Golden Sun: Dark Dawn is often highly criticized as the worst game in the series, and while that is a sentiment I share, this game still was a very solid experience from beginning to end. While this game could not live up to the immense expectations set by its predecessors, it managed to shine brightly in its own right. This game deserves more love and discussion, and it truly demonstrates that even this rather flawed sequel can still have a special allure to it that makes us Golden Sun fans desperately craving a fourth entry in the series.
Battle System - 8
Let's get my two biggest problems with this battle system out of the way: 1) this game is much too easy without any difficulty settings, making the depth of the combat trivial outside of a couple of optional bosses and 2) the fights can be pretty slow with the high amount of dialogue you have to click through. However, with those out of the way, let's talk about this awesome battle system. First of all, the ability to switch characters outside of the party in-and-out of battle is an absolute godsend—not enough games let you do this, I swear. Second of all, the summon animations are absolutely phenomenal, even if I rarely got to see them for a variety of reasons... like that I skipped them to speed up the gameplay or because the game is too easy to actually use them. Third of all, the plethora of unique Psynergy allowed for such creative strategy with spell-casting (even if they were often arbitrary compared to physical attacks). And last of all? The amazing Djinn! Using them gives you awesome effects, but puts them on standby in doing so, lowering your stats and disabling certain Psynergy! But here's the catch—when on standby, Djinn can be used to summon the game's strongest creatures. This creates a very fun, interesting, and strategic gameplay loop. If this game had a much more difficult Hard Mode, this could really put this awesomely adaptive battle system to good use... oh wait, the first two Golden Sun games do this. Okay, I might go play those again... Overall, if this game had difficulty settings and a speed-up and/or auto-battle system? This would be a pretty easy 10/10 battle system for me... now we just need a Golden Sun 4 to come knock a battle system out of the park.
Story - 6
This story is incredibly simple and compelling in the grand scheme of things, with lots of compelling characters, locales, and moments... or at least that's what it should be. What takes this solid 8 out of 10 story down to a 6, you might ask? The often awful execution of said story. With heaps of dialogue that are often redundant and needlessly complex terms, Golden Sun: Dark Dawn is a story that is cool looking back on but boring and slow in the moment. By no means a bad story, the narrative woven in Golden Sun's third entry is just unnecessarily bogged down by unfun filler and absurd complexities that ruin a potentially great plot.
Music - 7
I remember enjoying the music in this game as a whole and thinking it was very solid and atmospheric. However, in retrospect, I can only remember the battle theme and the title theme. Like I truly found this soundtrack to be great, but it didn't really steal my heart or fill my mind like many other RPG soundtracks are able to do. I can't deny that this is probably a me problem, not the game's problem, but this is my review and therefore I must be as honest as possible.
Art & Graphics - 8
As aforementioned, the summons look fantastic in this game. Some of the best I've ever seen in a video game. The rest of the game, however? Eh, not as much. Sure, the graphics are very good for a DS game, but they aren't exactly the greatest either. The aren't style isn't bad, but the last two Golden Sun games had an explicable charm about them, while the graphics in this game looked odd at times. This game has the same problem that I have with Final Fantasy VII—the battle graphics are awesome, but the out-of-battle graphics are rather uncanny. Overall, for its time, this game had great graphics, but I couldn't exactly give this game any higher than an 8 because the DS just doesn't have the power to host amazing looking games.
Characters - 7
The characters in this game are absolutely bipolar—it is kind of hilarious. On one hand, we have Karis, daughter of Ivan, a great character full of teenage charm. We have the pirate Eoleo (who, unlike his parents, is an Adept) from the pirate kingdom of Champa. The scenes in which the team saves Eoleo at the cost of sending the world into the Grave Eclipse were some of the best scenes in the game! We also get Amiti, a Mercury Adept, prince of Ayuthay. He is kind, respectful, and the events surrounding his character are pretty awesome. And my personal favorite character of the game, Sveta, a beast-woman who is the master of the five senses, the wearer of the Umbra Gear, and a completely new character unrelated to the previous games. But on the other hand, this game also has some really mediocre characters. First is the main protagonist Matthew, and while he is a very well-executed silent protagonist, he is still a silent protagonist—one of my least favorite RPG tropes of all-time. Rief? Basically a male reskin of Karis, but with so much less charm to his character. Tyrell? An important character with severe immaturity problems and a a character who's personality pisses me off, an emotion I rarely feel against RPG characters. I will give it to Camelot though, as his annoyingness was definitely an intentional choice for the story, and they really portrayed it well... still doesn't make me like him though. And Himi? Easily the worst character in the game. As much as I loved that we got a full party of eight in terms of battle, she was basically just boring exposition personified as a character. While I still think the good outweighs the bad here, this is an incredibly mixed character roster in terms of story and personality that does not deserve any higher of a score than a 7 in my eyes.
Customization System - 9
The Djinn Class system is as amazing as ever, and it really, really needs to make a return in a fourth game of the series. The coolest part of the system is its essential question: do you want a dedicated Adept, master of their element and its summoning capabilities? Or do you want to mix elements around and get otherwise inaccessible abilities? That decision alone already makes this system pretty incredible. However, there's obviously more. Each time you get a Djinn in Golden Sun: Dark Dawn, expect to be able to completely alter the character you equip it on! There's also a whole other layer to this idea of mix-matching Djinn, as if you deliberately cast or set different Djinn in battle? It can change your class mid-battle to allow for an even deeper level of strategy! I need a true Golden Sun 4 on the Switch with beautiful HD graphics, an amazing story, maybe some playable Light and Dark Adepts, and of course, the return of this phenomenal system. The only reason I gave this amazing system a 9 is because it wasn't able to have a chance to fully display its amazingness due to the incredibly easy combat in this game. Also, there were missable Djinn, a very grievous sin. But that will be talked about in the quality of life section, as the customization system isn't at fault for that big issue.
Sidequests - 7
From collecting every Djinn to finding every summon to crafting the best weapons possible out of Zol—from killing every superboss to collecting weapons for as many unleash abilities as possible. While simple quests, these quests are by no means bad—they are great! I especially loved the Crossbone Island and Burning Island dungeons, as their boss fights were phenomenal! Also, tracking down all the Djinn is super fun in this game as long as you have a guide to tell you where the points of no return are! However, as solid and fun as these sidequests are, there aren't that many of them and they aren't all that outstanding... so I couldn't give this category any higher than a 7.
Locations - 9
I wouldn't say that every location in this game was memorable, but even after being far removed from playing this game, I can remember so many puzzles of so many different dungeons, even if I can't remember the names of the dungeons. I can remember the enemies, the battle animations, the towns, what Psynergy I had to use at certain points in the dungeon. That is a testament to the phenomenal locations in this game! Every puzzle was fun and inspired—using magic outside of battles is still a novel and incredibly under-utilized gameplay element in RPGs. I loved every single dungeon because of these awesome puzzles, and this series is only second to Legend of Zelda in terms of its great dungeons. Overall, while entire dungeons weren't all that memorable on their own, the dungeon gameplay and memorable puzzles are just so phenomenal in this game that it'd be utterly idiotic to score this any lower than a 9.
Quality of Life - 4
Alright, now it's time for why Golden Sun: Dark Dawn is a mostly mediocre RPG—in a lot of ways, I lot of little things come together to make this game not that fun. This is a very well-crafted game, sure, but not always the most fun. I've already mentioned some of these factors such as the abominable amount of missable Djinn and one of the most overly-easy battle systems in existence. Also, this game is just so incredibly slow as a whole, in terms of dialogue, story, and battle. This game lacks a lot of fluidity and coherence necessary for a great RPG, and it somehow manages to overexplain stuff without actually explaining stuff in the end. The points of no return are annoying, the difficulty is way too easy, and Matthew's emotional responses add very little the the overarching plot—a derivative plot in its own right. It sets up so much for what could've been a fantastic sequel, but since that never happened, this game feels slightly incomplete—like the first game in a two-part saga. While this game is not nearly as offensive as many fans of the original GBA games may say, in my eyes, this game still had a ton to work on, especially for it likely being the last game in the franchise. I adored what this game set out to be and much of what it did, but I can't help but point out its glaring flaws—I mean, I'm a critic at heart...
Fun Factor: 7
Overall Score: 72%
Golden Sun: Dark Dawn is an incredibly well-crafted game with a complex and engaging battle system, great DS graphics, and awesome locales. However, its offensively slow pacing and its sheer lack of fluidity contribute to making what should've been a golden standard for modern RPGs into what was sometimes a subpar slog. I deeply wanted to love this charming entry in this beloved, underrated, and widely forgotten RPG series, but the stars did not align with this one—to the point this series has been gravely eclipsed by the puzzle RPGs of the latter-days, and overshadowed even by its own predecessors. This is truly a sad reality for what should've been a game with a percent score in the high 80's or low 90's. However, amidst all this criticism, Iam deeply hoping that Camelot can ignore the haters and see that we truly love thie franchise—we just need them to be given another chance, we need the Dark Dawn haters to stop their not-so-golden ways. I firmly believe that if we do get an eventual Golden Sun 4, it will definitely be the crowning entry in the series, and one of the best RPGs in the modern day.
Interested in purchasing this awesome game? We would love for you to buy it at our affiliate link below, at no extra cost to you :) Thanks for stopping by RPG Ranked.