Well it is finally time to finish my coverage of the Golden Sun series with a review of the third and final game in the series. This game is Golden Sun: Dark Dawn for the Nintendo DS, a game that was released in 2010, roughly seven years after Golden Sun: The Lost Age. I was initially excited when this game was announced all that time ago, and for reasons that I will detail in this article, was disappointed after playing it.
Please note that this review will cover more spoilers than usual, as it is hard to talk about the qualities (both good and bad) of this game without revealing certain plot points. If you see the word spoiler in bold, you may want to skip over some text until you see end spoiler if you still plan on playing this game fresh. Now let’s look at the game in greater detail.
First off, I would recommend reading Retro Review: Golden Sun (GBA) and Retro Review: Golden Sun: The Lost Age (GBA) in case you don’t know how either of the two games are played, as all three games have many game play similarities. In fact, I will start by listing some new and returning features those familiar with the first two games may recognize. I will mention how they may be different in Golden Sun: Dark Dawn.
- The Djinn system returns. The 72 collectible Djinn are a combination of new and old Djinn from the previous two games. Of note, not all of the old Djinn are back, and there are enough new ones to keep this fresh. Also, each Djinni has a unique appearance from the others, even from those of the same element.
- All 29 summons are back from Golden Sun: The Lost Age. There is only one new summon in Dark Dawn.
- Solving puzzles using psynergy is back, with some new, some old, and many missing from previous games.
- Weapons now have proficiency levels that rise the more you use them. This allows weapons to have multiple unleashed attacks that are earned from battling, and the weapon becomes stronger if you master it.
- Some optional boss enemies return, and are tougher than before (this includes the very tough boss from The Lost Age).
Now, before I critique the game too harshly, I will mention that there are some improvements to the game. Many are small details that only experienced players may notice or appreciate, but it would be unfair not to mention them. First off, in the previous two games, if multiple characters target the same enemy, and one defeats the enemy before the other ally attacks, that ally would automatically defend. In Golden Sun: Dark Dawn, these attacks will be redirected to the next enemy, similar to most other JRPGs. This is a small but welcome change, though it does make the game easier, it was a feature that should have been in the older games.
Next, some characters have useful combat psynergy, with effects like healing the entire party, or reviving a downed ally in their default class sets, regardless of the number of Djinn set to the character (this may require the character to have only Djinn of the matching element attached). In the previous two games, this required enough of the right combination of Djinn set to a character, usually four to get such a benefit. This was a bigger issue in Golden Sun: The Lost Age where tough enemies could force Djinn into recovery mode, causing them to temporarily be unable to benefit the character, limiting that characters options.
There are two other features that may be improvements, but the quality of these changes are debatable. One is the weapon proficiency system, which allows more attacks from each weapon. This does encourage the player to use basic attacks to master weapons, but also discourages players to try their other actions against common enemies, limiting combat variety in easy fights for players who want to master their current weapons.
The other feature of interest is that one character has an action that allows her to temporarily morph into a wolf-like creature, and becomes more powerful. This action is very useful, but is only effective in long fights. She joins you late enough in the game so there are few tough fights left. Additionally, she can’t use her Djinn in this form, making it a tough call if you want to use this action. While we are still on a positive note, the puzzles are still good in this game, and are visually appealing to solve.
Now for the negative portion of this review. This game is a rare game where the story and game play interfere with each other. The story demands for some reason that you can’t return to the beginning of the game, as it would change the outcome of the story. As such, there are four points of no return, where you can miss some important collectibles! If this game didn’t feature the collectible Djinn and summon tablets, each of which impact the difficulty based on the number you miss, this may not have been an issue. It also wouldn’t have been an issue if they aren’t lost if you progress too far, or if there were adequate substitutes. The game warns you the first two times, but the second two times that a point of no return occurs, they don’t tell the player this until after one already passes them. The last two occur at points very close to one another, and the characters in the game encourage you to pass the final one, even though there are collectibles that can be missed.
Even without the game play issues related to the story, the story itself is actually relatively bad. Spoiler, those who have played the first two Golden Sun games would expect to play a heroic role if they pick up this game. In Dark Dawn, however, the protagonists play into the villain’s hands the entire time! What is strange about this is that it isn’t clear how they are doing this, or what the villains’ motivations ultimately are. This is most evident as the villains’ plan counted on one party member foolishly breaking a plot device early in the game, yet the villains did nothing to bring that about. How on earth did they prepare for such an occurrence? This made no sense, and isn’t satisfying to play through. Heck this is borderline abusive to the players who waited seven years for this sequel to come about. Also, the story isn’t complete in the end, and ends on a troubling cliffhanger. End spoilers.
Golden Sun: Dark Dawn still has much of the same core game play of the first two games, but is lacking in the story department. Even after all these years, I find it amazing that I found a game where the story held back what could have been a good (or even a great) game. I was even excited to replay this game, until I started to re-experience the story. I must have forgotten the issues I had with the first time I played this game, and don’t look forward to ever playing it again.
Here are some game play recommendations:
- Even more so than the previous Golden Sun games, you should play the game with access to some sort of game guide. You do not want to miss any collectibles and have to replay the game just to get them.
- You can try to master weapons in common fights, if this feature grabs your attention.
- Use the Djinn and summon systems in tougher fights for variety and to have the best odds of winning.
- Try the post-game challenges, if only to collect everything.
Time for the Pros and Cons:
- Combat is improved.
- Adequate graphics prove that Golden Sun games could work in 3D.
- Puzzles are stimulating to solve.
- Story and game play interfere with each other.
- Can miss collectibles that impact the game’s difficulty.
- A guide is almost mandatory.
- Game is hard to call memorable, at least not in a good way.
6.8/10 An almost good, but ultimately disappointing game
Personally, if the game had a better story, and lacked the points of no return, it may have been a much better game. I do realize this game has some fans, and not everyone will react the same to this game. The game could be as high as a 7.8 to players that don’t care about story. I almost gave the game a 7.4, but decided it just wasn’t a worthwhile experience.
If they want to restart the Golden Sun series, they may do better by remaking the first two games in one package, and see how it does commercially. They will need to finish what Dark Dawn started too, so maybe a fourth game may be needed for some closure.
And that finishes my coverage of the Golden Sun series. Did you play Golden Sun: Dark Dawn? Did you find a redeeming quality that I did not? If you like this series of games, how do you think the creators should revive the series? Let me know in the comments below!