Friday, November 11, 2011

Review: Professor Layton and the Last Specter

Note for readers outside the USA: For this review, I am using the American titles of the Professor Layton games; some have different names in the UK and in other locations. I will keep my complaining about the nonsensical title change from Professor Layton and the Specter's Flute to a minimum. 

Also, I mention a sidegame called London Life included with the game, but the European version of the game does not include this feature. 

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Professor Layton and the Last Specter was the first thing on my mind when I got my seasonal job. It is the first prequel in the awesome Professor Layton puzzle/visual novel series and tells the story of Layton's first mystery solving adventure, as well as the story of how he met his apprentice, Luke.  

The Last Specter will remind long time fans of the first installment: Professor Layton and the Curious Villiage. It takes place in the small town where Luke lives, and the plot is also on the smaller side.

To an extent, this makes sense. When writing a prequel, writers want to make sure that the challenges the characters face aren't bigger than their most recent ones, since they want the characters to have shown growth in their abilities through the series' timeline. However, this doesn't explain why it feels like the social story of The Last Specter is also dimmed down. Without giving anything away, the emotional arc of the plot does eventually get going and lead to a unique and charming conclusion, but I spent a fair amount of time feeling more distant from the characters than I was expecting. I wanted to see more of Luke and Layton bonding for the first time than I did, mainly.

Also, while I did not guess the final conclusion of the mystery, and would like to present a medal to anybody who did, some of the smaller mysteries were easier for me to figure out than they have been in the past, and some things felt a little thrown in. I didn't feel this was due to any improvement with my expirience with the series, rather, some of the smaller mysteries felt more cliche to the mystery genre in general.

None of this is to say that The Last Specter has a bad storyline. I enjoyed the plot, cared about the characters, and was up playing into the late hours of the night to see how it ended... but after  the extremely enchanting plots of other Professor Layton titles, this one felt a little underwhelming and uninspired.

Of course, if you're a fan of Professor Layton who wants everybody to stop talking and get to more puzzles, this will probably be your favorite game yet. Puzzles are everywhere and while no new major features have been added, the gameplay has been polished to a shine. Getting through the main game took me about 11 hours, while past games have taken me about 8 or 9 hours, and I didn't even manage to solve every puzzle. It felt like there was a higher ratio of the kinds of puzzles I like too, so I had a blast solving them. Maybe Level-5 is keeping an eye on the fans' favorites somehow?

Speaking of hours of gameplay, the game is paired with a separate RPG called London Life which claims to have over 100 hours of content. I haven't gotten very far into London Life yet, but from what I have seen of it so far, it's adorable and a good time sinker. Slice of life games tend to bore me quickly, though, so whether you're like me or will actually spend hundreds of hours in Little London is up to you. 

Professor Layton and the Last Specter doesn't upstage past titles, but fans of the series can sink plenty of content hours into the story and gameplay of another worthy installment. While it didn't blow me away, I still feel that I more than got my money's worth, and I still have a lot of content to go through that should keep me working my gray matter for a while.