It wraps up an an everlasting saga in a magnificent way
After six years and six games that made up two fantastic trilogies that blended incredible storytelling with challenging puzzles, Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy marks the end of the very successful handheld series developed by Level-5. As the point on which the prequel trilogy ties itself to the final three games, which – in Star Wars fashion – were released first, the title carries the emotional weight of the ending of many partnerships, setting up a new beginning for the beloved heroes.
The Azran Legacy, unsurprisingly, does not operate major shifts in gameplay. However, due to its placement in the timeline, it feels grander and more important than the two games that preceded it. That grandeur ends up materializing nicely, for the game provides great closure both in terms of character development (especially to personages that are nowhere to be seen on the sequel trilogy), and it fantastically wraps up a storyline that, sometimes discretely, permeated both the Last Specter and the Miracle Mask, and even the franchise’s silver screen outing: the Eternal Diva.
The game succeeds marvelously in connecting all the loose threads, and it does so in a very sensible way. Although the plot of the game itself can be perfectly understood by those who have not come in touch with all of the franchise’s media, it carries extra rewards, and a great deal of satisfaction and fulfillment to those who have been around long enough to be able to catch all subtleties of its plot. In that sense, the Azran Legacy is a major storytelling achievement.
The adventure beings when Layton receives a letter from a fellow archaeologist. The professor and his assistants – the young and good-hearted Luke and the energetic Emmy – are then invited to the chilly town of Froenberg, where a frozen mummy with active vital signs has been discovered. The mummy, it is believed, has ties to the ancient and technologically gifted Azran civilization. Layton, having great interest in the studying of that people due to previous games’ events, quickly travels to the site of the discovery. He, however, is not the sole person with an interest on the case. Targent, an agency with dark intentions, looks to unearth the ancient power tied to the Azran, and they will do anything to stop him.
In traditional Layton fashion, the story is told through a mix of static dialogue with character models appearing on screen and a bunch of cutscenes featuring hand-drawn animation that are saved for the game’s climaxes. With numerous twists and turns, the plot is highly engaging. The development is continuous and very well-paced, which keeps players motivated to continue playing through the game’s pleasantly lengthy course.
Adding to the feeling that what is at stake is pretty big, the journey takes on a unique structure. Instead of taking place at one big specific location, the Azran Legacy sends the characters all over the world in a treasure hunt for relics. As a consequence, the individual sites are smaller, and Layton must travel between them on a charming zeppelin – the Bostonius.
Such layout has two direct consequences on the game, one that produces mixed results and another that is a fantastic delight. The first is that the game works like a storybook. Therefore, under the large encompassing main plot, there are independent mysteries that unfold on each of the locations scattered around the world. While the quality of the core thread is unquestionable, these smaller riddles are irregular. Some are downright brilliant, offering thrilling moments and mind-blowing discoveries; others are rather mundane, adding up to a somewhat lopsided package.
The second effect of the dismemberment is one that plays right into the hands of one of the series’ best features: its art. Since the many towns visited by Layton and his friends have distinct geographical features, the artists at Level-5 were allowed to go absolutely wild with their talents. Whether characters are exploring a tropical paradise, a locale of western inspirations, a jungle, or an area with medieval lines, there is no other way to put it: the game is absolutely gorgeous. Every scene is filled with beautiful details, and the characters that inhabit the different regions have very unique designs. Never has a Professor Layton game been this visually varied, and the Azran Legacy does not fail in constantly awing.
Inside that different structure, the game operates in the same manner as its predecessors. Players touch the screen to walk around the locations, talk to the many characters, and scan the screen in search of hidden puzzles, items, or hint coins – which serve as a pleasant aid to younger players throughout the adventure and to more experienced puzzle solvers on riddles that offer brutal challenge.
During the adventure, players can come across a whopping 150 puzzles that are nicely integrated into the context on which they are found. In addition, upon solving the three clever multi-leveled mini-games the game traditionally offers, another 15 specially challenging conundrums are unlocked. As if that bundle was not big enough, over 300 enigmas are set to be delivered daily through the next year, bumping the grand total of puzzles to the north side of 500. Consequently, an adventure that can last for over 30 hours to those who act like true gentlemen and decide to solve every puzzle gains even more value as a new riddle is delivered daily
The daily puzzles are neatly divided into 20 styles, a few of which have been migrated from the previous game (the Miracle Mask) with added twists. Meanwhile, the ones scattered along the adventure are greatly varied, offering mathematical challenges, purely logical problems, and some that use twisted wording to try and trick players into giving the wrong answer. Although not all puzzles feature the same high level of quality, the biggest part of the package is great.
Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy is, in the end, a remarkable exclamation point that brings the series to an end with a very positive note. Its fresh structure might bring mixed results, but this is still the Layton most portable gaming fans have come to adore. It tells a tale with efficiency that is rarely seen on the gaming world, it stars characters with which is extremely easy to fall in love, and uses all sorts of storytelling techniques to get players deeply engaged. And then, it tops it all off with a seemingly endless amount of good puzzles, great art, incredible music and marvelous voice acting.
As Layton tips his hat and heads towards a well-deserved break, it is impossible to know whether we will ever see him return in a game of this kind. One thing is for sure, though: he and Level-5 leave, more than many fans, an everlasting saga that will surely remain alive in the hearts of those who played it and enchant future generations of gamers.