I sadly can’t claim to have played much of the Layton series in my time. I played a bit of the first game, The Curious Village, when it came out but aside from that it’s always been a franchise I’ve enjoyed from afar. I love the concepts behind it and the style of the presentation but I just never ended up playing any of the other games, Well with this latest release, Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy, marking the end of Professor Layton’s run as the main character (though not the end of the series) this seemed like a good point to jump in and see exactly what the franchise has become.
So as I said earlier this is the last game in the Layton series with titular professor in the lead role, so as one might expect they go pretty heavy on the story stuff. You have a lot of (what I assume are) returning characters from the past games playing fairly major roles and mysteries of all sorts are solved by the end of the game, some of which concern the professor himself. But that’s not to say that this game is focused entirely on tying up loose ends for the series, it does have its own story to tell. The core conundrum this time around involves Professor Layton meeting up with a fellow archaeologist by the name of Professor Sycamore to inspect a mysterious girl in ancient clothes who’s frozen in ice but somehow still alive. As you might expect, they quickly find a way to thaw her out and she tells them that she is part of the Azran, a civilization who ruled the earth before the rise of mankind, and that she’s here as a messenger to lead the humans to the legacy of the Azran. Such a scientific treasure though doesn’t stay quiet for long and an evil organization by the name of Targent seeks to capture the girl so they can take the legacy for themselves. The rest of the game is Layton, Sycamore, and Layton’s trusty assistants Luke and Emmy evading Targent while collecting Azran artifacts which will allow them to unlock the Azran legacy before Targent and prevent them from doing something evil with it. That main plot thread certainly allows Layton amateurs such as myself to get into this title without any prior experience with the past games. That said the pacing of the story does feel rather off; the majority of the game is focused on the main plot involving the Azran and is fairly straightforward but at about the 12 hour mark things flip into overdrive and the game starts delivering twist after twist after twist, most of which concern long time characters. It’s exhilarating but it’s also exhausting and for those who haven’t been with the series since the start it can feel rather sudden and without much context, though still certainly enjoyable. While I personally would have preferred a little bit more build up towards some of these twists or maybe having them spaced them out so that they aren’t all clumped together at the end, the break neck pace of the last two hours does make for a nice cap to the end of the game and good send off for Layton.
There isn’t really too much new to say here in terms of sheer gameplay, just like always you’re tapping on things and solving innumerable puzzles of varying difficulty. It’s definitely a formula they’ve refined over the years and the difficulty and variety of the challenges presented paired with the helpful (but not too helpful) hint system feels just right. The biggest change here comes with the overall structure of the gameplay as rather than being completely linear, a good chunk of the game lets you move between locations at will and complete objectives in any order you see fit. As I said earlier, the main goal here is to collect Azran artifacts, specifically five stone Azran eggs, and the game lets you jet between the five destinations they’re located in at your leisure. Each location has its own side story that ends with you getting an egg and has plenty of bonus puzzles for you to find as well. These locations are all nicely varied and give the game a pleasant international feel. That’s not to say the game isn’t still overtly British, because it is, even the most distant locations you visit all speak the Queen’s English, love puzzles, and use idioms like “cracking” or “daft” which sound particularly bizarre when coming from the mouths of a lost Amazonian tribe. I will say that the justification for puzzles coming up is sometimes incredibly light, even more so than it was in past games, with seemingly every little thing reminding Layton of a puzzle that needs to be solved. That’s not necessarily a bad thing though as it means this game is absolutely loaded with content. I beat the game in about 14 hours or so and that was with me only completing about half the puzzles in the main game (all of which you can of course go back and find once you’ve completed the story). That alone would seem meaty enough but there’s also a bunch of puzzle mini-games you get throughout the story to play around with and a bunch of extra puzzles unlocked in the bonuses section once you complete the game; you could easily dump a good 30-40 hours into this game if you really wanted.
Moving right along to the presentation, it’s the same charmingly anime-retro-European style that the Layton games have always had. Things are drawn in a very quaint turn of the century sort of way with lots of detailed landscapes with very tall vistas which nicely show off the multiple layers of the environment. All of the characters still have that almost grotesquely unique look to them with lots of oddly shaped heads and lanky limbs, were this any other game it might belie some darker underpinnings but here it’s just silly and charming. That defines the look of the game in general actually as even at its darkest the game sports a nicely over saturated colour palette that is easy on the eyes. The music is still the classic concertina and piano medleys we’ve come to expect from the series with lots of quiet sweeping pieces that whisk you from one scene to the next. It reminds me a lot of Dark Cloud 2 in that way (which Level 5 also made) which had that same very relaxing and vaguely European feel to its sound design. The voice acting is good, I obviously can’t comment on whether or not it’s the same actors, but the delivery is all well done and the little quips you get when completing a puzzle are wonderfully gratifying. Overall this is more of the same in terms of presentation but that’s exactly what you want out of this series as that quiet and well-weaved atmosphere is what keeps drawing people back for installment after installment.
As someone who was basically approaching the series for the first time, I genuinely enjoyed solving my way through this entry. The puzzles were challenging but fair and the story was compelling yet peaceful with the whole game having a quiet-night-in-front-of-a-fireplace-with-a-glass-of-whiskey feel to it. For those looking for a game that’s got a quieter pace while still being engaging this seems like an ideal match and I fully recommend it. I’m giving Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy a 4 out of 5 stars, it’s a fitting end to Layton’s story and a damn fine puzzle game to boot.