Best of 2022: Professor Layton and the Lost Franchise: Where has the beloved puzzle series gone?

Layton level 5
Image: Nintendo’s Life

During the holidays, we are republishing some selection feature from the past 12 months. A mix of talking points, interviews, opinions, etc. from NL staff and contributors, you’ll find our usual blend of thoughtfulness, expertise, caring frivolity, nostalgia and – of course – enthusiasm for all things Nintendo. Happy holidays!

From the late 2000s to the mid-2010s, my gaming experience was learning how to be a gentleman. This is a central theme throughout the Professor Layton series. If Professor Hershel Layton wears a robe, I wear a robe; if he drinks fruit tea, I drink fruit tea; if he gets reminded of a quiz at the most inopportune moment… then you get it. This means that Professor Layton’s games were an important part of my formative gaming and indeed my self-education. So why are my views on the series so often tainted these days?

The answer can be found in the final title of the series: Layton’s Mysterious Journey: The Conspiracy of Katrielle and the Millionaire. This is a game that, whatever its merits, never worked out for me. No Hershel, no Luke, no strong jazz music. It’s not a Professor Layton game – at least to my mind.

This week marks the 5th anniversary of Layton’s Mystery Journey’s 3DS release in the US and Europe. It also means that it’s been five years since we last had the original Professor Layton title on consoles – still longer if you, like me, have trouble getting Mystery Journey into your game. other main games.

Is it fair to say that all hope of another Layton work is gone and if so, is it fair to blame Mystery Journey? This is a puzzle indeed, and, as I have learned from the master of etiquette himself, a true gentleman has no unanswered riddles…

Level one of Level-5

Logo Level 5
Image: Level 5

To solve the mystery of the lost franchise, we have to go back to the beginning. It’s 1998 and former Rivershillsoft employee Akihiro Hino has teamed up with Sony Computer Entertainment to work on projects for the PlayStation 2, if he does so under his own corporate brand. Choose a name to refer to the highest score in the Japanese transcript, Level-5 Inc. was born and after working on projects like Dark cloud, Dragon Quest VIII and scam galaxy with Sony, the studio began self-publishing games in the mid-2000s.

Want to monetize an adult-oriented audience Dr. Kawashima The giant floating head that gave the DS, Level-5 started work on a game that is suitable for both kids and adults. The kind of games your grandma can buy you for Christmas and got a crack with himself after polishing a glass of sherry.

It was during this development that one of the greatest duos of all time was formed. Like Mario and Luigi, Mario and Sonic, or Mario and, um, Rabbids (?), Akihiro Hino enlisted the help of puzzle-book writers and real-life people. funny question Akira Tago to help spawn a series that is both entertaining and (in the broadest sense of the word) educational.

Build a true gentleman

Professor Layton and the Curious Village
Image: Level 5

The finished product is not one, but six games (and a crossover, a feature film, a comic book series, a mobile app, and enough Stove Pipe hat merchandise to sell stock. through the roof). Professor Layton and the Curious Village was released in 2007 to well-deserved acclaim. Ridiculously puzzling puzzles, a truly enigmatic central mystery, Tomohiro Nishiura’s best jazz hits delivering one of the best video game soundtracks of all time, and PA Works providing cutscenes Film level animation. Feature. Movie. Level.

Saving the main topic until the grand finale is a bold move for Nishiura, but I get hit every time

The original trilogy was so warmly received that the prequel trilogy was quickly released three years later (Professor Layton and Spector’s Call on DS and both Professor Layton and the magic mask and Professor Layton and the Azran . Legacy on 3DS). True, each entry gets a little wackier than the previous one (which is a real sequence from the inheritance dispute in game one to— SPOILERS!Literally revive the dead to game six), but that’s part of the appeal of the series. Professor Layton is a household name and this silly little franchise could last forever, right?

Wrong. to exclude, to expel Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Excellent Lawyerdue to release in Japan in 2012 before Western localization landed horribly in late 2014, we haven’t seen the Professor drinking tea, wearing a hat, driving his flagship Layton for close. eight years.

And, unfortunately, it’s unlikely we’ll ever see him again.

Level 5’s Rise and Fall

You see, after the success of the Layton series and several strong brands with Inazuma Eleven and Monster watch, Level-5 has fallen into chaos. Farewell to Layton after not one but two endings of the trilogy caused emotional damageLevel-5 was a huge success with Yo-kai Watches in Japan, selling over a million units in its first year and starting a culture that followed even rivaling the likes of Pokémon – yes, it was. A big problem.

The problem is that this Japanese folklore-heavy series doesn’t have the same effect on Western audiences – who would have thought that? While the first game sold a respectable 400,000 units in the US, interest in franchising gradually wanes with the following sections. This didn’t help given the long time it took for Level-5 to localize them – it took more than three years for the first game to reach Europe and we almost gave up hope. Youkai Watch 4 will never appear outside of Japan.

Subsequent financial difficulties and a series of project cancellations meant Level-5’s hiatus from the Layton series couldn’t have come at a worse time. Tragically, in 2016, Akira Tago’s death meant things were looking more bleak.

Without Tago’s iconic puzzles, what would another Layton game look like?

Layton’s Mysterious Journey

Layton's Mysterious Journey: The Conspiracy of Katrielle and the Millionaire
Image: Level 5

Well, it will be like 2017’s Layton’s Mysterious Journey: The Conspiracy of Katrielle and the Millionaire, originally released on 3DS and mobile before receiving the ‘Deluxe’ Transformation port a few years later.

The game is an empty shell of everything that made the Layton series so great. The puzzles, now designed by Kuniaki Iwanami, are not difficult to understand, no mystery is considered a mystery, toe-tapping jazz is replaced by a special jazz that has no tapping, and above all , without Layton.

Playing Layton’s Mysterious Journey, I tried to convince myself that maybe the Layton series always played out this way and that I was just growing up – pfft, these puzzles don’t get easier, I’m the better one. This is simply not true. Certainly, the inclusion of Layton’s name in the title is enough to link the release to those that precede it, even though the game shares much DNA with the original. Pokémon Dash doing what Red and Blue Pokémon.

There’s such a noticeable degradation with the loss of Tago’s genius and the whole game suffers because of it. Even Hino’s post is not marked here. Splitting the central mystery into several smaller instances means there’s no build-up to the end, and what the heck signifies adding a talking dog to the game? I can’t believe a town full of robots in the Layton series, but any.

It might not be fair to place the blame for Layton’s death in Mystery Journey. The game did well enough for Hino to write a 50-episode anime spinoff — and if that’s not a clear sign of success, I don’t know what is. What is clear, however, is that it has failed to rekindle the puzzling passion of its predecessors for most Layton lovers.

So what now?

Professor Layton and the Azran . Legacy
Image: Level 5

In 2020, one . report announced that Level-5 would cease all operations outside of Japan, with the possibility of future Western localizations highly unlikely. In Japan, the studio continues to release Switch titles — Yo-kai Watch Jam: Yo-kai Academy Y – Waiwai Gakuen Seikatsu, Megaton Musashiand Cross Megaton Musashi in 2020-2022, and Inazuma Eleven: Heroes’ Path to Victory is expected to be released next year. The last Level 5 game we’ve seen released in the West is World of Snacks: Dungeon Crawling – Gold back in 2020 – hardly the end of fireworks from the studio that developed some of the most popular franchises on Nintendo’s previous-generation handhelds.

So where does this leave Layton? A messy studio and a previous entry that left a bitter taste in your mouth is hardly the ideal place to find a franchise these days, but this doesn’t mean Layton is necessarily dead. Level-5 is one of those studios that desperate fans time and again implore Nintendo to buy. Big-N has published localizations of Layton in the past, and each has been a hit. Opportunity – not sure though — is there, but even if it magically happens and Nintendo sponsors the return, there’s still a case where Akira Tago is absent. Maybe Layton is really gone.

The sign of a great mystery lies in how you end it, and Agatha Christie’s Unrevealed Layton’s Mystery Journey. Honestly, the chances of Level-5 releasing another Layton game at the moment are as slim as Luke changing into that little blue sweater – seriously, how many of these does he own? they? — but seeing the gentleman professor return and wash away the sour taste of Layton’s Mysterious Journey would be most encouraging, and would bring his case to a proper end.

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