Professor Layton and the Curious Village


Review by · February 21, 2008

Level-5 is a video game developer that should be familiar to RPGFan readers. Level-5 is responsible for PlayStation 2 RPG epics such as Dark Cloud 2, Rogue Galaxy, and the award-winning Dragon Quest VIII. It is safe to say that Level-5 does quality work on RPGs, but how do they fare with other genres? With Professor Layton and the Curious Village, the first in a trilogy of games, Level-5 has proven more than competent in melding classic brain teasers and logic puzzles into a visual novel style graphic adventure. Both types of games are popular on Nintendo’s DS handheld and though Professor Layton may not be Brain Age or Phoenix Wright, it’s still worth checking out.

Professor Layton and the Curious Village tells the story of a puzzle-solving genius named Professor Layton and his young apprentice Luke. Layton has received a summons from Lady Dahlia in the quaint village of St. Mystere to find the village’s fabled treasure: The Golden Apple. Of course, things are not what they seem in this bizarre village where every eccentric inhabitant harbors a secret. Not only does Professor Layton find himself searching for the Golden Apple but also discovering a myriad of secrets within St. Mystere. The story is not particularly complex but the characters are fun and have personality. I am particularly fond of Layton himself who is completely unflappable and always polite even when everyone is blowing their tops off at him. The eager apprentice Luke provides a nice foil when his youthful impetuousness causes him to occasionally lose his patience, prompting Layton to display his unflappable maturity. Even though this is only part one of a trilogy, the ending is long, satisfying, and left me anticipating the next installment.

Enhancing the story is an atypical art style. The quaint environments and stylized characters bring to mind French or Belgian comics and cartoons, such as The Adventures of Tin Tin. This European art style is a fresh change of pace from the cel-shaded anime style seen in previous Level-5 efforts. Adding to the old world feel of the game is the liberal use of sepia tones in the color palette. The graphics for the puzzles are much simpler so that visual distractions do not factor into a puzzle’s solution unless it was initially intended to do so. Music is sparse and has that quaint old world feel. It never got distracting during puzzles and enhanced the mood and feeling of the game. There is voice acting in the occasional animated cutscenes and it is generally good. The use of British voice actors for Luke and Layton was a nice touch.

Gameplay consists of talking to various townspeople to gain information on various mysteries players are called on to solve. Of course, townspeople are mistrusting of outsiders and will only divulge information if you solve a brain teaser. Brain teasers come in a variety of forms and are based on creations by famed Japanese psychology professor and puzzle book author, Akira Tago. Some have you: manipulating sliding blocks in order to move a ball into a hole, or have you reading four peoples’ alibis to determine which one is lying, or are classics such as getting a wolf, a sheep, and a cabbage across a river on a boat that only holds you and one other item. In short, there is a wide variety of brain teasers in the game.

There are 120 to solve but completion of the game will likely only have players completing two-thirds of them. Each puzzle is worth a certain number of picarats depending on the level of difficulty. Giving up on a puzzle reduces the number of picarats you can obtain. Depending on how many picarats you have at the end of the game, you can open up bonus content. When exploring environments, clicking on various hot spots will either trigger a hidden puzzle or net you a hint coin. There are a finite number of hint coins in St. Mystere and each puzzle has three hints that can be redeemed at the cost of one hint coin each. Unlike traditional graphic adventures where the puzzles are integrated into the environment or storyline, the puzzles in Professor Layton are all independent entities. One piece of advice I would give gamers is to keep a pad and paper handy while playing Professor Layton since some puzzles will require you to draw pictures or write things out to conceptualize the solution. There are no timed puzzles so the game is definitely for the patient.

The puzzles are all stylus based and some require the player to write out text. This is where the control is a tad sensitive. Sometimes I would write a letter or number and the game would perceive it as a completely different letter or number. It also sometimes predicted the number or letter I was going to write before I was done writing it. This sometimes got annoying, but is a minor flaw in an otherwise great game.

Professor Layton was a positive gaming experience for me. It was a novel hybrid game that felt very familiar and comfortable. I spent a good 10 hours going through the story and continued to go back to the game in order to locate new puzzles and to try and solve unsolved ones. The game displays Level-5’s versatility in game development and I hope to see the next two installments of Professor Layton localized.

Overall Score 85
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Neal Chandran

Neal Chandran

Neal is the PR manager at RPGFan but also finds time to write occasional game or music reviews and do other assorted tasks for the site. When he isn't networking with industry folks on behalf of RPGFan or booking/scheduling appointments for press events, Neal is an educator, musician, cyclist, gym rat, and bookworm who has also dabbled in voiceover work and motivational speaking.