Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy (3DS) Review
The Professor Layton games have had a bit of a troubled history with me. I played the original trilogy to completion – but all at once and I was quite understandably burnt out by the experience they provided. They weren’t bad games, of course, but they were almost too similar to be digested without leaving some cool down time in between them. I did the same thing with Ace Attorney too, so maybe I’ve got the problem. But the newest trilogy – particularly the latest game, known colloquially as Miracle Mask, really sparked my interest in the story of Hershel Layton and his band of merry adventurers. Azran Legacy, the final game in the prequel trilogy (and apparently the final game to feature Layton) doesn’t really change a lot in the now tried-and-true formula of Layton games, but it does bring the story of Layton to a thrilling and satisfying conclusion.
Anyone who finished Miracle Mask probably has an idea of where the story is going in the Layton series. The game follows the pursuit of Targent – a mysterious company who have taken control of the Azran Legacy. A mysterious relic of an ancient civilisation, Targent plans to use to Azran’s power for themselves. Jean Descole, Layton’s arch nemesis also wants to utilise the powers of the Azran for his own mysterious purposes. To top off this confusing trifecta – Layton and his team are in pursuit of the Azran Legacy to find the truth behind the mysterious civilisation and the significance of the mysterious treasure they have hidden with their fall. To make matters worse, both Targent and Descole are hot on Layton’s heels as he travels across the world in search for the truth.
With a game that’s had a story pulled throughout three different titles, and which places such a large emphasis on narrative – it has to be asked, how does it end? Of course, I’m not going to tell you. But it’s a mixed bag of emotions for a long time Layton fan. There’s less emotion because you know how things pan out (slightly) as this is a prequel story, but there are still many surprises to be had (particularly in the game’s final act). The story itself feels a lot more “widespread” than previous games, which localised their action to specific villages or towns. In an industry where we’ve seen many trilogies sacrifice their own sense of internal accuracy to the narrative and characters in the closing act, Azran Legacy makes no compromises and you won’t feel cheated by the ending. We will warn you, however, in that there are many in-jokes made by the game and many people who aren’t fans will feel excluded from most of the humour.
The game itself takes place across a wider spread of locales, from jungles to arid deserts to frosty mountain towns. There’s definitely a much wider scope to Azran Legacy and it feels appropriate given that this could possibly be Layton’s last adventure. In a bid to make the game less linear, players can now choose which location they wish to visit. Not only does each of these locations feature some beautifully realised environments, but each deals with specific character arcs that aren’t totally related to the main story but also provide nice distractions and stops the game from getting too monotonous. Thankfully, these areas can be switched between at will too – so if you’re stuck or bored with one location you can visit another (though personally I didn’t do it often).
The Layton games are all about the puzzles, and I found that the offerings in Azran Legacy were absolutely fantastic too. They’re much more appropriately placed within the context of the story and they range from laughably easy to ridiculously hard. In short – there’s a nice spread and honestly none of them feel explicitly “unfair”. In news that will probably surprise no one, hardly any of the puzzles truly make use of the 3D functionality of the 3DS, which is a bit disappointing but also understandable given the release of the 2DS. Azran Legacy also does a great job of incorporating action sequences into puzzles – many of them are as simple as Layton shooting down turrets by selecting the correctly shaped ones – but it gives the game a more exciting quality while remaining true to its puzzler roots.
Keeping with Layton tradition, inside the Professor’s trunk are also three mini games to jump in to. Dress Up expands as you meet characters throughout the game, and allows you to add items of clothing to your catalogue – designing costumes that suit each character and their personality. Think of it as a Style Savvy kind of setup, but much lig hter. The painfully named Nut Roller has the player rolling a walnut through courses while playing as a squirrel. Blooms and Shrooms has players planting flora in an attempt to set off chain reactions to bring gardens back to life. It’s almost like a Bejeweled meets Bomberman kind of affair. Despite these whimsical distractions, I’ve never been a huge fan of these mini games and Azran Legacy’ offerings won’t change my mind either. Regardless, they’re here for those who loved them before.
Layton games admittedly don’t have immense much replay value after the adventure has concluded, though there is some content to wade through upon completion of Layton’s journey. Most notable, however, is a newspaper side quest which gives clues to players to back track and find new puzzles to solve, though these are also optional. With downloadable puzzles throughout the year, those who love the puzzles of the Layton games will have at least one more thing to do each day with the game. But those who finish the main story in anywhere between fifteen and twenty hours will possibly find ways to expand their playtime – be it with the aforementioned Daily Puzzles or the rather challenging “Layton’s Challenges”.
The game is immaculately presented as well, possibly providing some of the best production values of the franchise yet. There’s your usual animated cutscenes that recall fond memories of Saturday morning cartoons, albeit significantly less cheesy. The signature presentation from Miracle Mask – which utilises three dimensional modelling rather than drawn artwork – returns and gives good life and atmosphere to game’s varied environments. The voice work remains consistent as ever too, with most of the main actors giving good performances. It’s just a shame that the 3D functionality of the 3DS isn’t utilised to its best ability, but it does a good job of making active characters and their dialogue pop out.
All in all, I wasn’t completely blown away with what Azran Legacy had to offer but I was adequately satisfied with what the team at LEVEL-5 managed to do to conclude Layton’s story. It was a little bit of a depressing moment, to reflect that I perhaps will never see these characters again. But all good things must come to an end, and unfortunately it’s time for Hershel Layton to hang up his hat and move on to greater ventures. I’m just glad that he managed to take his leave of absence in style, and not slowly deteriorate throughout his gaming career. Clumsy employment analogies aside – any Layton fan would be crazy not to check out how his journey ends, but just be warned that it won’t be blowing any of the series’ conventions out of the water.