These are what we call the 'YMMV items.' Things that some people find in this work. We call them 'your mileage might vary' because not everyone sees these things in the same way. This starts discussions in the trope lists, a thing we don't want. Please use the discussion page if you'd like to discuss any of these items.
Alex's status as a villain actually is somewhat contentious, as it isn't until after the second game ends that it is revealed that he had an ulterior motive for wanting the lighthouses lit. Which is something that Saturos and Menardi—and Felix—were already trying to do when they met him.
The Wise One being a jerk god that wants to keep Alchemy out of human hands for his own selfish reasons. Kinda hypocritical since he failed/being reluctant to stop Alex but bothers to send a three-headed dragon to ''test'' the protagonists instead. That last one might have been jossed by Dark Dawn, since it's revealed that the Wise One is actually a man-made being and it's outright confirmed that the ancients screwed themselves over and tried to prevent Alchemy's release. However, this just raises the question of whether the ancients were outright Jerkasses when it came to their policies on Alchemy.
Is Felix actually faking his jerkass behavior towards Isaac's party in the first game just to gain Saturos' and Menardi's trust or he actually is one and becomes much nicer in The Lost Age as he spends his time travelling with the likes of Kraden, Sheba, Piers and his sister?
Base Breaker: Kraden has a hard case of this. People who like the series love him and demand he be playable. People who don't like it usually cite him as a primary reason.
Crack Pairing: Everybody/everybody, but the weirdest ones include Isaac/the roof of his house and the Kraken/the Tolbi-bound Ship that it attacks.
Crowning Music of Awesome: Motoi Sakurabaoutdid himself here. One of the reasons this game still stands out a bit (other than its timing) was that it actually sounded way different than most Game Boy Advance music, and the Game Boy Advance didn't have very good sound-capabilities at all. In fact, the gamerip soundtrack even sounds better than some Nintendo DS hardware.
Draco in Leather Pants: Averted with Karst - besides the obvious fact of being an Anti-Villain, it seems that nobody actually wanted her to take her revenge on Isaac anyway. The events of the plot are probably also a factor.
Saturos is - as noted on the "Golden Sun Wiki" - very popular in fandom for his charismatic personality, and the revelations about Prox in the sequel made his fanbase even stronger.
Karst, who easily has the most relatable motives and well-developed character of all the duology's antagonists. The Ship Tease with Felix, near the end doesn't hurt either, since so many fanfic writers consciously choose to save her, regardless of whether they actually care that Agatio died with her.
Among the summons:
Judgment the badass angelic knight who fires destructive beams from his lion-shaped cannon is easily the most popular of all the summons. Even when outclassed by stronger summons and many enemies resisted Venus in the games he remains a fan favorite.
The Lost Age introduced the colossal orange dragon Eclipse and the demonic dragon-launching knight Catastrophe; both who attack similarly to Judgment and also have a massive fanbase.
Megaera and Flora are not only loved for their charming designs but also for their useful secondary effects (attack boosts and Sleep status respectively for a cheap cost).
Fan Wank: Due to the numerous hints about Anemos and its legends, many people presume that Sheba came from Anemos and fell from there into Lalivero. The game avoids actually resolving this, however. Even so, some people liked the resulting character development, slight as it was.
Flanderization: Since most of the characters lack well-defined personalities, fans tend to take the very few moments allocated for them and exaggerate it; Isaac's infamous relationship with roofs, Garet's recklessness, Kraden's constant rambles and Mia's hatred for pharmacies are some of the memorable ones.
In TLA, Isaac's party can be this if they join overleveled.
The summons. Oh so much. You can very easily breeze through 90% of the first game just abusing summons, ending battles in around 2 turns or less, with the exception of the final boss due to the Sequential Boss system. The downside is that your stats are reduced until the djinn cools down (which costs many turns in battles) and the game is easy enough without them. Averted in The Lost Age onwards since all enemies and bosses have more hitpoints and attacks more often that every other attacks sans weapon unleashes, EPAs and summons (but see the drawbacks above) only deal Scratch Damage to them.
As mentioned above, weapon unleashes are as broken if not more than the summons. The end-game ones outright multiply damage to a certain amount, especially Sol Blade's unleash Megiddo which triples the damage output. All this without any negative drawbacks such as PP limit or temporary stat reduction for Psynergy and summons respectively. The only hindrance is that unleash rates are random, but those are not a problem when unleash-rate-boosting items (and materials for some of them) can be easily farmed in this game with a specific RNG method.
The Spirit Ring, an early game healing item in TLA which, most likely due to an oversight, can be used indefinitely outside of battle, ensuring your party full health between every fight.
The Flash+Shade strategy, which involves using two Djinn that cut damage by 60% and 90% repeatedly. You can pretty much stall infinitely against anything that isn't the Doom Dragon or Dullahan.
Genius Bonus: The positions of continents in Golden Sun : The Lost Age is quite similar to where their real-life counterparts were during the Cretaceous, in particular Indra (India's counterpart) being located between Gondowan (Africa's counterpart) and Osenia (Australia's counterpart). Gondowan is even named after Gondwana, a former supercontinent that grouped Africa, South America and other southern hemisphere continents.
Hype Backlash: Even back when it was released, there were gamers who, beyond the sound and the graphics, didn't think the game was terribly noteworthy and felt it suffered from poor design. See also Seinfeld Is Unfunny below.
Alex as well, though he's a bit more subtle about being a bastard. More so with each installment in the series, too.
Memetic Badass: There is a fan forum known as the Temple of Kraden, which the Golden Sun wiki amusingly describes as "[where] Kraden is revered as a god-like figure, although it is reasonably sure that users are joking about their level of devotion to him." Also, the below-mentioned joke about him becoming a playable character. It has almost become an Ascended Meme in Dark Dawn.
There were a few fans who preferred Piers' Japanese name, Picard, so they used "Pow pow Picard!" as a rally cry.
Kraden is surprisingly popular within the fanbase. As described by Golden Sun's wiki, it is "an endearing tradition to revere him as a godlike figure with comically extreme devotion." To the point that a popular fan-made name for a Weyard equivalent of Christmas is Kradenmas.
Moral Event Horizon: If it were not for Felix's intervention, Agatio and Karst would have arguably crossed this by killing Isaac and Ivan after they were separated from the rest of their group.
Narm: Boreas may be a strong summon, but that doesn't change the fact that it's basically a giant ice maker. It's also the most useful summon in the entire first game. Which nets it some Memetic Badassitude, which is just hilarious considering yeah, it's pretty much a giant ice maker. To put it simply: One of the best summons in the first game is making snow cones over your enemies.
Replacement Scrappy: A small portion of the fanbase remained convinced that Saturos and Menardi had somehow survived their Disney Villain Death and would return in the second game. Naturally, these fans did not take kindly to the introduction of Agatio and Karst.
Scrappy Weapon: Maces and axes are almost always hated since most of them are early-game weapons which quickly gets outclassed by everything else. Even the high-tier ones are hard to find and their unleashes are not as strong as the end-game long sword and light blade ones. One notable exception is the Wicked Mace in the first game due to being easier to find and lethal against the Tornado Lizard monster line and Deadbeard.
Yeah, the games look generic now, but consider that when the first installment was originally made, the Game Boy Advance platform was merely months old. For a handheld game, it was actually considered very impressive for its time. It had a level of depth that apart from a few exceptions, was practically unheard of on handheld formats. Playing it now after the likes of other games, it comes off as quite shallow.
Zig-zagged with the soundtrack. while it is indeed showing its age, it still manages to hold up very well considering that the Game Boy Advance had limited sound quality.
Shipping: Enough of a developed shipping fandom that pretty much every possible pairing among main characters is covered with its own "____shipping" name, and with copious amounts of Crack Pairings too. The Ship-to-Ship Combat can be truly awe-inspiring, especially between Mudshippers (Isaac/Mia) and Valeshippers (Isaac/Jenna). In fact, the shipping fandom is so ridiculously developed that in some circles, even Original Character ships are named. Just as an example of how fast GS shipping fandom moves, the Matthew/Karis couple was named "Dawnshipping" within an hour of Dark Dawn being announced.
Special Effects Failure: While the graphics are excellent for a GBA game, some of the pre-rendered sprites look obviously resized back and forth and as a result looks really overpixeled such as the Tiamat summon, the Serpent, both final bosses and the Mad Demons.
While the battle system is heavily biased against mages Ivan and Sheba got it the worst since they are toofrail and difficult to be used in the late game. Some players who have difficulty using them tend to permanently bench those two despite their element is strong against the majority of enemies and bosses. At least their class options boosts the stats they frequently use.
For those who actually used those two, Piers gets some of this due to his class options clash horribly with his stats. He is supposed to be warrior-based, but most of his class options are mage-based causing his attack stat (which he mostly uses) rendered much lower if placed in most classes he had access to. The uneven djinn distribution can make him worse than he already is.
Poor Levatine gets the shaft due to its unleash Radiant Fire not being as game-breaking as Megiddo, Legend and Vengeance. This gets averted in Dark Dawn, where changes to the unleash system as well as getting a powerful Jupiter unleash in a game where many things are weak to said element makes Levatine the second-best weapon after the Sol Blade.
Poseidon is a hard-hitting boss with multiple Total Party Kill attacks and can reflect attacks back at you. Made even worse if you meet him under the wrong circumstances, as he cannot be damaged unless you have a certain artifact obtained after completing a vaguecompulsory sidequest.
Saturos from the first game (when you face him for the first time) can be quite a menace to players that are unprepared, mainly due to the fact that he has spells that are more powerful than what the players are used to at the point. His second (and final) battle with him is arguably much worse though, as he brought Menardi to assist him.
Briggs counts as an early game example, as, due to Osenia's layout, he can be fought before encountering a number of dungeons and collecting their Djinni, summons, and items. What makes him more difficult than Saturos is that you only have three party members by the time you reach him while Mia already joins Isaac's group before Saturos' boss fight. Briggs can also summon his crew over and over again to assist him, as opposed to Saturos who fights alone. to Needless to say, he's going to mop the floor with you.
That One Attack: Dullahan and Doom Dragon both deserve a special mention for the ability Djinn Storm, which sets all Djinn in the current party into recovery mode (removing the stat bonuses of having them equipped to a character and preventing them from being used for summons). Doom Dragon also has a very infamous attack called Cruel Ruin which hits the entire party, has a base damage of 200, and becomes more powerful depending on how much HP the party has meaning that it does MORE damage to a higher leveled party.
What separates this from Dullahan is that there is no factor that randomly KILLS you. What made Dullahan so hard was that in combination with Djinn Storm, it has Charon that can instant kill you in tandem with just doing damage which means that it doesn't matter if you are fully healed, you are still taking a dead member 50% of the time and maybe even two or three. Then he finishes you off with Formina Sage Fulminous Edge. Cruel Ruin itself is not as dangerous mainly because a sufficiently strong party can stand in the face of it and still come out standing, even with no Djinn set. A level 50 party can completely raze the Doom Dragon without suffering a single death while Dullahan can KO the entire party before you even reach half HP with the same level.
On the other hand, Dullahan can be summon-rushed. Doom Dragon is specifically geared to nerf summon-rush strategies by having separate damage calculations for each of its forms. It really depends on your play style.
Virtually all of Dullahan's attacks are That One Attack: Djinn Storm, which puts every active party member's Djinni in recovery mode; Fulminous Edge, which does huge damage to one party member; Charon, which can easily be a Total Party Kill; Condemn, which is a potential One-Hit Kill; True Collide, which hits hard and restores his health; Bind, which disables one party member's Psynergy...is the Bragging Rights Reward really worth it?
You're going to respect Master Maha after that one. How the hell did he ever finish that thing alone?
To elaborate: The exterior mountain climb of Air's Rock is about as long as any given dungeon up to that point in the second game. Then, the interior exploration of Air's Rock is, in itself, noticeably longer than any other dungeon in either game, barring the Lighthouses and the other elemental rocks. It also relies extensively on a (relatively expensive, compared to other utility spells) Psynergy that requires one of the characters to be in her default class, which means repeatedly shutting down and turning on her Djinn for any player who places her in a more balanced class. This dungeon is early enough in the game that the player only has the first three characters, although it is possible to wait until you have the fourth party member to attempt it. If you want that fourth party member, however, you'll instead have to fight the Wake-Up Call Boss massively underleveled, since he was intended to be fought after Air's Rock.
Ugly Cute: Moloch might be a dopey-looking dog-thing, but some fans found it fluffy and adorable. The same goes for Cybele's frog.
Visual Effects of Awesome: The Catastrophe Summon; widely regarded as the most visually impressive animation sequence ever produced for a GBA game. View it in all its glory here.
What an Idiot: Kraden, especially in The Lost Age, to those that don't find him to be an Ensemble Darkhorse. Karst encounters Felix's party in Madra. Wondering where her sister is (Menardi, one of the antagonists), Sheba tells Karst that Isaac killed her. Understandably upset, Karst questions why the party would want to protect Isaac from her rage. Kraden, for no reason, then asks Karst how she would know that Felix didn't kill Menardi, right after Karst had all but said that she was planning to kill Isaac. Even if the implication was meant to protect Isaac, Sheba had already told Karst the truth and the party's behavior implicated it even further. To quote a Let's Player (who regards Kraden with very little respectdue tohis actions in The Lost Age):