Part 2: Sol Sanctum (1/2)
I tried to come up with a thread title that would involve some incredible pun about using alchemy to change helium into gold, but I couldn't come up with one that fit the character limit and didn't make me hate myself for thinking there could be an "incredible pun" about using alchemy to change helium into gold. Alas, the pains of writing an LP...
As far as I can tell, 3 years is an entirely arbitrary amount of time that probably corresponded to how long somebody could reasonably stand to work at Camelot Studios. Given the implied timeframe, the people of Vale seem to have spent about two years and eleven months sitting in corners and mulling over their collective ennui before deciding to do things like actually talk about the tragedy.
Isaac and Garet, however, put the time to good use and suddenly developed magical powers. Isaac now uses a spell that nobody will learn until the last third of the game to avoid having to bend his knees and pick up some straw while Garet takes out his anger on some wood.
This section goes on far too long and accomplishes nothing, so I'm just going to offer some quick summaries of the action.
Say, what exactly happened to you two? The accident three years ago...Is that why you've been studying Psynergy?
Jenna decides that thirty-three months later is an appropriate time to start asking Garet about why he passed out at some point.
That awful day...We went to get help, but they found us unconscious...
Garet recounts no new information at all, which for some reason satisfies Jenna. She reminds him that they were going to hang out with Kraden later that day to remind each other of things they all know.
I was devastated when Kyle died. I felt all alone...
Isaac continues patching a roof terribly. Dora decides to enter the Ms. Clunky Exposition pageant by dropping the nonexistent bombshell that the uncharacterized Kyle was actually the uncharacterized protagonist's uncharacterized father. Presumably this is meant to be saddening.
Alchemy is the foundation of all Psynergy...And you all know Mt. Aleph is the greatest source of Alchemy. They say Kraden is the best teacher around.
Dora's entry into the talent portion is to tell her son about what he's been studying for the past several months, because that's how normal people communicate. You're reading this on an internet forum, after all, and we all know forums are places for communication.
There's some 'comic relief' where people fall in holes and betray the fact that this game was made in Japan. Dora seems remarkably unconcerned by the auxiliary fact that the roof she just had Isaac mend wasn't mended.
Despite having not done the job we were supposed to do, we get to run off and potentially see more poorly written flavor text. Dora may be the Ms. Clunky Exposition Pageant judge favorite, but she's by no means running unopposed.
If your errand is more important than our own, then...Go...
Are you sure, Saturos?
Menardi, we have no reason to delay these children any further.
We eventually run into these guys again. They hamfistedly introduce themselves as Saturos (who would go on to get a sizable role in a James Cameron film) and Menardi (who embarrassingly mistook lipstick for eyeliner in a serious fashion faux pas), demonstrate that neither of them have personalities, and let you pass in a way that could either be snide or legitimately polite depending on how good you think this game's writing is (answer: not very).
Things that even the elders of Vale don't know. And what were they saying about elements? The elements of Alchemy: earth, water, fire, and wind...They plan to set them into motion? And the four Elemental Stars are the key? These are things that I, a trained Alchemy sage, do not know.
Kraden, the greatest alchemy teacher ever, decides to loudly announce these amazing alchemical secrets, like the existence of four elements and the fact that they somehow aren't in motion despite having being used about eight-thousand times by now.
Wait, everyone! I still don't know how accurate the things they said were...We can do nothing until we confirm what they told me.
The great alchemic sage then decides that the best course of action, rather than reading a book about it or asking somebody who would actually know anything about what they're studying, is to sneak into a mountain so that they can investigate a sanctum. So that they can do exactly what Saturos and Menardi want. When the last time they tried that it caused about eight natural disasters to happen at once. All so that he can figure out if there are really four elements that could be restored by things specifically designed to harness elements.
Is it too early to start applying the "some random incompetent guy killed an actual alchemic sage and took his place" theory? Perhaps he just wanted to expand his knowledge base.
Then it's decided! We'll make you the leader, OK, Isaac? [No] There are some dangerous places between Mt. Aleph and Sol Sanctum, so I'll take over if you get nervous.
And then he decides that the seventeen-year-old kid (whose response is, as always, ignored) would be a much better leader than the supposedly well-trained sage who's actually been there before (maybe, he does say that it's forbidden and you end up having to sneak in). This was probably because the designers didn't want to have to draw Kraden's battle sprites. A noble decision.
Thankfully, the source of all alchemical power and the potential to change the world is guarded by a single unarmed priest. He walks in a meaningless U-shape that prevents him from actually monitoring the path to the mountain half the time, presumably so he can make sure that the cliff and church wall don't try anything funny.
This is the entrance to Sol Sanctum. This is your first time here? [No] I doubt that...Few ever get the chance to see this sanctum firsthand.
Even the biggest Golden Sun fans tend to admit that this very long introductory sequence (everything before you leave Vale) is rather unforgivable. Perhaps, however, it was intentionally made unbearable as a fair warning about the rest of the game. All of the absolutely useless text I've been abridging demonstrates how long-winded the rest will turn out, and this dungeon basically shows off the extent of Camelot's level design.
It's a maze!
Well, okay, it's actually the same corridor copy/pasted a few dozen times with some small maze/"puzzle" elements mixed up with a ton of random battles, but I'll be charitable to what the intention seemed to be.
I've come here many times, and I've always thought it looked...strange. Sol Sanctum was built in honor of the sun. There ought to be something here to reflect that. I was always puzzled why there wasn't.
As I said last update, this game cannot keep its terrible excuses straight. Apparently Kraden is forbidden to come here but comes here all the time because it has something to do with alchemy but he's always been puzzled that it had nothing to do with alchemy. Or, you know, the sun.
Apparently nobody else ever noticed any problems with a temple to the sun being completely forbidden, not a temple, and without any connection to the sun, since nobody else ever attempted to explore this room in the slightest. "Puzzles" like this are basically the most challenging things the game will throw at you.
Now we get to go through more obvious padding, where we finally discover that the primary purpose of Isaac's magical training was so he would never need to get his legs wet ever again.
And yes, this is pure trial-and-error in a dungeon that's already a bland maze, and every use of the Move command takes a few seconds that pushing the statues by hand wouldn't. Given that this game is short enough as it is, perhaps the steadfast refusal to streamline anything was so that the game would take more than an hour and a half to finish.
Clearly, this is the mark of the sun...the heart of Sol Sanctum. It's just as I'd imagined...which means those two were telling the truth!
Sol Sanctum holds the origins of Alchemy. It would be a waste to...What do you think? Shall we go a little farther? [No]
Career: Alchemic Sage
Age: Approx. 5 Years Old
Then you can all go back to the village without me.
Hey, remember those strange people who somewhat destroyed our town and plan on unleashing alchemy over the entire world? (Note: For the rest of the game just pretend this would actually do anything and is bad, since it's implied that people occasionally assume this). Now that we've somehow proven them correct by finding this room that would be very easy to access again, let's screw around with the natural disaster-causing machines instead of letting anyone know about all this. It's a great idea.
Instead of leaving we're made to walk five feet to the right and trigger another cutscene.
There's a moon in the center...A picture of Luna. This must symbolize night...These rooms must be connected somehow, don't you think?
The ability to walk from one room to another without going through an intermediate room tends to signal a connection between the two, yes.
Going up a level, we see that entering the base of a mountain and ascending two flights of stairs has suddenly transported Isaac above the clouds.
There are also statues, and pushing them changes around some tiles and makes lighting storms occur inside a cave. The rationale for any of this is left largely unexplained.
This is a most interesting mechanism you've found, Isaac. But this is clearly...some kind of trap.
But why would anyone put a trap here, anyway?
I don't know who did it...but they've hidden something very important. Perhaps...they've hidden the key to Alchemy itself. Should I tell you more? [Yes] Hmm...Honestly, I doubt you could understand it if I explained now. [No] Hmph. Well, even if I told you now, you probably wouldn't understand.
Golden Sun: Blaming its inability to tell a story on you since 2001.
We must try to find a solution to this mystery. I'll keep checking the Luna room. You continue exploring the sanctum.
Nice job finding the trap-filled chamber that kills everything. Keep fiddling around with stuff; I'm going back downstairs to look at some bricks.
This... certainly is a puzzle. I'm a bit unclear as to what exactly is happening, so maybe the game can clear things up...?
Excellent work, Isaac! Where did that hole come from?
When Isaac moved those statues, two beams of light shot out from them, and then this hole appeared in the floor.
And Isaac dropped the statue into it after that.
Hmm...Good work, everyone! So the statue puzzle was the trap...and that other statue was here to...disarm the trap. And now that you've disarmed it, we've should be all right. I'll observe from the Luna room, where it's safe. You handle the rest!
Of course... it all makes perfect sense...
And yes, Golden Sun makes you watch a cutscene solely to tell you what you just did. I especially like how it ends with Kraden going back to where it's safe (i.e. where he almost got killed by lighting a whole minute earlier) to observe something happening a floor above him.
Somehow the games I play keep topping themselves in terms of nonsensical puzzles. Perhaps this sanctum's creators assumed that all thieves have a pathological fear of marble.
Somewhere, something else must have changed. We must find it.
The "something else" is in the adjacent room that Kraden loudly announced was important at every other point in his incredibly long narrations of what you've been doing. I think this game was designed for anterograde amnesiacs who routinely hit themselves with hammers while drinking bleach. Or by Trilby.
Kraden would have entered the pageant, but he felt his skills were better attuned to poorly repeating what people had already discovered rather than poorly introducing partially-new information.
Priest 1: So, where should I go to see the elemental stars?
Priest 2: Oh, just crawl through the center of a mountain, put some jewels in minotaur heads, shine enough light to make a hole in the ground, telekinetically pull a statue into that hole which will make the statue disappear, push the other statues around the sky moat to make a picture of the sun become a picture of the moon, then go through the magic portal that results. Also we set it up so that if you mess up you'll destroy the town.
Priest 1: Wouldn't it be both easier and more secure to just use a key?
Priest 2: What kind of fantasy character are you?
Next time, things go wrong. Who ever could have foreseen such a twist?