According to the in-game timer that appears when you save your game, I have now spent 24 hours playing Golden Sun: Dark Dawn.
I did the math—that's an entire day. And I'm not even finished with it yet.
I look back at Final Fantasy VIII, which took even longer to play, and I didn't come anywhere close to completing all the optional material in that game. Golden Sun: Dark Dawn has considerably less in the way of nonessential content, and most of it involves nothing more than a slight detour or an extra puzzle to solve. No card games with ever-changing rules to master; no rare monsters that rarely drop rare items. Everything I'm doing feels like a normal part of the game—it's just not mandatory.
Happily, the same is largely true of Golden Sun: Dark Dawn. There's still a tally of how many important names you've added to your journal through conversing with people, and the cute little magical Djinn creatures you collect and summon are arranged on a menu screen that makes it obvious when you're missing a few, but there's less of a pressure to find everything out of obligation. You're adding journal entries because they enhance the story, and scooping up Djinn because they make combat and character customization more fun and interesting.
Or because you're a completionist, and it's really not that much more effort to shoot for 100% completion...
What gets me about Golden Sun—the whole series; not just this game—is that it's an entry-level puzzle-RPG through and through...with a handful of shining moments that lure in the seasoned veterans, teasing them just enough to believe that the series' brain-bending, tactics-demanding potential might be realized if they just keep playing. Inevitably, it's the more challenging optional content that makes this series worth my time, but if I have to slog through hours and hours of battles that require no effort and puzzles that solve themselves, is what I get out of each game truly worthwhile?
There may be hope for me yet...