There's a lot of diversity to be found in Japanese Role-Playing Games, or JRPGs. From the epic scope of open-world collection, to meaty boss battles and enemy grind, the fantastic tales of gods and heroes, and gorgeous anime-style graphics. And yet, there's still something uniquely magical about the Golden Sun series; a somewhat overlooked representative of the genre that saw two releases on the GameBoy Advance, and a follow up on the DS a few years later. Even in such a broad realm of the traditional JRPG, Golden Sun has always been a stand-out entry.
Equal parts Pokemon, Zelda, and Final Fantasy, Golden Sun managed to liberally borrow concepts from other established franchises, all the while crafting something so uniquely its own. It boasted a diverse world that slowly unraveled over the first two games, as well as an eclectic cast of characters (with its villains ranking as some surprising standouts).
What's more, Golden Sun hinted at a rich history to be found in its world, built around concepts of alchemy and psynergy and ancient civilizations. This intrigue was part and parcel of the fantastic gameplay. Elemental-based powers and djinn, massive ruins and rocks for dissection and discovery.
A Golden Beginning
The first game released for the GameBoy Advance back in 2001 to great acclaim. It was lauded for its breadth and depth, not to mention some of the most impressive graphics ever presented on that particular system. While in development, the project became so massive that it was eventually split in two — accounting for the cliffhanger ending in the first, setting up the sequel in turn.
That sequel came in the form of The Lost Age, which released a year later. It received similar praise as the first, introducing impressive and exciting new powers, an even larger world to explore, and a story that progressed in surprising ways. The game even allowed players to take on some of the would-be antagonists from the original, offering a new perspective on these world-shattering events.
Golden Sun Games Are Classic JRPGs
They were, as a pair, some of the very best games of their age. They demonstrated a heightened understanding of the genre, making notions of Role-Playing so elegant and engaging. The turn-based combat was visceral and exciting, capstoned by intense boss battles that required careful strategy in deployment of Djinn, Summons, and other powers.
The environments reflected the elemental underpinnings — boasting towers, deserts and oceans, where puzzle-based mechanics were built into the navigation. And the magic system itself was one of the most exciting around. Not just in careful management during combat, but also in working through those puzzles. Whether it be the ordered movement of pillars and logs, hovering over a maze of platforms, burrowing into a ruin of sand and stone, or keeping torches aflame.
It all made for a truly magical experience — a singular pair of games in a competitive genre already boasting so much quality. They bear a resonance that's lasted over 15 years later, remembered with fondness and affection for fans who crave more.
And Nintendo did offer more. At E3 2010, another Golden Sun title was finally announced for release late in the year. Golden Sun: Dark Dawn came to the DS in December of 2010. It was the first new game after an eight-year gap.
Yet the game wasn't the performer Nintendo and developer Camelot hoped it would be. Its reviews were more middling, and sales remained modest. Critics praised the quality of puzzles, while expressing concern for the reliance on old-school turn-based combat, and a muddled and confusing story.
The Future Is Uncertain
Since then, the entire series has been put on the backburner, as Camelot has turned to other projects. There's been little in the way of indication one way or another as to whether or not there may be more. It may be just be too competitive a field for such a series — one that needs time to both modernize and find a new audience that may have never played the original entries.
Yet the game's creators have indicated there's more to come, stating that the original two titles were just setting the stage for larger things down the line. Dark Dawn certainly laid plans for a hypothetical sequel, even ending on something of a cliffhanger.
And for all its modesty, for all the struggles that Dark Dawn underwent, for all the years of waiting in between, Golden Sun is still very much a series deserving of another chance.
It's a wonderful franchise, with fundamental ideals that make it unlike almost no other in the genre. There's a unique joy to these games, not just in the basic crafting and collection that peppers so many an RPG. It's in the original concepts built around the finding and using the powers of Djinn, and the way the elemental powersets made available are reflected in story, environment, and in the exquisite puzzle-based gameplay.
There's Still Potential For More
The game's creators have stated that if people ask for another Golden Sun title, it is more likely to happen. So consider this an official plea. This is not a series without loyal fans. Though Dark Dawn's reception was modest, there's always room for another go to ply out what went wrong, make improvements, and re-orientate the franchise for a modern succession, especially on the Nintendo Switch.
Even so many years later, Golden Sun offers the very best of RPG gaming, and it would be immensely dispiriting to watch it fade away with no further entries to continue its legacy.
It's a heavy market and a competitive field for JRPGs, and yet here's hoping that Golden Sun will once again find a way.
In this Golden Age of Gaming, there's always room for more. Especially in a series that took the fundamental tenets of the genre and made them very much its own.
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