Golden Sun: Dark Dawn Review
Camelot improves on the Golden Sun formula but still falls short of greatness.
By Jeremy Parish 11/26/2010
Share it:Tweet Is Golden Sun: Dark Dawn a great game bogged down by ill-considered design choices, or is it a mediocre game being buoyed by superb production values and sharp localization? Let’s consider the facts.
The first two Golden Sun games were instant fan-favorites on Game Boy Advance, but despite their popularity they were deeply flawed on several levels. They were painfully slow-paced, aesthetically unappealing, and plagued by some of the most mundane plotting and dialogue ever inflicted upon an RPG. While certainly not bad, they were bland and plodding: an attempt to recapture the spirit of a bygone era of game design that dredged up plenty of bad along with the good.
Click the image above to check out all Golden Sun: Dark Dawn screens.
Dark Dawn does a great job of clearing up several of these issues from the outset. The original Golden Sun’s pokey pacing is nowhere to be seen — the story begins by throwing you immediately into the thick of action with a rescue mission. It’s a softball mission to be sure; the heroes of the older games accompany their young protégés, alleviating any chance of failure. As mandatory tutorials go, though, it’s excellent: not only does it make perfect sense for the old guard to walk the new generation through the rigors of adventuring, it also serves as a seamless passing of the torch for fans. It sets up the dynamics of the new cast, explains the basics of the backstory, fills in the 30-year gap between the end of the last game and this sequel, and explains the mechanics of both the combat system and the in-dungeon puzzle-solving.
Also unlike the GBA games, Dark Dawn looks fantastic. In fact, it boasts some of the highest production values ever seen on DS. Its world is colorful and vibrant, crammed with detail throughout both towns and dungeons. Motoi Sakuraba’s soundtrack is spot-on: Action themes are energetic but never shrill, while more sedate tracks manage to create an interesting atmosphere without being dull. The game particularly shines during combat, with vivid graphical effects that never grow tedious or overblown. The summon animations do run fairly long, but they work much better in Dark Dawn than they did in something like Final Fantasy VIII; the convoluted process of calling a summon makes them rare and valuable assets, so their over-the-top animations simply lend to their impact.
Where Dark Dawn stumbles is…well, everywhere else. There’s no single element of the game that’s genuinely bad, but despite all the advances on display this is very much a Golden Sun game, for better or worse. Camelot clearly loves this series, and they’ve invested it with an elaborate mythos. But that love blinds them and makes them loath to trim the fat, which means that — like its predecessors — Dark Dawn tends to ramble on anytime dialogue boxes start to show up. Its heroes and villains have an uncanny knack for saying incredibly simple things with about three or four times the words they actually need to convey those ideas. Compliments are due the localization team, who manage to lend the game’s pointlessly overwritten dialogue some much-needed personality, but Camelot badly needs to learn to self-edit.