Atelier Iris 2: The Azoth of Destiny (Playstation 2)
Okay, the title is slightly pretentious, but that has no bearing on the quality of the game. Really!
As I said in the previous review, Atelier Iris (1) is my favorite of the three games, but this one's not too far below it. They changed a few systems around a bit, added a few major tweaks to the game, and of course made this a prequel far in the past so that the characters are different (though you see a few slightly familiar faces), the world is... mostly different, actually, though you see a few familiar places as well, but it's still a lot of fun. I could easily see someone having this one as their favorite over #1, depending on which system tweaks they like more.
This time around you have two different main characters, Felt and Viese. This is one of the ways in which the game stands apart from the others in the series and from other games, period: early in the game, the two characters are split up (I won't go into spoilers about just what happens and how), and you go between the two characters, switching at "camp" locations as you like, or automatically when you finish chapters or various events.
Felt is the male main character, and a not very good alchemist, but he's a better fighter, using a sword instead of the cane used by Klein in the last game. He can use mana items in battle (in a combat system quite similar to the previous game's), and make more "copies" of one he knows, but he can't make new recipes. He can, however, eventually learn to forge weapons into new forms, using Mana Spirits and mana items in the process, and this in turn gives the character new skills to learn.
Viese is the female main character, and she's an excellent alchemist but isn't as adventurous as Felt, so she more or less stays in the one location and provides long-distance support, thanks to some special equipment the two have that allow them to communicate and share alchemically-created items, even when separated. When you play as Viese therefore you'll be making pacts with the mana spirits (which don't have the map-related abilities this time around, but are used for both weapon forging and mana item creation). You'll also be using her to explore the area she's stuck in, visiting her local shops, and probably most importantly, creating new alchemy items.
This time around the item creation systems are similar to the first game, but changed. The shop creation system is gone, and as mentioned before the weapon forging system is seriously changed. The mana item creation system is similar in some ways - once you've "initialized" the mana item, either Viese or Felt can create more in their downtime or on the fly in battle using elements and Mana Spirits. The initial creation of the first item though falls to Viese, and is different than before.
Now instead of simply collecting one copy of the mana item and knowing how to make more from elements, you have to collect an actual recipe. This can be done through buying them in shops (on either Viese or Felt's end), or from finding them in chests, or finding them by searching locations, or similar methods. Once you have a recipe you must go back to Viese's workshop and create the item, which this time uses actual various items in a system that's similar to the shop creation system last time around, plus you need a specific mana spirit to complete the creation. So really, they in a way smashed the mana item and shop creation systems together into one, so that not much is lost. As with the shop creation system, you can also replace many of the items with variants, and not only get different qualities on the items (such as increasing the range or damage), but also have a chance to make a whole new item altogether.
Much of the rest of the same is similar to the first game - an interesting world, fun and diverse characters (although there wasn't any one character I really especially liked this time around, which was disappointing - my favorite characters were a bad guy and an allied but non-partied NPC). A similar battle system to the previous game, along with a return of the monster and other "collections." The same sort of interesting story (although it's more along the "save the world" vibe from the start, this time out of the gate), and sense of humor that adds to the experience.
In short, it's a darn fun game, and it's a pity that neither of these two games have gotten the attention and love that they deserve.