Throughout the years, the Professor Layton series has become a household name in the DS and 3DS libraries. With its brain-busting brainteasers, enthralling ensembles, and spellbinding stories, it captivated the hearts of many. Up until The Azran Legacy, the main games in the franchise followed the same template: an intriguing mystery interwoven with smaller enigmas. Along the way, you stumble upon a rather eccentric cast with their puzzle-like dilemmas. In assisting them, you unravel clues that help solve the case. Layton’s Mystery Journey, however, is the first game in the main series to shift from this traditional formula in an attempt to revitalize sales. So how does this compare with its predecessors?
Honestly, not so great.
Layton’s Mystery Journey: Katrielle and the Millionaires’ Conspiracy stars Katrielle Layton, a budding detective and the daughter of Professor Layton. She has just opened her detective agency in the hopes of obtaining some information regarding her missing father’s whereabouts. Shortly after its opening, she welcomes her first client: an amnesiac, talking basset hound whom Katrielle uninspiringly nicknames Sherl (short for Sherl O.C. Kholmes). Sherl explains that he wants to hire the agency to help him uncover clues to his forgotten identity. Unfortunately, this is put on the backburner when other clients present additional cases. So with her assistant, Ernest, and her new canine companion, the three traverse the streets of London solving the mysteries they come across.
The most notable change in Layton’s Mystery Journey is the narrative’s presentation. I have always held the writing of the series in high regard; the developers were able to intricately craft seamless conundrums with conclusions that were flabbergasting, yet satisfying. However, in this entry, the story uses a vignette-style approach instead. Rather than a single central storyline, there are twelve independent cases that have little-to-no connection with one another aside from the characters involved. While I am usually a fan of episodic plots, those of Layton’s Mystery Journey leave much to be desired. Instead of investigating the secrets of some mysterious artifact, or the occurrence of a peculiar event, you are tasked with humdrum errands such as finding a runaway pet or locating the whereabouts of a missing superhero. Moreover, the plot twists that usually make the series’ endings more gratifying and rewarding were entirely predictable from the start of each case in Layton’s Mystery Journey. Because of this, it was an onerous task to finish an entire episode in order to progress to the next one. The conspiracy mentioned in the title isn’t even remotely explored until the final case. By that point, I wholeheartedly felt that Layton’s Mystery Journey had overstayed its welcome.
Now that my story woes are out of the way, I will admit that I found Katrielle’s characterization much more complex than her father’s. I have always categorized Professor Layton to be a typical Gary Stu: it always seemed like it was nearly impossible for him to truly fail, and he always came off as an omniscient being. While Katrielle has the possibility of falling into this pit of perfection, she still has redeeming character flaws that make her more relatable. She often gets sidetracked by food when she is on the job; there are some instances where she doesn’t behave so gentlelady-like; and she is more carefree and laid-back in regards to solving mysteries. Overall, her quirky character traits add to her unique, natural charm. No wonder Ernest is completely infatuated with her.
The puzzles have always been the main selling point for the Layton franchise. Prior to this game, the developers did an outstanding job in incorporating them with the underlying theme of their respective games — not an easy feat to accomplish. For instance, in The Unwound Future, many of the puzzles revolved around numbers and clocks. This sense of cohesiveness was sorely missing in Layton’s Mystery Journey, aside from a few in the final case where you must decipher the poetic riddles in order to uncover the truth behind the conspiracy. While there are still a variety of puzzles present, they don’t feel purposeful. Many of them are simply there for the sake of having puzzles in the game.
Besides this lack of intent, there is also a lack of difficulty. Initially, I wanted to believe that the professor’s puzzle-solving prowess has rubbed off on me, but upon closer examination and revisiting puzzles from previous entries (which I still struggled with), I deduced that the puzzles were collectively easier in this game. There are still quite a few stumpers, however. A good portion of the puzzles rely on cheap interpretation tricks with answers that don’t necessarily correlate with the question being asked. A perfect example of this is the second puzzle you encounter in the game called Hands of Time. Without spoiling the puzzle itself, all I’m going to say is that it is very reminiscent of the second puzzle in The Azran Legacy.
Another thing I found incredibly frustrating was the controls. Personally, I was never fond of using the stylus; I always ended up with right-hand numbness after 15 minutes of gameplay. Previous entries gave the option of using the stylus or the analog stick/directional pad with the face buttons to control the cursor and interact with the environment, but since Layton’s Mystery Journey was first produced for the mobile market, the developers opted to not reinstate this for the 3DS port, meaning it’s stylus or nothing.
Like previous installments, Layton’s Mystery Journey is visually presented well. The cartoonish character designs by Takuzo Nagano are simple yet colorful, and each is well thought out and specifically catered towards their respective characters’ distinct personalities. Prim and proper Ernest wears a cerulean vest over a white dress shirt, matched with pinstriped, periwinkle pants and brown bluchers. Carefree Katrielle’s attire, on the other hand, is a cream trench coat with a matching top hat over a red dress and fashionably paired with dark brown leggings and blue slip-ons. Animated cutscenes by A-1 Pictures are also sprinkled throughout the game. Each scene is exceptionally illustrated and perfectly captures each character’s quirks and mannerisms. There is one particular spectacle involving an arrangement of lights that brought tears to my eyes because of how beautifully executed it was.
Musically, Layton’s Mystery Journey maintains the impeccable quality from before. Using the instrumental version of “Girls” by Kana Nishino for the opening theme is a splendid choice as it embodies Katrielle’s easygoing personality yet strong resolve. The tunes that play throughout the London streets evoke the hustle and bustle lifestyle of the big city. Likewise, the voice acting is superb. With a diverse cast, the voice actors were able to perform the different accents fluently and naturally.
Ever since I was a child, I found puzzles to be therapeutic — a temporary sense of control whenever my life became too chaotic. Never did I finish a Professor Layton game and felt like I needed something more (besides a sequel to The Unwound Future — I’m still waiting for that by the way, Level-5), but with many of the fantastic elements altered, Layton’s Mystery Journey is a disappointing deviation from what originally made the series impressive.