Did Golden Sun: Dark Dawn Ruin the Series?

Let me be upfront: I love Golden Sun: Dark Dawn, maybe more than I should. It was my entry point to the Golden Sun series, and I played it multiple times. The combat style was polished at the time, it was a fun DS game, the cast of characters was solid, and overall it was a really fun game that I loved playing. I was really excited to play the first two and see how they laid the foundation for this third entry to take place thirty years later.

But after I played Golden Sun and Golden Sun: The Lost Age, I began to wonder if Dark Dawn was necessary. Not only were the stories in these games inextricably tied together, creating an epic, overarching narrative, The Lost Age’s ending is far from a cliffhanger—it ties up all of the loose ends and leaves the characters with resolved arcs, allowing the series to end on a high note. With the story seemingly over, fans were content with the resolution and remembered the games fondly. Had I played the games in chronological order, I probably would have agreed.

Isaac and Mia for the win

Needless to say, Dark Dawn’s announcement six years later was quite sudden and random, and with mediocre reviews and sales at launch, the game received little fanfare and much confusion regarding the contradictory lore. I’m not sure where Dark Dawn went wrong, to be honest. I don’t know if it was poor advertising (I had never heard of the game until release day, and even then I found it by accident), the fact that the reviews and sales were a little lower compared to its predecessors, or that many fans thought it was too dialogue heavy and easy. I don’t think the game was a complete failure by any means (it’s the one I’ve replayed the most often of the three, after all), and yet it doesn’t seem to spark the same amount of love and praise with many fans as the previous two games did.

Often enough, when I find fellow fans of the series, the discussions often revolve around the first two games—Dark Dawn is rarely mentioned, and if it is, not nearly as lovingly as the first two. So that begs the question: if it didn’t leave much of a mark on the die-hard fans in the series, than was it worth it? Did Camelot notice, and is that why there’s been no news over the years?

Ever since the release of Golden Sun: Dark Dawn in 2010, fans have been left with a giant cliffhanger that is looking more and more likely to be unresolved with each passing year. Camelot seems indifferent to making a new game despite Dark Dawn leaving the door wide open for the possibility, and that hurts. This is often the thing that bothers fans too—it’s not just the fact that Golden Sun 4 will never happen, it’s also because of Dark Dawn’s ending. It leaves a lot to be desired. Fans care about these games a lot, and seeing it end this way is all too disappointing.

Where is my homeboy Isaac, Camelot! You can’t do that to my favorite character!

But I do want to point out that cliffhangers aren’t inherently a bad thing, and if that’s the way Camelot wanted to tell their story, there’s nothing wrong with that (especially with the original Golden Sun’s own cliffhanger ending, it’s nothing new in the series). Creators and writers are at full liberty tell their story however they like and shouldn’t have to cater to the wants and needs and fans, or base it on whether or not they’ll get a sequel. With that said, a balancing act should be considered as well.

There comes a point that if every story ends in a cliffhanger and isn’t resolved in a subsequent sequel, it simply becomes poor storytelling and useless baiting because threads are being purposefully unresolved, ultimately angering fans rather than garnering interest. It’s one thing for a game to tease a sequel in its ending, and another to have gaping plot holes act as the cliffhanger that fans are meant to be excited by. Cliffhangers shouldn’t be the only thing bringing fans back—the story and the characters should be compelling enough to give fans the investment they need to continue buying the product. Camelot seemed confident that there’d be another game down the road with the way Dark Dawn ended, but seven years later, fans have been left completely in the dark and any news for a future Golden Sun game is a pipe dream.

It makes me wonder if Camelot would have done things differently had Dark Dawn hadn’t been released. Would we have gotten a 3DS remake of the first two games? Or if Dark Dawn simply came out a few years later utilizing the power of the 3DS, would it have been more successful? It’s hard to say. While I’m sad that Dark Dawn’s poor reception is partially responsible for the slow death the series has experienced, I’m grateful that Camelot took a chance to bring back the series fresh and new.

According to the creators of the Golden Sun games, the first and second games were intended to act as prologues to the core story in Dark Dawn, an easy access point into the lore and setting of the games. Dark Dawn was meant to be the starting point of the main story. This was an interesting bit of perspective, and it’s a really cool idea that I haven’t seen happen in other video game series. Had Dark Dawn’s odds been better, this could have been a revolutionary move and changed the way writers look at storytelling in the video game industry.

Golden Sun: Dark Dawn may have been something of a misstep for the series, but it would be far too critical to say that it is the sole reason for the series’ sharp decline from popularity and attention. The marketing of the game was not done particularly well, and there’s a real chance that on a different system, the game’s survivability could have looked much different. I’d like to think that overall, even if it didn’t quite meet expectations, fans are at least appreciative of the effort Camelot made to bring back the series on their own terms. For now, the Golden Sun series has been put to bed, but I’m hoping that Camelot will be brave again and defy our expectations. No matter what, they’ll have a supportive and loyal fan base waiting.

8 thoughts on “Did Golden Sun: Dark Dawn Ruin the Series?

  1. Ack, I have so much to say about this, but I’ll try to condense my thoughts! I also feel like Dark Dawn didn’t do as well as expected (I don’t know many people who played it, unless I bought it for them as a gift), but that wasn’t because it was a bad game on its own. My main qualm was that it felt like it tried to cram a Lost Age size game (larger cast, whole world, etc) in a game the size of Golden Sun – it ended up feeling a bit rushed because of that – but I can admit that some of that might have been due to my expectations/experience from the first two games. For some time I thought Isaac being in Smash would make me feel better about it, but that didn’t happen. Instead, I fill my head with stories of a fourth game where *sort of spoiler alert* Arcanus solves everything on his own with Lightning Returns-esque single-character-but-multiple-classes combat system which definitely works because something-something-djinn. *end of sort of spoiler*

    1. All great points! I loved Dark Dawn as my entry point to the games but after playing the first two it made me recognize the flaws you pointed out as well. I also hoped that Isaac would be in Smash 4 but we didn’t get so lucky. 😦 And I like your ideas for a Golden Sun 4! That would be fun. 🙂

      1. Haha, yeah, I voted for Isaac in the smash polls and actually got my hopes up for a bit.
        Maybe this is the kind of game where I should hope for a spiritual successor rather than a pure sequel? I would be happy with another kind-of-unconventional JRPG which had a similar feel/system as GS (a bit like I am Setsuna was to Chrono Trigger)

        1. Man Isaac in Smash would have been so awesome. 😦 Oo, that would be nice to get a spiritual successor in the same veins as Golden Sun! I totally want to try out I am Setsuna sometime because of how good Chrono Trigger is. Maybe pne day we’ll get lucky! 🙂

  2. i played the first game, never finished it but got very far. I want to go back and play these games one day, but kind of skeptical if the 3rd one ends in a cliff hanger, since there’s no signs of a sequel.

    question, do the first 2 games end in any cliff hanger making the need to play the 3rd one a must?

    1. The first two games are pretty connected to each other, but honestly, there’s really only one aspect of the second one’s ending that could justify a sequel, and even then it’s iffy. It’s been a long time since I played the second one but I don’t remember anything about the ending having much of a cliffhanger, I thought it was pretty satisfying overall.

      The third game is good and fun, but the cliffhanger in the third one is much more dramatic than in the second game. The Dark Dawn is good for seeing how the world changes after the first two and getting an idea of where characters ended up, so it’s worth it for that. Hope this helps! 🙂

  3. Man, these games are so good. Golden Sun really stands out as an RPG with compelling mechanics. If Dark Dawn never gets a proper sequel, I would love to see a spiritual successor to the series.
    Dark Dawn definitely had its flaws, but I don’t think it was so bad that it singlehandedly struck the killing blow for the series. I feel like that has more to do with the shoddy marketing, as you mentioned. When you wait a decade between every title in an ongoing series, even your most devoted fans stop believing in you after being strung along long enough. *coughKINGDOMHEARTScough*

    1. So true! I’m replaying the first one and am so far blown away by that epic introduction, surprised by how memorable the music is, and loving the combat system. Everything about this series is well designed by JRPG standards. I would also love to see a spiritual successor in the same vein of the Golden Sun series! That would be so awesome! 🙂

      Hah hah, also true about the Kingdom Hearts series! I can forgive that one a little more because there have been game releases between 2 and 3 adding to the lore so at least it hasn’t been completely quiet on that front.

      But yeah, I wish Dark Dawn was marketed and received better because things could have looked very different today.

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