Golden Sun: The Lost Age is a work as ambitious and flooring as the Game Boy Advance is able to sustain, and in the group of RPGs released for Nintendo’s systems, it is hard to come across a game that is as good
Among its role-playing peers, the original Golden Sun stood out for three notable reasons. Firstly, its immaculate visuals found an exquisite balance between the artistic tropes of the genre and a light cartoonish touch, allowing its look to perfectly communicate the contents of its aura; that is, a relatively traditional RPG that channels a lot of the lovable charm of Nintendo’s most popular franchises. Secondly, the game rose against the stiff and linear progression that usually plagues titles that adhere to that gameplay style by forging a large pleasantly open-ended world that not only demanded that players look around for clues regarding what to do next, but that also allowed its starring heroes to tackle some of their objectives and the map’s numerous areas in different orders.
Finally, Golden Sun added a layer of puzzle-solving to the exploration of its scenarios, giving purpose to the characters’ magic powers outside combats and turning both its dungeons and outdoor portions into segments that merged turn-based battles with genuine adventuring and reasoning.
As a game that, from a storyline standpoint, picks up exactly where its prequel left off, Golden Sun: The Lost Age does not abandon any of those qualities. True to its nature as the second act of a quest whose plot was broken into two games, it plays like a seamless sequence to that title, as if the swapping of the cartridges of both efforts represented more of a continuation than the starting of a brand new experience; so much, in fact, that the two games can be linked so that morsels of extra content are unlocked and characters are transferred.
However, regardless of how natural the transition between the adventures feels, The Lost Age does not stand still. It is, of course, a product that is fully aware of what made its predecessor so remarkable, and – consequently – it goes down the very same path blazed by it. Yet, taking advantage of what was originally put in place and certainly powered by the extra maturity and confidence that Camelot’s developers acquired during the making of the debut, The Lost Age is able to surpass its precursor quite visibly by greatly amplifying the two most notable gameplay traits of Golden Sun and, as a result, giving birth to a quest that feels bigger and smarter.
In Golden Sun, by controlling Isaac plus other three heroes, players traveled through the world of Weyward trying to stop a party of antagonists from activating four elemental lighthouses. If triggered, these buildings would emanate enough energy to restore Alchemy, a supernatural force that gives people the ability to use magic. Alchemy had once been as commonplace and natural as the elements – fire, water, earth, and wind – on which it was based; however, combined with human greed, its existence had paved the way to such violent conflicts that it ended up being sealed away by a group of wise old men, making most of humanity lack the ability to manipulate magic.
When that game comes to a close, at the top of the Venus Lighthouse, Isaac is met with somewhat of a dubious victory, for although he is able to slay the leaders of the group that is trying to restore Alchemy, he fails to stop them from lighting the second of the four lighthouses. When that happens, a massive earthquake takes place, creating a huge tidal wave that separates Isaac and the other heroes from the remaining members of their rival party. With half of the lighthouses shining bright, and another pair left to be discovered on the far corners of Weyward, The Lost Age portrays the final leg of that race.
However, the game executes a very interesting shift, for instead of giving players control over the heroes of the prequel, it actually puts them in the shoes of the previous game’s antagonists. As such, where in Golden Sun gamers had to chase the villains down, in The Lost Age they are the ones being tracked. The alteration in perspective does wonders for the title, as clever plot developments end up both giving a worthy justification for the change and working towards bringing the plot home satisfactorily. Furthermore, although The Lost Age – like Golden Sun – still suffers from a lack of urgency that stems from how the conundrums and sub-plots encountered by the protagonists make one lose sight of the ultimate goal and its worldwide ramifications, its story emerges as an improvement for two reasons.
For starters, there is the obvious fact that while Golden Sun ended on a cliffhanger and without a real conclusion, The Lost Age reaches an actual ending even if it still leaves the door wide open for future major occurrences. More importantly, though, the quest portrayed here sheds clarity on the motivations of a group that was, under the light of the original’s quest, seen purely as bad guys; and given the starring party contains characters that, at the start of Golden Sun, were close friends to Isaac that changed allegiances for unknown reasons, The Lost Age delivers stunning clarification, character development, and some emotional weight.
Due to the position of the lighthouses, The Lost Age begins by having Felix, his sister Jenna, and the scholar Kraden, looking for a ship that will allow them to navigate the seas that separate the seven continents of Weyward. As a consequence, the adventure is blatantly divided into two distinct halves: one that portrays their search for the vessel and another where, with the ship acquired, they get to focus on reaching the towers.
While the group is unable to sail, players will be met with a style of exploration that carries the exact same amount of freedom as that of Golden Sun, for on an overworld map that presents towns, mountains, bridges, caves, and other major locations in a scaled down format, the heroes will be able to travel over large distances rather quickly, an absolute must considering the absurd size and complexity of Weyward. When the ship is acquired, though, in spite of how the traveling mechanism remains pretty much the same, the liberty that was found in Golden Sun is taken to unforeseen heights, for aboard the vessel the protagonists will be able to go pretty much anywhere they wish to, as the game opens up considerably from that point onward.
All of that freedom would, naturally, not amount to much if The Lost Age employed the linear progression style boasted by most RPGs. Thankfully, however, it strays away from the norm and takes full advantage of the setup of its overworld. On a small scale, although the game never leaves its heroes without a clue regarding what needs to be done, it often knows quite well how to give direction without resorting to hand-holding, leaving plenty of room for one to talk to villagers, analyze their surroundings, and explore the locations in the vicinity of where they are to figure out what to do.
On a large scale, meanwhile, not only is Weyward bursting with extra content (including optional dungeons and valuable battle-related items such as pieces of equipment and summons), but there are also a few points during the quest that present flexibility in terms of the order in which the mandatory objectives must be accomplished. Truthfully, that open nature, especially when paired up with the size of The Lost Age, may lead some players to occasionally get lost to the point where they will wander around aimlessly for a while. Yet, to those who are capable of looking positively at the process of exploration and discovery, that characteristic will be a major delight.
Freedom, however, is not the only feature that defines the forty hours of gameplay one should go through to get to the end of The Lost Age. Alongside it, players will find yet another quality that is often absent from JRPGs: puzzle-solving. The magic powers the playable characters posses are not just useful inside battles, for they also play a major role in what goes on when gamers are exploring the nearly fifty locations Weyward holds. Throughout them, Felix and his peers will encounter a myriad of assets with which they can interact via their spells: puddles can be frozen into icy pillars, plants can be grown into climbable vines, rocks can be moved or exploded, bushes can be cut, fire can be manipulated, the minds of animals and humans can be read, compartments can be filled with water or be drained, hidden objects or passages can be unveiled, and much more.
These obstacles turn the usually flat adventuring found in other games of the sort into an experience akin to that of a The Legend of Zelda game. And although activating those skills is a process that requires way too many button presses and some menu navigation, given just the L and R buttons are available as configurable shortcuts and there are more than a dozen available moves, using them is greatly engaging.
Even if many of the spells featured in The Lost Age are completely original, magic-based puzzles are certainly not new to Golden Sun. They have been, after all, a defining part of the franchise right from its inception. Nevertheless, when compared to its predecessor, The Lost Age clearly puts a heavier emphasis on them, because while in the prequel these riddles came off as punctual and simple tasks, here they feel like a more essential part of the adventure. Similarly to what happened in Golden Sun, many are the moments during the quest when gamers will stumble upon impassable obstacles that will indicate that – in order to advance – they must track down a new spell; however, in The Lost Age, these challenges have visibly grown in frequency, quality, and complexity.
It is a change that is noticeable both in outdoor locations, where environmental puzzles abound, and in indoor spaces, but nowhere is that difference more notable than in the game’s caves and dungeons. In those of the former category, which tend to be relatively brief, the heroes will bump into riddles that will truly require some logic and analysis to be surpassed. While in those of the latter, which can last for more than one hour, gamers will find puzzles whose intricacy and intelligence would not be out of place in a The Legend of Zelda game, as the elements of wind, fire, ice, and earth are employed in the construction of clever conundrums that involve multiple floors and rooms.
Contrarily, in regards to its battle system, graphics, and sound, The Lost Age is simply happy to revisit what Golden Sun achieved. Its art style is a colorful and charming splendor; and its visual execution is flawless in how its cartoonish vein gives life to dozens of notable characters and varied environments that are exploding with details that make it seem like Weyward was handcrafted. Meanwhile, its music, which is formed by tracks that are mostly new compositions, is a perfect company to that artistic choice, being delicate and whimsical when the time calls for it, but also knowing how to reach for the menacing and epic when necessary.
As for how its combats take place, The Lost Age features random battles that unfold in a traditional turn-based format. That is, players get to first choose the action each of the party members will take (attacking, defending, using an item, or casting a spell) and then watch as, one-by-one, heroes and villains unleash their attacks. Although in terms of sheer challenge The Lost Age never quite gets to the heights of Golden Sun, perhaps a consequence of the lack of linearity found in some of the segments of the adventure, combats remain fun and bosses, even if not as abundant as they were in the prequel, will take the protagonists to their limits.
Once more, the highlights of the battle system come in the form of their visual fireworks and the cuddly magical creatures known as the Djinn. When it comes to the graphics, the combats astound in how they are absolutely packed with special effects, animations, and dynamic camera angles that make the encounters come alive to a point that is both unparalleled in the Game Boy Advance and also rarely seen even in the portable systems that followed it. In relation to the Djinn, these beings, which are scattered around the world and usually locked behind interesting puzzles, are a key component of the strategic layer of The Lost Age for many reasons.
Firstly, when equipped to a character, they can cause its class to change, therefore altering the spells available to the hero; and given there over sixty Djinn available, among new and returning ones, it goes without saying that the possibilities are considerable. Secondly, if used in battle, each Djinn works much like a magical attack, as they can deliver blows with side effects, alter the party’s stats, heal, and so forth; and since more than one Djinn can be given to each party member, the creatures essentially give players the ability to customize the characters’ moveset as they see fit. At last, whenever a Djinn is employed, they generate one elemental orb, and if these are accumulated, they allow the summoning of powerful deities (some of which are optionally acquired around the overworld) that deal major blows to foes.
The final chapter of a story arch divided into two pieces, Golden Sun: The Lost Age more than lives up to its position as the conclusion to one epic tale. As an immediate continuation to the adventure that preceded it, the title smartly preserves its predecessor’s visual prowess, musical quality, battle system, and gameplay staples. Yet, it is able to move forward and surpass it with style by boosting the scope of its mandatory and optional content; unexpectedly shifting the plot’s focus to the party that, in the original, played the role of the antagonists; and, most importantly, finding a way to augment the three traits that allowed Golden Sun to stand out from the crowd of role-playing games: its exploration, freedom, and puzzle-solving.
Consequently, Golden Sun: The Lost Age is a work as ambitious and flooring as the Game Boy Advance is able to sustain, and in the group of RPGs released for Nintendo’s systems, it is hard to come across a game that is as good, because the balance The Lost Age presents between being traditional and breaking away from the mold is a rare and pleasant sight.