Saving the world is the family business.
I’ve found that for most people, the idea of following in your parents’ footsteps usually lands you on one extreme side of the fence: you either carry on the family tradition without hesitation, or you act the rebel and want nothing to do with it. Seems it’s not very often that someone lands in the middle. I belong to the latter group; while my dad found his calling as a teacher, I find it more fun to waste time on video games and write silly articles about them (but who wouldn’t?).
[image1]In the world of games, you can chalk Golden Sun: Dark Dawn up to the loyal family follower group. Not only is it literally the case with your group of protagonists, it’s everywhere in the game design, graphics, and sound. In fact, with the exception of completely unnecessary (but thankfully completely optional) touch-screen controls, there really isn’t a single thing in this sequel that could be called new.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. That could be good news or bad news depending on who you are. The first two Golden Suns (heretofore referred to together as the original Golden Sun, singular, since they really are two halves to a whole game) are well-crafted and thoroughly entertaining RPGs that garnered a sizable following. If you’re part of that following, and you don’t go in expecting something revolutionary, Dark Dawn is a worthy sequel to one of the better GBA RPGs.
The heroes in Dark Dawn are primarily the kids of Golden Sun’s group, with Matthew, Karis, and Tyrell (whitest kid with the name "Tyrell" ever) leading it off – the children of Isaac, Ivan, and Garet, respectively. 30 years after the Golden Sun event transformed the world of Weyard, psynergy vortexes have begun popping up and wreaking all kinds of havoc. The old fogeys from the first game send their kids off into the world to have their own adventure (never mind the fact that their lives are in danger every step of the way) and save the world. Again.
[image2]To that end, the guardian sprits/elemental beings/plush dolls known as Djinn return to join up with the team, if you can find them of course. Just like in the first Golden Sun, Djinn that join your team can be set to a party member to raise their stats and change their class. Using a Djinn in battle puts it on standby to be used in the big bad summon attacks, which have gotten a serious facelift and sometimes approach Final Fantasy-level animations, albeit not drawn out nearly as much (two-minute long unskippable summon animations… ah, those were the days).
Other than the summons, the graphics don’t have much wow-factor. They’re all right, but nothing we couldn’t have seen a few years ago. In fact, it’s hard to say much beyond them being a marginal upgrade to the GBA graphics of the original. A little shinier, I guess? And the camera spins around a bit more in battle, presumably to make it look more exciting.
Speaking of which, battles play out identically to the first game: standard turn-based fare with your attack, magic psynergy, item, and flee commands. The extra flavor that differentiates the series’ battles lies with using the Djinn and subsequently summoning monsters with them. The battles are mostly so easy, though, that you could just pound on your enemies with attacks instead. That’s actually a better idea in many cases, because the weapon unleash effects are still in the game, except this time you need to use a weapon continuously until you unlock them.
[image3]I always felt that Golden Sun is at its best during puzzle-solving. Running around using psynergy to push and pull rocks, freeze water, grow vines – all to grab that tantalizing treasure chest sitting across a chasm or reach a mischievous Djinn up above you – that's where the game is the most fun. The puzzles in Dark Dawn, just like its predecessor, are rarely very difficult, but the sense of satisfaction you get after grabbing your elusive reward is still like crack for the exploratory player.
Following so resolutely in its daddy’s footsteps ensures that Dark Dawn is a strong and capable RPG in its own right, but Camelot has to accept the fact that it will end up being somewhat divisive. You can’t thoroughly rehash a formula, no matter how strong it is to begin with, and not disappoint a few people. But if you don’t expect this sequel to do anything other than continue the same story and gameplay that turned a few heads years ago, Dark Dawn is one of the better RPGs to hit the DS this late in 2010.
If only it weren’t such a daddy’s boy...