Sometimes an excellent operating system can be made even better
Golden Sun: Dark Dawn
Golden Sun: Dark Dawn features a detailed world full of interesting characters and factions
- Detailed world full of interesting characters and factions, simple yet enjoyable battle system, compulsively collectible Djinn, smartly designed puzzles, interface that's elegant and well-tailored to the DS
- Opening nine or so hours move at an absurdly slow pace, exposition-packed conversations, general lack of difficulty
Despite its overlong opening and penchant for exposition, series faithfuls will find an enjoyable and immersive role-playing experience hidden behind Golden Sun: Dark Dawn's initial frustrations.
Price$ 69.95 (AUD)
Golden Sun: Dark Dawn picks up 30 years after Golden Sun: The Lost Age left off on the Game Boy Advance, casting you as the children of the previous game's main characters. The land of Weyard is having terrible growing pains after receiving a world-sized dose of Alchemy at the end of The Lost Age, and it's sprouting some especially nasty pimples in the form of Psynergy Vortexes, which suck Psynergy users (known as Adepts) dry. Meanwhile, Alchemy's running wild, and it's transforming Weyard and its inhabitants in all sorts of unexpected ways.
It's an interesting premise, and the resulting web of political alliances, cultures, and ripples caused by the game's "Golden Sun Effect" really make the world feel alive, and a joy to explore. Unfortunately, that doesn't quite make up for the main storyline's utterly glacial pace — and I'm not talking normal JRPG slow, either. Dark Dawn doesn't establish a central villain of any sort until four hours in, and even then, you don't find out anything about their motives. The storyline fails to really pick up until about the nine hour mark, but honestly, I would've stopped playing long before then if I hadn't been reviewing the game.
I realise that's a pretty damning statement, so let me elaborate on that point a bit. After the nine hour mark, Dark Dawn becomes an awesome experience. Interesting, tactical battles, challenging and inventive puzzles, a decent plot — it's all there; you just have to chew through an absurd amount of fat before you get to the meat. As for me wanting to call it quits during the game's opening slog, the story's not the only culprit. For one, the early hours are insultingly easy. Honestly, it was like watching an episode of Dora The Explorer; the game would repeat obvious puzzle solutions over and over and over, as if I'd never played a videogame in my life — let alone a JRPG.
Similarly, the series' notoriously long-winded conversations are just as moment-killing as ever, destroying any sense of urgency with explosions of exposition. Worst of all, they're not even necessary this time around. See, Dark Dawn's interface is actually pretty ingenious, and the cherry atop that sundae is a Wikipedia-style hyper-linking system in the game's text. So basically, if a piece of jargon you're not familiar with pops up, you can click on it and the top screen will tell you everything you need to know. However, the game basically assumes players aren't using that system, so there's just as much exposition as ever.
Beyond that, very little has changed. You still collect elementally themed Djinn, and they affect your characters' classes and summoning abilities. Summon animations are — as you'd expect — over-the-top in the best way possible, creating some of the most epic moments you'll ever see on the DS' tiny screen. Dungeons, too, are pretty enjoyable, especially since the random encounter rate's been lowered to make puzzle-solving more fluid. Environmental puzzles are as prominent as ever, and they're very Zelda-like in that you'll gain and utilise new powers in all kinds of inventive ways.
At the end of the day, though, you're the X-factor in the "should I buy this" equation. Are you willing to put up with a particularly long opening that's nearly devoid of tactics, challenging puzzles, or meaningful plot developments? Because if you are, a pretty fantastic fantasy role-playing game awaits. If not, well, there are plenty of other RPG alternatives on the DS.
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