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Golden Sun: Dark Dawn Review

Review; Jan. 24, 2011; Channels: Video Games; By Anne King
This scion of the series is on par with the rest

Those who play RPGs know why they play them -- not for the graphics and not for the soundtracks. Definitely not for the corny (and in the event of imports, often poorly translated) lines. Sometimes we appreciate them for their fighting styles, but mostly we play them for the plot. Single-player RPGs appeal to our inner story teller in a way no other genre can.

This reliance on storyline is why few RPGs are truly good -- few sit on that shelf we hold in our minds of total esteem and nostalgia. Ocarina of Time is up there, as is Chrono Trigger. Then there's a slightly lower, but much more tightly packed shelf of really good games that just couldn't hack it against those on the top shelf. Golden Sun on the Gameboy Advance sits on that lower throne in my mind. It's a great game -- the plot carries itself, and the fighting style is well-done, especially considering the djinn could have been much more irritating (think Pokemon). It's because of its placement on that “great-but-not-timeless” shelf that I've continued to spend my hard-earned money on Golden Sun’s sequels.

Enter Golden Sun: Dark Dawn for the Nintendo DS.

Golden Sun: Dark Dawn Screenshots
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The game starts out much as its predecessors did -- by throwing you right into the action. This time around, you're playing as the silent-but-emotionally-present Matthew, the son of Isaac, the main character from the original Golden Sun. Of course, Ivan's daughter Karis is on your team, as well as Garet's kid, Tyrell. Eventually, you're joined by Mia’s son, Rief, and Eoleo, the pirate Brigg’s son. (The names, translated from Japanese, are admittedly trite, so I renamed Matthew to Metthyw just to make it trite-r.)

Garet's kid is, of course, hot-headed, and he takes off with the action by stealing Karis's wing-flying-thing. It doesn't really matter, as it's quite clearly an excuse to get the kids training on their own and, more important, to send them off on a simple quest for a feather so they can repair the flying thing. Of course, that quest turns out to be more than they bargained for, and they’re harried time after time. By the time the main enemy appears and waylays them so much that they have to go south and then climb over a mountain in order to get back on track headed north, you're basically expecting it. After all, a quest for a feather doesn't really make a game.

All the plot inanities aside, you still swallow it because it's just that fun. You don't mind if it's just a weak excuse to get the kids out there; you don't mind that the ONLY bridge to the next town is conveniently broken, or the only cave through the mountain has been conveniently sealed. You're playing Golden Sun! It's still fun!

The original Golden Sun required certain spells and sometimes items in order to progress through every area's tricks and riddles. Its predecessors require no less, but it seemed as though the puzzles in GSDD were a little easier -- until they suddenly got hard. You’re traipsing along, enjoying being the smart ass, solving all the puzzles and beating everything, and then at some point -- I’m not really sure when, it happens so gradually -- you’re suddenly stumped, fraught with frustration, and putting the DS down for a moment.

Thankfully - and conveniently - you eventually get Insight psynergy, which helps with the puzzle solving (and allows you to see NPC’s feelings). While sometimes it tells you exactly what you already knew, it’s still damn useful at other times when you simply just don’t think to use a certain spell. While I was tempted more than few times to look up walk throughs online, part of the fun is resisting that urge and overcoming being stymied by a hand-held video game.

But with such good puzzles, why were the boss fights so easy? I’m not the type to wander the overworld, starting random fight after random fight and grinding experience in order to gain levels. I get bored -- and rightfully so; that’s boring. So it’s not as though I leveled insanely high. But every time a major battle came up in the storyline, I’d sit down with my drink or bowl of popcorn, thinking I’d be there for a while -- you know, like Lavos in Chrono Trigger. But it would disappointingly end right when it started getting interesting. I’m not that good, so I know the developers just didn’t take the fights as far as they could have.

Yet, while the fights fail to, the game continues to go on for a surprisingly long time. You do eventually get your feather, but by then it’s so totally not about the feather anymore and besides, those jerks waylay you yet again. And then the city’s in total chaos, monsters everywhere, and you figure, “This is probably a good spot for a cliff hanger” -- and then you’re on a boat. You absolutely have to love storylines that take off with you like that.

All in all, it’s a great game. Definitely getting crammed on that second shelf. Definitely replayable in six months or so when I’ve forgotten half the plot and all of the puzzles. Just try to skip past the corny dialog as quickly as you can and enjoy.


Review Score


Titles rated E (Everyone) have content that may be suitable for ages 6 and older. Titles in this category may contain minimal cartoon, fantasy or mild violence and/or infrequent use of mild language.

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