"The amount of variety is impressive, and all types of puzzle-solving skills are required."
I grew up on puzzles. Jigsaws, Games magazine, Rubik's... everything... My dad loves puzzles, and he passed that on to me. So when the first Professor Layton game (The Curious Village) was released, I thought "This is the game for me. It's all about puzzles! I'm gonna kick butt, and I'm gonna love it." But somehow, I did neither of those things. I made it about halfway through and just gave up on the game. But I've always wanted to try the series again, and when I heard that The Azran Legacy will be the last in the series to star the eponymous Professor, I knew it was time to do so. A few days on the calendar and 30-some hours of gameplay later, I'm glad I did. And I haven't even started on the downloadable puzzle of the day the developers are releasing for the entire year after release.
The Azran Legacy begins with Professor Layton and Luke boarding an airship to visit a fellow archeologist who has discovered what appears to be a girl frozen in ice, but still alive. When Layton manages to free her, it sets the group off on a quest around the world to collect relics from the same ancient Azran civilization that played a part in the previous Professor Layton game, The Miracle Mask. Of course, hunting down Azran artifacts pits them once again against the villainous organization called Targent, and by the end of the game, much is revealed about Targent, their leader, and even Professor Layton himself. Since I haven't played the rest of the series, I'm sure there are nuances that I didn't catch, but things were explained well enough that I was never lost. There are plot twists taken straight out of the big book of clichés that I could have done without, but they didn't ruin my enjoyment of the story as a whole.
In part, The Azran Legacy's story merely serves as a vehicle to drive players from puzzle to puzzle, but it does so in a way that makes the inclusion of many puzzles logical... at least to the extent that the puzzles feel logical in any adventure game (or the movie National Treasure). This can be a real challenge, so kudos to the developers for pulling it off. As Layton's crew travels around the world in search of artifacts, they must solve larger problems plaguing the local residents as well as the trivial puzzles that are simply distracting those locals from giving the Professor a straight answer when he asks them questions.
"Trivial" though they may be, these puzzles are the main draw to the game, and I think that they are most of the difference between my having given up on The Curious Village and having devoured The Azran Legacy. The amount of diversity is impressive, and all types of puzzle-solving skills are required. Math, language, both 2D and 3D spatial reasoning, pathfinding... Some puzzles are repeated once or twice, but certainly not enough to make me feel like the developers got lazy. The difficulty level also varies nicely, with some cakewalks, some brain-busters, and plenty of in-between.
What really strikes me as different between the two games is that, fairly or unfairly, I felt there were a lot of puzzles in The Curious Village that relied on tricking the player for their difficulty. For example, incomprehensible language or questions that didn't actually ask what the "correct" answer was looking for. By contrast, in The Azran Legacy, while there are a few puzzles that require you to pay close attention and think hard, there's only one that actually tries to trick you. It's puzzle #2, so I don't consider it much of a spoiler to tell you about it as an illustration of what I mean by "trick." In this puzzle, you are told to calculate the number of cups of hot water needed to melt a large ice block. In the end, the "correct" answer is zero, because if you just wait long enough, the ice will melt on its own. But that's not the question the puzzle asked!
Thankfully, as I said, this is the only such puzzle in The Azran Legacy, and that makes all the difference in the world when it comes to my enjoyment of a game based on puzzles. I'm willing to take a hint when I get stuck, and this game offers some really good ones, but I always want to feel like I could have solved a puzzle myself if I'd only made the right mental connection. In this, The Azran Legacy succeeds where The Curious Village failed.
In addition to having good puzzles, The Azran Legacy is presented quite well. The graphics follow the series' traditional style, with cartoonishly deformed characters abound. The top screen shows a first-person view of the location where Professor Layton is standing, and moving the stylus around the bottom screen shifts the camera angle as though he were moving his head to look around. The top screen's cursor changes any time it is moving over something or someone you can interact with, which helps you avoid missing anything. With the 3D turned on, the effect of being in the room and looking around is particularly striking. There are a few locations where it can get a little dizzying, but my only real complaint is that there's no way to configure the speed of the camera movement. The story is punctuated by occasional animated cutscenes, and I was impressed to see that they are available in both 2D and 3D.
Likewise, the voice acting and music are excellent. The characters involved have a variety of accents, and I really appreciate that they are subtle rather than caricatures. For example, one of the characters sounds Irish, but she's no Hollywood leprechaun. The music is mainly atmospheric, but more than that would be harmful to players' concentration. The environments that Professor Layton and his team pass through vary quite a bit, and the music changes along with them, which always earns extra points for a game in my book. I'd happily listen to this soundtrack while reading, studying, or working.
With all of the things I like about The Azran Legacy, I'm hard-pressed to identify anything really negative about it. It hasn't changed my life, but it has made me glad that I gave the Professor Layton series another chance. The series has changed and grown since their origins, so if you love puzzles, you should definitely pick this game up. Even if you haven't played a previous entry, you will still enjoy it.