Golden Sun

Find out why this spiritual successor to Sega?s Shining series is the best reason yet to get a Game Boy Advance.

You might find it kinda strange that the strongest contender yet for Best RPG of the Year lives on the lil? ol? Game Boy Advance?but hey, in case you haven?t noticed, these are strange times we live in.

Let?s Psynergize!
Golden Sun tells the story of young Isaac, a boy from a little town called Vale, where everyone is born with the ability to see and manipulate a mysterious universal force called Psynergy. Psynergy, like every world-famous magick system, is bound to the four elements of the world (Earth, Wind, Fire, and Water), and early on in the game an event transpires that throws the Elements off-balance, and Isaac must prevent a band of powerful ne?er-do-wells from rekindling the Elemental Lighthouses and unleashing an evil force so powerful that it would tear the world asunder.

While the game?s setup is purely generic, the rest of the game is not?Isaac?s quest is filled with interesting (not to mention gorgeous) places, wonderful characters, and tons of creative sub-stories and side quests that elevate the game far beyond its not-so-creative roots. Plus, as a cool twist, the rest of the world doesn't even know this whole "Psynergy" thing exists--to them, Isaac and his friends' powers look like random instances of the world goin' nuts. It?s a nifty little plot device that Golden Sun knows how to manipulate for maximum dramatic advantage.

Shining Sun
While Golden Sun is Nintendo?s first ?official? GBA RPG, at first glance you?d swear you were looking at a Sega Genesis or Saturn title. That?s because the game was developed by Camelot Software Planning, the same folks responsible for some of Sega?s brightest RPG landmarks, including Shining in the Darkness (and its Saturn ?sequel? Shining the Holy Ark), Landstalker, and the entire Shining Force series. The old Shining aesthetic is apparent everywhere in the land of Golden Sun?from the cartoonish character portraits to the weapon shop layouts and even the trademark animated yes/no decision heads?though unlike the Shining series? tactical nature, Golden Sun is a straight-up, top-down, four-member-party-based, random-encounter driven RPG. With a few major twists, of course, that separate Golden Sun from the rest of the pack.

Golden Sun?s Psynergy system is probably the game?s coolest feature, not just because it looks great in battle, but because of the way it actually works within the world. In Golden Sun, magic isn?t just used for curing people, escaping from dungeons, and hurling fireballs at unruly slimes?Here, Psynergy is used for such tasks as moving rocks, manipulating the environment, grabbing distinct objects, and reading the minds of the people you meet (each and every character in Golden Sun has ?inner thoughts? aside from what they?re willing to speak). All of these abilities are worked seamlessly into the world?s puzzles, both the major ones and the plethora of challenging and well-constructed ?optional? riddles. The game never leads you on, either?it just presents the world, lays down the rules, and lets your own logic do the rest; and a few of the more ingenious dungeons will actually leave you gasping at both the game?s and your own astounding cleverness once you figure out the ?trick? to getting through. Golden Sun doesn?t have the surreal polish of the Final Fantasy games?but it definitely matches Final Fantasy?s ?whoa, that was way too damn cool? frequency.

Fight For Your Right To Party
Golden Sun?s random battles are another highlight?they?re fun and absolutely awesome to look at?and even random-encounter haters may find themselves with a reason to reconsider their prejudice. While the colorful, detailed static character graphics would have been enough by themselves, Golden Sun goes the extra mile by providing some of the most dynamic, fast-moving, cool-looking battle scenes in recent RPG memory, with sweeping ?camera? movements and huge spell effects that dominate the screen. The game is very magic-centric, too?since your PP (Psynergy Points) replenish quickly as you walk, there?s no need to be particularly conservative, and you?ll be felling large groups of foes with cool spells at a pretty constant clip.

One more highlight for ya: Scattered throughout the world are a large number of elemental spirits called Djinn, usually hiding in hard-to-reach areas. As you collect the Djinn, you can either link them to your characters to boost their stats and gain new magical abilities, or leave them unlinked and on ?standby,? where they can be used to summon greater gods at regular intervals with no PP cost?think Final Fantasy?s Guardian Forces, only not as flashy. It?s a great idea, nicely balanced and orchestrated.

There?s also a fairly interesting ?class? system to go along with the whole Djinn phenomenon, though as you get further in the game you?ll find it?s cooler in concept than in execution. The theory: Attach different Djinn element types to your characters (fire mixed with earth, for example), and your character will become a new ?class.? However, 99% of the time, the ?mixed? combinations hinder your characters? abilities waaaay more than they help, and you?ll wind up sticking to a straightforward, unmixed plan the whole way through.

So, Like, Buy This Game Already
In case you haven?t figured it out yet, if you have a Game Boy Advance and an even marginal interest in RPG?s, this game is an absolute must-have. To sum up everything in four Psynergistical little words: Golden Sun friggin? rules.

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