It has been a long ride! Professor Layton and Luke have been on numerous adventures over the past six or so years and after the stunning end to the original trilogy - Professor Layton and the Lost Future - Level-5 took the story back in time for a precursor trilogy that started off strong on the Nintendo DS with The Spectre's Call and still impressed when moving The Miracle Mask in time for the launch of the Nintendo 3DS. Now Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy has arrived, bringing to a close the current chapter, and supposedly being the final in the traditional series. A lot is riding on this, but can it deliver the usual high standards?
Frozen girls from ancient times, special eggs linked to an archaic civilisation, betrayal, twists and turns, adventuring across the globe - welcome to the next edition of Hershel Layton's escapades! By now, most people should be familiar with the style of gameplay featured in this, the sixth main entry - Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy. However, here is a quick recap for those newcomers reading: think of the point-and-click adventures on PC where moving the mouse around various locations allows for interaction with the scenery, collecting items, talking to people, uncovering secrets, and so on, whilst a novel-esque story unfolds all around. Now, imagine the Brain Training series, whereby numerous brain-teasing conundrums are piled up, being fired off one-after-the-other, testing the old grey matter to the maximum. Merge those two styles of game together and the result is what Akihiro Hino, CEO of Level-5, conjured up with the Professor Layton series that started way back when on Nintendo DS with The Curious Village and Professor Layton and Pandora's Box shortly afterwards.
Splendid hand-drawn artwork, with characters now represented on-screen in polygonal form thanks to the added power of the 3DS, but not losing the charm of the DS originals, Azran Legacy takes players on a journey through cityscapes and rural settings, to underground caverns and deserted towns. Variety may be the spice of life, but here it is the lifeblood that keeps the series fresh, with the range of characters met en route to uncovering the mysteries at hand being all sorts of crazy, and the locations visited being pleasing on the eyes with plenty to play around with.
As with Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask, the improved mechanic of scouring settings for clues is back, where the stylus can be used to drag a miniature magnifying glass around the touch screen until the lens turns orange or blue - the former being something of interest and the latter giving the chance to zoom in further. This means locating Hint Coins (for giving a helping hand when trying to crack some really tough puzzles later on), the many items required for completion of mini-games that unlock (including 'dress-up' where people ask for fashion advice…), or discovering hidden puzzles dotted around, is far more intuitive than the old 'randomly tap anywhere' technique employed.
For those that have played the previous five titles, the draw here will come down to eagerness for the story's continuation. What will befall Layton and his trusty cohorts, Emmy and Luke after both Professor Layton and the Spectre's Call and The Miracle Mask? Thankfully, despite a slow start, the yarn swiftly develops as the half a dozen chapters included progress. The main adventure probably lasts around the 15-20 hour mark, but that comes at the expense of not hunting high and low for every last drip of puzzle solving fun. Skipping the majority of the game is rather pointless, though, since those likely to be long-term fans are the sort that love working out patterns, doing tricky calculations, unravelling problems, all right to the very end and beyond (since the final credits encourage replay to scour every nook and cranny, then complete all the extra games (figure out how to get all the flowers in a garden to blossom at the same time, rolling objects around stages in specific ways, and more).
The refined mechanics of Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask return, with a feel of even more streamlining going on behind the scenes as The Azran Legacy has an air of smoothness about it that invokes a feeling that the 3DS hardware has been better utilised compared to the quick port-up job of Miracle Mask. Puzzles are sometimes jarringly slotted into the story, but the sheer amount of enjoyment throughout more than glosses over that point.
There is always a fear that transitioning from hand-drawn 2D art to the world of 3D will result in a deterioration of the overall aesthetic quality. Thankfully, though, as with Capcom's successful move to 3DS with Ace Attorney: Phoenix Wright - Dual Destinies, Level-5 has upped its game and brought all the charm of the DS games with beautiful background art and seamlessly woven 3D models for the main characters in for good measure.
Just when it seemed like the music could not get any better, it does. Azran Legacy dodges the trap of regurgitating every piece of music from the past five outings, and whilst classics do make a welcomed appearance, the new creations for the range of places visited is wondrous and must be heard through external speakers or some very impressive headphones. There are also some stunning - albeit short - cut-scenes to be found, and far more voice work than before. Stellar performance, all round!
Impossible to fault as not only is there a 15-20 hour main adventure here, with that being extended if players struggle getting past certain brain teasers, but there is also the wealth of extra puzzles to solve post-story, extra items to collect along the way for help with mini-games, and numerous features that can only be unlocked by successfully navigating challenges first time. Add in free download content for a year and nobody could ever turn their nose up at this meaty package.
All in all, Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy shows there is still plenty of mileage in the series, but as time has been called on this particular line of Hershel Layton adventures, it proves to be a fitting closure with some great twists at the story's conclusion, along with clever plot elements that tie this precursor trilogy back into the first ever game, The Curious Village. Whilst not as gripping as the finale to the original trilogy - the truly sublime and epic Professor Layton and the Lost Future - this is still one that fans should not be without.
You lucky so-and-so with your early EU releases. Must have Layton. Come on, 2014... =\
How many times we've said that about lucky US gamers over the years Just think about how long we held on to the fact we got Terranigma and you didn't
It's a great end to the series - not on par with the amazingly epic Lost Future (Unwound Future in the US?), but still great. Its release also gave Miracle Mask a big boost here in the UK, which was great to see.