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Golden Sun: Dark Dawn - hands-on

 With Golden Sun: Dark Dawn's release just over a month away, we got a chance to play through part of it at Nintendo's offices last week. From what we've seen so far, Dark Dawn seems like a nicely upgraded version of the first two games, which is exactly what we've been hoping for in the sequel.

To brief you on the story, DD takes place 30 years after the end of Golden Sun 2, and the protagonists are the children of the former protagonists – Isaac's son Matthew and Garet's son Tyrell, along a girl named Karis (who we don't know much about yet) make up the initial trio in your party, with more characters joining your party as you progress. The continents have all shifted so the land is completely unrecognizable from the setting in the first two games, and although there are lots of treats for fans peppered in throughout, the story is designed to be newcomer-friendly too (and if you are new to the series, head here for an excellent introduction). Psynergy vortexes (the black and pinkish obs pictured in the screenshots) are popping up everywhere and sucking the Psynergy (i.e. magic) out of the world, and our heroes set off to get to the bottom of the mystery.

Like in the last two games, djinn play a huge role not just as creatures you can call to assist you in combat, but in shaping all your characters' stats and skills. There are over 70 djinn to find and collect throughout the game, each with its own elemental affinity (earth, wind, fire, water) and personality. Each character in your party is also adept at one element, and as you collect djinn you can set them to specific characters to enhance the character's abilities.

The djinn that are set to a particular character determine everything about that character, including stats, class, and spell roster (magic is called Psynergy in the GS universe). To maximize the potential of each of your characters, you can experiment with swapping around djinn to see what yields the best results for a powerful and well-balanced team. With around eight djinn slots per character (we couldn't get an official number, but it's either 7, 8 or 9 djinn per character) and over 70 djinn, the possibilities for customizing your team are staggering.

In battle (which is turn-based), aside from attacking and defending, you can cast offensive and defensive Psynergy spells, call out djinn to fight for you in battle, and perform massively powerful summons. Believe us when we say the animations for the summons are totally epic, and although there's an option to skip the animation, we can't imagine getting too tired of watching them since they're so cool and creative.

Summons have a djinn-based casting cost, so say for example a summon costs one earth djinn and one water djinn to summon, you have to spend two character's turns sending the djinn to standby mode to be able to call the summon. You can get around this though if you know you're heading into a big fight, by setting specific djinn to standby before the battle begins. The downside to this is that when djinn are on standby, they're no longer set to any character, so you must sacrifice some of your characters' spells and stats in order to free up djinn to use for summoning.

Aside from the combat, environmental puzzles are a huge part of the gameplay. As you travel around, you control Matthew either with the d-pad or with the stylus, and overcome various puzzle-based obstacles using your characters' Psynergy spells as overworld moves (rather like HMs in Pokemon!). And since you often have to use spells repeatedly to solve puzzles, you can set specific spell hotkeys to the left and right bumper buttons. You can get a feel for some of the environmental puzzles in the most recent Golden Sun gameplay trailer:

 

Above: Dark Dawn continues the tradition of pushing the platform's capabilities graphics-wise. GS and GS2 looked stunning even on GBA

All through our play session, we were consistently impressed with how much thought went into the menus and interface too. During dialogue, key terms are actually hyperlinked, so that you can click on them with the stylus and the top screen will display the encyclopedia entry for that term. New terms appear underlined in red, and terms you've already seen appear in red with no underline, so you can keep track of what you've read and what you haven't. It's a simple innovation that makes so much sense, completely eliminating the need to periodically pause and go into the menu to read walls of text, and it's kind of surprising that no one has thought to do this in a DS game before. Beyond that, the menus are well-designs and it's easy to view all your characters' info without having to drill too deep into any submenus.

While we still haven't seen enough to say for sure, Golden Sun: Dark Dawn seems like a no brainer for any JRPG fan, whether you played the first two or not. The djinn mechanic is unique, the battle strategy is deep yet easy to understand, and the opportunities to customize your party are vast yet not tediously granular. Look for our full review when the game ships November 29.

Oct 21, 2010

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25 comments

  • secretsearcher - November 14, 2010 6:10 p.m.

    IT'S COMING OUT THIS MONTHHHH??!?!?!?!? i thought it was delayed until next year! :D :D :D :D :D
  • Psylockerules - October 25, 2010 11:53 a.m.

    looks great i really enjoyed the music of the GBA games, hopefully this sequel is no different
  • koubo - October 25, 2010 3:17 a.m.

    I have been immensely excited for this game. Even more as the release date draws closer. There are a lot of things I want to see in this one. I have wanted this game far more and longer than any game in the past few years. @IceHawk79 - It should work on the lite. I don't see why not.
  • IceHawk79 - October 24, 2010 10:46 p.m.

    This is probably a stupid question, but this can be played on the DS Lite right? (Since Im not bothering with the 2 or 1 after that til DS3D)
  • Guardian88 - October 24, 2010 4:50 a.m.

    AWESOME!!! The first two games were some of the best role playing games ive avae played. I beat the hell outta them both. Got all the dejinn in both games, all the summons, beat every single boss even the extra bosses in the second game, and I even transfered all my dejinn from the first game to the second one. Ive been waiting for this game ever since I first beat the beat em both. And I dont even need to guess if this one is gonna be good.
  • qwexz - October 24, 2010 1:13 a.m.

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  • ReSoul - October 23, 2010 4:57 a.m.

    Now I only have one more thing to ask.. BRING THE FIRST 2 GOLDEN SUN'S TO THE DS PUT THEM BOTH ON ONE CARTRIDGE WITH A LITTLE NEW STUFF. BAM! JUST CONVINCED MYSELF TO GRATEFULLY HAND OVER 40 BUCKS FOR THE ORIGINALS. But seriously the first 2 would be really nice to have because they are pretty hard to get.
  • GameManiac - October 23, 2010 3:10 a.m.

    (Ugh! More spam...) I've only played the first game (fantastic game in my opinion). Definetly considering this game upon its release.
  • Myko - October 22, 2010 6:51 p.m.

    nice Golden Sun I love a good ol' JRPG turn based game every now and then, but Golden Sun is a for sure go, thanks for the preview
  • Evil_AppleJuice - October 22, 2010 6:20 p.m.

    im pretty damn excited for this game :D
  • DarkPaladin - October 22, 2010 6:45 a.m.

    Isn't it awesome when we actually get what we ask for? Let's hope this is only beginning of Golden Sun's revival!
  • NanoElite666 - October 22, 2010 4:38 a.m.

    God DAMN the Nov. 29 launch date, what with being about two weeks before my birthday and therefore preventing me from picking this up on launch! But god DAMN will it be worth the wait!
  • PlainLikeVanilla - October 22, 2010 2:33 a.m.

    It looks uglier than the gba ones... Still I've been waiting for this since the end of 2.
  • brettjohnson - October 22, 2010 12:33 a.m.

    SO EXCITED! Although I will miss sprites the new 3D definitely looks good. Especially in the battles. It won't be faux-3D anymore! :D And I really hope that they bring every summons back. I saw a part of Ramses' in a video and almost fainted from excitement.
  • Mikaro - October 22, 2010 12:27 a.m.

    @Carolyn: Probably. @Defguru: Erm... Rief is male...
  • Defguru7777 - October 21, 2010 11:38 p.m.

    Can't wait for this, Golden Sun is my second favorite game of all time! That blue guy is definitely from Prox, maybe he's descended from either Saturos or Agatio? But honestly he kind of looks like Kisame from Naruto. And Rief looks like she's going to be Mia's daughter. Did they happen to say who Matthew and Tyrel's mothers were? I always though Isaac and Jenna would hook up. Damn you GamesRadar, now I'm giddy with excitement!
  • Triplzer0 - October 21, 2010 10:34 p.m.

    @Mikaro - Ditto. I am beyond excited for this game. Golden Sun is one of my favorite series of all time.
  • GamesRadarCarolynGudmundson - October 21, 2010 10:32 p.m.

    @510BrotherPanda - Seriously, Ulysses was the least cool of all the summons I saw, so I don't know why he's the only summon in the screenshots Nintendo released. @Hydrohs - You can use touchscreen or buttons. @Mikaro - As for Kraden, he must have drank A LOT of lemurian draught during the past 30 years?
  • Hydrohs - October 21, 2010 10:23 p.m.

    Are the touch screen controls for using Psynergy on the overworld mandatory? Or can we use strictly buttons?
  • 510BrotherPanda - October 21, 2010 10:13 p.m.

    ... I wish they kept the Pokemon-like overworld and avatars, instead of this blocky FF3-4 DS stuff. Or well-drawn 2-d stuff like Muramasa. And why is Ulysses a half naked ghost man? It was a female shaman before.

Showing 1-20 of 25 comments

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