1): Is there any way to coerce the magic spirits into dropping gold coins more often, or is the procedure random as long as the land's mana is high enough? I've been running around in Feig Snowfields for the past 45 minutes or so, attempting to get at least one gold coin for each element. The snowfields have it's mana maxed in each element, but yet there are still many cases where the spirits doggedly refuse to yield their gold -- especially the Jinn and Undine -- even when they enjoy the song.
2): What is the best and second best material in the game? Originally, when playing without the aid of a guide, I thought that Ishe Platinum was the top-of-the-line, since I never got far enough in to find any better. Now, however, I've found the my previous assessment to be incorrect, with an even better form of Iron (of which I've forgotten the exact name sadly,) available from both quests and shops.
Assuming you catch the elemental spirit, you've got such-and-such percent of getting silver and such-and-such (significantly lower) percent of getting gold. It's purely random and there's nothing you can do to influence the silver vs. gold odds, so just keep trying. (If, of course, you don't catch the spirit, then you get neither silver nor gold. Natch.)
As for "best material", there is no one material that's best for all purposes.
DiorWood and DragonScales make the best weapons when tempered to high essence levels (DiorWood for some types, DragonScales for others), however many weapon types allow you to hit the max of 999 attack power with a variety of lesser materials. (Weapon types that are naturally high in attack, like hammers, are the easiest - and thus have the widest variety of 999-potential materials.) Adamantite gives good results for freshly tempered weapons but doesn't benefit as much from raising essence levels.
DragonScales is probably the best for physical defense in armor (although there are three different defense stats, and I think it gets aced out in one or two by something else), while Adamantite *is* the best for magic defense in armor. (With a nod to the gems - Emerald, Lapis Lazuli, Pearl - which are also very good and far more easily obtained.)
Finally, some other materials are notable for other purposes. All aerolites (names tend to end in "rock"), for example, are exceptionally easy to raise essence levels with, when you know what you're doing (or if you follow a recipe from someone who does). Altena Felt, while rather crappy overall, somehow manages to make fantastically excellent spears. (You can hit 999 attack with an Altena Felt spear, which is an amusing concept.)
Overall, I'd say that for various purposes, you'd want Dragon Scales, Dior Wood, or Adamantite. However, there *are* reasons to use other things, such as convenience (aerolites) or equivalent effectiveness with much less rarity. --- - Vilurum Xaren, leader of the happy turtles, and knowitall. ... And if you can't spell "Vilurum", call me "Vil". :)