Golden Sun: Dark Dawn Review

By Morgan Webb - Posted Nov 30, 2010

Golden Sun: Dark Dawn is a graphically impressive turn-based RPG that reeks of nostalgia while still managing to feel fresh. However, it is held back from perfection by its lack of challenge and an insistence on long winded exposition.

The Pros
  • Truly amazing entertainment value for the money
  • It's all the old school turn-based RPG gameplay you miss, combined with the puzzles that made Golden Sun famous
  • The impressive graphics and attention to detail
The Cons
  • The characters talk and talk and emote and emote for hours on end
  • The enemies rarely pose any sort of challenge, especially for the first 20 hours
  • Won't appeal to anyone who is not already a fan of the genre

Golden Sun: Dark Dawn Review:

Golden Sun: Dark Dawn is a graphically impressive turn-based RPG that reeks of nostalgia while still managing to feel fresh. However, it is held back from perfection by its lack of challenge and an insistence on long winded exposition.


Isaac and Garet, I love you!!!! xoxoxoxo -Morgan

Let me get this out of the way right off the bat - I’m a fan of the Golden Sun series. I played the first two Golden Sun games to completion, and I have been really looking forward to Golden Sun: Dark Dawn ever since it was announced at E3 2009. I always liked the stories well enough, though they tended to be a bit shallow and sometimes opaque (cue the hate mail), but the puzzles were where the games always shined. A consistent internal language kept the player thinking about logical solutions rather than wildly trying every possible power on every possible object. I’m happy to report the puzzles live up to precedent, and they are the star of Dark Dawn. You continue the story from the first two games as the children of the original heroes, who help you start your adventure and even lend you their very own Djinn.

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And Djinn are...?

For those of you who haven’t spent a hundred hours of your life on this series, I’ll try to sum up all those joyful hours into one paragraph. You play as a number of Adepts who are masters of Psynergy, and this magic grants you offensive or defensive powers in battle. However you also search for and enslave Djinn, each of which has a specific use in battle. For example, one could create a defensive barrier to protect your party from attack, one could restore HP to a target, or one could simply provide a powerful attack. Once you use a Djinn, it is unavailable until you “summon” it, which, when summoned alone, provides another powerful attack. If you have several Djinn ready to be summoned at the same time, a number of graphically impressive gods will rain down pain upon your pitiable foes. The Djinn then recover and become ready to be used again.

Am I losing you yet? Hang in there we’re almost done. There are four kinds of Adepts - wind, fire, water, and earth, and you all have different powers and different Djinn. A water Djinn doesn’t necessarily have to be set to a water Adept, and combining different Adepts with different Djinn to see what powers you gain and lose is an essential part of the game’s strategy.

Now these four types of Adepts also have proprietary powers outside of battle, and you use these to solve puzzles and locate tantalizingly out of reach Djinn. Freeze puddles of water into columns you can jump across, or dry up lakes to rearrange the floating platforms, then refill the water to make it safely across. You will spend time visualizing the layout as it is and how it should be, and you will look at the map creatively to figure out how you can snag the contents of that treasure chest you see across the seemingly uncrossable chasm.

You made it all the way through the summary!

Congratulations, consider me impressed. It may sound confusing here, but I promise it will make sense while you’re playing because the game walks you through everything. However, a large part of where the game trips up is that they explain to a fault. I was about 5 hours in before I really felt like I got to play and enjoy the game. This may be helpful to young or very new players, but anyone with Golden Sun, or really any RPG experience will find this relatively tedious. Unfortunately the exposition does not stop after 5 hours. The characters will say a short line (it is a small screen after all), after which you need to tap the screen to continue. They talk a lot, hence you tap a lot, but even more frustrating than the endless talking is the endless emoting. They say a line, all stop to look at each other, then one will have an emotion symbol pop over their head, then look around at the others, who will then respond to the emotion symbol with their own emotion symbol, then they will all look at each other again, and then finally someone will say something and the cycle starts all over again. If you’re already bored by this explanation, remember that it’s even more tedious to experience than it is to read about.
I’m really really really good at this game

So I’m either super amazing at Dark Dawn, or the game is easier than previous games. It’s almost impossible to die because I have a revive spell, and tons of revive Djinn. Pile those on top of the healing Djinn and the healing spells, and you have a situation that doesn’t present any challenge at all. You don’t have to pay much attention to which Djinn are set where, because you’re going to win the game no matter what. There is no level grinding, which is really nice, but there’s also very little challenge. I ended up focusing on the puzzles and the story, making the random encounters a nuisance rather than a fun part of the game. Fortunately the encounters are surprisingly sparse for a game of this type.

What do Djinn feel like?

The first two Golden Sun games were on the Game Boy Advance, and the game has made a graceful transition to the DS. The two screens allow you to see the dungeon map while you explore, and allow for some great large animations. It’s easy to select items and rearrange Djinn and characters. It’s also fun to use the stylus to direct your magic...I mean Psynergy, to where it is needed. However, you cannot hold the DS and stylus comfortably for as long as you could hold the GBA, which may account for some of my impatience with the lengthy conversation.

Love and Caveats

If you are a Golden Sun fan you won’t be disappointed by Dark Dawn, but I can’t necessarily recommend it to every gamer. If you enjoy turn based RPGs, or if you’re interested in exploring dungeons and solving some amazing puzzles, you will enjoy Dark Dawn--I certainly did. I was continually impressed with the level of detail put into the lore, story, and art design. However if you’re the type of gamer who always skips the cut scenes, then you should skip Golden Sun: Dark Dawn altogether. If you focus on what makes this game great you will have a fun (and lengthy) experience well worth the price of admission.