It’s hard to believe that it’s been six years since Professor Layton and the Curious Village was first released on the original DS, kicking off a successful series that creatively merged hundreds of brainteasers with a point-and-click adventure interface, as well as an endearing cast, imaginative stories and a charming European-inspired art style.
Now, as hard as it may be to believe, we’ve reached the end, as series developer Level-5 has confirmed that the sixth and latest entry, Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy, is the final conventional entry in the series. Sure, we’ve already seen an iOS spinoff in the form of Layton Brothers: Mystery Room, but this is apparently the last entry as far as focusing on Hershel Layton himself and continuing the series’ expected gameplay mechanics is concerned. The big question that comes with this announcement is obvious: How does Azran Legacy fare as a conclusion?
Azran Legacy sports numerous enhancements in its presentation, plenty of challenge to test series veterans, and a satisfying story that does a terrific job of bringing together and wrapping up plot elements that were introduced in previous games in the series. I have little doubt in my mind that longtime Layton fans are going to have a great time with this one.
It’s worth noting that, despite being the sixth entry, Azran Legacy, as well as the fourth and fifth games in the series (Professor Layton and the Last Specter and Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask), are all actually prequels taking place before the first three games released in the series. Unlike the original trilogy, which were generally entirely standalone stories with a few recurring characters and elements, this prequel trilogy, while each having general plots that wrapped themselves up, continually established ongoing mysteries and setups for future events.
Going into more detail as far as to what these elements are would be spoiling some of the big surprises offered in all three titles, so I’ll just sum it up by saying that Azran Legacy serves as the culmination of all of them. The main plot sees the titular archeologist, as well as longtime assistants Luke and Emmy, being invited by fellow history buff Professor Sycamore to examine a recently discovered body preserved for millions of years in ice.
To their surprise, Aurora, the girl inside, turns out to be alive, and has a mysterious connection to the equally enigmatic long-lost Azran civilization. Things get more complicated when a sinister organization gets involved, attempting to harness whatever incredible power the Azrans may have left behind for their own nefarious purposes. From there, Layton and company discover that the main Azran sanctuary can only be accessed by obtaining 5 egg-like artifacts spread throughout the world, so they hop on Sycamore’s airship, the Bostonius, and set off on a globetrotting adventure.
If it wasn’t already obvious from the above description, Azran Legacy is easily the most epic Layton game in terms of its scope and variety of locations. While past games generally limited themselves to one area or a handful of others, you’ll be seeing a lot of new environments that do a great job of setting themselves apart from the others. I generally consider epic scopes in games to be a positive aspect, so this gets no complaints from me.
What might irritate some, though, is how the above setup leads to a very open-ended middle act, since you’re able to access the airship and switch between the 5 egg locations at almost any point. From a gameplay perspective, this is far from a bad thing, but because you have so much choice in where to go next, the developers decide to put the main plot on hold while you visit these locations and instead elected to come up with compact individual stories for each one. I don’t think all of them work perfectly, but the ones that do are sufficiently entertaining.
As for the main plot itself, which mainly manifests itself in the prologue and finale, it makes up for its absence in the middle by being one of the strongest in the series. Though the Layton series is already infamous for packing major twists in each individual entry, with some bordering on ludicrous, Azran Legacy doesn’t settle for merely coasting on one major revelation. Instead, its climax is jam-packed with numerous unpredictable turns that I dare not spoil. I will say that I was left with my jaw on the floor more than once, though.
It’s worth bringing up the fact that even after everything mentioned above, though, my favorite game in the series will always be the end of the original trilogy, Professor Layton and the Unwound Future. Not only did it have a great climax, but I honestly consider its ending to be one of the most perfectly executed and emotional wrap-ups I’ve ever seen in a game. Azran Legacy does certainly have its fair share of touching moments, but none of them had quite the same impact for me.
As for the actual gameplay, there’s less to discuss here as it’s essentially what you’ve come to expect from the series, just with a few small tweaks and additions. The main navigation is controlled entirely with the 3DS touch screen and stylus, as players navigate to different points on a map screen via touch, and the actual environments and non-playable characters are displayed on the top screen to take advantage of widescreen and the system’s 3D functionality.
Players can then drag a magnifying glass icon around on the top screen via stylus input on the lower screen, which is much less awkward than it might sound. Interactive objects and characters cause the icon to change color, and a quick tap will enable conversation or interaction. It’s through these elements that players will encounter most of the game’s hundred-plus puzzles, as well as find hidden Hint Coins, which can be used up in individual puzzles to unlock increasingly helpful hints should you get stumped.
And trust me, you will. Something I noticed about Azran Legacy is that the overall challenge level with the puzzles felt significantly bumped up early on and never went back down. Perhaps Level-5 figured that most of the people who would play this title were series veterans at this point, so they chose not to go easy on players as a result. Thankfully, they also made it so that there seem to be many more Hint Coins strewn throughout each environment, making it easier to purchase hints. It should be noted though that the overall coin supply is still finite.
The puzzles continue to be creative and engaging for the most part and it’s quite impressive that after so many games, whoever designs that particular component can still pump out an impressive variety. As with previous titles, three decent little minigames can also be unlocked as you progress, with additional levels and features for each one unlocked through beating certain puzzles.
In a series first, StreetPass functionality is also included in a custom scavenger hunt-like feature. Tapping certain environmental objects will add them to a personal list, from which players can select three objects to transmit to other players as a challenge. If players can find all three objects, they’ll receive points for specific rewards, such as additional hint coins and accessories. I didn’t get a chance to try this out with other people just yet, but it seems interesting on a conceptual level.
As with Miracle Mask before it, the series’ jump to the 3DS also brought a change from entirely 2D character sprites and backgrounds to a polygonal makeover for both. However, unlike the previous title, I didn’t find the change as jarring this time around, and not just because I was more used to it, but because it simply looks a lot better. The cel-shading and design on the characters looks much more natural and the environments almost look like gorgeously intricate paintings despite being in 3D. Add in a great and varied soundtrack and you have easily the best-looking Layton ever.
If I were to name some minor gripes with the game, one would be a total lack of voice acting in the free-form middle section of the game, aside from the occasional brief FMV cutscene. Also, while returning characters are as appealingly designed as ever, some of the newcomers’ designs look too over-the-top and exaggerated in comparison, with some bordering on grotesque. Finally, as mentioned before, very little has changed in terms of the series’ gameplay, so players who have grown tired of the formula may not find much to enjoy here.
Despite all that, Professsor Layton and the Azran Legacy is overall an excellent title and a fitting finale to what has become one of my favorite franchises from the past decade. I’m not ashamed to admit that by the last 10 minutes of the game, I found myself getting pretty emotional – not solely because of the more somber elements of the finale, but because I remembered all the great times I had experienced following Layton and his crew. If you expect that you’ll have a similar reaction, than Azran Legacy is an absolute delight.
This review is based on the Nintendo 3DS exclusive, which was provided to us.
With an impressive scope, increased challenge, and satisfying story, Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy is a terrific end to the long-running series.