Genre: RPG
Year: 2001
Developed by: Camelot Planning Software
Published by: Nintendo
Platforms: Game Boy Advance
Feeling Like: Sunscreen

Even though I had a laptop at university, I never took it to class. I imagine mobility the entire point, but I just didn’t do it. Sure, it was handy to travel with it from Victoria to Sackville four times a year for five years but for some reason lugging it fifty meters from Bigelow to the Wu Center was too much to ask. Looking at my transcript, perhaps I should have made the paltry effort.

The same went with handhelds. Even something as tiny as the Game Boy Advance, I rarely took it outside my own bedroom. The commercials always showed people playing it in the park, or at a restaurant. All I could think is “the lighting is going to be terrible. And they’re ignoring their friends. Why bring it to a party?” I still think that. And I LOVE video games, I’m distracted by them all the time, but there’s a time and a place.

The one instance I can distinctly remember going against tradition was in Grade 12 at GNS. I was heavy involved with the theatre program and was one of the main roles in the Miracle Worker. Mercifully, there wasn’t a lot of competition at auditions for Captain Keller, thus my mediocre southern accent was passable. It was my last show before graduating and I won’t pretend that reminiscing about the show doesn’t bring a smile to my face.

If you’ve ever been in a play, you know there can be a lot of down time, even as a lead. As you get closer to opening night, you have far more technical rehearsals and that can mean long pauses between scenes. Waiting around backstage, or chatting in the green room with your fellow actors is one of my favorite things in life. You’re not needed now, but you may be needed at any time so you just sit there and do nothing and have fun. Get cozy. Have a snack. Wait…are they calling me?

But there’s only so much you can talk about. Inevitably, there’s going to be a social lull and that’s how I got through Golden Sun. I got a few curious glances but nobody was in a mood to interrupt me. Besides, others were reading, or studying their lines, or doing homework. Idle time was idle time, who were they to judge?

Golden Sun was one of the few games on the Game Boy Advance that I really dug. As you can see, it doesn’t look half bad at all. Hell, considering this is a twenty year old game on a system that can fit in your pocket, it’s gorgeous. The visuals are shockingly good, I remember the spells in battle looking particularly bodacious. Light and particle effects drown the screen with every summon, attack and spell. Even looking today, it’s hard not to get excited and admire the combat.

I’m a sucker for RPGs, what can I say? The laid back style is appealing to me. I don’t always want to be 100% mentally invested, sometimes I want to just sit back and soak in the atmosphere. Be it a quiet village, a damp dungeon or a fantastical temple, the look and music take me away to a different place. Even browsing menus brings a certain zen to the zaniness surrounding me. The story was easy to understand, but nothing I hadn’t seen before, even in 2001.

One of the best parts of the game are your magical abilities, brought to you by the Djinns. Collecting and swapping them meant giving certain abilities to certain characters. “Psynergy” became more than just magic spells in battle to give you a leg up – you could cast spells outside of combat and use them as tools to solve puzzles. It’s a wonderful touch. I mean, of course it makes sense the characters would use what they have to solve obstacles in front of them…and yet, in other games, it rarely does happen.

Not only did Camelot tie gameplay to story in this manner, it shows an abundance of creativity and encourages players to seek out hidden rooms and treasures. You may find a new sword, but you may also find a new Djinn that will allow you to use a certain Psynergy to traverse a crevasse. What a great little game.

So great that a sequel was release a year later and retains a small, ableit hardcore fan base to this day. There’s always an appetite for these kinds of games – the challenge lies in budget. RPGs by nature are longer than most other genres, and require a huge amount of work on the script, translation, art assets, soundtrack and any other game minutia you can think of. On older hardware, it meant endless possibilities and gave developers an excuse to try anything and everything. On modern hardware, when possibilities are truly endless, it means a massive development cost and a risky return.

That won’t stop Golden Sun fans from shouting to the rafters for another sequel, or demanding that Isaac be the next character added to the Smash roster. It’s easy to see why. The lengthier development time is on full display in Golden Sun. The characters are simple, but easy to like. The puzzles are a blast. The soundtrack is terrific.

What prevents Golden Sun from being higher on the 500 is a flaw in the battle system. You set your character’s actions all in advance, but if an enemy you’ve targeted has already been killed, that action is forfeit and you do nothing. Bah! That drove me nuts, but it did ensure I didn’t button mash and focus heavily on enemy hit points.

All told, it was a great example of what a handheld could do – whisk you away to a magical land when you’re still waiting for the next lighting que to be set so you can tell Annie Sullivan that you’re not sure her methods will work. If only Psynergy could have helped me with a better southern drawl…

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