The Professor Layton franchise is a fairly successful line of puzzle games made by Level 5 and generally known for its intricate stories. When the last game, Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy, was released in 2013, Level 5 announced that the story was complete and Azran Legacy would be Professor Layton’s final chapter.
Four years later, they released Layton’s Mystery Journey: Katrielle and the Millionaires’ Conspiracy, which, as promised, was not a Professor Layton game. Instead, Layton’s Mystery Journey follows the exploits of the Professor’s daughter, Katrielle, as she solves a multitude of crimes in London, uncovering long-held secrets in the process.
Although it’s not the best game in the Layton series, Layton’s Mystery Journey is nonetheless a superb puzzle game with lovable characters, an interesting plot and few outstanding flaws or failures.
First of all, it’s worth mentioning that Mystery Journey is an exceedingly silly game at times. The drama is legitimate, but the game is filled with zany characters and ludicrous crimes. After all, the main character, Katrielle, is an amateur detective who’s ruled by her stomach and has an inexplicable talking dog and a lovestruck assistant as her sidekicks. As long as you can take the game’s occasional craziness at face value, this shouldn’t be a problem, but anyone looking for a gritty, realistic detective story should probably look elsewhere.
With that said, it would be remiss not to mention how well this innate silliness fits in the story. Even when the case at hand is relatively serious, the quips and banter Katrielle exchanges with her companions rarely detract from the drama. Additionally, trying to take the eccentric humor out of Mystery Journey would be like trying to take the mystery out of Sherlock Holmes ― the comedy is so deeply interwoven into the narrative that removing it would leave a lifeless husk behind.
Most of Mystery Journey’s gameplay revolves around exploring various parts of London; gathering clues from eyewitnesses, suspects, and crime scenes ― and solving lots of puzzles along the way. Like its predecessors, Mystery Journey is first and foremost a puzzle game, after all. The vast majority of these puzzles are fun, brief, and thought-provoking. They rarely seem like too much of a hassle or detour from the plot, and the answers aren’t impossible to find, but they’re just difficult enough to elicit a strong sense of pride upon completion.
Unfortunately, though, just looking at the sheer number of them is enough to make it clear that not every puzzle in the game can be enjoyable; some are tedious, unfair or seem specifically designed to trick the player. Poorly-made puzzles are few and far between, but they’re so intensely frustrating that they still manage to tarnish the overall experience. Running into one of these frustrating puzzles is always irritating, and it can be hard to stay invested in the story even after the puzzle is vanquished.
Another flaw in the gameplay is that, despite being a game about detective work, Mystery Journey doesn’t allow the players to deduce anything for themselves. Instead, Katrielle herself will automatically solve the case once the proper evidence is collected. At times, this is a blessing in disguise, since some of the conclusions she reaches are pretty out-there, but it can be very disappointing to anyone looking for a more involved detective story.
Plot and Characters
What ultimately saves Mystery Journey from mediocrity is its writing. Although the plot itself is mostly episodic in nature, with each case being its own separate story, all of these cases are well-written and paced perfectly, seamlessly guiding the player through each clue and suspect. The humor and drama flow into each other perfectly, and some parts are a bit dialogue-heavy, but the dialogue itself is good enough to keep the intrigue going.
Even more impressive, however, are the characters. Every single major character, from the brilliant-but-brash Katrielle to the chipper and chivalrous Ernest, is absolutely loaded with personality and charm. They’re all quirky and entertaining to watch, and their personalities play off of each other very well. These characters are more than strong enough to support the occasionally meandering plot, and, when the plot really gets into gear, they only shine brighter.
Besides top-notch writing, Layton’s Mystery Journey also flaunts fully-animated cutscenes and voice acting during plot-important scenes. The animation is stellar, and, although the voice acting is rather hit-or-miss, the voices themselves fit the characters well. Although the game was released on the Nintendo 3DS, which isn’t exactly known for its graphical capabilities, the in-game models are expressive and lively, and the background art is downright beautiful.
Additionally, in line with Professor Layton tradition, Mystery Journey offers three minigames, daily bonus puzzles, and other non-essential challenges for the players to take on if they so choose. Unlike previous Layton games, though, Mystery Journey also allows customization of Katrielle’s wardrobe and office, which, although merely an aesthetic choice, really added an extra layer of fun to the game.
Although these elements could have easily been removed, their inclusion really makes the game seem legitimate. It doesn’t seem like a half-baked spin-off game; it seems like a fully-fledged game of its own, even if it never fully emerges from its predecessor’s shadow.
While Layton’s Mystery Journey isn’t exactly perfect, it’s still an endlessly fun, superbly written, and highly polished game that’s more than worth checking out. Hopefully, Katrielle will get as many sequels as the original Professor Layton did, because she’s certainly earned them.