Nintendo Was Wrong To Shelve The “Golden Sun” Series After “Dark Dawn” | Column from the Editor

"Golden Sun '' deserved better. It was once one of Nintendo's best franchises and should not have been shelved because one of its entries was met with a mixed response.

It’s been almost 12 years since the last “Golden Sun” game, as its developer — Camelot Software Planning — has been instead tasked with working on “Mario” sports games during that time.

“Golden Sun” (2001) and “Golden Sun: The Lost Age” (2003) are arguably the best RPGs on the Game Boy Advance, which is considerable given that the console also has the likes of “Fire Emblem” and plenty of other JRPG titles. The Game Boy Advance was close to being a portable Super Nintendo, and as such was able to bring to life classic RPG experiences much more faithfully than its predecessors, which the original “Golden Sun” illustrated wonderfully in the first months of the console’s availability to the public.

All three “Golden Sun” games pushed the limits of the hardware they were on, with “Golden Sun: Dark Dawn” getting performance both graphically and from a sound perspective that is on par with many 3DS games in the same genre. The original “Golden Sun” was so noteworthy from a technical point of view because it showcased what the Game Boy Advance could do at a very early point in its lifespan, as it cleared the way for others in its genre to succeed on the platform.

Of course, all three games also had solid stories about saving the world with an unlikely band of friends, and by the standards of the time, the first two games were excellent from a mechanics standpoint and were rewarding but challenging experiences. And they sold well, but all of that changed with the third installment in the series, “Dark Dawn.”

Set years after the original two games, “Dark Dawn” released seven years after “The Lost Age” to little fanfare.

For a DS game, it’s visually gorgeous and its sound design and soundtrack got a notable upgrade; series composer Motoi Sakuraba considerably stepped up his game, with all of the classic scores from the first game sounding sounding crisp and deep, accompanied by new music that makes this entry stand out. Its story is also quite good for a DS game, being one of the better examples of a passing-of-the-torch story I’ve seen, as the children of the original games take over and stand on their own for the most part (Matthew, son of original protagonist Isaac, is also a silent point-of-view protagonist and as such is one of the exceptions).

The issue with “Dark Dawn” is its difficulty mode (it’s really easy compared to the first two games) and its marketing — which was almost non-existent — was terrible. One particular ad stands out, which focuses on the collectable Djinn that help you in combat stand out, which mostly features on an unfunny drawn-out gag that sometimes worked in selling these games, but showed little gameplay or explained what the game is, which is precisely what ads for the game needed to do.

While the passage of time in the coronavirus era has been murky thanks to the fact that notable milestones in the past two years — like weddings and graduations — have been interrupted, the leap between 2003 and 2010 was a massive one, almost entirely encompassing the lifespan of the Nintendo DS (its successor, the 3DS would launch in March 2011). Gamers needed to not only be reminded what “Golden Sun” was — it lacked the name recognition of say, “Mario” and “Fire Emblem” — they needed to be convinced that a then-next generation “Golden Sun” game was something they needed to buy. The cheap jokes that took up most of the game’s commercials did neither.

Everything Nintendo did set up “Dark Dawn” for a middling sales haul, and a middling critical reception, which should have been fine. Not every game needs to be a smash hit — it’s OK for a game to just do OK. Perhaps allured by the haul Camelot’s previous Mario Sports games, the company no doubt thought it would be more financially prudent for them to focus on those games instead of “Golden Sun” — it’s not like the company has any lack of RPG franchises.

But it doesn’t change the fact that “Golden Sun ” deserved better. It was once one of Nintendo’s best franchises and should not have been shelved because one of its entries was met with a mixed response. Virtually every one of their franchises has at least one entry that was just OK, if not outright terrible. “Golden Sun” should have been allowed to live on, learning from the mistakes of “Dark Dawn” by building off the story of that game, and fleshing out its game mechanics and particularly battle system to the point where it could cater to both casual gamers and hardcore RPG fans.

Whether it be its charm, unique sound or the way it plays, “Golden Sun” is distinctly unique from other games in its genre, and given enough development time, care and support especially on the advertising front, the franchise still has the potential to make a smash hit if given another chance.

The potential is still there, like many other worthy shelved franchises Nintendo does shockingly little with, as they decide instead to milk well-known franchises like “Mario” and “Pokemon.”

“Golden Sun: Dark Dawn” ended on a cliffhanger, one that should be resolved. The Switch could be a great home for a fourth “Golden Sun” game, and I think the gaming landscape is such that Camelot can make the type of game they and the fans want — if made today, I think “Golden Sun” will find its niche. We’re past the age of obligatory tutorials and in one where developers have more room to take risks and experiment with game mechanics. It’s clear that if a fourth game were to happen, its game mechanics and core RPG elements would have to receive a facelift — the story will no doubt be engaging and excellent as always, but those are things that seriously held “Dark Dawn” back.

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