Golden Sun: The Lost Age review
Camelot's classic rises again
Presentation is excellent
Outside world still slightly confusing
Lack of PP replenishing items
Need the original game for everything
The first Golden Sun game set new standards in the RPG genre when it hit the Gameboy Advance, and established itself as one of the system's best games. Such a feat is hard to follow up on, but Camelot has nevertheless given it try by producing the sequel The Lost Age.
Hardware is no obstacle to Camelot, and they have gone on to prove it yet again this time. Travelling around once again adopts a top-down perspective, but despite this there is a high amount of detail in the environment you're exploring. Shading is applied well to give off a level of depth, to avoid the looks feeling flat. Colour is just as important as usual, helping to put together locations that look just right. Chances are you've seen these types of areas before, but nevertheless put together to ruely seem as new as they are, as well as new types like the sandy temple within Air's Rock or the slippery wet stone of Aqua Rock.
The individual characters also possess a lot of detail, as well as extensive use of shading and colouring to give each one a distinct and wonderful appearance. Yes, this extends even to the NPCs that see relatively little time on the screen. This amount of work ensures there is no discrepancy between sprites used. Random villager number 5 looks just as good as Felix himself does.
The classic "appearing textboxes with static portraits" makes a return too for conversations. Thankfully, while the portraits may be static, the visible character sprites aren't. Due to how the textboxes only appear when needed and take up the minimum of space required the player still gets to see a significant portion of the game screen, and the character's involved in these conversations tend to be quite animated. Bouncing, shaking heads and question mark clouds help to deliver the expressionism needed and gives what could have been dull walls of text enough charm to be interesting. There are even a few new animations, such as Jenna turning red when blushing.
The same battle system returns, similar to the old system as well as throwing in some new animations and visual effects. The camera moves down to view the action up close, typically staying behind the group for most of the action.
The characters are just as detailed as before, giving them easily distinguishable appearances, but naturally there are a lot more sprites this time. The concept of weapon type choices being reflected visually is back too, but once again limited to the type of weapon only and not reflecting each individual weapon. Swords shouldn't all look exactly the same.
There are more backdrops here too, and while not as detailed as the characters do a great job of putting the battle in the correct area. Fight in a cave and the backdrop will accurately reflect this.
Basic attacks still consist of a jumping attack or dashing swipe, with light shows and a zooming camera for critical hits. Considering this is what the game considers a normal attack they still look impressive.
The special attacks and techs put on even more impressive shows though. Weapon unleashes make use of a normal attack animation usually, accompanied by some special effect like slamming rocks into the enemy or forming a seal. These types of animations are also used for the various psynergy techs and Djinni unleashes usable. There's also a wide variety in the game, even more than the previous game, so you're unlikely to think it repetitive at any point.
Summoning animations are still the best type though. Again, the better the summon the more impressive the animation. With the introduction of new summons comes a whole slew of new summon animations too, and most of them could only be described as epic.
The Lost Age delivers the visual treat that all other GBA titles should strive for. Camelot have really put a lot of effort into making the game look good.
It seems The Lost Age is just as concerned for its audio as it is for its visuals. Some of the music is recycled from the previous game but there's also a whole collection of new tracks that go along similar themes but sound distinctly different. Once again, Camelot have succeeded in crafting music that is well suited to the situation. Sailing the seas results in high spirited tunes, for example, and it really compliments the game.
Battle music is still most often fast paced and frantic with the occasional dark themed addition. It really helps the mood of battles and doesn't sink into the depths of forgettable at any time.
If something is meant to make a sound then there is a suitable sound effect stashed in GS's sound banks. Things indeed sound as they should, whether it's an explosion or shifting sand. The series of beeps system returns to mimic talking, complete with varying tones based on who is talking. Lacking true voice acting this works as a nice substitute.
Chances are if you haven't played the original Golden Sun game then half the story here will be lost on you. This is because The Lost Age takes being a sequel to an extreme by following on directly from the end of Golden Sun. See, the two games form a two part story, and The Lost Age is part two. It's possible to play it as a standalone game. Just don't expect to understand everything if you do.
That said, those who have played the previous game will be a little surprised to see that Isaac is no longer the main hero. Instead gameplay shifts to Felix, who acted as an enemy to Isaac and his group in the first game, and tells the rest of the story from his perspective.
Venus lighthouse has been lit, leaving only two more remaining. Saturos and Menardi were defeated at Venus lighthouse, but before Isaac and his friends could challenge Felix a tremendous earthquake tore the lighthouse into pieces and shook the land. Sheba, a young girl taken by Felix's group shortly before, fell from the lighthouse. Felix dives after her in a desperate bid to save her.
The earthquake also manages to tear part of the land away from the continent – the land where Felix's companions happen to be waiting. Out to sea Jenna and Kraden recover, and are called by their remaining companion Alex. They walk around to find Felix and Sheba have washed up onshore. However, their reunion is cut short when a tidal wave crashes into them.
The wave turned out to be a stroke of good luck, as it forced them into a new continent and stopped their floating away. Everyone seems safe except Alex who had vanished. Assuming he left exploring without them Felix and friends decide to set out too. They intend to release alchemy on the world, and need to find a boat to reach the remaining two lighthouses.
As can be seen, the story seems half done unless you've played the previous game. The reasons become slightly more apparent as you progress, but it still isn't the same as knowing the actual story. Overall it is a pretty epic setting, even moreso than the last game as you begin to understand just why the lighthouses exist and the true nature of alchemy. Suffice to say, there will be some interesting revelations that will challenge the beliefs built up in the first game.
Generally speaking the story progresses quite nicely. We get to experience elements briefly mentioned in the last game, such as the mysterious Lemuria, as well as whole new stories. Of course, Isaac is still chasing after Felix, and when they do catch up the story just goes into overdrive.
The development of the characters continues just as strongly. Isaac and his group are mostly abandoned for a large part of the game as things focus more on Felix and his group, which turns out to be a very good thing. We get to see exactly why Felix acts as he does, as well as the reasons for the others remaining on the quest. Felix takes over the silent protagonist role here, although it's not the same as usual. Aside from having already seen him talk plenty of times in the last game Felix does sometimes say the occasional thing in this game too. It's very limited though, so expect mostly yes and no text dialogue from him when the player has to make a choice. Similarly, Isaac now has a full set of dialogue open to him, giving him even more depth than before.
The basics of exploration hasn't really changed much. Towns, caves, dungeons and other areas still comprise where you'll be exploring, although you can now add the open seas to that list. Yes, the world in TLA is much bigger than in the first game, and many areas can only be reached by using a ship that you gain access to not too far into the game.
Puzzles are ready to make your progress that much harder, although there is more variety to things, and thus more psynergy moves to overcome them. You can turn into sand to move along sand paths, pound objects into the ground or even cause explosions, which we all know is a fun thing to do.
Reading minds manages to be a very interesting ability again. Gain useful advice, interesting back-story or random dialogue from the minds of those that wouldn't share it with you otherwise. It's also possible to communicate with animals this way, which is needed for certain objectives.
One of the cooler aspects about the game is how the main quest isn't done in a linear fashion. While many other games would quite happily lead you from A to B to C, TLA is quite happy to let you decide in what order you'd like to do A, B and C in. That said, there is still some sense of needing to do some tasks before others, but it's a lot less restrictive than other games, so the freedom of choice is certainly welcome.
However, one of Golden Sun's few flaws makes an unwelcome return here, and it's worse than before. Basically, it's very difficult to know where to go. Sometimes you'll find yourself walking around for ages because there's no clear indicator on which way is the right path. TLA seems less eager to give hints in the first place. Add in a bigger world to explore and an even less linear path than before and it can lead to running into dead-ends more often. It's not disastrous but it is annoying.
It seems that hiding stuff in caves and the like isn't enough, so snooping about town is also encouraged. While the level of exploration isn't anywhere close to that in the various caves and temples and wherever else, it is nice to have more to do in towns than talk and shop.
The communities here are thriving, with evident signs of life. The early towns are shown recovering from the tidal wave that hit, and this is reflected in the actions and responses. Some of the dialogue doesn't make too much sense but overall it is a solid experience when gathering important information, interesting gossip or completely useless ramblings.
Shopping tends to be a common practice in towns, especially when you first arrive. Nothing has really changed since the first game aside from a selection of new items. Most of the towns you come across still have inns and sanctums. Inns is where you can give your group a well-deserved rest, and thus replenish their HP and PP to full, for a small cost. The amount you pay increases as you get further into the game dependant on which town you're visiting, but since your income tends to increase more than costs do it won't really matter. Sanctums are where you can cure ailments, since inns won't do that. The ability to cure poison and revive a fallen ally may be handy early on, but there are psynergy skills acquired later that replicate this effect for no cost in gold. The other two are rarely used. Removing haunting is rare since few enemies induce haunting in the first place and removing cursed equipment is similarly rare since a player probably isn't going to be constantly giving cursed equipment to their group.
In terms of item shopping we still have the three shop types of weapon, armour and item. Sometimes these three shops are replaced by a single shop that sells all three types of items. As per typical you have a buy command to purchase whatever that shop is selling (dependant on where the shop is) and a sell command to sell any unwanted goods. The two options from Golden Sun return too, and work the same way. Artefact lets you buy rare items that are usually better than normal items but more expensive and many can only be purchased once. New items appear under this option as you progress, and any rare items you sell or drop will also appear here. Unlike the normal buy option artefacts are not specific to a single shop. An artefact in one weapon shop will be buyable in all weapon shops. The repair option is used to fix items that may have broken during battle, although the usefulness of this depends on how often you use breakable items.
So far into the game you will come across the village of Yallam. There is a blacksmith there who will forge new equipment for you, for a cost that never really gets specified. In addition to the price you must also bring materials, which consist either of a rusted weapon or raw material. The weapons produced from rusted weapons are dependant on the item brought to him, while items created from raw materials are random. It's possible to get some really powerful items here, although since raw materials can't be purchased than gathering them may be trickier that it seems. It's a nice addition nevertheless to add to the game's shopping system.
There is a very long list of items in The Lost Age. In addition to all the items from Golden Sun we also have a high amount of brand new items. Characters are once again limited to 30 different types of items each, although much later on you get a party of eight characters to help you manage them effectively. Even then, item placement becomes important, since each character can only access what they are holding. Do you spread the items out for ease of access or give them all to one character and free up item slots?
It's fair to say the game doesn't skimp on sheer variety as well. You have all different types like weapons, armour, armlets, footwear and various other pieces of equipment and items. Items differ in stats and many also possess special traits like raising elemental resistance or restoring HP. There's a general group hierarchy involved here but it's hard to say there is always a best item for each moment. One sword may be stronger but doesn't have an unleash, for example.
Consumable items are also part of this system, and tend to prove pretty useful too. He ability to heal HP, cure status effects or unleash special effects without falling back on psynergy is excellent. But strangely, PP replenishing items are very few in number. There's more than before, but it's still a very low number and those included are still rare and mostly gained from finds or the artefacts shop option. Psynergy focused battles still feel awkward because of this.
Deciding on usable classes is also an important part of battle preparation, but this isn't as simple as changing some menu option. Classes are determined by the Djinni set to characters, which are found and recruited during the game. Each Djinni gives certain stat boosts, and certain combinations will also change the class of the character. There's a wide variety of classes available, more than previously since characters can have up to 9 Djinni set to them. These classes affect stats (both up and down) as well as affecting the psynergy available to that character. Many psynergy types are only available in alternate classes. But think carefully when picking classes, as the Djinni are shared out amongst the whole group. If Jenna takes Echo then nobody else can have him, so the class choices of one character will affect the classes of others.
Feeling this wasn't enough Camelot introduced 3 special class changing items as well. These items will also change a character's class when equipped and certain combinations of Djinni with these items will produce stronger variants of those classes. This adds to the tactical planning that goes into class choices.
The combat system is still the same type as before too. TLA uses a turn based system where every character is given an order and then everyone on the field carries out their actions, with the order based on the agility ratings of everyone. The attack command is the basic, low power strike to the enemy. It's free and may score a critical hit but can also miss targets and generally lacks power compared to other offence options. Many weapons also possess a random chance to strike with an unleash, which is an attack more on the level of psynergy attacks. These can be quite damaging and even have a chance of side effects, like inducing sleep or lowering speed of the target. But since they are random it's better to rely on other options for more reliable damage. These are handy for random monster encounters though.
Players can use up PP to make use of their various psynergy skills. Such skills range from standard elemental attacks, boosting the stats of the party or perform curative actions. Range based attacks tend to carry a diminishing effect to them. The enemy in the center of the attack takes the most damage, then every subsequent target to either side takes less damage, making targeting of group effect attacks still important. The available psynergy depends entirely on the character, their level and their class.
That said, the same flaw has returned. Psynergy is just more underused than it should be. While a relatively good system, it's outdone by the Djinni and summons systems. There's little incentive to attack with psynergy when you have options that are more powerful and don't cost hard-to-replenish PP. Therefore psynergy often gets relegated to support duty, causing many of the techs to simply gather dust.
Djinni can be used in battle to unleash various effects. These effects can range from standard powerful attacks, inducing status ailments or supporting the party. However, any Djinni used like this will switch to standby mode, meaning they no longer give boosts to whatever character had them set. This can hurt the class a character was, so you have to be careful in case you lose a stat spread or a certain skill you wanted. Fortunately, the game informs you of losses incurred for that character before the action is confirmed.
Standby Djinni aren't just doing nothing though. These Djinni can be used to summon more powerful creatures to strike with, and unlike using set Djinni anyone can summon with these ones, even if they weren't originally set to them. The stronger the summon the more standby Djinni are needed to summon them. Ramses needs 2 Venus Djinni and Meteor needs 4 Mars Djinni, as examples. Once a summon is called it unleashes a powerful attack (with one exception, who aids the party instead), then disappears. The Djinni used go into recovery mode. At the end of each turn one recovering Djinni from each used summon sets itself back to its original owner, allowing the cycle to repeat.
In addition to the 16 summons of the original game there are several new summons, but summoning them is a bit trickier. Whereas the original 16 summons only required you to gather enough Djinni to summon them, these new ones have an extra item of criteria that must be done first. Throughout the gaming world are summon tablets. These are usually off the main path and thus require some thorough exploring and some puzzle solving to get them. Finding a tablet adds a new summon to your list. These summons also require Djinni from multiple elemental classes, such as Megara who needs 1 Venus and 1 Mar Djinni.
Despite needing multiple elemental classes these summons still unleash single elemental attacks, but they also tend to cause other effects too. Megara boosts the attack of the party while she is there. It's an excellent addition to the system.
Items can be used within battles too, but this requires some thoughtful planning. While items can be targeted on anyone, characters can only use what they are holding on to. If you've given all your healing items to Jenna then only Jenna can use those healing items.
Defend causes a character to take less damage but also does not do anything else that turn. Characters automatically defend if their original target disappears by the time their turn arrives. It would have been nice simply to switch targets, but defending is better than nothing. You can also escape from battles. Well, the problem is that it is random and it tends to fail in the battles you'd want to escape from, making it fairly ineffective.
The switch option is new to TLA, and opens up when you have more than 4 characters. This allows you to switch out active party members with those in the reserves, just in case the battle isn't going as planned. Doing this doesn't cost a turn, but once the switch is made you can't switch again until the next turn. It's an interesting addition that could prove handy.
One of the game's best features is the linkup system. TLA isn't just a story continuation of Golden Sun, the two actually link together. This can be done in two ways – either using an actual system link or a password system for those without the first option. The system link is nice and smooth. I experience no problems with it. The password system is extremely awkward though. There are three passwords ranked according to what gets transferred. Bronze transfers little, silver more and gold everything. The problem? The passwords are massive. I tried putting a gold password across and managed to get it wrong somehow. Doable but very awkward.
Despite that it is an excellent system. Most of the results of the linkup won't be seen until much later in the game (and indeed, the game allows a linkup to occur right up until that certain point) and seeing the effects of what you did in Golden Sun come across in this game is awesome. That said, some of TLA's sidequests can't be done without doing the link, which is a shame for those who haven't got the original game.
TLA takes the lifespan of Golden Sun and mocks it. Just in case you haven't played GS then take it from me that The Lost Age is massive. You have a whole world to explore this time around, except for the places in the old game that you can't visit here. With such a long main journey and many sidequests to do it will be some time before you've done everything.
TLA contains the same arena game as GS did. Entering the arena lets you either take the monster battle challenge (single player) or linkup battle against a friend (two player). Two player battles consist of three person teams, so the reserves and the rightmost character gets dropped. Monster battles allow for full teams and allows you to take on a series of battles that end only by request or defeat. It's great to work your way through or take on a human opponent.
The arena is still the lively community too, with other warriors or people waiting around. Camelot have even set up one character to act as a music test, allowing players to listen to the game music in there.
The Lost Age bears much of a resemblance to the original game, but contains enough new stuff to be considered a fresh experience. The linkup system works incredibly well too. While it's not as groundbreaking as the original game, TLA still makes a significant impact that shows just how much Camelot knows about making RPGs. It's best experienced after Golden Sun, so buy both games and prepare to lose a large portion of your time to them.
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