Why I love Golden Sun (and why it needs to come back)

Just over a week ago, Nintendo announced the final additions to the roster of playable characters for the upcoming fifth instalment in their extremely popular fighting game franchise, Super Smash Bros. And while I’m more than happy with what we’ve been shown and am, for the most part, incredibly excited to get my hands on the game, I couldn’t help but feel a little bit let down by the final announcement. In fact, I’d go as far to say that I was disappointed. I still am.

But why?

Well, if you follow me on Twitter, or if the title of this post is any indication, it’s because of a little series called Golden Sun.

Golden Sun was a series of JRPG’s created by Camelot Software Planning and published by Nintendo as a first party intellectual property that made it’s debut on the Gameboy Advance. At the time of it’s release, Golden Sun was the Nintendo RPG franchise. While nowadays Xenoblade is considered to be Nintendo’s big RPG property, it didn’t even exist back in the era of the Gameboy Advance and the company had become pretty notorious for their lack of JRPG support back when Golden Sun made it’s initial debut, especially when compared to the original PlayStation which boasted the likes of Final Fantasy and Grandia. But unfortunately, after one sequel (which was originally supposed to be the second half of the first game, but hardware limitations forced the game to be split into two) and a follow-up on the DS, the series was taken out of the spotlight and has been seemingly forgotten about by both Nintendo and Camelot Software Planning.

So what does this all have to do with Super Smash Bros Ultimate? Well, in spite of it’s absence Golden Sun has an extremely dedicated and vocal fanbase. A fanbase that I’m honoured to be a part of, and that has been campaigning since Super Smash Bros Brawl  to get some form of Golden Sun representation into the game in the form of a playable character. After all, Super Smash Bros is a celebration of Nintendo’s, and gaming’s, history and many of the company’s biggest icons scattered throughout that history. And what better way would there be to celebrate Golden Sun and the impact it had back in the early 2000’s by putting a character from the series into the playable roster?

Now I know people are going to argue that Golden Sun is “irrelevant” today, but historically it’s anything but that. The game is a significantly important part of Nintendo’s history and it’s protagonist Isaac was once the poster boy of what used to be the company’s flagship JRPG on their newly released handheld video game console. A JRPG that sold over 1,000,000 copies worldwide and that many publications considered, at the time, to be on par, maybe even better than Final Fantasy VII. If that isn’t significant, then I don’t know what is.

So when Isaac was revealed to be a mere assist trophy in the game, as opposed to a playable character, my heart sank. All of ours did. We’d been campaigning to get Isaac in since the games announcement and made our demand for the character very clear to Nintendo, and our passion and dedication towards this very likely dead franchise has been seemingly ignored in favour of a generic Super Mario mook and a Pokemon. And that’s not to say that you shouldn’t be happy that these characters are included. I myself really like the look of Piranha Plant character, and while I’m not a big fan of Incineroar, or Pokemon in general, I’m looking forward to trying him out and am happy for the fans. I’m also happy Isaac is in the game in some form, and would rather he be an assist than not in the game at all. But the fact that a Piranha Plant got into the game over the protagonist of an original intellectual property that was one of the most impactful and well received games on the Gameboy Advance, a character that fans have been campaigning for everywhere, just kind of baffles me, and it speaks volumes as to how little both Nintendo and Camelot think of the series today.

So what’s the point of all this? Am I just here to complain and rant to you all about why I think Isaac should be in the new Super Smash Bros?

No. I’m here to do my part. Today, it will have been 17 years since the original Golden Sun was released in the west, and many fans have made the decision to band together on the games 17th anniversary to show Nintendo that we do in fact exist and to make them aware that there is a demand for future games in the franchise. Because while we never got our golden boy in Super Smash Bros Ultimate, there’s still a chance that we can get another game in the series. Because that’s the main reason we wanted Isaac in the game to begin with. Not just because we wanted to play as him, but because we wanted Smash Bros to do for Golden Sun what it did for Fire Emblem back when Melee first introduced Marth and Roy.

Y’know… All these games…

So I’m here to explain to you all, and to Nintendo, why this series is so special to me, why I love it so much, and most of all, why it needs to come back.

So… Let’s start with the story.

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I’ve seen people criticise Golden Sun’s story as an “extremely generic” JRPG narrative that doesn’t break new ground and that barely makes an effort to deviate from the formula that’s been the standard for years, but I can’t say I really agree with that. I’ll be the first to admit that the story is fairly typical, but that’s mostly in the beginning and as it progresses and begins to develop, Golden Sun manages to find a unique story identity of its own, one that stands out quite a bit from the usual JRPG fare. Yeah, you’ve got your standard end of the world scenario and your party travelling to X number of dungeons to stop the bad guys from doing their thing, but once you get deeper into the story, particularly once you reach the sequel The Lost Age, you start to learn more about the motivations of the “villains” and find out that they aren’t really “evil” at all. In fact, the only real villain in this story is nature itself and in truth the villains are trying to save the world from its natural destruction. They’re just going about it in an “at all costs” way, and you don’t learn this until much later on. Suddenly, what starts off as a very simple plot of “trying to stop the bad guys from ending the world” becomes something far more morally complex and interesting.

What makes it even more interesting is that in the sequel The Lost Age, you play as some of the villains and learn their motivations through that experience. This is something that isn’t all that common in JRPG’s and it’s something that I’ve yet to see tackled in such an interesting and engaging way in any other game. This is the kind of stuff that makes Golden Sun stand out as a game in a narrative sense, and it’s something that I feel future instalments could do again, with modern story sensibilities and narrative presentation.

Furthermore, every character you acquire for your party has a place in the story. I love the Tales games, but even I can admit that in most cases there are at least a couple of characters who just don’t have enough story relevance and who just feel as though they’re there to take up space or to add another play style to the game. But in Golden Sun every single character has a reason for being there and has a key role in the greater story. Nobody is “tagging along for the ride”. Nobody is there “because we need a character who can do X”. They all have story specific reasons for joining the adventure and it allows the playable party to feel more connected both to the player and to each other as characters in the game.

But of course, this is a video game, and naturally the crux of why I love Golden Sun is it’s incredibly unique and addictive gameplay.

Again, this is an aspect that many people seem to undermine significantly, calling it “generic” because it’s a standard turn-based combat system that is triggered by random encounters in the overworld. But if you actually examine it, it’s far more than just that. Yes, the system is turn-based and involves using your standard physical attacks, spells and items and the like, but that’s just what’s on the surface.

You see, Golden Sun has these collectable creatures known as Djinn which can be found in towns, dungeons and the rest of the overworld that you’ll find yourself exploring throughout the game. Once these little guys have been found, they can be allocated to a character in your party. In battle, your characters will be able to use synergy, which is essentially this games magic, and depending on which Djinn you equip to a character, depends on what kind of synergy they’ll be able to use, while also increasing their stats and even going as far as determining or changing their class. Different characters are also better suited to certain types of Djinn, and their stats can increase with others decreasing depending on what type you decide to give them. And you can equip multiple Djinn at a time, which allows you to combine a variety of different options, providing room to experiment and see what kind of abilities your character will be able to learn as well as what kind of stats or class they’ll end up with in the long run.

It’s an incredibly in depth customisation system that a lot of people who’ve played these games, and consider their systems to be “generic” seem to overlook entirely and I’ll come right out and say that it’s one of the most intricate and unique customisation systems I’ve ever seen in an RPG. Even by today’s standards. It allows for heavy customisation and gives you the chance to experiment and play around with your different characters, while also not being so complicated to the point where you have no idea what’s going on. And if you really don’t care about customisation, you can just set each character up with the Djinn that they have the best affinity with to save yourself headache.

But that’s just outside of battle. The Djinn also have an effect in the battles themselves, and turn a very straightforward, turn-based battle system into one of the most strategic, engaging and intense gameplay systems in the genre. You see, a characters Djinn can also be used in battle, and have several uses including enhanced elemental attacks, stat buffs, healing and other similar effects that can help the player gain the upper hand in battle. However when a Djinn is used it goes into “Standby” meaning that any effects it has on the character it is equipped to are no longer applied, which essentially means that using your Djinn can lower your characters stats and even lower their class to a significantly weaker one. But if you have enough Djinn in Standby, you can also use them to bring forth powerful Summons which can deal insane amounts of damage and really turn the tide of some of the toughest battles in the game. This all adds a significant layer of strategy to what would normally be very simple, repetitive battles. Do you hold off on using your Djinn to keep the improved stats and bonuses that they offer and defeat your enemies with basic attacks and spells? Or do you immediately use your Djinn to give you an edge while at the same time lowering your base stats, which could potentially put you at risk later on in the battle? Do you risk lowering your stats to ridiculously low levels in order to get that screen-filling Summon out to land an ultimate spell that could completely decimate the enemy?

These questions are relevant to just about every encounter in the game, and only become more significant as the game ramps up in difficulty and the player acquires more Djinn to play around with. And that’s not even getting into weapons which can have their own special abilities and moves which add even more possibilities into the mix.

Speaking of the battles, another reason why I love Golden Sun is that grinding is a complete non-issue. There are so many JRPG’s out there where you’re required to grind to even stand a chance at tackling a boss at the end of a dungeon or a specific enemy encounter. But in Golden Sun, I’ve never had to grind. Ever. Not even for the final boss. In any of the games. I don’t even mind grinding all that much, but it’s still refreshing to see a JRPG where it isn’t required, and it also helps the game feel less padded out than your average entry in the genre.

And then there’s the dungeons and the exploration in general, which is also fantastic and insanely creative. The dungeons are your typical elemental dungeons, but unlike a lot of JRPG’s, they feel like much less of an afterthought or a formality because they’re full of creative puzzles and reward exploration handsomely. Your characters are able to use their synergy spells outside of battle to solve puzzles and interact with the environment, and while it’s a small detail, it really helps make the dungeons feel far more interesting than your average ice or fire temple. Rather than doing a bunch of block puzzles, you’ll be doing things like creating frozen pillars out of puddles on the ground to create a path for you to reach an otherwise unreachable platform. That’s not to say there aren’t some generic block puzzles and the like at all, because there are some, but for the most part the dungeons are anything but boring and the puzzles are, more often than not, fun and creative, which is more than I can say for most games in the genre.

And finally, there’s the presentation of the game, which is outstanding on just about all fronts. People often criticise Golden Sun‘s use of 3D sprites but honestly I think it holds up really well, much like the old Donkey Kong Country games on the Super Nintendo. The environments look really nice for the most part and the battles are just… Incredible. I mean… Just look at the special effects used for the over the top attacks, particularly the Summons which are just insane!

This is a Gameboy Advance game

And of course, how could I talk about how much I love Golden Sun without talking about the amazing music? The opening theme in particular gives me chills every time I hear it and is one of the most amazing pieces of opening music in the genre.

The Gameboy Advance is pretty notable for its less than stellar sound capabilities, with a lot of really low quality music that’s pretty hard to listen to. But there’s honestly not a bad song in here, and I genuinely believe that Golden Sun is the best sounding game on the console. At times it’s easy to forget that the music is from a Gameboy Advance game. It’s that good.

Golden Sun is one my favourite JRPG’s as well as one of my personal favourite games of all time. It was amazing back in 2001, and it’s still amazing even by today’s standard. It hasn’t aged a day. I feel that both Nintendo and Camelot are letting one of their most unique and incredible intellectual properties waste away and that there is so much potential for the series to do so many amazing things.

I’m sad that Isaac didn’t make the cut for Super Smash Bros Ultimate because having him would have meant the absolute world to me and so many other people who love this franchise. But even though we never got our golden boy as a playable character in Ultimate, we can still campaign for a new entry in the series. And that’s why I feel the need to explain to you my readers, to my fellow Golden Sun fans, to anyone who may not care for the franchise and to Nintendo themselves, why I love this series so much and why I think it should come back.

I’m aware that I’m just a small-time blogger with a very small corner of internet who’s voice is insignificant in the grand scheme of things. I know that while the Golden Sun fanbase is extremely dedicated and passionate, that we are just a small group of people who are likely campaigning for the impossible.

But we can at least try to get our voices heard. I am but one of many voices in a fanbase that would love to see another Golden Sun game from Camelot and Nintendo.

So this is why I love Golden Sun.

If you’re a fellow Golden Sun fan, I’d really appreciate it if you’d share this one around for #GoldenSunDay on Twitter. If not, then I hope you at least enjoyed my passionate love letter towards a game you probably know nothing about. I do strongly recommend giving it a go if you’re curious. You won’t regret it. Promise.

And you know, if this really is the end of Golden Sun, then that’s okay too. Because at least I can still play the original game on my Gameboy Advance. And I’m now off to do just that.

The Golden Sun will always shine, and no one can take that away from us.

Not even a Piranha Plant (Art by @untoldprotag)

Are you a fan of Golden Sun? Are you interested in trying the games out? Let me know!

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‘Til next time!

 

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4 thoughts on “Why I love Golden Sun (and why it needs to come back)

  1. Absolutely adore the Golden Sun series, one of my favorite handheld RPGs of all time for lots of the reasons you stated. Still have to play the last entry in the series though, because I put it off for so long due to negative reviews.

    It really feels like it’s hard to find fans of the series sometimes, so I’m glad you wrote this article.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s really nice to see that the fanbase extends to some of my fellow bloggers!

      Honestly, while Dark Dawn is definitely the worst in the series, it’s not nearly as bad as people would have you believe. It does a lot of things right and introduces some interesting new ideas to the world (like Dark Adepts!)

      Hopefully we’ll get a Golden Sun 4 one of these days!

      Thanks for reading!

      Like

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