Layton manages to bow out on a high note, but only just.
When Professor Layton and the Curios Village debuted back on the Nintendo DS, it was like nothing else on the market- a game that deftly blended classical detective storytelling with some stellar presentation, and some puzzle game gameplay all in a package that was unique, charming, and like nothing else on the market. Level 5, obviously, followed up on this unexpected success with sequels- multiple sequels.
At this point, we are on Layton game #6, and boy have they lost their sheen with time. Don’t get me wrong, the games are actually as great as they ever were- they still have the same great characters, sharp writing, great story and storytelling, and the puzzle game fused with classic point and click games to go with them- if this is your first Layton game, it is likely to be as memorable for you personally as Curious Village was generally back in 2008. It’s just, if you have been keeping up with the Professor for these past six years, you probably know what is coming with Azran Legacy. And you know that it is literally the exact same thing that you’ve already got five times before with the previous games.
"Though Level 5 has largely chosen to stick with the tried and tested formula for Azran Legacy, they have made some concessions to those of us who are now going through the motions for the sixth(!) time in as many years."
If you are still playing Professor Layton, however, you are probably playing it because it is comfort food- you know what you get, yes, but that’s why you get it in the first place. You just want to know if the new batch of puzzles is any good, or if the story (the final installment in the Layton series, Level-5 claims) is engaging enough to see you through to the end. In those regards, Azran Legacy does not disappoint- it’s got what might be the best batch of puzzles yet, which are devilishly stumping at times, and will force you, the player, to stop and think about your answer before you commit to it, lest you lose out on those precious picarats. Thankfully for us, they are also more grounded in the game’s context than the puzzles in the previous games of the series, which often had absolutely nothing to do with the situation or problem that the characters were facing presently.
The story, too, is great- it is following Professor Herschel Layton and his self appointed ‘apprentice’ Luke, as they continue their investigation into the items that they discovered in the previous two games, Specter Flute and Miracle Mask (collectively, those two and this one make the ‘prequel trilogy’ of the games, which leads right into the original series). The actual twists and turns within this story are as unexpected, and yes, over the top and outlandish, as you have come to expect from this series, but it is in terms of the scope of the larger narrative that Azran Legacy shines- the final chapter in the Layton saga, which finally sees us bid farewell to these characters in what might be the most emotionally charged conclusion for a narrative based game series yet.
Though Level 5 has largely chosen to stick with the tried and tested formula for Azran Legacy, they have made some concessions to those of us who are now going through the motions for the sixth(!) time in as many years. For instance, in (what should be) a dramatic departure from the linear, guided progression of the previous games, players are eventually thrown into a semi open world, and given the choice of completing the story in whatever order that they should choose to.
"Azran Legacy also teases the player with something players have expected since Professor Layton was announced to be coming to the Nintendo 3DS back at E3 2010- some actual good use of the stereoscopic 3D in this game. Unfortunately, I say tease because teasing is what it is."
Ultimately, while the choice to clear out certain areas in an order of our own liking instead of the game holding us by the hand and taking us there and then back again is nice and appreciated, though, functionally, it actually makes very little difference, as each area still needs to be completed, and there seems to be absolutely no difference whatsoever on how the narrative unfolds based on how we choose to approach it. This player agency is nice, I guess, in that if we are stuck on one puzzle in one area for too long, we can always just go to a different locale and try to tackle its puzzles instead, returning to the offending puzzle at a later time. It’s just, for a game that is as heavily reliant on its narrative as the Layton games are, I wish my interactions with the game world actually had a visible, tangible change on how the story plays out.
Azran Legacy also teases the player with something players have expected since Professor Layton was announced to be coming to the Nintendo 3DS back at E3 2010- some actual good use of the stereoscopic 3D in this game. Unfortunately, I say tease because teasing is what it is. The game makes some genuinely good use of the 3D, but only in pre-recorded cutscenes, eschewing, yet again, the chance to use the 3D meaningfully in any of its 100+ mind bending puzzles.
This is very frustrating, because Level-5 has one of the few series at hand where 3D could not only be used meaningfully in context of the gameplay, its excessive usage would even be forgiven, it would instead be welcomed; and instead of embracing that opportunity, they have chosen to rest on their laurels and play it very safe, instead just paying trademark lip service to the ideal of 3D.
"Layton clearly knows what it is best at, and it sticks to doing that, and doing that well. If, therefore, you are either a newcomer, or someone who goes into this game knowing that, you'll enjoy what it has to offer."
All the other stuff is as you would expect too- there’s still Layton’s trunk with a new set of minigames (a great batch, yet again, and you can potentially lose hours to them, once you get the hang of them), and the same kind of post game content that you would expect from four out of five previous Layton games (sadly, it looks like London Life, the great 100 hour plus RPG that was included as bonus content in The Specter Flute, was just a one off, as this game too lacks anything that substantial).
All of this, and you still have a great story and some great puzzles- Layton clearly knows what it is best at, and it sticks to doing that, and doing that well. If, therefore, you are either a newcomer, or someone who goes into this game knowing that, you’ll enjoy what it has to offer (though in the case of the latter, your enjoyment will be severely reduced, simply because of the law of diminishing returns). If you’re someone who had some hopes that the series would go to bigger and better places once it hit the 3DS, and were looking at the last installment to boldly try some new ideas without fears of a sequel’s reception being affected for that- you’ll be very disappointed, as this game barely pays lip service to that idea.
Ultimately, it’s just as well that this is the last Layton game, I guess- after all, a true gentlemen never outstays his welcome, and Professor Layton very nearly did.
This game was reviewed on the Nintendo 3DS.
The puzzles are great, and even more contextual than they were in previous games of the series; the story is touching and well told; you know exactly what you are getting with this installment; the game tries out some new ideas with its gameplay and presentation
The new ideas that the game tries out aren't developed enough, and barely scratch the surface; it lacks any kind of meaningful forward progress for the franchise, it is literally the same Layton formula reskinned for the sixth time in as many years
Ultimately, it's just as well that this is the last Layton game- after all, a true gentlemen never outstays his welcome, and Professor Layton very nearly did.