Golden Sun was an extremely well-received role-playing game and a highlight on the Game Boy Advance when it came out nine years ago. Though an equally impressive sequel followed in 2003, it wasn't until the 2009 Electronic Entertainment Expo that Nintendo finally announced developer Camelot would be working on the third game in the series, Golden Sun: Dark Dawn for the Nintendo DS. At a recent visit to the Nintendo offices in Redwood City, we were able to see what the offspring of the Warriors of Vale have been up to and play the game for ourselves.
Dark Dawn takes place 30 years after the events of Golden Sun: The Lost Age where the heroes unleashed the power of the golden sun into the world. The consequences thereafter are what we're dealing with now. As continents and mountain ranges shifted and oceans moved, the world is no longer the same. Strange psynergy (the game's equivalent of mana) vortexes are now appearing throughout the land, sucking in the vital commodity. You play as the Venus adept Matthew, the son of the protagonist in the first game, Isaac. Your party consists of Tyrell, a Mars adept and the son of Garet, as well as Karis and Rief, who are Jupiter and Mercury adepts, respectively. Adepts are people who can wield psynergy, and in Weyard, the elements are classified under four elements: earth (Venus), fire (Mars), wind (Jupiter), and water (Mercury).
In our demo, we were placed somewhere close to the beginning, where our heroes Matthew, Karis, and Tyrell were sent off by Matthew's father Isaac to go look for an old man named Kraden. We spent most of our time in the Konpa Ruins, where we eventually met up with Kraden and Rief, the fourth member of our party. Without revealing too much of the story, our encounter in this temple introduced us to the sinister antagonist, Blados. What's nice about Dark Dawn is the fact that you don't necessarily have to know the backstory to play it, but if you're curious to know what happened before, there are hyperlinks in the dialogue between you and the non-player characters that link you to the in-game encyclopedia. By tapping on the highlighted text, you'll be able to read up on particular characters, locations, and other bits of information that may be of interest. The game has been designed for the DS, so you can use the stylus to control your character or use it to aim your psynergy spells in the overworld, but if you prefer the D pad, you can use it as well. When you pull up the menu that will appear as a list of icons on the bottom screen, you can slide your stylus to quickly scroll through the row of options.
If you're familiar with the previous games, gameplay remains the same where battles are random and turn based. Part of the appeal is that you can use your psynergy powers to interact with the environment around you. When you're not pushing logs around to create a new path, you can use your grip power to reach out and pull you across chasms and onto otherwise unreachable ledges. Cryptic messages scrawled on walls give you clues as to how to progress, and while you're exploring the dungeons and world around you, you'll run into magical creatures known as djinn. Djinn are based on the four elements and can be found throughout the game. Assigning a djinn to a specific character will boost that character's stats, as well as give him or her new spells. Mixing different types of djinn will yield new powers, so mixing and matching could bring up some interesting results. There will be more than 70 djinn to find and collect in the game, many of which you may have seen in previous games, as well as some new faces. They all have their own artwork and dual-screen, over-the-top animation when you summon them, so it's exciting whenever you stumble across a new one. Not all djinn will join your party happily, though; some will fight you before they'll join you on your journey.
As before, you can't use a djinn to summon unless you set it on standby mode, which will remove it from your character, therefore removing whatever stat bonuses it gave you and making it a bit risky. Strategy and careful planning is necessary to get through boss fights because the djinn have a recovery period so you can't keep using summons. Each summon is impressive, however, as we were able to play around with the eight djinn that were already collected. The summon animation can be fast forwarded, so while seeing a robotic version of Ramses bust out of a pyramid is cool the first few times, you will want to move quickly when battles start to get long. Atalanta, Kirin, Zagan, and Nereid were just a few of the summons we looked at, but there will be plenty to make friends with if you intend to find all of them.
Like its predecessors, the game looks great on the system. While it invokes that classic RPG feel, there are plenty of touches to bring things up to date. The world is vibrant and detailed; you'll also find it really easy to navigate through the world and menus with either the stylus or D pad. Shortcuts can be created with the left and right buttons so you can bring up some of the more useful abilities with the push of a button. We look forward to spending more time with the game, as we'll have an opportunity to play our own preview build in the coming weeks. So stay tuned for more information. Golden Sun: Dark Dawn is set to be released on November 29.