Review of Golden Sun: Dark Dawn (Nintendo DS)

The Golden Sun has risen and set. A dark dawn approaches, but the Warriors of Vale are scattered across the earth and have not seen the signs of the apocalypse. Who will be the new heroes to arise and face this new danger?

For those who have read my other articles, you’ll know I have reviewed a game called Golden Sun. Here’s a recap on the history: it was released in 2001 by Camelot, on the Game Boy Advance. The other two games in the series are Golden Sun: The Lost Age, and Golden Sun: Dark Dawn, which were released in 2003 on the Game Boy Advance and in 2010 on the Nintendo DS, respectively.

I’m skipping a review of The Lost Age right now because I actually haven’t finished playing it! It’s a hard game, but I’ll complete it soon, so expect a review in the near future.

The franchise is my favorite game series, I’ve been hooked ever since I first played Dark Dawn in early 2015. I loved the game, and I needed more. In fact, I hadn’t even finished playing when I began searching eBay for the first two games, but when I finally did complete the game (which has a huge cliffhanger ending) I had even more reason to play the original two.

It must be a pretty good game to draw me in like that, right? I sure think so, and here’s why…

Gameplay

Golden Sun: Dark Dawn offers an open world, and by the end of the game the player has the freedom to explore most of it. Unfortunately, there is a ‘point of no return’, where the player cannot access a part of the world after leaving it. This means some items may be missed if they are not collected before this point.

While wandering or traveling between cities, the party can be attacked by a variety of monsters at any time.

The battle system is turn based, and very simple to learn, but many fights within the game are surprisingly easy. If you form a good battle strategy from the beginning (which isn’t very hard, just be sure to use your strongest characters, and provide them with the means to get stronger), you’ll breeze through most battles.

Granted, there were some battles that got pretty close. However, thanks to the Djinn (and helpful items such as potions), I was always able to win.

Without spoiling anything, I will say that the final boss battle was actually VERY hard for me. It took me a few days of trying, and it seemed impossible for a long time. I left to do some grinding, and after a lot of work, I re-evaluated my battle strategy, which resulted in me not losing the fight as badly…thus closer to winning, but still getting my butt kicked. Finally, I managed to defeat the boss, winning the game.

Despite the fairly easy (but numerous) fights within Dark Dawn, I still loved every moment of it. It was fun to be powerful enough to clobber any weak enemy, and the challenge (although fairly simple) of fighting stronger enemies was always fun too. Although it doesn’t have as many battles as say, Bravely Default, you’ll still fight enough to strengthen yourself.

When battling, there are four ways to fight:

First, you have weapons such as swords and maces. Each weapon can improve or degrade your stats, so choose wisely. These can be bought in the shops found at each town, or discovered in abandoned treasure chests while exploring dungeons.

Additionally, some weapons have magical properties, and can do an amazing amount of extra damage in battle.

Second, there is Psynergy. This is elemental power, falling into four categories: Venus (Earth), Mars (Fire), Jupiter (Wind), and Mercury (Water). Most of the playable characters in the game are the rare descendants of an unnamed ancient people. These descendants are known as Adepts, and each can control a single element. For example, Matthew is a Venus Adept, and Tyrell is a Mars Adept.

Due to the events of the previous games, Matthew has inherited control over Mars, just like his father, Isaac (Isaac is actually able to control both the Venus and Mars elements, something that has never happened before).

In addition to Adepts, there are also other people with powers granted by Psynergy, such as Beastmen, Lycanthropes, and the people of Lemuria. The Lycanthropes (werewolves) and the people of Lemuria aren’t in the game, but I mention this because one of the characters to join the party is a Beastmen.

With a limited amount of energy to use their powers, each character can still do considerable damage with an elemental attack.

Third, there are small creatures called Djinni. Made of pure elemental energy, there are many of them hiding throughout the game, but not all of them are easy to find. Some are found hiding in forests between cities, others are found hidden in dungeons or cities, and a few join the party automatically during the game. Each Djinn can boost a character’s stats, and can be unleashed in battle to deal considerable damage to the enemy.

Fourth, there are Summons. These are the most powerful attacks of all. When a Djinni is used in battle, they then are in standby until used in a Summoning. After this, the Djinni will be able to attack once again, as before. If enough Djinn are in standby, they can be used to unleash a force or being, such as Thor (the Norse god of thunder), Neptune (the Roman god of the sea), Gaia (the Greek goddess of the earth), Ramses (an Egyptian pharaoh), and Judgement (the might of the apocalypse).

In addition to use in battle, Psynergy is also used to access areas in dungeons and cities. It is the only way to move forward in many situations, but it can also be used to access hidden areas where Djinni, powerful weapons, armor, or other rare items await.

In the game, you should try to talk to everyone. Some may have a side quest to accomplish, useful hints and rumors, and some may have items (or even a Djinni) to give you.

I loved the gameplay because it required thought and a lot of player input. It wasn’t just clicking through dialogue and hacking away at monsters. It was much more elegant than that. The controls and setup were unique yet familiar. The controls are perfectly planned, and easy to learn.

Story

The first two Golden Sun games tell the story of the Warriors of Vale, a small group of eight Adepts who saved the world of Weyard. Thirty years later, the events of Dark Dawn take place. This game focuses on the children of the Warriors of Vale, centering on Matthew, the son of Isaac and Jenna.

Isaac was the central main character of the first game, and he and Jenna are both main characters in the second (The Lost Age centers on Felix, Jenna’s older brother). He and Garet (another of the Warriors) are playable at the very beginning of Dark Dawn, but neither are seen again for the rest of the game.

Matthew is the spitting image of Isaac, and he is a Venus (earth) Adept with control over Mars (fire), just like his father. Tyrell, the son of Garet, is also a mini version of his father, but is a bit more bull-headed. You also have Karis, the daughter of Piers, who is in your party from the start of the game.

These are three of your eight main characters, there to help you as you explore the vast open world of Weyard. As with previous games, you have control of each party member’s psynergy, allowing you to effectively work your way through the large number of puzzles you will come across. Although Dark Dawn is much simpler than its predecessors, it will still provide you with long hours of fun.

After Tyrell decides to take the soarwing (an invention of Piers’) for a spin, he crashes in the Tanglewood. This forest is full of monsters, and like any good parents, Isaac and Garet decide to use the experience as a teaching opportunity for Matthew and Karis. The four set out to find and rescue Tyrell, who they eventually find and bring home.

Unfortunately, Tyrell has somehow managed to land near a strange machine that is unexplainably draining his psynergy. The group finds him unconscious, and after attempting to turn the machine off, Isaac and Garet now decide to let their kids set off on their own adventure.

They know there are new dangers in the world, but they trust their children enough to send them out with the task of repairing the soarwing. Although the soarwing and mysterious machines are pushed to the back burner and forgotten as the story progresses, they are still vital to the story, as they start the entire thing.

Sound Effects and Graphics

With fun sound effects and a beautiful soundtrack, Golden Sun: Dark Dawn truly does revive the nostalgia of the original GBA games. The music is memorable and well worth keeping the volume up for the entire game.

Although the graphics have improved (but still aren’t amazing), I feel that it is an effective sequel, and still calls back to the original games. The graphics may not be detailed and intricate, but take on a more playful feel for the game, which actually works very well. Although I would love to see more detail in a future game, I do appreciate the look of this game.

Replay Value

With plenty of replay value, Golden Sun: Dark Dawn deserves a spot on the shelf of every RPG fan, right next to the two original games. You can play it for the story, you can work on getting every Djinni and item, and just play it for the love of the game and series.

Although I have only played it once over the past three years, I know that I will be playing Dark Dawn several times again in the future, preferably soon. It introduced me to the series, and taught me to love JRPG games. Without it, I honestly wouldn’t be the same person I am today.

Final Opinion

Overall, Golden Sun: Dark Dawn is an absolutely amazing game, and I wish everyone had the chance to play it. It has a deeply interesting story; a large, beautiful world to explore; and will provide you with hours of fun.

Although it has a point of no return, excessive dialogue, and an unresolved cliffhanger (not actually the fault of the game, there simply has not yet been a fourth game…unfortunately), I can easily overlook these small flaws and appreciate the fact that the Golden Sun series has an incredible entry in Dark Dawn. I absolutely love this game, and I recommend it wholeheartedly.

The Golden Sun has risen, but a dark dawn is coming. Weyard is in great danger…are you the hero destined to save it?


Copyright 2018 Ammon Hansen

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The cover image was taken from:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_Sun:_Dark_Dawn

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