There's a lot to like in Nintendo and Camelot Software's Golden Sun: Dark Dawn. The role-playing game is a proper sequel to the fan-favorite Game Boy Advance games, and it features an interesting story, impressive visuals, appealing gameplay, and flashes of charm. However, before you dive in, know that pacing issues and a lack of personality dull the shine on an otherwise great adventure.
Dark Dawn picks up 30 years after the events of the 2003 Game Boy Advance game Golden Sun: The Lost Age. The action is set in the fantastical, and flat, world of Weyard and explores the aftermath of the events that transpired in previous games. Despite the upbeat ending of the last game, "and they all lived happily ever after" doesn't quite apply to how things have turned out. While the world was saved from doom through the release of elemental energies known as alchemy, there have been consequences. You're cast in the role of Matthew, the son of two of the heroes from the GBA games, who, thanks to a chain of events on a fateful day, send the young hero on a journey to save the world just like his old man did. If you're not familiar with the original games, don't fret; key words and phrases in conversations can be clicked on to access information in an in-game encyclopedia for those who like their lore. However, if you have played the previous games, you'll be pleased to see a plethora of nods to the people, places, and events in the GBA titles, which adds some weight to the game's story. Longtime fans will also be pleased to see the game's not so subtle set up for a sequel at journey's end.
Using your party's Djinn to summon in some mystical help is one of the visual highlights of combat.
Golden Sun: Dark Dawn's structure follows the basic RPG template--explore the world, go to towns and meet people, and grow your traveling party up to eight while earning experience and increasing Matthew's level. Fortunately, the unique world and gameplay mechanics keep things interesting. You initially get around on foot, via a traditional world map, although as your access to Weyard opens up, you can hit the high seas in a boat. You encounter a diverse group of folks in your travels, including humans, mystical beings, and beastmen, all with unique problems that require you to lend a hand. The game mixes up its quest duties by tossing in some optional quests, such as playing courier for grandmother, that offer a change of pace from all the mandatory demands on your time.
Exploring Weyard, and dealing with the many hazards that creep up on you, is both fun and challenging. Matthew and all his companions possess psyenergy, which grants them special powers tied to one of Weyard's four elements: earth, wind, water, and fire. While these special abilities are especially useful in combat, they're also key to solving the many puzzles you encounter, which are brain-teasing highlights of your adventure. Many areas in the game require you to pay attention to your environment and use the appropriate psyenergy to help you navigate seemingly impassable areas. The move ability, for instance, lets you shift objects around, clearing paths for you or creating stepping stones in certain areas, while the grow ability lets you quickly raise plants from saplings into climbable ladders. As you get deeper into the game, you must use more of the abilities in tandem to solve multipart puzzles. Although there's a good amount of challenge in the game's puzzles, they're never too difficult. This becomes especially true when your party gains the insight ability, which offers clues on what you can interact with in an area.