Golden Sun: Dark Dawn has just about everything I love in a JRPG. It reminds me at times the late NES, early SNES games that I enjoyed. Games like Dragon Quest IV and Breath of Fire. Unfortunately, Dark Dawn wants desperately to be more of a PS1 vintage game instead. It attempts to be more like something from that Tales series by adding tons of chatter. The result is a game that emphasizes its weaknesses at the cost of its strengths.
Golden Sun plays great. The battle system is speedy with plenty of strategic options, most of which are unnecessary due to how easy the game is. Changing stats and skills by swapping Djinns gives the characters and battles plenty of flexibility without costing individuality. If the player desires, they can come up with an intricate, carefully considered set up of Djinn. Or they could just put Djinns on characters of the same element and brute force through the game. Each strategy is valid. The dungeons, and the towns to a lesser extent, are a joy to navigate. Instead of just samey corridors and the like, Golden Sun has dungeon more like something out of Zelda, with the characters Psynergy powers replacing Link’s tools. There is usually a fairly easy straight path through the dungeons, with most of the more difficult puzzles used to screen off treasures and hidden Djinn. I am a sucker for puzzle dungeons and Golden Sun is full of them. Really, the game gets a lot of things very right and is a lot of fun.
The trouble with the game is in the story, or more specifically in how the story is told. The plot, at least the first half or so, is a simple adventure, with youngsters leaving home to see the world and right wrongs and eventually get caught up in some world threatening conflict. The characters are paper thin, which in and of itself are not a problem. There really isn’t much to the cast of Dragon Quest IV, but they were a fun bunch to go exploring with. The same is true of FFIV. Besides what is necessary to the plot, they have little to say. This may be due to cartridge space, but the player is left to fill in some very wide blanks. That contrasts with something like Tales of Symphonia, whose characters are incapable of shutting up. They have tons of scenes and dialogue for their personalities to flesh out their personalities. That doesn’t make the cast of Symphonia that complex, they mostly fall into well used archetypes. The player ofFFIV doesn’t know how Cecil gets along with Yang, but the player of ToS can’t help but know how Lloyd and Raine get along. The problem with Golden Sun: Dark Dawn is that the characters have the depth of the first example, but talk as much as the second. The characters talk and talk and talk but never actually say anything. Cutscenes that should take a few minutes drag on with loads of extraneous banal dialogue.
Still, Dark Dawn is more enjoyable than not. The core of the gameplay is strong enough to carry it through the pointless chatter. This is one of the best games that every got me to yell at my DS. It is so frustrating to have what is normally a fun experience broken up by loads of nothing, but it doesn’t really make the fun parts less fun.