THE GOLDEN SUN GAMES don't get the respect they deserve. As Nintendo games, they draw comparisons to The Legend of Zelda, but as roleplaying games, they have to compete with Final Fantasy. As a result, the series has earned a group of loyal fans, but is nearly unknown by the average person.
Hopefully Golden Sun: Dark Dawn can change all of that.
Though the series' backstory is far too long to detail here, Golden Sun tells a tale of a group of young warriors who must unlock mystical powers (often in the form of adorable creatures called djinn) just in time to save the world from disaster. Pretty typical stuff for a JRPG, but Dark Dawn sets itself apart from the pack in two ways.
First, the in-game backstory (all gathered in handy virtual books that can be accessed at will) is absolutely immense. During conversations you'll find links—and I use that word in the most literal "they function exactly like HTML links" way—that, when tapped with the stylus, reveal a small speck of info about the world around you. Information overload is a possibility, but since reading it is entirely optional, this extraneous information is a goldmine for those who get off on cleverly designed virtual worlds.
Dark Dawn's greatest strength, though, is in its design. The game's combat mimics Final Fantasy VII (including that game's stunning "summons"), and its dungeon puzzles would be right at home in a Super Nintendo-era Zelda title. Owing to the 80-plus djinn scattered throughout the world, there's even a hint of Pokémon-style "gotta catch 'em all" compulsion. Call it "conceptual theft" if you like, but in Dark Dawn the result is sublime.
This last year has been an amazing one for handheld roleplaying games, and while I won't say that Dark Dawn beats Dragon Quest IX, it still deserves a spot on your shelf. If only so we don't have to wait seven years for another sequel.