rehired for this game and it shows, his music fits in great. There are a lot of techniques, many hidden that are worth finding and can easily be missed. The dungeon puzzles are awesome and a new hint ability helps newcomers. There's a lot to discover.

In other words, NOTHING about this game is "lazy" and that's oftentimes the number one symptom of an average, 3-Star game. It's a very thought-out adventure and much time has clearly been put on making this a first-rate adventure. All-around, It looks and runs just like a first-party Nintendo Game or something from a respected publisher like Square Enix.

The not so good...two things:

(1) The story, specifically its pacing. Dark Dawn expands on a bad habit that began on the GBA games in that it offers a lot of filler to supplement a story. This one takes that to new levels. Think of the story of this game as a teenager learning how to use the brakes on a car. The game begins with a search for a very important item, for example. (Flooring the pedal) Before you can find it, though, you must find something else. (BRAKE!) In the process of finding that something else so you can get what you needed in the first place, a completely unrelated event or character happens and you're now tied to that. (ANOTHER BRAKE!) This process is the entire game. Even worse little of it is connected to the previous games or this one is general. You find items to go to the next place. The explanations behind finding the items and the conversations your heroes have about them were so irrelevant to the general story I often skipped them. The game unexpectedly darts to a conclusion after, I kid you not, about 25 hours of this. You DO find that very first item, though. I wanted to scream at the game when I found out the item is never used.

(2) The gameplay, specifically the difficulty level. Dark Dawn simply offers the player too many ways to win now. This is particularly disheartening because fantastic battle mechanics fail to poor execution of the mechanic itself. Imagine fighting enemies, always choosing "Attack" and winning 9 times out of 10. Baddies, Bosses, Bosses with Baddies. No thought, no risk, no challenge. Having just played the GBA iterations, this isn't me.

Now, imagine yourself in a battle where only two out of four of your guys are still alive and you're debating whether or not you should risk bringing somebody back to life fast enough in hopes of the slower guy healing all three of you before the boss knocks everything out. The guy you bring back to life is a speed demon if it all works out and she/he can protect all three of you from damage the following turn.

Doesn't that sound a little more interesting? The game CAN DO THIS like the GBA Golden Sun games did. Battles got to be exciting in the GBA games! But Dark Dawn never truly eggs you on until the final boss. And by that time, you've gotten so used to basically pressing ATTACK MAGIC MAGIC ATTACK to WIN WIN WIN that you're mad at the game for the sudden unexpected challenge.

It's a 5-star game restrained to a 3-star performance at all times. A sports car that always goes 5mph below the legal speed limit. It's not a bad game at all. It has everything you could ever want in an incredible RPG. Rather, for one reason or another, it chooses to never push its envelope. And that's really frustrating.
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VINE VOICEon December 1, 2010
I've been playing this almost steadily for the past day & a half, but haven't yet finished the game. (I'll try to update this review after finishing the game.)This entry into the Golden Sun game follows the children of the "Warriors of Vale", which may disappoint those who were hoping to control Issac & company yet again on their journey. Not to worry though, the game creators did a great job of fleshing out these characters & animating them. So on to the review:

Animation: Better than the older games, but that's to be expected. Taking into consideration the time period differences between the three games, players can expect this game to keep up the tradition of having excellent graphics for a handheld game.

Story: Excellent. It's a little slow to start off, but quickly picks up the pace as you play. Like another reviewer has stated, the game is pretty wordy but then, you should expect that from a GS game.

Game Play: Players will be glad to know that you can operate this without a stylus, although using the psyenergy is easier with the stylus than without. The fighting is still turn based like the previous games were, so fans of this style of gaming (like me) will have fun with this. (Additional: I'm further in the game & can see where others are saying that this is an easier play than the previous 2 games. Still some challenge to it, but so far I haven't seen anything along the lines of the Lighthouses or the Gondowan statue so far, though.)

Replay value: I haven't finished it yet, but I can say that this will have some replay value to fans of the GS games or those who like completing all the little tasks they didn't catch the first time through. (I'm going to assume that this game will allow you to go back through the game with your powered up players like the previous two games did.) I will say that the only thing holding some people back from replaying it will be the massive amount of dialogue. If you've played the previous games then this won't deter you, but occasionally I did long for a skip button akin to the one in some of the Zelda DS games.

Standalone: You can easily play this without having to have played the previous two games. In fact, that's probably why part of the game is devoted to defining key players, locations, & events in the game. (It doesn't interefere with game play, with the definitions showing up on the upper screen of the DS while the action takes place below. Looking at the definitions is completely optional.) If you look hard, there's also books that you can pick up in various places in the game that give you the story of what happened before. Of course I recommend playing the first games, though- they're worth tracking down!

Overall this is an excellent game & I'm glad that I stalked my local GameStop on the day this released so I could be one of the first to get it. While there's some recycled content from the previous games as far as puzzled go, overall this was a pretty fun game to play. Better than the first two? No, unfortunately those who are looking for something to beat the first two games will be slightly disappointed. Is it good as a game on its own? Yep- as a stand alone game this is pretty good. I just hope it doesn't take them another six years to put out another entry in the game!

Annendum: (after finishing game)

I just wanted to say that after finishing the game, my opinions are quite similar to what they were when I started & wrote this review. I had a lot of fun playing this game & while it isn't as challenging as the original two were, it's still a pretty cool game.

There is a replay option, but it is rather limited in comparison to how it was in the previous two games where you could replay from the very start of the game. :(
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on February 18, 2011
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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on June 13, 2015
This game continues the GS franchise with a new generation. I like that you can interact with characters from the previous games and the core mechanics are still here. You have the puzzles that use the powers, updated graphics, and the same fun battle system/great music that the Golden Sun series is known for. Another solid entry in the franchise that leaves me with hope that they continue the series. A great RPG for the DS.
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on August 14, 2015
Lore: This is technically Golden Sun 3, with the first 2 games being on the Gameboy Advance. Knowing a lot of people would be going into this game having not played the first 2, they decided to make the children of the previous games' heroes the focus, & include books, an encyclopedia of terms, & a very long opening cutscene that explains the events of the first two games. Unfortunately, "show" works better than "tell" & you might as well just play ROMs of the first two games if you really want to know what the heck is going on. The collectible books do a much better job of filling you in than all of the NPC exposition combined.

Getting lost: The game explains nothing to you after the parents leave, so you'll find yourself going to Walkthrough frequently. The Walkthroughs skip a lot of important things like "ignore this for now, you'll be coming back to it latter" so you may find yourself needing youtube walkthroughs for certain parts. You will also find that you can get cut off from returning to areas entirely, meaning any Djinns & boxed you failed to figure out how to get to will be permanently lost to you.

The puzzles: The puzzles will keep your brain intrigued when the Random Encounter battles start to wear on your patience. They're quite fun, but when it comes to areas you are unaware that you are supposed to skip for now & come back to latter (like the Harapa Ruins), you will be stumped & frustrated, because you're not supposed to solve it yet & therefore can't.

The graphics: Reminds me greatly of Final Fantasy 9. If you've never played that, think FF7 without the hideous Popeye arms. Looks good even on a tiny 2DS screen.

The dialogue: You cannot really make it faster & it scrolls quite slowly. It also makes a very irritating noise that you can thankfully turn off. Words highlighted in red will bring up the dictionary, which is useful for short attention spans or long breaks between the game.

The cast: Despite being called the Leader, Matthew is really more of a mute observer & battle support who communicates with a limited range of emotions. The true leader is Karis; the smart one, the one who makes the first move in battle, & Team Mom of the group. Tyrell is comical lackey. He's less strong than Matthew, bullheaded, clumsy, & irresponsible. He & Karis don't get along, so Matthew is the glue that bonds them together. Latter in the early part of the game, the group is completed when Rief joins the team. He's the team's Glass Canon & Loremaster, giving the party two smart mature magic users & 2 bumbling manchild warriors.
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on September 15, 2016
I absolutely love the Golden Sun series, and actually bought my 2DS in order to play this game. While not as good as the first two games, I still love Golden Sun: Dark Dawn and hope that they do make the fourth game in the series. Several complaints: the tutorial at the beginning is a bit annoying if you already know how to play, there was a decrease in graphics quality from the first two games, and there are some unnecessary points of no return. It would also be nice if they allowed you to skip cut scenes. However, I really enjoyed the game. I love the world building and all the hints at previous civilizations, and the gameplay is fun. This game was definitely worth buying a new gaming system for.
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on July 8, 2014
Great game!
If you liked the original Golden Sun series, you'll love this one.

My only criticism is that for better or worse, it's pretty much the exact same game as the other Golden Sun games.
Nothing much new or innovative here, except for a slightly different weapon system.

Also, the dialogue still suffers from the exact same problem as the previous games: too much unnecessary fluff.
You'll find yourself skipping past lots of meaningless dialogue that adds little or nothing to the plot.

Still, the gameplay is fun and addicting, the graphics are gorgeous, the music is epic.
It more than makes up for its flaws.
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on June 28, 2016
I really enjoyed playing Golden Sun: Dark Dawn

It was full of nostalgic moments and made me remember the good old days playing the two previous games; nevertheless, Dark Dawn has enough originality to stand on its own.

The game plays on the touch screen and I was worried at first since I am left handed; however, you can still play with the analog stick like any other game without having to use the stylus at all.

The music in Dark Dawn is amazing, it really helps build atmosphere and it truly adds a lot of value to the game experience as a whole.

My only complaint with Dark Dawn is that its puzzles are not as difficult as in previous games. Overall difficulty in Dark Dawn is less challenging, whereas in previous games it would get stuck for hours within a dungeon, in Dark Dawn I've never found myself wondering what to do next. Actually I believe I've never had any of my characters die in battle while playing.

However; if you enjoyed playing the two previous games you definitely MUST give Dark Dawn a try. It was a very enjoyable experience and I truly hope they dare to create further games within the Golden Sun universe.
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on August 18, 2014
To be honest, I never played Dark Dawn's predecessor, but even so, I really enjoyed this game. The battle system was unique, in using different combinations of Djinn, the collectable magical creatures that give you your abilities, to create a plethora of different tactical options. I tend to be more of the offensive "kill everything before it can touch me" type, but having to strategically spread out my Djinn left me being more creative with how I utilized each character.

The gameplay reminded me a lot of the Dragon Quest series. The plot was kind of "ehh" but was still interesting. The characters were fun and had interesting personalities that did not rely too much on tropes or stereotypes. The different countries had their own cultures, and I liked that you had a lot of freedom to explore.

There is some grinding to be done, but it wasn't as much of a chore compared to other games. Overall, it is definitely a worthwhile game, even if you are new to the series.
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