Camelot's shiny new RPG has hit the shelves. Find out what PGC's resident RPG-guru thinks of it.
Nintendo isn't known for RPGs, at least in the Western Hemisphere. For the longest time, the only real "RPG" serial that NCL had published and developed had been the Fantastic SRPG games known collectively as Fire Emblem.
This might be about to change.
Camelot Software has had an interesting journey in the realm of game development. The founding team of Brothers had been involved in the Classic SEGA series Shining Force, after leaving Climax team when Shining the Holy Ark had been released, they founded Camelot Software Planning. Being the developers of the original Minna de Golf (Hot Shots Golf in the US,) Camelot enjoyed early success on the PSX. Developing under SCEI, Camelot had planned an epic RPG which they would call Beyond the Beyond. As many of you know, this game blew more chunks than a zombie during an encounter with a shotgun-equipped S.T.A.R.S. officer. SCEI had rushed the game's release, and Camelot had been less than pleased with the results. Soon after, they took leave of Sony and approached Nintendo with an interesting idea.
Of course, we all know the results: Mario Golf and Mario Tennis were born. Exquisite games with outstanding design.
These games would prove to be not only best-sellers but receive wide critical acclaim. Camelot would then lift the veil on one of their closely held developmental ideas: A new RPG was in the making under the tentative title of Ougon no Taiyo, or in English: "The Golden Sun". Early screenshots promised a gorgeous game with impressive graphics and amazing character art. The question was, would the gameplay, story and battle system live up to it?
I'm quite happy to tell you that Golden Sun more than exceeds all expectations.
The game's plot might start off rather slow, but it helps ease the player into the world of Golden Sun. In the sleepy hamlet of Vale, a power known as Psynergy is widespread among its few inhabitants. This magical power gives one the hold over one of the four Elements: Water, Wind, Fire and Earth. For centuries, the little village has protected the Holy Mount Aleph from intruders. Said to be upon that sacred ground is the Sol Sanctum, a temple dedicated to Sol and Luna, the eternal Sun and Moon.
However one day...
Needless to say it isn't important to talk about the story, as you'll be playing it.
Graphics are lush and detailed. Every character (including NPCs) have ample amounts of animation and there's all sorts of little touches that bring the game to life. Main Characters have mini portraits that show up when they speak, a nice touch. There are also little animé-esque "speech bubbles" with various emotions. A nice detail. However, the overworld and the Battle screens are where the graphics really shine. The overworld is done via Mode 7 and if you tap the L button you can get a bird's eye view of the surrounding area. This is an excellent addition so you can make sure you're don't follow a path to a dead end instead of getting to where you want to go. The R buttons shows the map of the entire continent, along with all of the towns / dungeons you have already visited.
Battles are stunning. You could easily mistake this game for a Saturn or PSX title. The fights take place on a Mode7 field and the camera rotates. That's right, rotates. It makes for an incredibly pretty fight. Then there's the spell effects. Can you say "GOBS ADN GOBS OF PRETTIES"? 'Cos that’s what it is. Flashy spells, summons and miscellaneous effects are somehow crammed into this game which makes for an eternally shocked and amazed player. Enemies and your party members are extremely detailed. Believe me, after this game, AGB titles will be held to a new graphical standard. No doubt about it.
Speaking of delights of the senses, Golden Sun is possibly even more impressive in the aural field. While I was raving about the music in Advance WARS, this title takes that and every other GBA game and beats it with a heavy, nail-ridden stick. In fact, I could go as far to say that it beats the pants off of some PSX titles. And people thought the AGB would have mediocre to bad sound. Pffffft. For heaven's sake: USE HEADPHONES or better yet: jack your AGB into your stereo system or PC speakers. You'll nearly poop yourself, I guarantee it. The variety and scope of the melodies are nothing less than remarkable. Whether it's the adrenaline pumping Battle Themes, to the soothing tones of the Mountain Village, you'll be wanting the Original Sound Track for this game, not to mention an orchestrated Arrange Album. Sound effects are also well done. The only problem I have with the sound is the annoying "speech" beeps that accompany character text, but fortunately, this can be turned off via the Options menu.
Now, any RPG worth its salt has a well thought-out battle system. Camelot has brought together a very enjoyable method of turn-based fighting. While it takes the "old-school" route of having you choose your characters actions before a round (a la Dragon Quest,) it is effective and certainly not boring. You have the option of "Fight", "Psynergy" "Djinn" (if available) "Summon" (if available) and Defend. Summons, unlike your average FF, are quick painless affairs, and if that isn't enough, you can skip them. However, there is one fault with the battle system, and it is a huge, huge oversight. If a character is set to attack an enemy that dies before your character gets his/her turn, the character defends instead of attacking the next monster in line. If you're any kind of RPG veteran, you'll know that this is possibly the most annoying thing EVAR. How Camelot could have overlooked this, I have no idea, considering how fresh and fun the rest of the game is.
While we're talking about the Battle System, let me bring up the Djinn, little Elementals who possess great powers. During your journey, you'll discover these magical beings and in turn, they will join your party. (Sometimes after a brief battle.) The best way to describe how this all works is the Junctioning System from FFVIII done right. This is no small feat. These little characters will bump up the stats of your character and sometimes will even change their class. (For instance two Venus Djinn Set to Isaac will upgrade his Class from "Squire" to "Knight".) If you mix and match Elementals to your characters, you'll discover different classes. While this might be useful, from what I've found its best to match Djinn with your character's natural Elemental affiliation. Now, in battle, Djinn are even more important. You can unleash them in battle and have them summon powerful creatures to aid you in your fight. When you unleash a Djinn, you'll lose the stat / class bonuses you gained when you set them. However that is only temporary. After you've unleashed the Djinn, it will take a little time to recover and then automatically re-set itself to your character. It's a very innovative look at summons, and adds quite a bit of strategy to gameplay.
Now let's get onto the real reason why Golden Sun is a keeper: Puzzles and use of Psynergy. If there's one thing that always bothers me, is the fact that in 90% of RPGs, magic/special abilities are never used outside of battle. It is almost as if magic ceases to exist once you enter a town. I never understood it. The only game that comes readily to mind is Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals, for the Super NES. To me, those little mentionings of getting Warp-sick (or using Drowsy on a sick woman to help her sleep,) helped make that game into a world, not just an RPG. Thus, I was really pleased to see that Golden Sun takes this idea a gigantic step further. Psynergy is constantly made reference to, and it is also used to help Isaac and Co. get through dangerous situations. In fact, in the beginning of the game you get a clear understanding as to why it is so important. While you might use the Psynergy "Frost" on enemies in battle, you'll also need it to create ice pillars so that you can pass an area. You need the spell "Move" to push objects just out of reach. "Mind Read" is an essential part of getting information from townsfolk and animals. "Flare" is needed to cross icy mountains. It just makes so much sense that you really get pulled into the world that Isaac, Garet, Ivan and Mia live in. You never think "Why aren't they using _____ to blast that door down", because that's exactly what you have to do. As for the puzzles themselves they are all very clever. If you remember Lufia II at all, you'll know what I'm talking about. Fortunately, if you mess up a puzzle room, you only need to leave and re-enter to reset the area. One last thing about Psynergy which I am extremely happy with: your PP (Psynergy Points) will regenerate slowly as you walk around. After years of MP-wasting (Magic Points, for you non-RPGers,) we finally have an RPG where your magic can return without needing to rest at an inn or use expensive items. THANK YOU CAMELOT!
Golden Sun is probably one of the better games to come out this year. With an intriguing battle system, gorgeous graphics, delightful music and a captivating world to explore, this is a return to the renaissance that many saw in the years of the Super Famicom. Here, we have an epic handheld game that rivals console contemporaries. Do not miss out on this game: it is more than worth the price you'll pay for it. Camelot has created an incredible title, one that both RPG fanatics (such as myself) and beginners can cherish. You won't be disappointed.
Well done Camelot, you have my highest regards.