Retro Review: Golden Sun: The Lost Age (GBA)

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Alright, it is time for part two of my Golden Sun coverage. Today, I will review the sequel, Golden Sun: The Lost Age for the Game Boy Advance. Like the previous game, I first heard of this one from an issue of Nintendo Power Magazine. Not long after getting the game, I had acquired the player’s guide for The Lost Age, and got to learn way more about the two games than I would have without it. Now it is time to shed some light on this (perhaps) forgotten series, and hope that it encourages more people to enjoy this RPG series.

The first thing one might notice when starting a new game in Golden Sun: The Lost Age is that you have the option to connect your save data from the first Golden Sun game. This is done by using a copy of both games, two Game Boy Advances, and a link cable. Alternately, there is another way to do this: in the first Golden Sun, you can hold the R button, left on the D pad, and press B while on the title screen to access a password.

Be warned, transferring data is the only way to get everything, especially if you found everything of value from the first game. Also, the password is very long: the one I used was 260 characters long (includes letters, numbers, and symbols, and has room to be up to 300 characters long). The password is easy to get wrong, considering how long it is. It should be noted that this feature was ahead of its time, even if it doesn’t do quite as much to alter the events of the game. Once that is done, though it is time to delve into the story.

The game mostly leaves off where the last one ends, but instead of following Isaac and friends (the adventuring party of the first game), you now follow Felix and his crew of adventurers, who’s goals clash with Isaac’s. With this slight plot twist, there doesn’t appear to be a clear villain at the start of the game. I won’t reveal too much more about the story, but this game plays in a similar fashion to the previous one.

If you didn’t read Retro Review: Golden Sun (GBA) yet, go read it now to get a sense of how this game plays, as Golden Sun: The Lost Age has more of the same great game play from the original Golden Sun. So what is new, different, and the same?

Returning features:

  • Djinn system for changing classes and summoning mythical creatures/deities.
  • Psynergy system (similar to magic) for battling and solving puzzles.
  • Multiplayer battle mode, which features a monster battle too.
  • A variety of equipment, with weapons that unleash unique attacks with critical hits.
  • Lengthy dialogue sequences.

New features:

GoldenSunSummon
Eclipse is one of many new multi-elemental summons in Golden Sun: The Lost Age, a feature new to this game.
  • There are many new Djinn, allowing for new actions in battle, and allowing more character classes.
  • Summon tablets that allow multi-elemental summons.
  • Three class changing items exclusive to this game.
  • Four new characters to play as.
  • An NPC that can forge useless items into powerful equipment.
  • New Psynergy that interacts with the game world to solve puzzles in new ways.

Now with all these new features, you would figure this game would be bigger and better. In my opinion, it mostly is, but not without some drawbacks, and other repercussions. First, the game is around 50% to twice as long. I finished this play through in about 24 hours of play time, while the first was 13-16 hours. The game world is much larger, and after a certain point, it is very easy to get lost. If I didn’t have a game guide the first time many years ago, I wouldn’t have known what to do!

The collectible Djinn are harder to find without a guide, especially the ones that appear randomly on certain points of the world map. If you don’t transfer your data, you can’t get them all (although a few randomized Djinn will appear without the data transfer, these could even be duplicates, oddly). The dungeons are noticeably longer too. This isn’t a problem later in the game, where the game should be tougher, but early on, the “Air’s Rock” area is too long for that point in the game.

Additionally, your characters’ inventories fill up faster, mostly due to finding objects that grant puzzle solving psynergy needed to progress. The items meant to be forged into strong gear also take up more space. There is some mandatory backtracking too, unlike the previous game (where backtracking was only a good idea for some side quests). There is a late game solution to this, but the game is almost over at that point.

GoldenSunLostAgeSand
The Sand Psynergy is a personal favorite found in this game.

All these gripes aside, the game still plays well. Yes there is more lengthy dialogue sections, and the story gets somewhat convoluted (but is internally consistent in retrospect), but some of the game’s additions are actually fun. The new Djinn that you can find can make your party more powerful, and the multi-elemental summons add variety to an already well polished combat system. It is rare to have a long battle and see every party member do the same thing each turn, something you don’t see in every turn based RPG. You might cycle through a selection of actions, but the game’s battles are not boring! You could even experiment with different Djinn set to different characters to see even more strategies, and not be disappointed. The battle mode allows you to try these tactics against countless enemies, or friends too (requiring 2 Game Boy Advances, a link cable, and 2 copies of the game).

GoldenSunLostAgeBattle
Battles in Golden Sun: The Lost Age are as clever as ever.

The last thing to note is that the game features some very interesting super-bosses (one of which is a nightmare to fight without the right strategy. (He can appear in the monster battle mode after you defeat him!)). These tough fights are worth seeing and completing at least once, and show how clever the designers are with their own battle system. All-in-all, Golden Sun: The Lost Age is still a gem of a lost era of gaming. Hopefully we will see more of this game series soon, but it has been a while…

Time for some game play recommendations:

  • Use the password system to get the most out of the game.
  • Gather every Djinn as they become available: This greatly reduces the difficulty. You may need a guide to find them all, even on repeat play-throughs.
  • Seek every summon tablet to keep the game fresh as you progress.
  • Use the weapon forge as you find certain items, this will get you good gear, and clear some inventory space.
  • Try new strategies on subsequent play-throughs to see how it changes the game.
  • Battle mode is fun to play with or without a friend, and a good place to try new tactics.

Now for the Pros and Cons:

Pros:

  • Brilliant puzzles
  • Great graphics and sound for the time.
  • Varied and well crafted combat system.
  • Game is slightly harder than the first game (possible Pro).
  • Fun monster arena (mostly Pro, see Cons section).

Cons:

  • Lengthy dialogue sequences (possible Con, based on how much you like to read).
  • Game world is large, and easy to get lost in the first time around (possible Con).
  • A game guide is recommended (possible Con).
  • Lengthy password to transfer data to get everything is prone to mess up (possible Con if you keep messing up).
  • Plot may confuse some players (possible Con).
  • Monster arena can become very difficult after defeating the super-boss, limiting your enjoyment of this mode.

So, what is the verdict?

8.9/10, An almost excellent classic

I struggled to decide if this game was better than the previous Golden Sun game. Due to nostalgia, I used to think it was universally better, and I still feel that it is highly debatable which of the first two Golden Sun games are higher quality. This game could easily get a score of 8.7-9.3 based on personal preferences, and tolerance of certain features.


So that is what I thought of Golden Sun: The Lost Age. How about you, which of the first two Golden Sun games do you prefer? What kind of battle mode scores did you get? Have you tried vs. mode in both games, and which did you prefer? Let me know all this and why in the comments below!

 

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