This manual is gorgeous. It’s all the things a good instruction manual should be. It’s full-color, it’s packed with all the information you need to know to play the game, it introduces you to the world, the essential backstory and the characters. It even contains a map of the world! That’s as quaint as it is useful!
Would someone like to explain, then, why the first two hours of the game are jam-packed with forced tutorials?
Actually, let me describe one of these tutorials in detail. What the game wants to do is show you how to use a special attack. The game does this by starting a mock battle, then hijacking the controls in order to make the requisite menu selections all on its own. By which I mean, it actually clicks the cursor over to the special attack button, sits there for a few seconds so you can see which one it is, then selects it.
However! This is a round-based RPG battle system, and you have two characters in your party. The game only wants to show you one special attack, so it makes the other character Defend. It does this by hijacking the controls, clicking over to the defend button, sitting there for a few seconds, then selecting it.
It. Makes. Her. Defend.
When the game is moving the cursor across the available battle options in search of the one it wants, it does so at a speed just slightly slower than an RPG-loving special needs student might do it. Which is to say, in the four or five seconds I sat there watching the game make itself Defend, I felt the urge to kill. Myself, some other mortal, a childhood pet — it didn’t matter. Something needed to die, effective immediately.
So the game painstakingly shows you how to equip armor, and how to use special attacks, and how to defend, and how to inhale and exhale as a means of avoiding asphyxiation. There’s one part of these fixed tutorials that really takes a cake, though. It’s the kind of thing that not only drives a man to kill, but drives a man to kill all game designers everywhere, as an aggregate, as punishment for the sins of the few.
The Djinni tutorial.
I won’t explain what Djinni are. It’s not relevant to the conversation, for one, but quite simply if you’re going to play Golden Sun DS and you don’t already know what Djinni are, there’s a wonderful explanation right there in the instruction manual. What’s important here is how the game handles the situation. Here we go: one character asks, “Do you know how Djinni work?” The game prompts you with a Yes/No box. I’ve played the previous Golden Sun games; I know how Djinni work. So I picked “Yes”.
Then another character nearby said, “Hmm. We’d better explain it anyway.” Cue incredibly lengthy and detailed forced tutorial cutscene. At no point during this scene was one iota of new information delivered to me. Every single thing about Djinni in Golden Sun DS is identical to how they worked in Golden Sun and The Lost Age. I sat there for four minutes watching the game click through menus and vomit forth information — which is already spelled out in the instruction manual — and the only goddamn thing I wanted to do (besides murder every game developer etc.) was skip to the part of the game that wasn’t a fucking boring, tedious rehash.
Why is the game written this way? Why does every RPG I play assume I’ve never touched an RPG before? Isn’t this the third Golden Sun game? Argh!
I get that this is a new generation of gamers, and that it’s not fair to expect them to send even a sidewards glance at the strange paper curiosity that comes in the game box. And I get that there are people out there who aren’t bothered when a game explains to them, for the fortieth time, what the A button is. Given all that, though, why don’t they just give me the option? “Do you know how to equip your pants?” (Y/N) “Okay, I won’t go through it in excruciating detail then!”
I know about timed hits, over here.
The next part of the game, after every pixel of the menu is shoved down your throat with nine paragraphs of unskippable exposition, is a fairly clever summary of the plot from the first two games. It’s presented as a theme park, which you get to play around in and interact with. You get to move puzzle pieces, explore highly condensed locations from the first two games, and fight a toy version of the final boss at the end. If you’re a new player this is a fun, informative way to introduce the third game in the series. If you’re a veteran player, it’s a cute, fresh way to explain things you already know.
Too bad that this point in the game comes after the incredibly long and tedious introductory text crawl, followed immediately by two NPCs repeating said text crawl in a super-long, once-again-unskippable conversation.
This is Golden Sun. This series has some of the best retro-style RPG gameplay you’re like to find, but you have to weather the storm in order to get to it. It’s like Camelot got paid by the text box over here.