What I'm Playing - No. 53
Welcome back to another weekly wrap-up of the games I’ve been playing over the past week!
I kept my Golden Sun write-up mostly spoiler free. I reveal the premise of the plot and the names of two of the main antagonists, but I tried to limit the spoilers here since it’s a charming game to experience on your own. If you want to totally avoid all potential Golden Sun spoilers so you can play it yourself in a blind run, you shouldn’t continue reading!
Click a title to skip to that section. Games contained within this post:
Golden Sun (GBA)
Craving a turn-based RPG, I played through Golden Sun last week. It’s exactly the sort of classic RPG experience I was hoping for!
You start off by naming your main protagonist, who I left with the default name: Isaac. Isaac lives in Vale, a small village of Adepts. Adepts are able to use Psynergy, which gives them magical powers like the ability to move things with their mind, and other abilities involving the four elements of water, wind, fire, and earth. Isaac is studying Psynergy along with his friends, Garet and Jenna, under the tutelage of Kraden. One day, after a visit from strange individuals making claims about secrets the nearby Sol Sanctum hides, Kraden decides to verify the truth of these claims himself, taking his students along with him.
Deep inside the Sol Sanctum, the group discover the four Elemental Stars hidden away. These are said to be the key to the Stone of Sages, which is basically a Philosopher’s Stone. Disaster strikes, and the mysterious individuals who had visited Kraden earlier arrive, having followed the group inside. These antagonists introduce themselves as Saturos and Menardi, and take Jenna and Kraden hostage. The villains manage to steal 3 of the 4 Elemental Stars. Isaac and Garet end up with 4th Star, and Mt. Aleph is revealed to be a volcano and begins to erupt. Saturos and Menardi are forced to flee, taking Jenna and Kraden to ensure that Isaac and Garet pursue them with the 4th Elemental Star.
Luckily, Isaac and Garet are saved by the guardian of Sol Sanctum, the Wise One, who teleports them safely away. Safely back in Vale, the two explain all that has happened to the elder healer and other townspeople. The Wise One appears before them, and warns them that they must not let the 4 Elemental Lighthouses be lit by those who have stolen the other Elemental Stars, as this would unleash the awesome and destructive power of Alchemy upon the world. With the 1 remaining Elemental Star in hand, Isaac and Garet set off on their journey to retake the Elemental Stars from Saturos and Menardi.
Awaiting them outside of Vale is a world that largely knows nothing of Adepts and Psynergy. With the exception of a few rare individuals, no one is aware of Psynergy or Adepts outside of Vale. Some Psynergy powers like Move and Frost can be used outside of battle, and are required to solve some puzzles. This is a pretty cool mechanic, and keeps exploration and puzzle solving feeling fresh!
Outside of Vale, the removal of the Elemental Stars and the eruption of Mt. Aleph has caused a change in the world. Animals have become feral, and monsters have arisen as well. These make up the bulk of the enemies you fight in the game’s turn-based battle system. It’s a fun system, largely like that of most turn-based RPGs. You choose to either Fight or Flee, and then you issue orders to your party to either fight, use Psynergy, use an item, or defend. Once everyone has their orders, actions play out according to your agility stat. The fastest ally or enemy goes first, and so on. One thing to note when choosing the target of your attacks, if you choose to attack an enemy who is defeated before that character’s turn comes up, the character will simply defend instead since their intended target is dead.
Where battles really get interesting is with Djinn. After leaving Vale, a Djinn introduced itself to Isaac and Garet and asks that they take it along. The Djinn have appeared following the removal of the Elemental Stars, and allow you to use powerful attacks. You’ll see Djinn hidden away around the world during your travels, and most are hidden behind an optional puzzle, or require you to battle them before they’ll join you. The Djinn serve as a nice collectible, but they’re also incredibly beneficial to collect, because they can dramatically increase your effectiveness in battle.
The Djinn system seems a little complicated, but works quite smoothly once you get the hang of it. A Djinn can be in Standby, Set, or Recovery phase. When you Set a Djinn on a character, that character’s stats change, and their character class might also be affected. If their character class changes, their available Psynergy might also change. A character can unleash any of their set Djinn on their turn in battle, which lets them use a powerful attack or buff spell. Once a Djinn is unleashed, it goes on Standby. Standby Djinn can be used by anyone on their turn to perform Summons. Having more Standby Djinn of the same type lets you use more powerful Summons. After a Djinn has been used for a Summon, it goes into Recovery mode for a set amount of turns, and in that time cannot be Set or used for Summons. Once a Djinn has recovered, it will automatically Set itself back on its original character, and the cycle can start again!
This Djinn system broadens strategic opportunities in battle quite a bit. For instance, you could choose to not Set any Djinn, and leave them all on Standby, and just use all your most powerful Summons on the first turn in battle. Also, if a character’s class has been changed by a Djinn that is Set on them, if they unleash that Djinn in battle, it will no longer be Set on them, meaning their stats and class return to their original values. You can use this to your advantage to change a character’s strengths mid-battle, which is pretty cool!
Shortly after leaving Vale, Isaac and Garet are joined by Ivan, who is also an Adept but grew up knowing nothing of Adepts or Psynergy. He just knew he had strange powers like Mind Read. Rounding out the party is Mia, a member of a line of Adepts from a cold northern village, who have passed down knowledge of their powers through their lineage. Mia joins when the group reaches the first lighthouse, but Saturos and Menardi have reached it ahead of them, and it’s already lit when Isaac and company reach the top. Despite their best efforts, Isaac’s team is unable to get the Elemental Stars back from them, and they escape with Jenna and Kraden still in tow. From there, their pursuit continues, taking them all across the continent!
I really enjoyed Golden Sun! Psynergy is a cool concept, and I like how it’s this unknown sort of magic to the world at large. Sort of reminds me of the Force in the original Star Wars trilogy, with how no one really knows about it anymore. Plus, the RPG mechanics and battles are great, and it was really fun exploring the world and solving problems in the towns along the way. The way forward isn’t forcibly spoon-fed to you all the time, but it’s easy enough to figure out how to proceed by talking to NPCs and just exploring the available areas.
The only part that was tedious in my playthrough happened near the end. I reached the final boss, only to be destroyed in battle since I was hopelessly unprepared. I pretty much had two choices: either grind in the final dungeon under I was really over-leveled, or backtrack my way out of the dungeon and revisit old areas to find new Djinn to power up my party. I chose the latter, and went back through many of the areas I’d explored in the game all to find a few more Djinn. Those Djinn made a huge difference, and when I finally made it back to the final dungeon, and proceeded through the whole thing once again, I was able to defeat the final boss without much trouble.
One thing to note, Golden Sun is really only part of the story. There are several loose threads left unfinished at the end, because the story continues in the direct sequel, Golden Sun: The Lost Age. I know in that game, you control Jenna and a brand new party of characters instead of Isaac! I’m looking forward to playing that game next, to see the conclusion of the story, and experience more classic RPG goodness!