The other day I started replaying Golden Sun: Dark Dawn. The game was released at the end of 2010, eight years after the second game in the franchise, Golden Sun: The Lost Age, was released. I remember buying the game practically the day it was launched, and being really excited for it.
If you’ve never heard of this RPG franchise, and you may not have, given its odd history, it had a very devoted fanbase for a number of years, which slowly dissolved over the years between the second and third games. The original game, Golden Sun was released within the launch window for Nintendo’s Game Boy Advance system. Its release was overshadowed by other GBA launch games (such as Super Mario Advance, Castlevania: Circle of the Moon, and F-Zero: Maximum Velocity, among others), but Golden Sun was the first GBA game I had. It was a really fun game, had a great story, great music, memorable characters, and a great battle system, what with the Djinn and the elemental summons.
For those who’ve not played the GS games, and don’t know what the Djinn are in this context: the Djinn were Pokemon-esque creatures you could collect through your journeys. The game focused on four elemental types (Earth, fire, water, and wind), and there were Djinn of each type. Djinn could be assigned to characters, and, when active, would boost that characters stats and even give them abilities they couldn’t access otherwise. You could either have Djinn as “set” or “standby”. When you start having Djinn “set”, you gain the ability to cast elemental summons in battle. Obviously, the more Djinn you have on set, the more powerful the summons you can call upon. If you have a Djinni on standby (I clearly remember Nintendo Power magazine indicating that the singular is “Djinni” and the plural is “Djinn”), then you can use them in battle. Each individual Djinni had a different effect when used in battle: some inflicted damage, some boosted your characters’ stats, some revived, things like that. It was a fun battle element that set the games apart. You found Djinn throughout the game, either by solving puzzles to get to them, or just finding them out in the wild. Sometimes they’d join your party willingly, other times you’d have to defeat them in battle.
Golden Sun was a fun game, but it felt rather short. After two main dungeons, the game concluded with a “To Be Continued” screen, and prompted the player to create a “completed game” save file. Obviously this was telling the player that there was a second game in the works. We didn’t have to wait long for details on this, as the sequel, Golden Sun: The Lost Age was announced. This was back in the day when I didn’t really have access to the Internet, and most of my gaming news came from the pages of Nintendo Power magazine.
Also for those unfamiliar with the games: the basic story for the game was somewhat simple: you start out with two young men from the mountain village of Vale. There is a magic system in the land of Weyard known as Psynergy, which stems from a greater power known as Alchemy. Alchemy itself was sealed off from the world ages ago, in order to prevent the power, and abuse of the power by people, from destroying the world. The village of Vale guards Sol Sanctum, which is home to the four Elemental Stars (Mars, Mercury, Venus, and Jupiter, or Fire, Water, Earth, and Wind, respectively). The two young men, Isaac and Garett, are caught up in events when a storm breaks out in Vale, after two strangers try to break into Sol Sanctum. During the storm, a village youth is swept away downriver and thought lost. The story continues a few years later, when Isaac and Garett have been studying Psynergy with the scholar, Kraden. The group travels to Sol Sanctum to try and solve the mystery of the storm, and end up finding the Elemental Stars. While exploring that sanctuary, the villains return, and take part of the group hostage, forcing Isaac and Garrett to hand over three of the four Elemental Stars. The villains’ plan is simple: they will use the Elemental Stars to ignite the four Lighthouses around the world. Doing so will unleash the power of Alchemy, which Isaac and Garrett have been told will destroy the world. The two pursue the villains across the world, always arriving just moments too late to prevent Lighthouses from being ignited. The game ends after the lighting of the second Lighthouse causes earthquakes, and splits the cast to various areas.
It soon became obvious, through Nintendo Power, that the sequel would be a more expansive game than the first. There would be more of a lot of things: more playable characters, a longer, more involved story, more Djinn to collect. I was excited for the game.
Golden Sun: The Lost Age was released two years after the first game, and was also on the Game Boy Advance. The story picked up just where the first left off, and led to, as was promised, a more expansive story. What caught my attention about the sequel was that you played as one of the villains, a character named Felix. This seemed rather odd; why would you be playing as the villains, trying to fulfill their plan to destroy the world? All was explained in a rather nice twist: turns out that having Alchemy sealed away was weakening the world, and causing it to decay and fall apart. Unleashing Alchemy was the only way to save the world. The villains from the first game turned out to be the actual heroes.
What also made Golden Sun: The Lost Age such a great game was how it connected with the first game, beyond just being a sequel. If you had a completed save file from the first game, you could transfer that data to the second game, and carry over your characters, complete with collected items, levels, and Djinn. When those characters joined your party in the second game, they would be just as you left them in the first game. Doing this would allow you to access bonus content in the second game, including a secret dungeon (provided you had collected every Djinn in the first game).
This connection method reminded me of a couple of Game Boy Color games, those being The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons and The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages. Those games boasted a linked mode, where either game could be played as the first, with the other being the sequel. Completing one game would give you a passcode, which would unlock bonus content in the sequel.
Either way, it was not just a really neat feature, but a nice way of connecting the two games. I’ve not played the Mass Effect games, but I’ve heard there was a similar idea between the first and second of those games, if not the third.
In the years since The Lost Age was released, I’ve learned that the first two games were originally developed as just one massive game, but the project proved either too much for a single GBA cartridge, or the developers just didn’t feel like keeping it as one game. Either way, we ended up with two amazing games for the Game Boy Advance.
The Lost Age had a rather solid ending. It completed the story in a satisfactory manner, for the most part. The only problem with the ending was that it hinted at a possible third game: the game’s main villain, Alex, gained the power he sought and a bit of that power was given to the game’s lead protagonist, Isaac. It was strongly hinted that a third game would be released eventually. So the fans waited. And waited. And waited, only to learn nothing of a new game.
The Game Boy Advance era came to an end in 2004 when the Nintendo DS was released. I remember awaiting E3 2005 for news of a new Golden Sun game. The DS would be the logical home to a third game, as the first two were on the GBA. Nothing was said. The franchise developer, Camelot Software, fell into obscurity, after focusing on Mario sports titles.
Years passed. It wasn’t until E3 of 2009 that something new was announced. It was at Nintendo’s E3 press conference that Reggie Fils-Aime revealed that a new Golden Sun game was in the works for the Nintendo DS. It was a small announcement at that E3, but to me it was huge. They also had a trailer for the new game, and it caught my attention. Turns out that, for this new game, you’d be playing as the children of the first two games’ protagonists, as the story was set 30 years later.
The game was eventually released, in the holiday season of 2010. As mentioned earlier, I bought my copy practically on launch day. It had been eight years since The Lost Age was released, eight long years. And herein lies my argument that we will never see a fourth Golden Sun game.
Dark Dawn, the latest title in the series, told the story of the next generation of characters. Alchemy has been restored to the world, and old villains return. Let’s skip the story and head directly to the game’s ending. Spoiler alert, whatever. Dark Dawn ends much as the first game did: the protagonists are faced with a rather huge dilemma, and the players are faced with a “To Be Continued…” cliffhanger.
That’s a problem. The third game, which was released eight years after the second game, continues the story, roughly, from the first two. It ends with a cliffhanger. It ends with a tease for another game, a fourth game in the series. It’s now May of 2013, and there is no word on a new game. A bit over two years later. And I doubt we will ever see that fourth game.
Let’s look at this. The first two games were released on the Game Boy Advance. The first game was released in 2001, the second in 2002. The third game was released in 2010. That’s eight years. The fanbase of the original games grew older. Time passed. A lot of time passed. Fans waited for news, but after each year’s E3 came and went with nothing said about a new game, interest dwindled. Fans grew up, became interested in other things, lost interest, gave up waiting for a title that looked increasingly unlikely to ever be announced. People moved on.
There was some interest in the third game, from people like me who remembered the originals and were glad that a new one was being developed. But my own life is an interesting look at things: the first two games were released when I was in high school. By the time the third game was released, I was in my last year of University, and already moving on with my life as an adult. And there you go: teenagers when the first two games were released were adults by then. Entirely different circumstances, maybe different tastes in video games. It just felt like something from the past was being revived for no point whatsoever.
I played Dark Dawn. I completed Dark Dawn. It didn’t live up to my expectations, but then again, after waiting so many years, nothing could truly live up to the wait. To the hype, for better or worse. Dark Dawn was far easier than the first two games. None of the bosses were that difficult. The story was interesting, but just didn’t captivate me like the first two games did. Was it because it didn’t focus on the same main characters, but rather their children? Was it because I was older?
As I said, the core fans of the originals had moved on, lost interest, given up hope for a new game, and here we had it. Dark Dawn is the worst selling game of the series. It only sold 46,000 copies its first four days in Japan. As of January of 2012, it has only sold 80,000 copies in Japan. Sales figures through the rest of the world are just as bad. Either the older fans had no interest or the game didn’t appeal to current gamers, but there you have it: the game just didn’t sell well; it sold worse than the original game.
Dark Dawn‘s reviews were not that kind. Just glancing at GameFAQs, I’m seeing the game has a 7.0 reader review average, an 8.1 from GameFAQs ratings, and a 79 from MetaCritic. Those seem like acceptable ratings, actually, but the game wasn’t received that well; the sales numbers should tell you that.
At the end of the day, it’s clear: there won’t be another Golden Sun game. Long-time fans of the series will either just pretend Dark Dawn never happened (accepting it just means we’ll be left with an unresolved cliffhanger) or just put up with that “to be continued”. There’s not enough interest from fans to justify making a fourth game. It all comes down to the question of whether a game project will earn enough in sales to balance out development costs, and what Dark Dawn tells us is that a fourth game will probably not. The third game does not compare that well to the older games, enough that expectations of a fourth game would probably be lowered.
The Golden Sun franchise is a great example of what happens when you have a series of games, especially with a continuing story, and too much time passes between releases of games. A few years are okay, but when you near a decade, the original audience has grown older and likely moved on, losing interest. I would love to see another Golden Sun game, but I’ve already moved on, having realized that game will likely never be made.
Update (21 June, 2014): The first game, Golden Sun is available on the Wii U Virtual Console, in the Game Boy Advance library. Show your support of the game. If you have a Wii U, buy and download the game. Let’s show Nintendo that the series is still popular. Maybe we’ll eventually get Golden Sun: The Lost Age on Wii U Virtual Console, and this might somehow lead to interest in a fourth game.
Update (25 July, 2014): Nintendo Europe has submitted Golden Sun: The Lost Age to PEGI ratings board for the Wii U Virtual Console. Looks like the game is on the way for European Wii U owners, probably Australia, as well. No word yet on an American release on Wii U Virtual Console. (I’m suddenly reminded of how, recently, the Game Boy Advance release of Pokemon: Trading Card Game was released on 3DS Virtual Console in Europe and Australia, but no word on an American release)
Update (31 August, 2016): Both GBA games are now available on Wii U VC and have been for a while. This article continues to get views and replies, and I am glad to see all this discussion in the comments. Wii U does offer DS games in its Virtual Console library (Super Mario 64 DS was released this past week). It’d be great if Nintendo would release Dark Dawn on Wii U VC, but with attention shifting to Nintendo’s mysterious “NX” console, that seems unlikely. Is there still hope for a fourth Golden Sun game? I would love for the answer to be yes, but reality seems to be answering in the negative.
However, there is hope. Here’s a quote from the franchise’s Wikipedia page:
In an interview with Nintendo Gamer in June 2012, series producer Hiroyuki Takahashi spoke about the possibility of a fourth Golden Sun game; “A big reason for us making RPGs comes from the requests from all the people who have enjoyed our RPGs in the past. Perhaps if there are enough Nintendo users asking for another game in the Golden Sun series, then this will naturally lead to the development of such a game.”
I feel like pointing this out, mostly as an update on a changed rating system over on GameFAQs. Back when I wrote this article, I guess they used a 10-point rating scale, but now they use a 5-point rating scale. Dark Dawn currently has a 4.01 out of 5 rating, based on 1,871 total votes. #100 highest rated DS role-playing game (#1247 on DS, #12794 overall). Over on Metacritic, the game has a “metascore” of 79, and a user score of 8.1 based on 85 ratings.