I love the point-and-click puzzle genre, and the Professor Layton games are no exception. Always fun and exciting, I adore these games for their witty dialogue; gorgeous and well-voiced animated cutscenes; charming graphics; and of course, the variety of fun and quirky puzzles that the game presents throughout the course of the story. Professor Layton and the Last Specter follows this formula to a tee, even going so far as to include a new bonus mode called Layton’s London Life, which has been touted as an expansive Layton RPG. After picking the game up on the day it was released, I expected to be hooked for the better part of a week, once again wrapped up in Layton’s curious world of mysteries and surprises. For the most part, I wasn’t disappointed.
Professor Layton and the Last Specter
Systems: Nintendo DS
Developers: Level-5, Brownie Brown
Release Date: October 17, 2011
Main Game: Professor Layton and the Last Specter
The adventure begins three years prior to Professor Layton and Curious Village, making Last Specter a prequel to the main series. A young woman named Emmy, Layton’s newly acquired assistant, accompanies the professor to the town of Misthallery after he receives a distressing letter from an old friend and the local mayor, Clark Triton. The letter describes a frightening, ghostly creature that has been attacking the town at night, destroying buildings and terrorizing the citizenry. He requests the brilliant professor’s aid, and thus the story begins. As Layton and Emmy explore Misthallery, the mystery slowly begins to unravel with the help of Luke Triton, the mayor’s son and a familiar face to the series, along with assistance from a vibrant and at times unexpected cast of new characters.
The gameplay is identical to previous titles in the series, but the lack of innovation doesn’t detract from Layton’s adventure in the slightest. Players still explore the surrounding environment by pointing and clicking with the stylus, and you still use the on-screen arrows to navigate around towns and other locations. The menus also have that classic Layton feel in that everything is stored in the professor’s trunk, including valuable clues, mini-games, save options, and more. Puzzles await you at every turn, with the active puzzle display appearing on the lower DS screen while the instructions are displayed on top. Hint coins, hidden tokens that provide puzzle-solving clues, are still liberally sprinkled around town and are a great help as the complexity of the puzzles begins to increase. The puzzles themselves were plentiful and well-thought out, although I found them a little less diverse than I had expected. There were many “input answer” puzzles, which usually involve some degree of simple to moderate mathematical calculations, and not as many puzzles in which you’re able to manipulate objects on the screen, such as those that might require you to slide a ball from Point A to Point B or fit scattered pieces together to create something. This could be seen as a welcome change or a detractor to fans of the series depending on what types of puzzles you prefer. If you’re looking for a challenge, Last Specter won’t disappoint you.
As expected, I very much enjoyed the graphics. Characters appear as colorful, animated 2D sprites, while the environments are rich and lush with detail, bringing Misthallery to life. As with any Layton game, the main story is punctuated with beautifully animated cutscenes that are often times heartfelt and action packed, and Last Specter certainly delivers on this front with some truly spectacular moments. Coupled with a very talented voice cast, the cinematic moments in this game are extremely impressive and a treat to watch. The music in this game was wonderful as well and is perhaps the strongest soundtrack in the series. I frequently found myself humming along with the music while playing or had one of the game’s many songs stuck in my head later during the day. The voice acting retains the cast from previous games, and everyone sounds wonderful and engaging.
As much as I enjoyed the game, Last Specter‘s fatal flaw rests with the plot. The story is reasonably well-paced over all. It’s particularly engaging at the beginning as the player interacts with a younger Luke and Layton and then meets several new characters, such as the entertaining and spirited Emmy or the band of mischievous kids who lurk in Misthallery’s market. The initial mysteries surrounding the town itself are fascinating, and without spoiling too much of the plot, the story is filled with the type of massive twists and turns that the Layton games have a reputation of delivering on. However, the story isn’t bulletproof: despite the strength and promise of the early chapters, the ending was disappointingly weak. As I mentioned before, the game has several plot twists, but in the case of Last Specter, some of these plot devices verge on distracting, uninteresting, or downright silly at times, and the game begins to suffer towards the end. As the layers of intrigue are gradually pulled away, the plot becomes less exciting and more predictable while at the same time leaving behind a series of unfinished thoughts and unaddressed concerns. For instance, the mastermind behind the events in Misthallery is as much of an enigma at the end of the game as they were in the beginning, among other things. This may be due to the fact that a direct sequel to Last Specter, titled Professor Layton and the Mask of Miracle, serves to explain these inconsistencies later on. However, as its own entity, Last Specter just doesn’t provide you with the feeling of success and accomplishment that you would expect from a game of this caliber, and I was left feeling slightly cheated by the ending.
To conclude, Professor Layton and the Last Specter hit all the technical marks and was quite a lot of fun to play. The graphics, sound, and animation were all superbly executed and perhaps even more stunning than in previous installments of the series. However, though the story had its strong points, it was easily the weakest so far and felt a bit tedious. It’ll take some time before I’m ready to replay it again. Diehard Layton fans shouldn’t be deterred by this, however. If you’ve enjoyed the professor’s adventures up until this point, you’ll have no trouble appreciating this game in spite of its flaws. If you’re new to the series and are considering purchasing this game, I recommend starting with the original game, Professor Layton and the Curious Village, if possible, or at least Professor Layton and the Unwound Future if you can’t play the games in sequence.
Bonus Content: London Life
London Life is a bonus Layton game that has been hyped as a “100-Hour RPG” in which you can create your own character and explore Layton’s world. While the game is fun and extremely cute, you would have to stretch the game, and yourself, fairly thin to actually get 100 hours of gameplay out of this addition. Everything is new and fun at first: having a job, buying clothes, customizing your room and character, running errands for other townies.
Unfortunately, it grows stale fast with little else to do as a result. I also felt that some of the gameplay mechanics constricted my already limited ability to customize my experience. For example, in order to visit many of the shops and businesses in town, your clothing needs to meet a certain numerical value that corresponds to how fashionable you are. If your outfits of choice don’t meet this criteria, you will be forced to change your avatar’s clothing over and over again, frequently, which becomes tiring and bothersome. Your room is also incredibly small despite the ability to upgrade, and there are simply not enough errands to run in the vast amount of time that passes between one day to the next. (The internal clock doesn’t function in real-time, but it certainly feels that way.)
I will also mention that this is not an RPG, at least in the traditional sense. It’s more akin to a severely scaled-back Animal Crossing than anything else. On the plus side, the tiny pixel sprites are absolutely stunning, as are the locations. It’s hard to believe that an environment so small could contain so much detail. In short, London Life is worth playing, but it doesn’t come close to satisfying the hype surrounding it. You might be able to squeeze a solid six or seven hours out of this bonus mode, but hitting the 100-hour mark would require some serious dedication.
* Excellent sound and graphics
* Expansive content
* Begins a new story arc in the Layton series
* Weak story
* Puzzles lack diversity
* Layton’s London Life not as interesting as expected
* Replay value will vary greatly for each player
FINAL SCORE: B
Disclaimer: This game was purchased by the reviewer and was not sent by Level-5 or Nintendo. The game took roughly 11 hours to complete, excluding Layton’s London Life.