A long time ago as a middle school boy, I went to hang out at a friend’s house. The fact that this happened is honestly staggering – I didn’t hang out with friends all that often at that age. I went through this weird reverse-responsibility cycle where I was super motivated and ambitious as a kid up until early college, but then I started getting more and more irresponsible and spending more time with my friends and less time studying…you could argue that I grew as a person by being more social for the first time, but I doubt my professors cared much for my growth as a human being when I was falling asleep in class.
Wow, I got distracted. Middle school. Right. Anyway, I’m hanging out at this guy’s house and he’s like “if you want to, you can check out my Gameboy games.” I was down with that, so I rifled through them and picked out a game I had never played before: Golden Sun. I played through the introductory portion of the game and it was pretty fun. There were monsters, swords, magic, puzzles – all the stuff I’ve loved since I could hold a controller. So when I got home I told my mom about this cool game and suggested it as an option for when my birthday or a national holiday rolled around.
No dice. My mother could not find this game. She felt bad, but I got over it pretty quick and moved on. Fast forward a year or so, and my mother manages to find a game called Golden Sun. Only problem? It’s the second one. Still no luck finding the original. But I figured there was no harm in playing the second game first and dove into the story of this world. And you know what? It was still awesome.
If you’re one of the many people who don’t really know about this game, it’s okay. It was an easy one to miss. There are three games in the series, each one an obscene number of years apart – I think it was about seven or eight years between The Lost Age (game #2) and Dark Dawn (game #3). With that much distance between games, it’s easy for them to fly under the radar. Which is sad, because the Golden Sun series has a lot to offer.
Here’s a little bit about the world. Long ago, there existed this force called alchemy. Alchemy was used to perform all kinds of miracles and would have maintained a utopian society if not for the fact that people kept fighting wars over it. In the interest of peace, a bunch of wise guys sealed the power of alchemy away. Of course, that was a double-edged sword, because while sealing alchemy certainly prevented its abuse, it also slowly broke the world into pieces. This put the world into a situation where they had to figure out how to restore alchemy while also preventing its power from falling into evil hands.
The story spans two generations, and the first generation is divided into two groups, so over the course of the three games a whole lot of crazy stuff happens. And really, the story isn’t over – Dark Dawn ended somewhat on a cliffhanger and there’s a whole lot of stuff left open-ended. But we’re not here to talk about the likelihood of Golden Sun 4. We’re here to talk about why Golden Sun is such a fun game.
The story focuses on characters called “adepts,” who have the power to control the elements. Each adept is naturally skilled in one of the traditional four elements: earth, water, fire, or air. However, there are creatures in the world called djinn that are associated with these elements as well. Djinn can be “equipped” like armor or a weapon, and equipping a djinn of a different element than your own changes your elemental abilities and stats. The more djinn you have equipped, the more powerful you are, and the more access you have to powerful psynergy (the name of magic in this series). Equipping djinn of different elements than your own changes your class, and sometimes this is the only way to unlock unique psynergy needed to progress through the game. Swapping djinn between party members to find the classes that work best for you is a rewarding process, and makes the hunt for each djinn in the overworld worthwhile.
However, djinn are more than just powerful equipment. They have two other abilities: unleash and summon. Unleashing a djinn you have equipped uses its special ability. Each djinn has a unique one, and these abilities do anything from activating a special attack to healing or reviving party members to increasing stats or blocking attacks. When you unleash a djinn, it’s placed in standby, no longer giving you the stat benefits it once was. But standby is still helpful, because djinn in standby can be used to summon. The more djinn of the same element you have on standby in your party, the more powerful a spirit you can summon to unleash its might upon your enemies (there are also hidden summons using combinations of different elements that are even more powerful). Once used to summon, djinn have to rest for a few turns, only to be automatically re-equipped to start the whole process again.
This exchange of djinn between set, unleash, and summon makes the game very strategic. Naturally you want the stats bonuses provided by equipping djinn, but the unleash effects often accomplish things that psynergy alone cannot, and summon magic inflicts incredible damage against enemies. You have to choose the right moment to use each possible application of djinn, and it keeps you on your toes.
Psynergy isn’t just used for battle, though. Like the dungeon items in Legend of Zelda, the powers your characters command in Golden Sun allow you to solve puzzles in the overworld. Whether climbing and platforming, repairing ancient mechanisms, or finding magically-hidden secrets, the powers of psynergy are necessary to navigate the world of Golden Sun and remove the obstacles in your path. This gives the feeling of these abilities existing not in a combat-based vacuum, but in a breathing world where adepts have more to offer than just being powerful warriors.
Two of the Golden Sun games feature a party system where you have up to eight playable characters, but only four in the party at a time. However, the unused characters can’t just sit and gather dust, because some of your enemies are powerful enough that it will take all eight adepts to overcome them. Keeping each party well-equipped and managing your resources so that one can take over when the other is worn down is the key to victory. While Golden Sun is certainly not the first game to have more party members than you can use at once and isn’t unique in requiring you to use everyone, there are few games where switching between the party members available to you is so key to your success.
To my understanding, the first two games are available on the Wii U virtual console. So if you like the sound of Golden Sun but never got to experience it before, I highly encourage you to give the games a try. They’re a ton of fun and there aren’t any RPGs out there quite like them. Additionally, if you own a Nintendo DS or 3DS, then you can pick up a copy of Dark Dawn and check it out. Give these games a chance, and who knows – maybe we can build up enough of a new fanbase for the developers to finish the series at last.