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Nintendo DS Review: Golden Sun: Dark Dawn

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It’s been a while since we’ve heard the name Golden Sun. This franchise from Camelot Software and Nintendo was all the rave back when the Game Boy Advance was at its zenith. It was successful for its role-playing game tropes, innovative magic system, and classic appeal. Two incarnations were available for the franchise, and now the third has finally made the leap to the DS nearly five years later. Was it worth the wait?

Golden Sun: Dark Dawn isn’t shy about what kind of game it’s trying to be. At its core it’s essentially the same game as the previous two, but it receives bumped up visuals and a marginally new story. The gameplay is classic, the world should be familiar to anyone who played the first two, and even the characters have more to do with the other games than one might think.

Taking place 30 years into the future, the world finds itself in grave peril, yet again. Dark forces have begun to stir and essentially the same threat from the original two games rear its ugly head again. A new generation of heroes (the kids of the original characters) set out to stop the world’s destruction. Joining them are the same magical creatures known as Djinn, and there are other familiar faces as well. To be perfectly honest the story doesn’t pop by any means. It’s basically a rehash of the original, but with some new personalities thrown into the mix. There are a few surprises during the course of the 30 hour campaign, but by and large the plot reveals itself as one would expect.

For anyone who played the original Golden Sun games, Dark Dawn is going to feel like a blast from the past. The same combat system is here, and it’s every bit as fun. Those new to the game can expect turn-based combat and random battle sequences. Know that the battle system isn’t really anything new to the genre, but it’s more of a refinement to the ways things used to be. Characters have HP and MP, attacks and magic are essential to winning, and you never know what kind of enemy you’re going go face. It harkens back to the older days of Dragon Quest or Final Fantasy, and that’s perfectly fine for most gamers.

Dark Dawn also strikes a nice balance with its use of puzzle-solving as well. In each dungeon or town your brain will be put through a workout and the results are satisfying. Sure random battles often permeate this problem-solving element, but they never really hinder the actual solving.

As players make their way through the game, their characters, and Djinn, gain levels. There’s a real sense of progression that comes from the journey, and if players take the time to explore side missions they’re heftily rewarded with powerful items. The game becomes a meaningful adventure after a while, though lengthy pieces of dialogue to click through and an almost too easy difficulty level bring the game down a peg. It’s still very good and worth checking out if you’re looking for a DS RPG, but it will be mostly enjoyed by enthusiasts of the original Golden Sun, or those who enjoy classic RPG mechanics.

Golden Sun: Dark Dawn comes to the DS late into the handheld’s cycle, and as such the game is quite pleasing on the eyes. The 3D characters are nicely modeled and animated, the monsters share the quality design, and environments are lively and colorful. All around, the game is a looker with the most impressive aspect being the massive summons and magical spells that take place in battle. Some of the bigger spells take up both screens and also feature nicely rendered graphics.

The audio in Dark Dawn is something to behold as well. The soundtrack is great and there are plenty of memorable tunes. Likewise, the sound effects are classic to the genre and players of the original will be able to identify certain pieces of audio.

All in all, Golden Sun: Dark Dawn is an adventure worth undertaking. The game is a handheld embodiment of classic RPG tropes and it pays homage to the genre in a lot of ways. It’s also an effective sequel to the original GBA titles, though it is a little too familiar in some respects. If you’re looking for an RPG that will occupy you for a while look no further than Dark Dawn.

Golden Sun: Dark Dawn is rated E10+ (Everyone 10 and older) by the ESRB for Mild Fantasy Violence.

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