Golden Sun 1 and 2 on the Gameboy Advance have received lots of praise from all the critics. Having played both 1 and 2, here are my thoughts on theses two games and the overall game design.
What I liked
Great graphics- The graphics are awesome bright and reminds a great deal of claymation models. They remain quite striking considering how old they are.
Solid puzzles- In generally, the dungeon puzzles are done well and feel fun.
What I disliked
Item Interface- Your character don't share an inventory pool. Instead everybody has their own items and you have to transfer items between them. It's a really strange and anacrhonistic method that serves no purpose whatsoever. There is no time in the game where the characters are separated or anything so why not just have a shared inventory like every single other RPG game since the late 80's!
Item storage- The number of items you can carry is extremely limiting. All your equipped armour and weapons take up one space. Within the game, certain special items that grant special abilities to help move objects or solve puzzles also take up a space. This leaves you with little space for miscellaneous items. There isn't any storage function either so you end up carrying around a lot of items, some of which can't even be used until the right time and place. A good example would be the game tickets and lucky medals which are to be used in mini-games. These games however, are located near the end of each game meaning you're going to be carrying around what seems to be something really useless for much of the game.
Combat instructions needs a bit of work- If all enemies in a group die, your characters don't attack another group. Instead they defend. I wish there was an option to change this.
Class changes- Class changes are fairly clear but the overall effect is sort of lost amidst all the numbers. For example, depending on how many of one of Djinn you assign to a character, you get a specific percentage of stat boosts and a change in abilities. In practice it's usually the case it's best to just assign the Djinn to the best character suited for it. For example, assigning Earth to the Earth character and Fire Djinn to the Fire character.
Djinns need to be reset manually all the time- For some reason you have to manually reassign Djinn if you use them. It's really annoying as for normal battles its usaully more efficient to use Djinn which deals plenty of damage to all enemies.
Slow travelling and teleport function only found at the end- You have to walk everywhere which is relatively slow when you realise you have forgotten something. There isn't even a vehicle to travel in either for most of the game. You do get a boat later on in Golden Sun 2 but even that is relatively slow considering the size of the world. In the final dungeon you do get a teleport spell but its something you should have gotten after the first town.
Generic story- The story is pretty generic. There were no unexpected plot twists or anything. It's pretty stock standard, save the world from evil bad guys. Every village has some minor problem, usually related to the neighbouring village or the surrounding area that needs to be solved.
Psychic powers are not creative enough- The psyhic powers in the game are basically the problem solving skills or tools seen in other games. E.g. a character will have a whip or tool will allow you to cross gaps. The most interesting and unique of them is the mind reading power which will allow you to read the 'real' thoughts of the NPCS. It's not really put good use in my opinion. There are occasions when reading thoughts will reveal some secret treasure or something but these occasions are far and few in between. I was hoping for more creative mechanics like an investigation quest. It could be cool to combine mind reading with a detective mini-game where you have find clues and pin down the real culprit.
Lack of hints- Some of the games quests and secrets like Djinn locations are a bit too secretive. Personally I think the game needs to be a bit more guided in giving you more hints on what to do next.
Underused linking- The characters and items do carry over from the first game so you get them near the end of the game. I do feel its a slightly wasted opportunity as aside from a few minor events, it doesn't really affect the story too much.
I don't know why people like Golden Sun so much. The graphics and overall presentation is awesome for the GBA as are the solid dungeon puzzles but lack of interesting story perspective and average combat mechanics is a real major problem. The innovations in gameplay are never fully taken advantage off and the RPG customisation never really feels substantial. Its not terrible but I feel there are better RPG games to play.