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Golden Sun Retrospective

Note: this post may contain spoilers for Golden Sun and Golden Sun, the Lost Age.

This week instead of anything coherent I will grant you a lecture of personal history. Something close to my heart. Among one of my favourite games of all time. One thatís defined my views and tastes (whatever shallow tastes I have that is). Perhaps not a single day goes by where I do not devote at least one thought to this game ever since first playing it. Thereís hardly a thing I donít adore about it. Itís simply Golden Sun.

Recently I looked back on a birthday whose year has since been forgotten. Perhaps it was 2002, 2003, that time. Specifics are trifling. It was a pleasant spring day. After getting caught up in a massive traffic queue we turned back and were unable to visit the attraction that we had planned to see. I ended up throwing up in a shopping centre car park.

Iím sure that sounds all rather miserable and depressing to you. But nay, for was the birthday I remember most fondly, and a day that begin to define me and my interests in various way. Firstly, since then Iíve not paid so much as a fig for birthdays. Second Ė and more importantly Ė I was given something on this day. It was the greatest console ever made.

I speak of course of the Game Boy Advance. Among this treasure of pleasure were three games, only one of which I want to discuss. That was of course Golden Sun, one of the GBAís shiniest gems.

Retrospectively I wonder why I liked Golden Sun so much. On the surface the game is utterly clichť. Itís the sort of the game that The Last of Us scene kids snort at. So many of itís parts are tried and tested fantasy tropes that only a blindly nostalgic nerd could love. Itís battle system was nothing special and the mechanics were full of some of the old timey JRPG cogs that were perhaps best left behind.

Golden Sun also never made much of an effort to hide its puzzles with anything clever. Iíd call rather self aware and accepting of its natural as a game. Youíd walk into a room full of fallen logs and it was immediately obvious what the name of the game was. You had rolling to do. It was almost as much a puzzle game than it was a straight up JRPG. Few of its dungeons Ė if any Ė were just walk your way from A to B. All of them were stuffed with challenges, some of which could lead to optional secrets.

For itís time and platform Golden Sun was dead drop gorgeous. Itís visuals were colourful, detailed beyond belief, and seemed so advanced for a hand-held console. Best of all were the battle animations, those marvellous psynergy effects and summon sequences. The character designs tickled me in just the right places. Theyíre full of details, but not to the ridiculous heights of Final Fantasy. They fit into the pure fantasy world perfectly, and while others might see that as dull and generic I find them cosy and familiar in a pleasant way.

Speaking of the characters Iím very fond of how they were presented, despite the fact that the gameís story is told through what can be described as the most tedious slog through the bog of tiny text ever spawned. They had the frame work for me to understand their personalities and motivations, but the game didnít insist on throwing them into my face in a desperate attempt to convince me that the game was deep.

That trend of characterisation is one Iíve come to enjoy more than any other. It fuels the imagination and encourages me to reach my own conclusions about the characters.
It means I could interact with Golden Sun even after putting it down. These meta interactions are quickly becoming my key criteria in how much I enjoy a game. Without this element I doubt the game would have had any kind of enduring legacy in my mind. Some might sneer at the idea of fan-fiction or fan-speculation, but Iíll admit that I do get some enjoyment out of reading different interpretations of different characters. Itís fascinating to see someone put a spin on a character that I had never considered.

If you scratch the surface of Golden Sun and itís sequel, The Lost Age, you do find something more thought provoking that itís typical setting might lead one to believe. This is where I start having to put in some spoilers of course.

The setting of Golden Sun, Weyard, is caught up in a giant catch 22 in regards to alchemy. It was sealed away because itís abuse would lead to the destruction of the world, but unbeknownst to those who sealed it without alchemy the world will decay away anyway. This isnít caused by a villain, but rather itís just the state of the setting. Thereís little resolution for it either. The decision of the heroes seems to ďrelease alchemy and hope for the bestĒ. At the end when alchemy is freed thereís already someone waiting to gain itís full power for themselves.

The first game had itís share of hardships as well. The villains were always one step ahead of Isaac and even in the end they failed to stop them from lighting two of the elemental lighthouses even after beating them. Not the mention the fact the heroes get forced into a pact with the rather questionable Babi, whose only motive is to retain his longevity.

Those are grim things to consider, but the game never seems to dwell on it for too long. Golden Sunís tone is by no stretch grim-dark. Itís full serious optimism and moments of peace and joy. Despite the lingering troubles left over at the end Golden Sun concludes on a very happy note. It found a fine balance between leaving me something to think about yet making feel satisfied at the same time. Itís an attitude that I think would look rather refreshing today alongside the tide of brown misery, teenager style misanthropy and cynicism.

Golden Sun and its sequel is very subtle in how it presents the world. In the first part you play as Isaac, who is tasked with prevent the unleashing of alchemy. During his travels across the continent Angara you see a world that is peaceful without alchemy. Civilised towns with cultured people. We also see the problems caused by alchemy as a result of the psynergy crystals rained down from the Mt Aleph, such as how turns innocent animals into the raging beasts they encounter.

But in Golden Sun: the Lost Age you play as Felix, whose goal is to free alchemy. The world is presently rather differently as we see more than just Angara. We see a world full of long lost civilisations that have fallen into ruin. Felix visits various settlements that are sparsely populated and less advanced than those in Angara. Itís a world full of stagnation without alchemy. The contrast between the two games helps define the viewpoint of the two protagonists and the importance of their quest, even though theyíre opposites.

And so we come to the end of this ridiculous post which I wasted time writing and you wasted time reading. Itís rather relaxing to simply gush about a game sometimes. Golden Sun is far from perfect, but this emotion you humans call love is rather irrational. The Game Boy Advance was the first console I really owned in my own right and Golden Sun was the first game I ever own in my right. I think itís one of the games thatís had the most impact on my gaming sensibilities, for both better and worse. If nothing else it cemented my love for old school fantasy RPGs.

You can also read this on my personal blog.

(Images taken from Golden Sun Universe)
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About Shuudaone of us since 5:34 PM on 03.27.2012

Online I go by the alias of Shuuda. I am currently living North Yorkshire, England. In 2011 I graduated from the University of Hull with a first class degree in Design for Digital Media, where I studied both the creative and theoretical sides of the digital technology and the internet.

As someone who is passionate about about video games than the fantasy genre, I am highly interested in how stories can be told through interactive media. I concern myself with how the genre is portrayed within the medium and its implications. I give it both criticism and praise, but mostly criticism. Writing fiction has been my hobby for many years, and I feel that video games have influenced and inspired the content of my work in recent times.


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