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Golden Sun: Dark Dawn review

This is the brightest new dawn around

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.

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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.

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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.

Comments

39 comments so far...
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  1. omegoku Thursday 9th Dec 2010 at 12:46

    Can I save anywhere? Quick Save?
    These are important, especially in handhelds.

    I am very tempted by this game, but the wall of text i keep hearing about is making me have second thoughts.
    Will keep me going til March when I can pick up pokemon

  2. Kooper Thursday 9th Dec 2010 at 12:56

    Yeah, I'd be interested in whether it has saving anywhere or quick saves etc. Also are there random battles, or is it more like DQ 9? It looks good, but random battles really annoy me.

  3. MinkyWhistle Thursday 9th Dec 2010 at 12:57

    3 party members, not sure I'm happy about that, surely that means you're missing one of the elemental alignments?

    If it's anything like the previous GS's then you can save anywhere.

  4. Violet Thursday 9th Dec 2010 at 13:00

    Can I save anywhere? Quick Save?
    These are important, especially in handhelds.

    I am very tempted by this game, but the wall of text i keep hearing about is making me have second thoughts.
    Will keep me going til March when I can pick up pokemon


    If it is anything like the first games, you can save anywhere. I heard it was the same.

    Also, again, if its anything like the first games the dialogue isn't really a problem. There's a fair amount of it at certain points but if you like the characters and the world then it shouldn't become a problem, plus in the original game you had options to speed it up and things. I always found the games charming so I enjoyed the dialogue, obviously I can't say whether the new game is better or worse in that respect, but I'm sure it'll be similar.

  5. Violet Thursday 9th Dec 2010 at 13:03

    3 party members, not sure I'm happy about that, surely that means you're missing one of the elemental alignments?


    You start with three for awhile, like The Lost Age, I think. I believe there are a number of more playable characters (more than just four) and I know for sure you end up with four characters in your party, its been shown in a number of screenshots.

  6. imbusydoctorwho Thursday 9th Dec 2010 at 13:08

    I will go for this as I loved Dragon Quest 9. I think I will love this too.
    I must admit the battles look amazing and all the world does aswell.
    Long as I can quick save or save anywhere I'm happy.
    The story explosions will probably get on my wick a bit but it shouldn't be that bad.
    Gamespot and Ign reviews are putting me off a bit 7.5 to your 92% is making me think.
    Anyway long as Tescos sell it I'll get it.
    Will their be any ads?.

  7. Cacnea Thursday 9th Dec 2010 at 13:24

    Having played and loved the GBA games, I'm desperate to get my hands on Dark Dawn. Why, then, did I make it number one on my Christmas wish list? I now have to wait another 15 days!

  8. ChrisONM Thursday 9th Dec 2010 at 13:38

    Can I save anywhere? Quick Save?
    These are important, especially in handhelds.

    I am very tempted by this game, but the wall of text i keep hearing about is making me have second thoughts.
    Will keep me going til March when I can pick up pokemon


    Yup, you can save anywhere, other than midway through a cutscene.

  9. imbusydoctorwho Thursday 9th Dec 2010 at 13:52

    Can I save anywhere? Quick Save?
    These are important, especially in handhelds.

    I am very tempted by this game, but the wall of text i keep hearing about is making me have second thoughts.
    Will keep me going til March when I can pick up pokemon


    Yup, you can save anywhere, other than midway through a cutscene.


    Sold :D

  10. omegoku Thursday 9th Dec 2010 at 14:27

    Can I save anywhere? Quick Save?
    These are important, especially in handhelds.

    I am very tempted by this game, but the wall of text i keep hearing about is making me have second thoughts.
    Will keep me going til March when I can pick up pokemon


    Yup, you can save anywhere, other than midway through a cutscene.

    Great news!
    Will def look into getting it so
    Thanks for the update!

  11. choppaman Thursday 9th Dec 2010 at 14:37

    i don't think i've ever seen you give an rpg a gold award, so this pleases me.

  12. Ai64 Thursday 9th Dec 2010 at 15:23

    It's sure to be the best DS RPG game since bowser's inside story. A epic smash hit and return for golden sun too.

  13. super saiyan Thursday 9th Dec 2010 at 15:44


    Gamespot and Ign reviews are putting me off a bit 7.5 to your 92% is making me think.

    Why would a a review of 7.5 put you off? 7.5 is a very good score.

    This is a game that i've been looking forward to for a while, so i'll definitely buy this.

  14. laytonluke911 Thursday 9th Dec 2010 at 15:47

    i don't think i've ever seen you give an rpg a gold award, so this pleases me.

    sorry? Pokémon? Dragon Quest IX?

  15. Pichu10585 Thursday 9th Dec 2010 at 15:50

    i don't think i've ever seen you give an rpg a gold award, so this pleases me.

    sorry? Pokémon? Dragon Quest IX?


    I second that.

  16. Wyld_stallyon Thursday 9th Dec 2010 at 16:31

    Having played and loved the first 2 games, I really can't wait to get my hands on this. Shame I have to wait till christmas though :(

  17. Oxo64 Thursday 9th Dec 2010 at 17:25

    I loved the first two but Dark Dawn apparently has "points of no return" and permenantly missable Djinni. It puts me off a little, but I'll be getting it anyway.

  18. MrGooseyMoose Thursday 9th Dec 2010 at 17:36

    I can't be the only one who enjoys reading a lot in rpgs, right? >> << >> <<

  19. Violet Thursday 9th Dec 2010 at 18:20

    I loved the first two but Dark Dawn apparently has "points of no return" and permenantly missable Djinni. It puts me off a little, but I'll be getting it anyway.


    Technically, if you consider the first two games as one single game then it also had one big point of no return and missable Djinn if you failed to get them all before you start the second game (you can get some Djinn from the first game if you missed them, but not all, I believe). Not quite the same, but yeah.

    On the other hand, the game isn't the longest RPG in the world so I'm sure replaying it won't hurt. Its not like Dragon Quest or Pokemon, where restarting a game from scratch would be a nightmarish thing to consider (and even Pokemon has Pokemon you can miss and things).

  20. Turbo Blooper Thursday 9th Dec 2010 at 20:39

    I can't be the only one who enjoys reading a lot in rpgs, right? >> << >> <<


    And I thought I was the only one!

    I'm hopefully getting this for Christmas, though it's too bad there's a wait. I've never played a Golden Sun game before, but it looks great :D

  21. ninjafox Thursday 9th Dec 2010 at 20:53

    I am getting this for christmas hopefully it will be a pain having to wait another 15 days but considering we have waited 7 years for a new golden sun 15 days doesn't seem that bad! Roll on christmas :)

  22. Oxo64 Thursday 9th Dec 2010 at 21:03

    I loved the first two but Dark Dawn apparently has "points of no return" and permenantly missable Djinni. It puts me off a little, but I'll be getting it anyway.


    Technically, if you consider the first two games as one single game then it also had one big point of no return and missable Djinn if you failed to get them all before you start the second game (you can get some Djinn from the first game if you missed them, but not all, I believe). Not quite the same, but yeah.

    On the other hand, the game isn't the longest RPG in the world so I'm sure replaying it won't hurt. Its not like Dragon Quest or Pokemon, where restarting a game from scratch would be a nightmarish thing to consider (and even Pokemon has Pokemon you can miss and things).

    Good point! Never thought of it that way!

  23. SomeSlyGuy Thursday 9th Dec 2010 at 21:52

    I got this today and ive played for a few hours; so far about two thirds of it have just been reading, which i wouldnt mind except the story is kinda boring so far, its pretty much the same as any other generic JRPG.

    The actual adventuring part seems pretty good so far, its basically a cross between dragon quest IX and spirit tracks, and has lots of interesting puzzles involving your characters magical abilities.

    The djinn abilities seem interesting, but a bit overpowered - I killed the first boss in two hits from them...

    The random battles arent as annoying as i thought, they dont seem to come up that often, meaning you can concentrate on the actual platforming style bits.

    The only two other bits that make it better than other RPGs are that firstly you can save anywhere(actual saving not quicksaving), and that there are three save slots, meaning that if you ever want to restart you dont have to delete your old data, like in pokemon/DQ

  24. Violet Friday 10th Dec 2010 at 11:16

    I got this today and ive played for a few hours; so far about two thirds of it have just been reading, which i wouldnt mind except the story is kinda boring so far, its pretty much the same as any other generic JRPG.


    Give it a chance to get going, Golden Sun games have previously had a bit too much talking going on at the start of each game.

    Besides, its an RPG. Plot is important, and I guess they had to fill in information for those who missed out on the first games.

    The series as a whole isn't like a generic JRPG, again, not sure about the new game, but it should seperate itself as it goes on. Its not going to follow the standard Final Fantasy progression, I expect that much.

    I loved the first two games so I hope people enjoy this new one, its my favourite RPG series outside of the Mario RPGs.

  25. Hugh_Ryan Friday 10th Dec 2010 at 14:18

    I got this today and ive played for a few hours; so far about two thirds of it have just been reading, which i wouldnt mind except the story is kinda boring so far, its pretty much the same as any other generic JRPG.


    Give it a chance to get going, Golden Sun games have previously had a bit too much talking going on at the start of each game.

    Besides, its an RPG. Plot is important, and I guess they had to fill in information for those who missed out on the first games.

    The series as a whole isn't like a generic JRPG, again, not sure about the new game, but it should seperate itself as it goes on. Its not going to follow the standard Final Fantasy progression, I expect that much.

    I loved the first two games so I hope people enjoy this new one, its my favourite RPG series outside of the Mario RPGs.


    Violet's really right. Golden Sun games take a while to get going, since they have to set up the story, not only for all of us who played the previous two, but also for all the new-comers. I'm not getting it until Christmas, but have made it VERY clear to my family that I will drag them to the nearest game shop if I do not get it o Christmas Day! And on the saving note, not sure if this has been answered, but in the previous games you coukd 'sleep' [pretty much anywhere i think, apart from in battles, and could save most places as well. Not entirely sure, but bad saving-places has not been a fault of the games yet.

  26. choppaman Friday 10th Dec 2010 at 15:41

    i don't think i've ever seen you give an rpg a gold award, so this pleases me.

    sorry? Pokémon? Dragon Quest IX?


    I second that.


    pokemon is too mainstream for them NOT to give it a gold, and i'm pretty sure dragon quest is pretty big, but admittedly i forgot about it.
    did chrono trigger get gold?

  27. Hugh_Ryan Friday 10th Dec 2010 at 16:07

    i don't think i've ever seen you give an rpg a gold award, so this pleases me.

    sorry? Pokémon? Dragon Quest IX?


    I second that.


    pokemon is too mainstream for them NOT to give it a gold, and i'm pretty sure dragon quest is pretty big, but admittedly i forgot about it.
    did chrono trigger get gold?

    Yeah, chrono trigger got 93%. tbh it is an amazing game, so that's fair. I was sorely disappointed in M&L Bowser's IS, since I so enjoyed PiT, but I thought it was rubbish, and far too easy. I think it shows in the new mag that the original golden sun got 10/10. I'm so excited.

  28. Toman Friday 10th Dec 2010 at 17:48

    i don't think i've ever seen you give an rpg a gold award, so this pleases me.

    They did. Pokemon HG/SS got 92% as well. and Dragon Quest 9...they were raving about it! That got 90%

  29. veela_magnet Friday 10th Dec 2010 at 17:52

    @ChrisONM

    I noticed in your review you mentioned that this would be a good starting point for newbies, but I do have the first two games, and just haven't gotten around to playing them properly yet. Would you recommend I do so first? I really don't like going into a series (especially an RPG) midway through...

  30. turnpike Friday 10th Dec 2010 at 19:19

    I will go for this as I loved Dragon Quest 9. I think I will love this too.
    I must admit the battles look amazing and all the world does aswell.
    Long as I can quick save or save anywhere I'm happy.
    The story explosions will probably get on my wick a bit but it shouldn't be that bad.
    Gamespot and Ign reviews are putting me off a bit 7.5 to your 92% is making me think.
    Anyway long as Tescos sell it I'll get it.
    Will their be any ads?.

    Oh god no, not those dreaded story explosions!

    "what's that Isaac?" KABOOM!
    "The djinn is hiding in that BOOM! bush over SPLAT there"

  31. The_Legend_not Saturday 11th Dec 2010 at 09:38

    i don't think i've ever seen you give an rpg a gold award, so this pleases me.

    They did. Pokemon HG/SS got 92% as well. and Dragon Quest 9...they were raving about it! That got 90%


    I think dragon quest 9 is better, it should of got a better score.

  32. Gavin Rozee Saturday 11th Dec 2010 at 12:54

    I bought Golden Sun on GBA the day it launched. I never finished it, but it was fun. I've also not finished Dragon Quest IX. I find RPG's get boring and repetitive before they're over.

    However, I'm getting Dark Dawn for Christmas as it seems to have a large focus on puzzles, and there isn't exactly a lot to choose from on the DS this Christmas.

  33. Bexie Saturday 11th Dec 2010 at 13:52

    AHHH I'm so excited!

    Golden Sun and Golden Sun: TLA are two of my favourite games of all time. I can't wait to get my hands on this, although I have to wait until Christmas. ;_;

  34. Cinaclov Sunday 12th Dec 2010 at 08:14

    @ChrisONM

    I noticed in your review you mentioned that this would be a good starting point for newbies, but I do have the first two games, and just haven't gotten around to playing them properly yet. Would you recommend I do so first? I really don't like going into a series (especially an RPG) midway through...

    If you have the chance to play through the first games before hand, i'd heartily recommend it, just based on their own merits. Whilst I doubt it's essential to play them to understand the story in the new game it's still a very good story, and the actual gameplay's fantastic as well.

    And some one mentioned 'points of no return' being a potential issue in the new game? Well, the first two weren't exactly free from them, besides the obvious split between the two games there's also events like the boat leaving Alhafra in TLA, there's bread on that you need to give to a boy in town to get into the mayors treasure dungeon. But the point I'm trying to make is that it's not essential to the quest, (in the example the only notable thing you get is some fairly average armor) and none of the other events (possibly bar collecting at least 6 of each element of Djinni in Golden Sun before starting TLA) proved to have any significance that'd require you to restart. I'd imagine this's like that.

  35. Violet Monday 13th Dec 2010 at 13:42

    i don't think i've ever seen you give an rpg a gold award, so this pleases me.

    They did. Pokemon HG/SS got 92% as well. and Dragon Quest 9...they were raving about it! That got 90%


    I think dragon quest 9 is better. I really dont see whats so great about golden sun. I think dragon quest 9 should of got a better score.


    Have you played it? The puzzles are something that most JRPGs don't have at all, the battle system is excellent in all of the games and the summons are epic. I would consider the Golden Sun series to be slightly more grown up in their style, too... the games have a real plot to them, DQIX kind of reduced the plot for the sake of customisable characters.

    Also, for the boys out there, there are some... "female physics" in the summon animations that would rival a Dead or Alive game. At least thats what I saw from one of the trailers!

  36. The_Legend_not Tuesday 14th Dec 2010 at 17:07

    i don't think i've ever seen you give an rpg a gold award, so this pleases me.

    They did. Pokemon HG/SS got 92% as well. and Dragon Quest 9...they were raving about it! That got 90%


    I think dragon quest 9 is better. I really dont see whats so great about golden sun. I think dragon quest 9 should of got a better score.


    Have you played it? The puzzles are something that most JRPGs don't have at all, the battle system is excellent in all of the games and the summons are epic. I would consider the Golden Sun series to be slightly more grown up in their style, too... the games have a real plot to them, DQIX kind of reduced the plot for the sake of customisable characters.

    Also, for the boys out there, there are some... "female physics" in the summon animations that would rival a Dead or Alive game. At least that's what I saw from one of the trailers!


    I guess the battle system is pretty good it sorta reminds me of final fantasy... sorta. just the thing that annoys me that sometimes the puzzles kinda.. get a bit too easy, for me anyway Also im not saying its a bad game its quite good actually, im just saying that dragon quest should of got a better score.
    Dont forget everyone is entitled to there own opinion

  37. The_Legend_not Tuesday 14th Dec 2010 at 20:01

    i don't think i've ever seen you give an rpg a gold award, so this pleases me.

    They did. Pokemon HG/SS got 92% as well. and Dragon Quest 9...they were raving about it! That got 90%


    I think dragon quest 9 is better. I really dont see whats so great about golden sun. I think dragon quest 9 should of got a better score.


    Have you played it? The puzzles are something that most JRPGs don't have at all, the battle system is excellent in all of the games and the summons are epic. I would consider the Golden Sun series to be slightly more grown up in their style, too... the games have a real plot to them, DQIX kind of reduced the plot for the sake of customisable characters.


    Also what do you mean that dragon quests plot got reduced by custimizable characters.
    You customize your character to make it look the way you want and then it goes by the plot! you cant just say that the plot got reduced because of the custimizable characters! the people who made dragon quest purposely made it that there isnt a story between the games so if you havent played the other ones you wont have to because its a completly new plot.

  38. DK Forever Wednesday 15th Dec 2010 at 21:21

    I really hope this will come onto the Wii at some stage in the future
    Isaac/ Matthew for new SSB!!

  39. Shigeru Thursday 16th Dec 2010 at 10:06

    I'm glad this got a positive review. It should concidering it was anounced over 6 years ago! Now all we need is Golden Sun 1 & 2 on the 3DS' virtual console!

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