Golden Sun: Dark Dawn review

  • Interesting dungeons and puzzles
  • Lots of djinni to collect
  • Gorgeous graphics, flashy battles
  • Battles are mostly too easy
  • Plot gets derailed a lot
  • Puzzles often vary wildly in difficulty

A worthy successor to the Golden Sun legacy (yes, two GBA games can equal a legacy, if they're beloved enough), Golden Sun: Dark Dawn takes everything we loved about the first two games and refines it, if predictably, into a polished RPG experience that, like the first two, is equal parts tradition and innovation. It looks gorgeous, and the djinn system is even better than before. 

Even more so than the first two Golden Sun games, the emphasis in Dark Dawn is on environmental puzzle solving, to the point where the battles almost take a backseat to the puzzles. Everywhere you go, your party encounters all manner of environmental blockages that need to be solved to progress, mostly involving various types of sliding puzzles to create a traversable path, like rolling logs back and forth to create a walkway, pushing stepping stones into formation and so forth.

You have a variety of psynergy spells (magic = psynergy in Golden Sun) at your disposal to manipulate objects too, like using a fireball to burn a vine in your way or using a rain cloud spell (douse) to raise and lower the water levels in the water temple. Puzzles are more than about just choosing the correct spell to cast though, and many puzzles require more thought than spamming spells til you get the right one (in fact, at a certain point you get a psynergy called "insight" psynergy that shows you what spells can be used on any particular object). Most of the puzzles early on are pretty easy, but as you progress they get tougher.

Dungeons are well-designed too – they're challenging, but not so labyrinthine that you get turned around or waste too much time being confused about where you are and what you need to do next, and a map on the top screen is infinitely helpful. Random enemy encounters aren't nearly as frequent as in the average RPG either, so you can focus on your block puzzles without being interrupted too much. Again, in much of Dark Dawn it seems like battles are secondary to exploration and puzzle solving despite the robustness and general awesomeness of the battle system.

Speaking of battle, the big feature that sets Golden Sun's battles apart from other RPGs of its ilk is the djinni. Djinni (singular: djinn) are small elemental creatures that you can collect throughout the game (some are tougher to obtain than others), and assign them to specific characters in your party. Which djinni you set to a particular character determines almost everything about that character, including their stats, class, and what psynergy spells they can use. For maximum effect, you should pair djinni with characters who match their elemental affinity (there are four elements total: Earth/Venus, Fire/Mars, Water/Mercury, and Wind/Jupiter), but experimenting with various mixes can often yield new spells and stat boosts. With 72 djinni total and four active characters in your party at a given time, each with nine slots for djinni, the possibilities for customizing your party are formidable. 

Djinni that are set to a character can be used in battle like a special move, and their abilities range from doing direct damage to healing your party or buffing/debuffing. To make matters more interesting, djinni can also be used to call powerful summons (which look fantastic by the way - you can skip the animations, but you won't want to), but in order to do so, you have to de-equip the djinni from your characters (it's called putting them on "standby" in the game). Using a djinn's ability in battle automatically puts in on standby, so you can either set your djinni to standby manually before a battle, or use them during battle first to power up your summons. The more powerful the summon, the more standby djinni it requires to cast.

You'd think that keeping all your djinni on standby would be a no-brainer, since the summons are so powerful, but keep in mind that when you switch your djinni to standby, it often reduces the number of spells available to the character, so if you set too many djinni to standby you may lose access to important recovery spells and so on. It's often a tough tradeoff to decide on, and really adds to the feeling of having strategic options available so you can battle as you see fit.

All the pieces of the battle gameplay are spot on – the interaction between djinni and psynergy, the summons, the weapons and so forth – but the overall lack of difficulty means that all that opportunity and options for strategizing mostly go to waste. Battles are flashy and fun, but too easy for the most part. Not only are the actual battles themselves easy, but your psynergy recharges so quickly that you can use it liberally in healing and battles without ever having to use a single recovery item – you never feel stretched for resources or find yourself in a tight spot. At times Dark Dawn is so easy overall that it feels too much like a kiddy game that hands too much to you. If you're someone who plays RPGs purely for tough, strategically challenging battles, Golden Sun probably isn't for you.

The lack of difficulty almost seems to make sense within the story though, since most of what you do seems distinctly non-epic, and the story takes forever to actually move forward in a meaningful way. A lot of JRPG-style games fall into this trap, but it's still a bit disappointing given the potential for epic adventure (the Golden Sun even, after all, has to do with the destruction/rebirth of an entire freaking world). Although the gameplay itself is strong, the story is rife with filler and stalling tactics. Here goes (totally vague, spoiler-free):

The story begins when your best friend Tyrell breaks his family's soarwing (a personal flying machine thing – like a magic winged jetpack) so you need to travel to get materials to fix it. Then the mountain bridge pass is collapsed so you have to go the looooong way around (figures), and then of course you find villagers that need your help fixing their magic machine that requires an item that can only be found in the deepest depths of a particular dungeon, and then the next town over has the exact same predicament so you go through the motions again, then more townspeople need your help with something else… you get the picture.

Meanwhile, we're left wondering whatever happened to the psynergy vortexes introduced at the beginning of the story that could possibly be tearing the very fabric of existence apart as we busy ourselves with seemingly unrelated quests. Basically, Dark Dawn takes a long time to get to the point, and there's no real sense of importance or gravity to what you're doing. Which sort of makes sense because the protagonists are just kids, but at times it's hard to stay invested in the story because it's hard to see how anything relates to the big picture. Even as you grow fond of each of the characters, it's hard not to get impatient with their frequently derailed quest.

BUT STILL. Still! It's impossible not to love Golden Sun: Dark Dawn, because even despite the ridiculous easiness and the stereotypically meandering adventure, it still has a ton of heart (both the lighthearted and heartwarming varieties), and doesn't take itself too seriously. This is an RPG that was made for fantasy RPG lovers – everything in it seems comfortingly familiar in a JRPG sort of way, but the djinn system is still totally unique to the series, so even veteran RPG players won't be bored with the gameplay. Unless difficulty level is incredibly important to you, you're almost guaranteed to enjoy Dark Dawn's gentle adventure.

Nov 22, 2010

More Info

Available Platforms: DS
Genre: Role Playing
Published by: Nintendo
Developed by: Camelot Ltd.
Franchise: Golden Sun
ESRB Rating:
Rating Pending
PEGI Rating:
Rating Pending


  • Larinah - March 3, 2011 10:44 p.m.

    The plot is supposed to veer off, they sort of had more immediate and pressing concerns... and also, how would they fit the "The End... ?" in at the end if they didn't have a cliffhanger! I just beat this game today and I enjoyed it almost the whole time. I had a few problems with the game though. The dialogue sometimes went a little too into detail, which is something the atlas was supposed to fix(if you see a red name of something, you can hit L or R to highlight it and read more about it on the top screen, which was a great idea.) Also, I'm not going to spoil anything, but the final boss fight and the enemies leading up to it was/were hard. REALLY hard. I ran out of pp on 3/4 characters and the only reason I didn't on my healer was because he was regenerating 20 pp a turn due to having an artifact robe >.>. Simply put, there's a massive learning curve at the end. When you have to cast revive 7 times in a fight between 3 characters and 4 djinni, a fight is pretty damn difficult. /beginrant Another problem I had with it was character balance. I kept my characters relatively well geared and equivalently leveled, and yet a couple characters were just garbage. You're hard pressed to find characters better than your original 3 and the 4th you get later. They need to refine the combat a bit more to make the characters really worth using if you need to fill a hole in your team. And as it was, I didn't HAVE a hole in my team. I had the following. Agi/crit physical attacker: Matthew(main char.) Bulky physical attacker: Tyrell. Spell attacker/backup healer: Karis. Healer/backup spell attacker: Rief. Those are the first 4 characters you get and they automatically fill up every niche you could need. Which, this is the first GS game they've had where you could actually switch characters so I can understand the lack of balance, I just want to see it fixed. I would personally give this game a 9, but I think that's just because I have such fond memories of the original GS games, and I want to see the next one succeed as much as this. /endrant
  • meh - December 27, 2010 10:45 p.m.

    God, so pissed i traded in my ds lite for my waste of space dsi. oh well. Fingers crossed they put the first two Golden Suns on the 3DS virtual gameboy thing.
  • jarboy - December 20, 2010 8:29 p.m.

    if you need a games for Golden Sun Dark Dawn here it is sonic color Mario vs. Donkey Kong Mini-land Mayhem call of duty black opp
  • humpiedumpie - November 25, 2010 9:44 p.m.

    I will be picking this one up, after Zelda Spirit Tracks and Scribblenauts 2 my DS is mostly collecting dust..
  • Killshot - November 25, 2010 12:30 a.m.

    is there any bonus content for having a completed goldensun 2 in the GBA cart?
  • Ravenbom - November 24, 2010 8:20 a.m.

    I'm very interested in this game, but would I have to play the first 2 GBA games to appreciate Golden Sun 3?
  • Pyroclasm - November 24, 2010 7:48 a.m.

    Thank you very much for the great review. It's much better than others I have read. I can't wait to get my hands on this game!
  • link07 - November 24, 2010 3:10 a.m.

    it coming soon i can not wait for it. oh today i beat Dullahanin golden sun 2 it was allsome
  • wyndamn - November 23, 2010 6:55 p.m.

    I agree mostly with everything on the post, but i think it deserves an 8.5.
  • GamesRadarCarolynGudmundson - November 23, 2010 6:22 p.m.

    Typo fixed... whew
  • DanglyPEEnutz - November 23, 2010 4:21 p.m.

    They should have kept the original art style... Now it looks like every generic DS RPG. Still getting it tho
  • ViolentLee - November 23, 2010 11:20 a.m.

    I think you mean, "It's impossible not to love..." in the first sentence of the final paragraph. I'm not being sarcastic; I think it's a typo.
  • 510BrotherPanda - November 23, 2010 7:47 a.m.

    I just noticed, the last paragraph starts with "IMPOSSIBLE TO LOVE GOLDEN SUN:DARK DAWN..." So... you're saying to absolutely not bother with it? Did Camelot have any input in this? It sounds like the overall story isn't as great/epic this time around. Seeing as this is supposed to be Isaac's son, this comes as a bit of a disappointment.
  • 510BrotherPanda - November 23, 2010 7:39 a.m.

    Does it have a secret Ultra Boss near the end like Dullahan, for collecting all the Djinn? Is it really easy in comparison to the original 2? I'm still not too enthused about the blocky character models. Maybe I'd buy when it drops in price.
  • koubo - November 23, 2010 7:09 a.m.

    I have been waiting years for this game. This was a good review. I can't wait!
  • Letter11 - November 23, 2010 7:09 a.m.

    Man, I really love the art style. Sigh... to many good games to play and not enough time or money.
  • iKOemos - November 23, 2010 6:29 a.m.

    Been waiting years for this. I really hope its worth it.
  • dreamgor - November 23, 2010 6:20 a.m.

  • Unpronounceable - November 23, 2010 6:18 a.m.

    Great review but could someone please fix the typo in the last paragraph? "It's impossible to love Golden Sun: Dark Dawn" I think she meant to say "It's impossible not to love".
  • Shagnasty - November 23, 2010 5:57 a.m.

    @Doctalen YOU MUST PLAY #2. THIS IS FACT.

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