It seems almost impossible to talk about games without making the inevitable comparisons between the medium and cinema. As gaming grows and evolves, it's adopting many of the traits of film—compelling plots, nuanced characters, even its own version of "auteur theory" wherein men like Hideo Kojima and Shigeru Miyamoto are revered almost as much as their creations.
Yet, games haven't emulated just the positive aspects of cinema—they've also adopted some of the problematic things. Nothing is perhaps more disturbing than gaming's recent tendency toward creating sequels that do little more than rehash the original title. Sequels have long been a bane of cinema (particularly genre cinema, wherein horror and action films have been especially brutalized by this trend) and are now becoming a staple of the game industry as well. After all, why spend millions of dollars creating something new and daring when the market will gladly plunk down their hard-earned cash for a new iteration of last year's hit?
The problem with most sequels is they're often poorly conceived—however, that's not the case with Golden Sun: The Lost Age. This follow up to 2001's Game Boy Advance (GBA) role-playing game (RPG) marks the second installment in a planned trilogy of games. As such, it picks up right where the first title left off, continuing a tale begun in that first story.
So, while the story isn't entirely unnecessary, the game does fall back on that old sequel mantra of "if they liked it once, they'll like it again—multiplied by 10." The Lost Age is essentially a carbon copy of the first game, only longer, with more dungeons, more summon spells, more djinn to aid players in combat, and more tedious puzzles to solve with all of the new characters' magical powers. For fans of the first game, this sounds like a good thing. It's a shame that the execution leaves so much to be desired. If anything, The Lost Age is proof positive that too much of a good thing can ultimately be bad.
It's not necessary to have played the original Golden Sun before playing The Lost Age, but those who do will have a richer experience because of it. Not only will players have a better understanding of the plot, but Camelot has been nice enough to include two methods for importing post game saves from the first title. The first, and easiest, involves two GBAs and a link cable. The second is more daunting, requiring players to input an extremely long password. The benefits of doing this aren't readily apparent, though, as players are greeted by new party members at the start of The Lost Age. Instead of taking control of Isaac and crew on their quest to stop the lighthouses of their world from being re-lit, players find themselves guiding Felix—with the goal of actually lighting the lighthouses instead. Fear not, though, because all of the password inputting wasn't in vain—Isaac and the rest of the Golden Sun party will be joining the quest later in the gamecomplete with all of their items and abilities if players finished the first game and input the code.
The story is once again the strong point of the title, although it retains many of the problems the first game had. The biggest offender is still the unending dialogue scenes that happen with a frightening amount of regularity. While the game (like most RPGs) certainly has a plot best described as convoluted, it stands to reason a good copyeditor could have eliminated tons of extraneous dialogue. Also returning are the pointless yes/no questions that have absolutely no bearing on the plot. If they don't serve a point, what's the reason for including them?
Things aren't all bad though, as the game is easily one of the best-looking GBA games to date. The graphics haven't received much in the way of an upgrade from the first Golden Sun game, but since those graphics were so far-and-away better than anything else on the system, they're still looking good. Spell effects and summons continue to be breathtaking in their presentation (well, except for that shoddy-looking earthquake spell—that one could use some work), easily rivaling anything from the Super Nintendo era in terms of visual splendor.
The musical score still shines, too—with a selection of songs that rival some of the greatest RPGs of the 16-bit generation. What makes the multitude of tunes even more impressive is that they sound so great coming out of the GBA's primitive sound system.
However, the gameplay is where things start to go astray. Fans of the original game will certainly like this new adventure since it keeps all of the same elements from that title. The problem is that the original Golden Sun was a significantly shorter game, meaning it was over before the gameplay mechanics had worn out their welcome.
Beating The Lost Age is going to require at least 30 hours (and more if the player wants to do all of the side-quests and find all of the hidden goodies) and maybe more if gamers aren't good at puzzles. There's nothing inherently wrong with a game lasting this amount of time (although it does seem long for a handheld RPG) as long as the gameplay warrants it. Too bad for The Lost Age that it shows all of its tricks in the first 12 hours or so…
The game follows the traditional RPG paradigm: go to a town, talk to people and stock up, go to a dungeon, solve puzzles, beat boss, go to next town. It does this for the entirety of the game, never really deviating from this pattern. Dungeons soon become incredibly tedious because each one is entirely convoluted and littered with "puzzles" that require the gamer to reuse the same few special skills over and over. See a stack of leaves? Use whirlwind to find what's hiding behind it. See a pillar with hyphenated lines around it? That means pushing it somewhere sooner or later in order to advance. There are no straightforward dungeons in the game—every area is a circuitous affair with the same banal puzzles presented over and over again. Couple this with the fact that it's actually required to teleport back to the start and go in a different direction at several points, and the whole thing just winds up becoming monotonous.
Still, despite the flaws, the game is good. It's not as great as the original, and it certainly suffers because Camelot has decided to overload the audience with more of everything that made the first game so good. Hopefully, they'll remember that to truly be a success as an entertainer, you're supposed to leave them wanting more.
A film critic by trade, specializing in Euro-horror, cult exploitation, and Asian action cinema, Mike has written reviews for a diverse group of print and online publications. He covers horror news, movies, books, and games at TheHorrorGeek.com and Horrorsquad.com and spent two seasons as The Horror Geek on Comedy Central's pop-culture game show, Beat the Geeks.
Mike's childhood was spent playing videogames any time he got a chance. His parents had a Pong console and his grandmother had an Atari 2600, where Mike cultivated his skills by playing hour upon hour of games like Space Invaders, Berserk, and Asteroids. From those early experiences Mike learned one thing: he loved games.
In 1999, Mike became a staff reviewer at Cinescape Magazine's website where he spent a year learning the craft of game criticism. After internal changes led to Mike leaving Cinescape in late 2000, he joined up with RPGFan in 2001 and spent several years writing reviews for them. Happy, but looking for an opportunity to expound on a wider variety of titles, Mike joined GameCritics.com and hopes to help Chi, Dale, and the rest of the GC staff bring a higher level of respect to the field of game criticism.