Talk of role-playing games that had a significant impact on the genre and discussion will largely centre around stalwart mainstays Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest. But back in 2001, Nintendo pushed another contender into view in Golden Sun, basking in critical acclaim and successfully making strides in delivering a unique take on what is expected of the burgeoning genre.
Now, with the lauded Game Boy Advance classic’s re-release through the Wii U Virtual Console service, players can adventure across the fantasy world of Weyard once more. Crafted by Camelot, the creative visionaries behind Shining Force, Mario Golf and Mario Tennis, Golden Sun charts the journey of four youngsters as they look to recover the Elemental Stars that were stolen from a mountain shrine.
Weyard is a world built of civilization aided by the force of Alchemy, but when that eventually led to a worldwide conflict the mystic power was sealed away with such Stars. After the player unwittingly reveals the path to their location, antagonists Saturos and Menardi make an unexpected appearance and steal the Stars for themselves. From this point, your goal becomes clear and you must recover the Stars before the world once again finds itself torn asunder by Alchemy.
Aside from the often text-intensive narrative, Golden Sun largely plays out similarly to role-playing games of the generation. Players control a party of four characters – Isaac, Garet, Ivan and Mia – teenagers who carry the weight of the world’s future on their shoulders. Random encounters will see you square off in turn-based battles, putting to use increasingly stronger weapons and Psynergy, Golden Sun‘s equivalent of magic, to neutralise any monsters that you bump into.
Players can call on Djinn, elemental spirits that can be summoned to help turn the tide of battle. These are scattered throughout the overworld and must be individually allocated to your party characters where they will boost their base statistics. In combat scenarios, you can employ their special ability whether that be powerful offensive, defensive or healing magic, after which they will be on Standby – the player required to Set them to their character once they have recovered.
Psynergy itself crosses outside of battle, letting players remove overgrown vines with Whirlwind or create pillars of ice with Frost that you can hop across. This introduces light puzzle elements that must be tackled to progress, although nothing that will have you particularly stumped for hours on end.
In the visual department, Golden Sun is a game of multiple artistic personalities. While traversing the overworld it’s hard not to feel that the textures look particularly muddy, especially in comparison to other Game Boy Advance releases, and the Virtual Console’s screen smoothing option does little to improve upon this. Switch into a battle scenario and that’s an entirely different matter, with the camera sweeping behind the player’s party you’re left to marvel as Psynergy and Djinns collide to deliver a visual assault on the senses. Special effects bring these encounters to life and are all the better for it.
Golden Sun‘s soundscape, penned by Japanese composer Motoi Sakuraba, audibly sumptuous. Sakuraba’s rock roots come to fore, energetic tracks driving the experience and thumping battle themes that will fuel your adrenaline throughout tricky fights.
It is Camelot’s experience in working on SEGA’s Shining Force series that carried across to allow Golden Sun to become such a standout addition to the genre. Easily ranking among the Game Boy Advance’s greats, its Virtual Console arrival is the perfect opportunity for those that missed out the first time around to see why still continues to be praised so heavily.