Cidolfas's RPG Reviews: Golden Sun/Golden Sun: The Lost Age (GBA)
Although these games are technically separate, the gameplay is almost completely identical, so I'm lumping them in together.
You Are: In both games, a silent protagonist, aided (eventually) by three helpers.
Your Goal Is: Well... let's leave that a secret for now.
General System: Your average RPG with the addition of Djinni. These critters have elemental affinity and can be "set" on a character, at which point stats and spells ("psynergy") are granted. They can also be used in battle to attack, heal, etc., at which point they're "unset" again (and a turn has to be wasted to re-set them). You can also summon any "unset" Djinni all at once for a powerful attack, at which point they'll be on standby for a little while, until they'll automatically set themselves again. Works okay, but I'd have liked to see an option to automatically re-set any Djinni used during battle after the battle's over. The Psynergy each character has depends on the Djinni s/he has equipped, and sometimes you'll have to swap them around to give characters different Psynergy to continue.
You can also use psynergy outside of battle, and here's where GS really shines. There areat least six or seven useful spells which can be used to solve puzzles all over: spells to move things, hide yourself in shadows, grab stuff from far away, freeze stuff or call a whirlwind to clear paths. The puzzles in GS are ingenious in their uses of these things (along with the standard box-pushing type puzzles, which here tend to be log-pushing) and it's cool to see how useful they are.
Each character has a limited number of items s/he can carry (but can carry up to 30 of any particular type of item), including equipped items.
Golden Sun: The Lost Age introduces exactly two gameplay innovations: Items which instantly change the "class" of a character (i.e. give him/her preset Psynergy to use) and Summon Tablets, which allow you to summon more powerful creatures by using a combination of different elemental Djinni.
Battle System: Your standard RPG stuff... pretty much the same as any menu-driven battle system, with the strange exception that if an enemy dies, your attacker will defend rather than switch his target to the next enemy. (I thought they fixed that way back in FF4?)
Graphics: Fluid and quite beautiful, although in a pixellated way. The characters seem kind of bouncy. It's hard to describe, but you'll know what I'm talking about when you see it. 8p
Music: Nothing to write home about (this is the GBA) but more than adequate.
Story: Probably the weakest part of the game. It takes place throughout story scenes that are far, far too long and consist mainly of characters nodding their heads and saying unbelievably obvious things. Not to mention the whole "to be continued" thing at the end of the first game... eventually the story does get pretty interesting, but it completely failed to draw me in in any way. It seemed to be pretty much a way of stringing together dungeons and puzzles.
Length: About 20 hours
My Thoughts: As mentioned above, the puzzles are GS's strong point by far. There are some which are difficult to figure out, but most of them are obvious enough to not frustate you, yet challenging enough to keep your interest. (I was a little disappointed in The Lost Age; by the end of the game it has twice as many spells as the first one, but doesn't make use of most of them.) The battles aren't too bad, and the random encounter rate is high enough to be a factor but low enough not to be really annoying. I like the "save anywhere" function. As mentioned, the cutscenes tend towards the excruciating, but you can get past them. 8-) Overall, GS has a lot of positive aspects and is a definite recommendation.
Overall Rating: 8.5/10