For my third JRPG liveblog project, I’ve decided that I am going to revisit the series that really got its hooks into me and made me a fan of the genre: the Golden Sun games. Originally a duology that later became a Two-Part Trilogy, the Golden Sun series was developed by Camelot Software Planning, known mainly for their plethora of Mario sports titles though they did develop RPGs for Sega systems during the 90s in the Shining Force series and Beyond the Beyond for the PS1. The first Golden Sun game, the subject of this liveblog, was released in Japan for the Game Boy Advance on August 1, 2001 with the subtitle of “The Broken Seal” while the North American version was released on November 11th of that same year. Unusually for a JRPG, the series became subject to a fairly high degree of Germans Love David Hasselhoff, inspiring a fervent (sometimes notoriously so) fandom in the western world.
The games take place in the fantasy land of Weyard where those who can wield the magical power of Psynergy are known as Adepts, and features many of the classic genre staples such as turn-based battles, fantastical dungeons and locations to explore, and Fantasy Counterpart Cultures out the wazoo. As far as the plot itself goes, well, I doubt the games would’ve been as well-remembered as they are if they were running solely on that. The story is pretty straightforward, especially in the first game, compared to the Final Fantasies and Megami Tenseis and the Chronos of the world, and the characters only rarely stray into the third dimension (though the second and third games are a little better about that. A little.), and despite that simplicity they are very wordy.
So what does Golden Sun have going for it? An expansive world to explore (with the caveat that it doesn’t really open up until the second game) whose well-researched Fantasy Counterpart Culture is the whole point, a setting that uses the four primal elements proposed by Greek philosopher Empedocles as its bedrock, a very catchy soundtrack that I don’t think would be much of an exaggeration to call some of composer Motoi Sakuraba’s most well-beloved work, a graphical style that produced some very impressive 2D visuals and effects in battle that still hold up almost fifteen years later despite being on a GBA launch title, and each dungeon is packed with puzzles and obstacles that would be right at home in The Legend of Zelda; in fact, I’m disappointed that in the fourteen years since the original game’s release I have yet to play a traditional JRPG with dungeons that I feel live up to its level of player interactivity. The games managed to stick with me because of the timing: when I had started with the sequel first via a trade with a classmate back in 2003 I had never really played a game quite like it before. They aren’t the most deep or challenging games you’ll find out there, but they’re fun and clearly managed to be memorable for quite a few gamers.
As always with my liveblogs we’ll start with main character roster for the first game before we wrap up this introduction:
Isaac is the leader of our playable party. He’s a Heroic Mime in the classic video game mold, so we don’t know much about his character other than an inferred sense of determination and desire to do the right thing. He is an Earth Adept from the peaceful village of Vale, but one day that peace is shattered by the theft of Vale’s sacred treasures and the kidnapping of his friends, triggering a quest that will decide the fate of the world.
Isaac’s reckless and sometimes a little slow-witted but well-meaning best friend who accompanies him on his journey into the world. While Isaac’s an Earth Adept, Garet’s a Fire Adept as one can no doubt tell with one look at the warm colors used in his character design.
A younger Wind Adept whose ability to read minds can be at once both unsettling and highly useful. At the time of their meeting Ivan possesses the artifact known as the Shaman’s Rod given to him by his caretaker, the merchant Hammet, and its theft leads him to joining Isaac and Garet on their quest.
This kindly Water Adept serves as the local healer for the small, wintry town of Imil to the north. As a member of the Mercury Clan, her duty is to watch over Mercury Lighthouse, one of Weyard’s four elemental lighthouses, and ensure that it must never be lit.
A pair of mysterious outsiders whose group kicks off the plot by stealing the four Elemental Stars that Vale has been charged with protecting since ancient times as well as kidnapping the scholar Kraden and Isaac’s friend Jenna. They are both powerful Fire Adepts, and will not hesitate to crush anyone who stands in the way of their plan to rekindle the four elemental lighthouses though Saturos is generally the more conniving of the two.
Jenna’s older brother and an Earth Adept. Thought to have perished along with his parents in a storm five years ago, he suddenly returns to Vale alongside Saturos and Menardi, accomplice to the plan to steal the Stars and light the four lighthouses.
The final member of Saturos’s group is Mia’s cousin Alex. Compared to Saturos and Menardi he is much more smooth and civil in his interactions with Isaac’s party, and while he is a Water Adept like Mia he possesses a number of unusual Psynergy abilities foreign to the Mercury Clan.