In my last post, I compared the the item creation systems in Ar Tonelico and Atelier Iris 2. As a whole, I found Atelier Iris 2's system to be a fun and effective system. However, while Atelier Iris that the basic premise I discussed, which I would consider the traditional system (item creation based on combining different basic items into more complex items, which are then fused into more complex items) is a viable system, it is not the only system that is good. In many ways, I consider the item creation system of Odin Sphere, an action RPG for the PS2, to be superior in some ways.
First, I need to point out a fundamental similarity between Odin Sphere's Alchemy Mixing system and Atelier Iris's Item Synthesis system: both systems rely on finding recipes, and following those recipes in order to make an item. Overall, I think this is a superior system to the alternative (not providing recipes and instead asking the player to experiment to learn anything), simply because it is easier for the player to use, and involves less frustration.
Despite that similarity, it is at the level of recipes that Odin Sphere makes one of its most important departures from more typical item creation systems like the one seen in Atelier Iris 2. In Odin sphere, all items are created from mixing one of five certain types of the item "Material" with one of the five "Mandragoras" or a "Troll Molar" or "Milk". As such, there is an absolute limit on the number of possible combinations, and in the game every possible combination has a recipe. It is a very limited set of items, but because the number of ingredients for mixing is small and there are only a few recipes (often following elemental themes based on Mandragora), it is very easy to memorize the entire system. This makes it very easy to use. At the same time, it means each mixable item is more unique and important, rather than a minor thing that will become obsolete or forgotten.
Another elegant aspect of the Odin Sphere system is found in the Material item. This item is essential to all alchemical mixes, with the value of the mix determining the resulting item. However, rather than these items being static ingredients, they are incredibly flexible. Any value of Material can be created by mixing a Material with common items like seeds, bones, bread, or fruit, or by mixing two Materials. Because this system is explicitly mathematical with no hidden processes it is easy to calculate, and creating a Material does not depend on finding particular items or special ingredients. All you have to do is combine a Material with items you don't need (which you need to do because inventory space is terribly limited), and you will eventually get the Material you want. Also, the game rewards mastery of this part of the process by giving you lots of "Phozons" (the functional equivalent to Experience Points in the game) if you create Material with really high values.
The item required for the Alchemy Mix other than the Material is another interesting side of the system. Here, the game takes a fundamental problem of more traditional item creation systems, the rarity of necessary component items, and turns it into something more interesting. In Odin Sphere, it is pretty much always possible to find a Mandragora when you want to Mix something, but what Mandragoras you can find depends on the stage. you will always be able to find the Mandragoras you need to complete a stage, but it may be difficult to find the other Mandragoras. This forces the player to think about what items to stock up on based on which stage he wants to attempt, and makes resource management more interesting.
The Odin Sphere system does not have the advantages of Atelier iris 2's complexity, which allows detailed item customization and the creation of equipment, but it is a very simple and easy to use system that is very well integrated into the game. It is one of several reasons that, even though Atelier Iris 2 is built around an item creation system, I actually used the items I created a lot more in Odin Sphere. However, I will need to discuss that another time.