From the late 2000s to the mid 2010s, my gaming experience was all about learning how to become a knight. This was a central theme that ran throughout the Professor Layton series. If Professor Hershel Layton wore a trench coat, I wore a trench coat; if he drank fruit tea, I drank fruit tea; if he reminded you of a puzzle at the most inappropriate times… well, you get the idea. This means that Professor Layton’s games were a big part of my formative game and, indeed, my self-education. So why, nowadays, are my views on the series so often tainted?
The answer can be found in the last title of the series: Layton’s Mystery Journey: Katrielle and the Millionaires’ Conspiracy. This is a game that, regardless of its merits, never sat well with me. There was no Hershel, no Luke, no aggressively brilliant jazz score. It wasn’t a Professor Layton game, at least in my opinion.
This week marked the fifth anniversary of the US and European 3DS release of Layton’s Mystery Journey. It also means that it’s been five years since we last had an original Professor Layton title on console, even more so if, like me, you struggle to include Mystery Journey with the other mainline games.
Is it fair to say that all hope of another Layton entry is gone, and if so, is it fair to blame Mystery Journey? This is quite a puzzle, and as I learned from the master of etiquette himself, a true gentleman leaves no puzzle unsolved…
Level one of Level-5
In order to solve the mystery of the lost franchise, we must go back to the beginning. The year was 1998 and former Rivershillsoft employee Akihiro Hino partnered with Sony Computer Entertainment to work on PlayStation 2 projects, if he did so under his own company’s brand. Choosing a name to refer to the highest grade on a Japanese report card, Level-5 Inc. was born, and after working on projects like Dark cloud, Dragon Quest VIII Y rogue galaxy with Sony, the studio began self-publishing games in the mid-2000s.
Eager to capitalize on the adult-oriented audiences that by Dr Kawashima giant floating head had brought to the DS, Level-5 began work on a title that would work for children and adults alike. The kind of game your grandmother can buy you for Christmas Y to have a crack in itself after polishing a glass of sherry.
It was in this development process that one of the greatest duos of all time was formed. Like Mario and Luigi, Mario and Sonic, or Mario and, err, Rabbids(?), Akihiro Hino enlisted the help of the real-life and puzzle book writer. maybe Akira Tago to help create a franchise that was both fun and (in the broadest sense of the word) educational.
Building a true gentleman
The end product was not just one, but six games (and a crossover, a movie, a manga series, a mobile app, and enough Stove Pipe Hat merchandise to send stock skyrocketing). Professor Layton and the Curious Village It was released in 2007 with much deserved success. The puzzles were fiendishly puzzling, the central mystery was genuinely uncanny, Tomohiro Nishiura’s jazzy score provided one of the best video game soundtracks of all time, and PA Works provided cinematic-grade animated cutscenes. Feature. Movie. Level.
The original trilogy was so enthusiastically received that the trio of prequel games were quickly released over the next three years (Professor Layton and the Specter’s Call in DS, and both Professor Layton and the Miraculous Mask Y Professor Layton and the Legacy of Azran on 3DS). It’s true, each entry gets a little crazier than the last (this is a series that really goes from an inheritance dispute in the first game to… SPOILERS! — literally raising the dead for the sixth game), but that was part of the charm of the series. Professor Layton was a household name, and this silly little franchise could go on forever, right?
Wrong. excluding Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorneyset to release in Japan in 2012 before a Western localization freakishly landed in late 2014, we haven’t seen our top-hatted, tea-drinking Laytonmobile driver in almost eight years.
And, unfortunately, it is unlikely that we will see it again.
The rise and fall of Level-5
You see, following the success of the Layton series and some strong franchises with inazuma eleven Y yo kai watch, Level-5 had fallen into disarray. Taking a break from Layton after not one, but two trilogy endings that caused emotional damageLevel-5 had huge success with Yo-kai Watch in Japan, selling over a million units in its first year and starting a cultural following that even rivaled that of Pokémon. Yes, it was a big problem.
The problem was that this series full of Japanese folklore just didn’t have the same effect on Western audiences, who would have thought? While the first game sold a respectable 400,000 units in the US, interest in the franchise steadily declined with the aftermath. This wasn’t helped by the long periods it took for Level-5 to track them down: it took over three years for the first game to reach Europe, and we’ve almost given up hope. yo kai watch 4 will ever appear outside of Japan.
The resulting financial difficulties and large number of canceled projects meant that 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 looked even bleaker.
Without Tago’s iconic puzzles, what would another Layton game look like?
Layton’s Mysterious Journey
Well, it would look a lot like 2017’s Layton’s Mystery Journey: Katrielle and the Millionaires’ Conspiracy, which initially released on 3DS and mobile devices before receiving a ‘Deluxe’ Switch port a few years later.
The game is a hollow shell of everything that made Layton’s series great. The puzzles, now designed by Kuniaki Iwanami, aren’t puzzling, there’s no mystery to be found uncanny, toe-tapping jazz is replaced with jazz that’s remarkably off-putting, and to top it off, there’s no Layton.
Playing Layton’s Mystery Journey, I tried to convince myself that maybe the Layton franchise had always been like this and I had just grown up: pfft, these riddles are not easier, it’s me who has improved. This is simply not true. Sure, putting Layton’s name in the title is enough to tangentially link the release to previous ones, even though the game shares as much DNA with the original as it does. pokemon race makes to pokemon red and blue.
There is such a noticeable degradation with the loss of Tago’s temper and the entire game suffers from it. Even Hino’s writing isn’t up to par here. Splitting the central mystery into several smaller cases means there’s no preparation for the ending and who the hell approved adding a talking dog to the game? A town full of robots in the Layton series, I can believe it, but we go.
It may be unfair to put all the blame for Layton’s death on 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, then I don’t know what is. What is clear, however, is that he failed to rekindle his predecessors’ disconcerting passion for most of Layton’s lovers.
And now that?
In 2020, a GamesIndustry.biz Report stated that Level-5 would cease all operations outside of Japan, and that the chances of future Western locations are extremely unlikely. In Japan, the studio continues to release Switch titles: Yo-kai Watch Jam: Yo-kai Academy Y – Waiwai Gakuen Seikatsu, Musashi MegatonY Musashi Megaton Cross in 2020-2022, and Inazuma Eleven: The Heroes’ Path of Victory it is expected to be released next year. The last tier 5 game we saw receive a western release was Snack World: The Dungeon Crawl – Gold in 2020, hardly the fireworks finale 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 an earlier entry to leave a sour taste in your mouth isn’t the ideal place to find the franchise today, but that’s not to say Layton is necessarily dead yet. Level-5 is one of the studios that, time and time again, desperate fans ask Nintendo to acquire. The big-N has released every Layton location in the past and each with a good level of success. The opportunity – however unlikely – is there, but even if that miraculously happened and Nintendo financed a comeback, there is still the case of Akira Tago’s absence. Maybe Layton really is gone.
The sign of a great mystery is in how you wrap it, and Layton’s Mystery Journey didn’t provide any Agatha Christie revelations. In good faith, the chances of Level-5 releasing another Layton game right now are about as slim as Luke taking off that little blue sweater. Seriously, how many of them does he have? —but seeing the gentlemanly professor come back and shake off the bitter taste of Layton’s Mystery Journey would be very uplifting and bring his case to a proper close.