It's been seven long and arduous years since the last Golden Sun game. Seven years. During this painful stretch of time, Camelot has concerned itself with developing a slew of sports titles, including Mario Golf, Mario Tennis and We Love Golf! Now I'm not saying those seven years were badly spent, but the DS has been out for over five years now, and the distinct lack of a new Golden Sun game in the console's otherwise well stocked RPG catalogue is incredibly distressing. Many people regard Golden Sun as one of the best handheld RPGs of all time, and thus the third iteration of the series has been sorely missed. If I'm honest, I don't think I ever expected it to see the light of day - but it has, and I'm lucky enough to have played it.
I felt a twinge of excitement as I took hold of the chunky DSi XL, the unit running the Golden Sun: Dark Dawn demo. My enthusiasm was stifled somewhat by a slight dilemma: did I want to play adventure, or battle? I flicked back and forth between the two options for a little while, but figured I'd play both before the day was out anyway, so selected Adventure mode. Here, I was tasked with completing an obstacle course of sorts; the Psynergy training grounds would test my skills as an adept (a user of Psynergy), allowing me to solve a few puzzles by tinkering around with a few spells.
Unlike the first two titles, Dark Dawn is a three-dimensional affair, but manages to retain the same quaint and colourful feel as its predecessors. You can take control with the stylus - much like how one might move Link about the screen in his DS outings - or with good old fashioned buttons. I chose the latter option, but still needed to make use of the touch screen for several Psynergy-based puzzles.
Psynergy, in case you were wondering, is Golden Sun's form of magic. Unlike similar RPGs, Dark Dawn allows Psynergy to be used outside of battle and is actually the source of the majority of the game's puzzles. The first puzzle in the adventure obstacle course involved directing a ball of flames to a target using the touch screen. Subsequent puzzles involve moving obstructive statues using a kinetic Psynergy. Sometimes you had to plan these movements so that moved statues came to rest on a switch, opening up the next section of the environment.
Obstacle course defeated, I was rewarded with a mini dungeon to explore, which allowed me to put to use the skills I'd learnt in training. It was all over remarkably quickly, however, so I decided to hog the DS demo unit that little bit longer to try out the battle side of things. This section of the demonstration was an altogether different experience, with three rounds of enemies increasing in difficulty as they progressed. The prize for surviving all three rounds was a trip to one of the game's towns, so I made sure to take things seriously.
Like its predecessors, Dark Dawn is a traditional turn-based RPG. The action plays out on the top screen, whilst the menus reside on the bottom. Thankfully, the first two rounds weren't enough to even break a sweat. I spent my time having a leisurely gander at the graphics - the battle screens show off far more impressive character models than the overworld - and testing out a few spells here and there. Bats, skeletons and the ominously named hell hounds dropped to the floor like flies. After each battle I was rewarded with EXP and coins, but these were of little use to me in a demonstration of this nature.
The third and final round of battle pitted my team against the abominable, club wielding Ogre Titan, who didn't hesitate in showing off his lethal attack power, and seemed to have more health than all the enemies I'd defeated previously combined. This time around, I actually found myself using some of the healing spells on offer, as more than once my HP dropped into the dangerous red zone. Feeling the pressure slightly, I decided to bring out the big-guns. As well as using the more powerful (and thus more costly) Psynergy attacks, I also decided to get my Djinn involved.
Djinn are small but fierce deities that grant the characters of Golden Sun their psynergetic powers. They dictate which spells are available to a character, as well as affecting their stats and attributes. Suffice to say, they're vital in tackling strong opponents like our friend Mr. Ogre Titan. By using the Psynergy of a Djinn, it goes into a special standby mode, and if you have a winning combination of Djinn in this state, a powerful summon option becomes available. I only got to see one of these summons; a pharaoh who breaks through an ancient pyramid to dish out some Egyptian justice to the enemy. Obviously this isn't as impressive as summoning the likes of the Shiva sisters in FFXIII, but it looked fantastic on the comparatively small screen of the DS.
Before the demo ended, I got a chance to have a little shimmy around a town (my reward for downing the Ogre Titan), chatting to its inhabitants and getting a feel for the game world. Not much was given away concerning the game's narrative, but there were ramblings of trouble brewing, the world being in danger - you know, the usual RPG shenanigans. After reaching a certain point, the demonstration reached its inevitable end, and I began to collate my thoughts.
Seven years, I repeated to myself. Has Dark Dawn been worth the wait? I honestly couldn't say at this stage, but from the two short examples of the game I saw, it's looking likely that it has. As always, story is a huge contributing factor to the success of an RPG, and I didn't get much of a sense of that at all. Still, this was but a brief glimpse at the game, and everything else looked great. Seven years is indeed a long time to wait, but we're going to have to wait a further few months to see if Dark Dawn lives up to the expectations set by its predecessors. Thankfully, there are no shortage of RPGs on the DS to be playing in the meantime.
Golden Sun: Dark Dawn is available for Nintendo DS November 2010