Part 27: Alhafra
There isn't much to do in Madra at the moment, but we can marvel at urban planning some more. Like Babi Tower, Aldin, and probably most of the other settlements in this game, Madra is built on the ruins of past Madra, which was built in a cave...
Which was built on more ruins, which were built over a bottomless pit. Moving right along...
The point of coming down here is to get this item, which is more or less useless unless you feel like you have way too many inventory slots and wish Camelot would fix that incredible design oversight. It makes the screen shake as a method of pushing things over. There is zero applicability overlap with our pre-existing psynergy specifically designed around pushing things.
On our way out, we can find another djinn hidden in a random spot on the world map. You might think this one isn't too bad since it's right next to a town, but this completely goes against even the vague pattern Camelot had going with map djinn placement and there's still no possible way of finding this other than dumb luck (or, of course, GameFAQs). It's especially bad because this is early enough in the game that collecting extra djinn actually matters, and this is nowhere near the worst of them. I'm honestly impressed that Camelot didn't just put a missable single-pixel item in the first room of the game that they could use to lock you out of half of the late-game summons.
Anyway, we can now cross the bridge and then immediately get locked out of where we're going by another bridge. We get to go through a desert instead. Game progression .
This is where my son must prove himself as mayor... So, Son. How are you planning to get us through this desert and on to Alhafra?
Father, how am I supposed to get us through the desert? I think you're overestimating my abilities.
What? What does desert survival and navigation have to do with being mayor? Why is there a line of succession for a mayorship? Last I checked being a mayor is not the same thing as being Moses.
Only by overcoming adversity can he ever hope to become a strong leader.
Wait, so you could help him? You're intentionally risking your own life and the lives of a number of innocent people by not helping a group that includes yourself and your son to not die in a desert? Another characteristic of strong leaders is that they tend to have not died in deserts. This would probably be a very appropriate time not to have faith in your son.
The desert, of course, is a maze. Skillful trial-and-error allows you to eventually pound the right combination of pillars to let you through while leaving platforms to reach another djinn.
This dungeon's nonsensical way of being needlessly annoying is not letting you pound pillars from the same level as their tops. Since most of these pillars block ladders and jumping down from non-ovals is absolutely impossible, this desert becomes tedious very quickly.
Eventually we get to pound more pillars in to redirect the path of this sand-bump. I can think of absolutely no situation in which this would be even remotely inadvisable.
Essentially, this is a very annoying timing puzzle. If you pound the pillars at the wrong time the sand-bump gets caught in an infinite loop due to always turning 90 degrees upon hitting a wall. Sand-bumps are not renowned for their problem solving skills.
Eventually it's revealed to be a magical scorpion that summons a magic scorpion hand because it saw a djinn using psynergy items last update and didn't want to be left out of Camelot's rule-rewriting.
It's basically just a way of dropping you down a level for no particular reason, probably because Camelot was getting withdrawal symptoms from going almost fifteen minutes without a cave.
As always, bosses involve spamming djinn and psynergy. Our new summon, Zagan, uses one Mars and one Venus djinn and is basically a... wolfman... satyr... thing. Actual Zagan, as described in a 17th century book about how much Solomon loved summoning demons, is a devil-man with griffin wings and a bull's head, who "can also turn wine into water, water into wine, and blood into wine". Whatever Zagan, call me when you can also heal leprosy.
I hate having inventory slots!
I also hate ever having to use my limbs for anything. If only there was some way I would never have to bend my knees or get dirt under my fingernails when faced with a situation that could easily be solved by bending my knees and getting dirt under my fingernails.
Felix must be a godsend to companies that make infomercials. "Yes, I know we already have a knife set, but do we have a knife set that can cut tin cans?! Go get my checkbook, I'm ordering this right now!"
I know, I shouldn't devote three paragraphs to mocking the same thing, but they even illustrate this power with an image of a shovel digging through some dirt. And this power is mandatory; it's impossible to progress through the game without it. If you still need proof that Camelot had no idea what to do with the flagship gimmick of their series, I think this should suffice as a demonstration.
(Not pictured: The mandatory backtracking across half the desert to get to the place you need to use Scoop to reveal a cave network that allows you to progress)
How did those guys get up there? Maybe there's a path up ahead that we missed...
Inspired by this... nothing, they run off into the desert suddenly full of purpose. Why not ask about what the way up is rather than randomly dive into the desert? Don't you already know there's a way up given that you know there's a way through the desert and that there's a settlement on the other side? What information does seeing us up here give you?
Yes, there's more; dungeons in Golden Sun really do not like to end. I love sandwater, don't you?
This whip is one of three items (one of which I already have, one of which I'll be getting) that lets you unlock special classes. There is absolutely no reason to use them other than locking you out of substantially better psynergy only offered by a default class. I'll be showing these off in the upcoming boss fight.
Alright, finally. I'm just going to make this a long update since it's been three months since anything in the Golden Sun universe has actually happened and we're right on the cusp of actually pretending there's plot (though it's not good plot).
I get that the tidal wave was bad, but what about the sea rising 800 feet right before it? Wouldn't that have also caused some damage? Or be acknowledged by anyone? I can understand if Camelot just wants to forget that ever took place, but I don't plan on letting them do so.
That would explain why Alhafra doesn't seem to have any boats for sale, either! So if you really needed a boat, the only way to get one would be to steal it. Hmmm... But wouldn't that cause quite an uproar?
...Which means the pirates must still be here, trying to get a boat!
That's why I want to meet the mayor of Alhafra before the Champa steal a ship.
In that case, let's go see Alhafra's mayor right away.
I don't think that conversation conveys any of what you want it to convey.
Alhafra doesn't have boats. If someone were to steal a boat, it would be immediately obvious. This is clearly evidence that people are attempting to steal an Alhafran boat and that the mayor would not realize this unless I warned him.
I now understand exactly why we risked our lives crossing a desert to deliver this information and I'm very glad we didn't clarify this motive before doing so. Let's warn the mayor of this undoubtedly real possibility posthaste.
I had suspected we might run into each other again, since we both are looking for boats. Unfortunately, the only boat this town possesses has already been sold. I will be resting here in Alhafra a bit longer.
Ah, sorry it didn't work for you to be working alone. Maybe we should pool our efforts, especially since we recently passed Menardi's boat which you probably know how to use. Or at least, you know, talk to each other in any way. Ask clarifying questions. Catch up on what we're trying to accomplish. Any of that. Nope? Alright.
If you try mindreading Alex instead, this happens:
Which, even in light of everything the Wise One pulls on you, is almost undoubtedly the most blatant example in this entire series of Camelot completely and utterly lying through its metaphorical teeth.
Going over to the docks, we can see an intact boat that has an easily fixable problem which will clearly require the application of psynergy. Given that it's been explicitly said that there's exactly one boat here, our explicit goal is to find a boat, and we're gradually accumulating psynergy, you might think that this will be a long-term goal with easily visible subgoals, allowing for a good deal of freedom while still providing adequate direction as to what you're looking for.
If so, you've learned nothing from the Lunpa fiasco of the first game and are still giving Camelot some degree of credit, a mistake exactly equivalent to giving Camelot far too much credit. We'll get a completely unrelated boat long before ever fixing this boat, and absolutely no incentive will be given to helping with this one at all. So close, Camelot. So close.
Going inside, we find that Briggs, a pirate, has chosen the inconspicuous living arrangements of the inside of a ship docked at the port of a major city. This will be the most logical decision even tangentially involving Briggs for the rest of this update.
He'll probably tell the Alhafrans we're pirates, too, huh?
Pirates!? That seems a little unfair!
What do you mean? We... are pirates, aren't we?
That's only because everyone in Champa would starve otherwise! We don't have any choice. And even then, it's never a lot. We never take too much from any one town because you never can tell how these wealthy towns will react. It's too risky, right?
I am commenting on this game's awkward writing as I attempting to write something humorous. The intention of writing a humorous comment is to entertain people on an internet comedy forum. I am writing said comments relating to Golden Sun because I believe Golden Sun is a poorly written game, as real human beings would be exceedingly unlikely to discuss motivations that are already well-known solely for the sake of other people listening in.
Which is why we didn't steal anything from Alhafra...
Right! That's why we avoid the risky towns and just take what we need from the others!
Then why are you docked in Alhafra? Why did you rob a town and then cross a desert to get to a town you didn't plan on stealing from this sentence and only planned on stealing a little from last sentence?
See? That's why you're our captain, Briggs! You've got brains coming out your ears!
Hmph! There's nothing brainy about that!
Don't you know that someone has been falsely imprisoned for your crimes?
You have to come with us and attest to that man's innocence!
And... why would I want to do something like that?
Oh-ho! I was hoping we could avoid any ugliness, but you leave us no choice! We'll bring you in against your will if we must, but either way, you're coming with us! Isn't that right, Felix?
Thank you, Kraden, for volunteering us before promptly doing nothing. We could go to the mayor and inform him of what we overheard, thus matching the testimony of people who somehow know about pirates being based here, but vigilante justice causes no problems whatsoever so I suppose this also works.
Now, this fight marks an absolutely amazing milestone. It marks the first and so far only time when I have actually had fun playing Golden Sun. Not fun making fun of it or fun turning it off, but actual fun playing the game on its own terms and enjoying it on its own merits. The reason?
Because Briggs and his men fucking annihilate you.
This is good game design. I died three times to this boss by spamming djinn and psynergy. I ultimately won by playing very defensively, prioritizing targets and keeping track of their health, and going out of my way to seek any advantage I could (I had previously missed the Venus djinn outside Madra and had to backtrack across the desert twice). Aimlessly mashing buttons did me absolutely no good and keeping up stat-boosting effects was almost mandatory. This was the one fight across either game where Camelot regarded me as a human being possessing enough gray matter to grasp patterns and formulate an actual strategy.
So why am I not bitching about the sudden difficulty spike? Because there isn't one; I'm sequence breaking right now.
Yes, the game expects you to do this after you complete Air's Rock, but I was attempting to get Piers into my party before tackling that dungeon because, well, it's Air's Rock. I got this far and then held off on getting Piers early as I realized that doing so would actually screw up some dialogue and story content rather than just give me a party member like I thought it would, and thus I decided it wasn't appropriate for the playthrough style I'm going for.
Still, I beat this boss far earlier than I was supposed to and actually had fun because I crippled myself. This is why I say that Camelot could have fixed half the problems with the battle system by simply doubling every enemy's defense and giving you an actual reason to play around with anything.
As it stands, one update from now I get back on the right track and return to effortlessly spamming djinn and psynergy.
Anyway, on the subject of fighting, this is what the Trainer's Whip gets us. Jenna doesn't suffer because Mars Adepts never really do anything useful, but for an actually good party member this would lock out pretty much every decent spell in place of these bad ones. Unsurprisingly, whiplash is purple sparks.
Sheba has another class-changing item: the Mysterious Card, which we got back during Eastern Mysticism. It's moderately more useful, but not really worth the loss of her other spells.
Though it is more visually interesting, if nothing else.
We lost... Go on... Hand us over to Madra or Alhafra or whoever...
First off, you can tell the Madrans that the man called Piers is innocent.
Fine. So, what, I just have to say that Piers isn't one of my men?
Wait! Can't you find it in your hearts to forgive Briggs and his men? I know Briggs and his men have caused some great trouble with their piracy... And I know their crimes cannot be ignored... But the only reason Briggs became a pirate was to help the people of Champa. The soil in Champa is rocky and barren. No crops can grow there.
Just a reminder that this is Kraden. This is Kraden's role in the game.
When did this game start feeling the need to have Phoenix Wright-style dramatic entrances every five seconds? Who are any of these characters?
It looks like they really are pirates, just like you said...
Mister Mayor, I am appalled that you could not take our word for it!
You didn't throw people in prison based on hearsay from people you barely have any connection with at all? I'm appalled, good sir.
We followed Briggs here from Madra. Of course, we have good reason to suspect them of being pirates.
Ahem! And I was honestly taken aback to hear a businessman being slandered! If they truly are pirates, then why would they go to the trouble of buying a ship from us?
Because the very funds they used to purchase the ship were pillaged from our homes!
Okay, so Briggs, despite being a pirate and hailing from Champa (which is across the ocean), didn't have a boat. So he bought a boat, which Alhafra didn't have any of. Did he buy a broken boat? Why? Did he buy the boat pre-Tidal Wave only to have it be less destroyed than every other boat? If he bought it before the wave, why did he have to travel across a desert to find a place selling boats? Trust me, it gets worse from here.
If the ship was bought with Madran gold, then it belongs to the Madrans! What do you say? If we give them the ship, will that fix everything?
You can't really give a boat to a city as reparations for stealing from the people in that city. If I came home to find my TV stolen but a month later the thieves built a statue downtown I would not really consider justice to have been done.
I won't run, and I won't hide. ...Actually, I don't feel up for much of anything right now.
Then you probably won't mind being locked up, will you?
Don't worry, Chaucha! I'll be back!
This line shocks our party, understandably amazed someone noticed being attacked by balls of fire, flying knives, pyramid robots, axe lions, earthquakes, and plasma whips in a boat. Incidentally, Briggs isn't an adept, as was revealed in the fight where he used no psynergy and was weak to all of it. Though neither was Iodem and he noticed psynergy when nobody else did. God damn, this whole psynergy being mysterious thing doesn't make any sense at all and never has.
We'll be taking that boat, then.
Do as you must, but I have one request... You have to let Chaucha and Eoleo stay in the boat until it's repaired.
Why is Briggs in any bargaining position? Why is there any bargaining at all when Briggs committed crimes and is going to be punished for said crimes?
I do not understand this arrangement. So we're locking him up while fixing a boat... to prevent him from using it? When it's no longer his? Because it's forfeit since it was bought with stolen goods? But his family can still live there? And he's locked up for only a few days, and then... he goes home? What happens to the people he stole from? What is the point of any of this?
And our prisoner, Piers... Is he one of your men?
I don't know any Piers! Sounds to me like you've made a pretty big mistake!
See! It's just as I said! Piers is innocent! You must return to Madra and free him immediately!
This is your character witness? A pirate telling you that another pirate isn't a pirate is not a reliable testimony, especially since Briggs is already trying different methods of protecting other pirates. If Al Capone testified that "I've never heard of any other gangsters", you would not start to see every other criminal in Chicago being released. Why is Briggs even saying this? He feels he owes a debt to you for beating him up and letting him be captured? Why did the Elder of Madra think Piers was innocent? Why didn't he have the authority to free him if he wanted to? Why do any of us care about Piers? Why is anyone content with this arrangement that doesn't involve the return of any goods to the people who were robbed? This plan...
Thank all of you very much. Due to your efforts, Piers is going to be released. And now, this fine ship belongs to Madra. None of this would have come to pass were it not for you.
Yes it would have. We really did absolutely nothing except subdue him, and your plans were completely unaffected by us. You don't even know who we are. I don't know who you are. What is happening?
So, what shall I do? I know... Come to Madra after our boat has been fixed and we've sailed home. We are still recovering from the effects of the tidal wave, so it won't be much... But we do want to give you some kind of reward. Well, shall we be going?
So, what should we do now? I suggest that we try to find Piers. He could prove enlightening!
Do you think we should help them fix the boat?
Say, if we help with the boat, maybe they'll give us a ride back to Madra! Good idea!
It is absolutely impossible to fix this boat before going back to Madra.
This isn't entirely done; there's a bit more to this subplot, but we'll be returning to most of it later. As I said, we first need to tackle Air's Rock.
And oh god, is it not going to be fun.
Does it really count as sequence breaking when absolutely nothing stopped you from going to this city before Air's Rock? It feels like you could just wander here by mistake early on, in which case the sudden difficulty spike from this boss would be really unfair!
Other than it being uncharacteristic for the game and arguably a poor choice because there's no expectation of this, I can give them a pass on the difficulty spike. You aren't locked into anything when you go to Alhafra, and getting destroyed by the boss is a pretty good indication that you're meant to try exploring elsewhere first. I actually wish the series used overpowered enemies as a roadblock more often; it's an extremely clear way of communicating and justifying an order to the game, it introduces a long-term goal the player can set for themselves, it adds a sense of progression when you can finally take them out, and it means that if you know what you're doing then you could actually play the game several times in very different ways. Besides, dying to a powerful boss is way less frustrating than getting two-thirds of the way through a dungeon and being unable to progress because you weren't clairvoyant enough to get the correct magic hand first.