Professor Hershel Layton has always been an enigma of sorts. Like the puzzles his games are littered with, the good professor has always kept his past secret forcing us to unravel it as we move through the narratives batting away riddles and solving a great mystery. In typically mysterious fashion, he’s upped and disappeared leaving his young daughter, Katrielle, without a father.
In the wake of her father leaving Katrielle hasn’t followed her father’s path to professor, instead opting to become a detective. ‘Any mystery solved’ states the slogan of the Layton Detective Agency which has two employees the eponymous Katrielle Layton and her besotted assistant Ernest Greeves, both of whom find out they can talk to animals (well, one particular hound) when a dog with amnesia turns up and asks Katrielle to help him remember who he is. The dog’s dilemma is promptly shelved when one of the hands on Big Ben goes missing, and then it’s a puzzle filled adventure for the (now) trio.
While not being a professor like her father, Katrielle’s investigation style is identical to Hershel’s, you move from point to point on a map, checking each scene for items of interest, like hint coins, secret items, witnesses, and of course puzzles. Puzzles are the life blood of the world the Layton’s inhabit, and they crop up in the most bizarre places; on a plate, with a cat, in a barrel of fish, hell, most of the population will refuse to help you unless you can solve a conundrum that they happen to have on their person at the exact moment you talk to them.
The puzzles are an odd sort this time round, preferring obtuse riddles to legitimate puzzles. Much of the time you’ll find yourself stumped on a particular brain teaser, because of some rather unfriendly wording on the puzzle’s description (an early example being a clock that needs to hit midnight in as few touches as possible). I mean, a riddle is a riddle, and a well-constructed riddle can be a marvelous thing to solve (listen to me starting to talk like Layton himself), but so much of the time the instructions are open to many interpretations or are missing key points which leaves you floundering in guess work hemorrhaging hint coins as you desperately try to fill in the gaps in the wording. When you finally settle on the solution you’ll find yourself annoyed and exasperated rather than pleased.
It takes a while, but because of this when the game does use phrasing that doesn’t leave much open to interpretation you realise the game isn’t asking you to solve the puzzle in the way it seems to be asking you to, and you start to deliberately seek out a different way to figure it out, and even then it’s hard to feel pleased with yourself, instead that feeling gives way to annoyance because the game is constantly using a single trick to try and trip you up rather than clever puzzles. I guess that after nine games it’s only fair the developers are running out of ideas for these, but I’m sure that they could have done better than this.
Completing puzzles gives you the usual picarats as a reward (the higher picarat value the harder the puzzle, apparently), and completing five puzzles grants you tokens which you can use to furnish the office of the Layton Detective Agency, (which we’ll come back to in a minute). Other side elements allow you to change Katrielle’s outfit, most of which come with a hat (naturally) and there’s several minigames for you to partake in outside of the main story, all of which are puzzles and would probably have been more welcome as a series within the game’s usual puzzle distribution rather than accessed separately via the game’s suitcase.
Each of the individual mysteries are bound together by Katrielle’s investigation, as she moves around and questions people she uncovers clues, each one gifting a part of a six piece puzzle, once all the pieces are collected you’re ready to solve the mystery in a terribly whimsical and not dramatic kind of way. The actual payoff at the end of each case is kind of disappointing, and you’ll more than likely see the bizarre solution before it’s stated ‘The truth is often stranger than fiction’ Katrielle states in triumphant fashion as you stare dumbfounded at the absurdity of it all.
In a departure for the Layton games you’re able to take the cases in any order you wish (once you’ve got to a certain point). You do this via Katrielle’s office where you get to pick your cases from a selection on the pin board on the wall, from here you’re also able to revisit cases you’ve already solved, which drops you at the point just before you solved it. Doing this allows you to find puzzles, items or hint coins you’ve missed, but also delivers a smattering of new puzzles and stuff for you in places you’d already obtained them. This gives a nice sense of replay value to what you’ve already done before, but the question is whether you’ll really care about it enough to do so.
Layton’s Mystery Journey’s facsimile of London is odd, there’s a London Bridge and a Big Ben, but a lack of other well-known monuments like the Tower of London or the Bank of England. And this imposter syndrome has seemingly seeped into the make-up of the Layton name that is in the game’s title. While Katrielle herself is a nice charismatic character, the surrounding cast are terribly forgettable, with only the dog Sherl O.C. Kholmes (yes, it’s pronounced just as badly as it sounds) having a name that is even remotely memorable.
The quaint, innocent nature of the game stands in stark contrast to Hershel’s past adventures, with the game missing the overly-dramatic atmosphere that hovered around the Professor and his diminutive assistant Luke, and it’s a real shame. Factor in the rather obtuse nature of the puzzling and the uninspiring cast (although the character models are much nicer now) and you’ll find that there’s a lot to be disappointed with in this return for the famed puzzle series. It’s not a disaster by any means, I mean, it’s really nice. But it could have been so much more than just… nice.
Great looking character models
Katrielle is a good leading lady
Obtuse puzzle instructions
Leans too heavily on riddles