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Golden Sun: Dark Dawn (Nintendo DS) Review

Review for Golden Sun: Dark Dawn on Nintendo DS - on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review

Development team Camelot Software Planning have been seen as one of Nintendo's most significant partners for a number of console generations now. Most widely known for the Mario tie-ins of Mario Tennis and Mario Golf, the group also created many titles for SEGA’s Shining Force series prior to their association with the Big N. One franchise in particular that many handheld gamers will know them best for however, is the acclaimed Golden Sun series, which wrapped up its two game story arc on the Game Boy Advance back in 2003. Until a couple of years ago, nearly every interview with the company made mention of a return to the series, with Camelot eventually surprising everyone with a reveal of Golden Sun: Dark Dawn for Nintendo DS at E3 2009. Now that the game has hit stores, does it reach shining new heights for the series, or barely inch above the horizon?

Golden Sun: Dark Dawn takes place 30 years after the events of the GBA games, and puts you in the shoes of the children of the original heroes, now known throughout the world of Weyard as The Warriors of Vale. As per the events of Golden Sun: The Lost Age, the Golden Sun has risen and restored Alchemy to the world, thereby dramatically altering the lands and causing a number of weather calamities as Weyard re-adjusts itself to support its reborn power structure. You take main control of Matthew, the son of the earlier games' original protagonist Isaac, and are tasked to journey for a rare item to fix essential equipment Isaac uses to monitor the site of the Golden Sun. The game introduces many new faces to accommodate the time gap, and due to the landform shifts, the world feels new to explore again, so Dark Dawn does not give the impression of a re-tread despite the familiar territories.

The game retains its isometric presentation as per Golden Sun and Golden Sun: The Lost Age, injected with a colourful dosage of DS 3D. Movement on the overworld is akin to square by square grid movement, despite powers now being given a 360 degree radius in which to activate. Battle scenes are where the visuals really come into their own, with varied techniques ranging in power and ferocity providing the fireworks, and summon techniques being the true eye candy. Sound is in the same vein, with a few remastered melodies alongside a glutton of new themes that are easily as good as the originals.

Screenshot for Golden Sun: Dark Dawn on Nintendo DS - on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review

Dark Dawn stays true to its roots; whether its the movement style of the character you're guiding, or using Alchemy in the field to solve puzzles, or fighting enemies gathered in a line in a team of four in true JRPG style, Camelot have clearly kept close to a tried, tested, and winning formula. One major change requested by fans was for an auto-redirect of character attacks to another opponent should the original bite the dust before the end of the turn, and thankfully this has made the cut.

With the dual screen aspect, it is easier than ever to keep an eye on your character stats, how many Djinn (small creatures that can be equipped to boost power) are in standby, and for outside of battles it is a handy map reference. Touch control is included, and put to good use; the player can decide if they want to play through the game with either buttons or touch, and there are zero gimmicky strictly-touch-orientated minigames in the place of puzzles for Dark Dawn. Using the stylus for menu selection feels a little slower and more of a hassle at first, but becomes a worthy substitute in time.

Screenshot for Golden Sun: Dark Dawn on Nintendo DS - on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review

Like its predecessors, on the surface Golden Sun: Dark Dawn has clearly been built for the purposes of in-out portable play. Battles are random but over in a matter of seconds if you power through them, field powers have quick animations after activating, and the game allows you to save anywhere you can access the menu. It is a shame however, that one of the most widely criticised aspects of the series, the character speech, has not been not addressed. Golden Sun is fairly notorious for having long text interactions between characters for certain plot points, made all the more longer with movement and minor animations. Dark Dawn actually adds to this with greater expressions, particularly from your mute guided character, with four emotion choices replacing the previous yes/no options. This design choice undoubtedly adds to the sense of character development and interactions, and is certainly one of the major ways Golden Sun separates itself from other role playing franchises, but without an option to speed up the whole event, or to bypass it completely if needed, the game becomes far less portable-friendly during these moments.

Screenshot for Golden Sun: Dark Dawn on Nintendo DS - on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review

In retaining the structure of its battle system, Dark Dawn also brings back the required planning in equipping the right arms and the needed elemental Djinn. The four main types of Venus Earth, Jupiter Wind, Mercury Water, and Mars Fire each present a bottomless pit of strategical possibility in relation to stat changes and the powers that your eight characters could receive. This lends itself well to repeat play and mixing things up a bit when battles get too simplistic. Until the final battle most players, especially experienced ones, may find the game on the easy side. This is most apparent at the beginning, where two characters veteran to the series guide you along and teach you pretty much everything - almost to the point of being condescending - but this is ideal for newcomers and those that want a more streamlined linear experience without too many complications.

As expected for any game of the role playing genre, Golden Sun: Dark Dawn offers an adventure that spans a considerable amount of hours, and despite the familiarity of the world and the functions of gameplay, the game offers a compelling story, and a solid battle system. Much like the first game, Dark Dawn restricts the world map, and that together with the open ending suggests a sequel in the near future. As a prelude to whatever that title might be, Golden Sun: Dark Dawn is a worthy title for any RPG enthusiast to seek out, regardless of experience with the series.

Screenshot for Golden Sun: Dark Dawn on Nintendo DS- on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review


Solid, refined control well-adapted for touch usage, together with excellent puzzles and instant fun battles. Can be a little too easy at times, but the possible level of customization allows players to tailor-make their experience.


The Golden Sun chibi style is still alive and kicking, injected with a colourful layer of DS 3D that gives a new perspective to exploration and battles, the latter being the one providing the ‘wow’ moments.


Classic themes make a remastered emergence, together with newer ones that scream classic Camelot style. Voices are a no-show; no true surprise with the amount of text speech.


A hefty adventure by even a pro's standards, reaching upwards of 30 hours; more for enthusiasts willing to experiment with equipment and search out all 72 Djinn. The game does exhibit a sense of restriction for exploration towards the end, but that's more to look forward to in a future title.

Cubed3 Rating

Rated 9 out of 10

Exceptional - Gold Award

About this score
Rated 9 out of 10

It was a long wait, but Golden Sun fans can breathe easy; Camelot have still got it. More of a tranquil sunset and one of the finest swansongs the DS could ever have asked for, Golden Sun: Dark Dawn provides gamers the full package; interesting overworld and story, challenging puzzles, and fun combat, with ease of play no matter what the player's experience.

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C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  9/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  10/10 (3 Votes)

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A solid review and fair grading by the looks of it.

It's a good game, but is it what we really wanted for Golden Sun 3?

Senior ModeratorStaff Member

Ordered just a few days ago and should arrive at my doorstep in a matter of days. Really looking forward to playing it Smilie.

Cubed3 Limited Staff :: Review and Feature Writer

Will add it to my collection by the end of the year once I'm back on "buying games" mode. Will use those coins to get to Platinum before 2011 is over.

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