Set 30 years after the events of Golden Sun: The Lost Age, Dark Dawn doesn't place a random hero on a quest to find some new boots, an axe and a pair of padded gauntlets. Instead, your main party consists of the progeny of the heroes from the first game and they're trained like Chinese gymnasts just in case the need to save the world arises again. It does.
Isaac and Garet, in saving the world of Weyard in The Lost Age, are revered by their friends for pulling them back from the brink of destruction, but they are also held responsible by the wider world for the drastic changes that have taken place since that time. This is epitomised by the huge vortexes which have sprung up, sucking the all-powerful psynergy from Weyard's inhabitants.
For gamers who haven't played the GBA originals, Dark Dawn is a natural entry point. From the enticing, cartoonish visuals to the details on the back story, newcomers will have few problems feeling right at home here.
If you want an easy reference point, imagine a cocktail of Zelda: Spirit Tracks and Dragon Quest IX. It's a true action-RPG - its battle system is a spider's web of subtlety and craft, while its adventure element contains some supremely satisfying puzzles and an enormous world to explore. Added to that is a collection spree that will have completists purring.
Djinn And Tonic
Much of this is down to the djinn. These little creatures add so much to the game: the 70-plus elemental pixies are scattered around the land, giving you cause to revisit areas to get at them; and when added to your three party members' inventories, they bestow all kind of effects.
They fall into four categories: Venus (earth), Mercury (water), Mars (fire) and Jupiter (wind). When combined with your party members' special elemental skills, an almost endless array of attacks and special powers is available to you.
Djinn's special attacks can be used in two ways. By setting a djinn to a character, you can use its speciality. However, if you leave a djinn in standby, you can then summon it and all the other djinn of the same class into one all-powerful attack Keeping djinn set means you have more regular access to smaller attacks, whereas keeping them stood by means that they are available for a devastating strike. A period of recovery afterwards then deprives you of their muscle.
You might decide to go at it hammer and tongs at the start of the battle, or save them up until later when an enemy is weakened. The balancing act is yet another example of Dark Dawn's dedication to giving you rewarding options.
Your party - Matthew, Karis and Terrell - are all Adepts, which means that they have an affinity with one of the elements. Matthew is an Earth Adept, so he can use psynergy to manipulate plants. However, if you add a Mercury djinn to the mix you'll see hidden powers come to the fore, affinity with a djinn allows Matthew to call upon huge thorns in battle and much, much more.
Very puzzling indeed
Along the way you'll visit Kompa Ruins, an enormous temple which requires you to use all your elemental powers to access all its corners. It's a fantastic rival to Zelda's temple-based puzzles, and one which, on cracking its myriad secrets, gives you the power to decipher mysterious glyphs, and thus adds yet another string for your overloaded bow.
Nitpickers will point out that there are too many lengthy conversations but this is an immense game, and one that will not fail to impress you. Golden Sun old hands will recognise the way complexity is presented in such a clean manner, while freshers will relish the way that it combines traditional, Zelda-style adventuring with a terrific battle engine that offers a wealth of strategy. This is an edited version of a review from the Christmas issue of Official Nintendo Magazine. For more in-depth analysis, screenshots and boxouts, buy the magazine here.