Along with certain games like Peggle and Bejeweled, the Professor Layton series caught on in a way with both casual and more enthusiast gamers when it made its debut on the DS. It’s not hard to see why: the series is a very winning combination of likable characters, beautiful hand-drawn animation, and puzzles, puzzles, puzzles. And yet somehow, I completely missed out on the whole thing. It’s a very charming series, and now, at the end of the second trilogy, it’s developed quite a backstory for itself beyond what you’d expect from a puzzle game.
Which sort of results in me not really knowing what’s returning and what’s new for this game, mythology-wise. As the name Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy suggests, it’s primarily focused on an ancient race named the Azran, specifically through a girl of Azran lineage who was frozen in ice and comes back to life at the beginning of the game.
A quick bit of research before doing this review reveals that the Azran have been pretty prominent in this trilogy, and this final game really puts a bow on that whole arc. After the story sets up with finding Aurora, the Azran girl, frozen in the ice, it turns into a globe-trotting adventure in which you explore several locations that have been touched in some way by the Azran, the whole while trying to outsmart an evil group known as Targent who is after the same Maguffins you are.
I really liked this setup—it gives the whole thing an Indiana Jones feel, with you entering villages and looking for ancient artifacts, and it shows all the different ways people have been affected by a society so long gone. Each place has a full story to be solved before you can get your Azran artifact, and they’re all pretty well told, from the town that is being terrorized by a wolf, to a desert where all the adults are mysteriously asleep. It’s also excellent to see just how many environments were created for the game, as they’re all excessively well realized and beautifully rendered. The 3D is great as well. Flipping it on and looking around each screen was its own kind of fun, and I was very impressed by the 3D and how well the game was able to hold its framerate as well.
Unfortunately towards the end, the game starts to dip into a little bit of that “all-story” we’ve been seeing more in games- ancient races with ancient technology and ancient secrets that can be helpful or harmful to society if unlocked. Also see Assassin’s Creed and Mass Effect. But it also goes into an unexpected Armin Tamzarian-way, for those Simpsons fans who’ll get the reference; unexpected character turns and reveals that suddenly recolor people you’ve spent at least one game getting to know. These sorts of twists are starting to grow a little tired. We’ve seen them before, and the game doesn’t really evolve or advance them in any way.
While I don’t mind a puzzle game or a kiddy-looking game having a serious story, it’s a bit of a surprise to see just where this one goes. While most of the story tends to back off a bit on just how dark they might want to be (a lot of “this clearly dour and/or depressing thing is just a misunderstanding!”), the game really goes for it at the end, and it’s a bit shocking.
But all throughout, there’s puzzles.
I’ve always loved the weird puzzle-oriented world of Professor Layton. Guards who let you pass only if you solve the puzzle they have. Ancient sites with panels that have to be solved before they activate. People who give you random exposition and then end with a sudden “oh also this puzzle.” It’s one of my favorite fictional world conceits, and it’s one that the games always kept an admirably straight face for. Despite how ridiculous it is that everyone springs puzzles at you and how a gentleman never leaves a puzzle unsolved, its commitment to the idea goes a long way to help us accept that I wanted to look at this bunny, and all of a suddenly it has a puzzle to solve.
Though there are always a few puzzles that leave you wondering at the designer’s logic (a particular one about couples on a vacation still has me scratching my head), they tended to be pretty well designed, and it was only with great shame that I gave in and allowed myself to use the hint coins. It’s difficult to design a good puzzle, but Azran Legacy has exactly 150 main puzzles, with extra hidden puzzles and collectibles that are entirely optional outside of that. There are several minigames, too, and you’ve got more than enough content to keep you occupied for many hours (it took me over 17 to just get through the story- and this was missing a LOT of puzzles).
If you’ve been with the Layton series since the beginning or are starting to tire of the formula, Azran Legacy probably won’t do too much to really convince you to keep giving it your attention- it’s more Layton, and you know what you’re in for. Despite late-game twists and turns, though, if you have any interest in the story and the puzzles, Azran Legacy won’t disappoint you.
Professor Layton has always been a series that, no matter what, stands out because no other franchise really does what it does. Mixing story with logic-based puzzles in such an involved way can be a difficult balance, but even in the race to the final scenes, the game balances the tension and puzzles to create a real sense of progression and character. Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy may not reset your thoughts on the series, but it’s still an excellent game in a long-running series, and even people who’ve never played a game in the franchise can enjoy their experiences with the game.