Golden Sun: Dark Dawn

Golden Sun: Dark Dawn
Golden Sun: Dark Dawn Cover
Platforms Nintendo DS
Genre Simplistic RPG
Score 6  Clock score of 6
Buy from Amazon

The Golden Sun series and I go back to 2001 when the original Golden Sun was released. I played through the game slowly, and forced myself to finish it when Golden Sun: The Lost Age was on the cusp of its release. This was one of those rare titles that let you import data from its prequel via a very (very) long code. This code contained all your party’s information, ready to continue on in their next adventure.

I spent more time inputting that code than actually playing The Lost Age, and that was that, I forgot about Golden Sun from 2003 until 2010 when Nintendo announced Golden Sun: Dark Dawn at E3. Since my progress had stalled for months on Dragon Quest IX and I was finished with Infinite Space, I decided to pick it up when the game was released in late November.

The reviews have been pretty solid for Dark Dawn and I’m sure sales are swift (almost every Nintendo published title is successful), but how would my return to Weyard fare? It’s been seven long years and my interest in the series is minimal. Here’s my full review of Golden Sun: Dark Dawn for the Nintendo DS.

For those interested, we also have a first hour review of Dark Dawn written by a huge Golden Sun fan, Jonathan Ramundi.


Gameplay: 5

Golden Sun: Dark Dawn has one of the deepest turn-based battle systems I’ve ever seen in a Japanese RPG, unfortunately it’s entirely wasted on an extremely low difficulty level. I won every single battle except for three by simply tapping the A button as fast as I could. Attack, attack, attack, attack the nearest enemy. If they didn’t die in the first turn they would surely go down in the second round. This is one of the biggest travesties I’ve ever seen in a video game.

The battle system features four fighters, with four additional characters you can swap in and out at the beginning of every turn. You can also attach over 10 djinn to each character which enhances their stats, modifies their class, changes what magic is available to them, and allows you to perform special attacks. You can also call upon powerful summons after you’ve used a few djinn in battle, or cast magical spells that you’ve learned by leveling up. All of this cool stuff to twiddle around in and possibly optimize, wasted on pathetically easy enemies that can be beat just by hitting them with your sword.

Golden sun Dark Dawn Cabin RoofHere are some of the major things wrong with the system: your characters attack skill is too powerful, the enemy’s hit points are far too low, and you regenerate Psynergy Points (basically magic points) with nearly every step, allowing you to freely heal to the max after every battle (if you even get hit, that is). I never grinded for levels in the game, I simply went from place to place, solving puzzles and collecting plot items, and fought random battles when they appeared.

There are three (count them) battles in the main storyline that require a few neurons to fire, the first is at the 20 hour mark(!) and the last two are at the very end of the main plot. The only time I ever even had a character die was in the final battle, and then I just cast revive on them and they were back at full health. And really, the final battle was just a long war of attrition instead of something that required me to go all out, disappointing all around.

There are some bright spots with the gameplay though, and that is all the puzzles the game features. Just like the first two Golden Sun games, dungeons are traversed by using your psynergy (magic) powers on objects to create stepping stones, light things on fire, or quickly grow vines to climb. This aspect is very fun and it’s a joy to explore and discover the game’s secrets. None of the puzzles are completely mind-boggling, but the difficulty is consistent enough to make this the best part of the game.

Fun Factor: 6

Just because the battle system is a joke doesn’t mean the battles themselves can’t be over-the-top particle extravaganzas. Nearly every time you swing your sword, dragons are flying out of them or rocks are bursting from the ground, it can actually be really entertaining to watch. On the flip side, so many unique and devastating animations go to waste due to their complete pointlessness. Why summon a 30 second animated god from the sky when I can just hit him with my mace two extra times instead?

Golden sun Dark Dawn Battle1The puzzles are a joy to solve, and the djinn scattered around the world make them a necessary fun. There are over 50 djinn to find, and while most are immediately visible upon entering an area, the hard part is actually figuring out how to get to them.

Unfortunately, the game’s plot really slows things down at times. The game serves up exposition in chunks, so you might be adventuring for an hour only to find some new king that requires a 30 minute conversation where everyone has to say something. I groaned every single time all nine characters fanned out from my hero because I knew I was in for eight redundant speech bubbles.

Graphics and Sound: 9

The graphics are the highlight of the game for me, as in my opinion, they beat out Dragon Quest IX’s for best graphics on the system. Something great Dark Dawn does is cinematically pan the camera around as you walk through a certain area to give you the best possible view of either the dungeon or some visual spectacle. The character models are also well done and have some nice facial animations.

One of the things that feels off is the difference between the in-battle character models and the overworld models. Think back to Final Fantasy VII with the sub-detailed Cloud you run around with and then the much higher detailed model during battle, it’s the same thing for Dark Dawn. It’s really a bit odd looking when they’re so tall and lanky during a battle, and they barely resemble their rounded, cute counterparts at all.

Dark Dawn also features a great soundtrack and an impressive array of sound effects to go along with the robust animations in a battle. I’d like to ask for some voice acting, but this was a pretty long script and I suspect it would have gotten annoying pretty quickly (especially with the Reif character which reminds me of Slippy Toad from Star Fox 64).

Story: 5

Golden sun Dark Dawn Battle2Well, I might have cared a bit more about what was going on if I had actually played and beaten Golden Sun: The Lost Age, but as it happens, I didn’t, so the fact that there was some cataclysmic event at the end of that title just kind of went over my head. If you liked the characters of Dark Dawn’s prequels (particularly the original’s main cast), there is plenty of fan-service in this game to warrant at least a plot read-up.

There is an incredible amount of exposition though, and like I said earlier, every single character needs to inject their thoughts into the current conversation (to make them worth having around, I guess?), artificially lengthening every meet-up and just dulling my interest very quickly.

The story thankfully limits backtracking to a minimum, and except for the mid-game area I was generally interested in the overworld. It’s also kind of funny that the first 20 hours of the game are about collecting some feathers and the last 10 or so hours are about stopping an apocalyptic even from occurring.

Overall: 6

The game’s toddler-level difficulty really killed it for me. The nearly complete lack of bosses and completely wasted, complex battle system is incredibly disappointing. The puzzles between battles can be fun, but the game is also bogged down in its own story with a cast of characters that all have to get a word in. Play Golden Sun: Dark Dawn only if you’re a fan of the originals and would like to see where the story goes.