Nukezilla Review: Professor Layton and the Last Specter (DS)
Puzzling has been in my blood since a very young age. Growing up, watching syndicated reruns of the old Adam West Batman show, one of my favorite villains was the Riddler – being the precocious little child I was, I would often attempt to beat Batman to the punch and solve the riddle myself. Playtime often consisted of large jigsaw puzzles set up on a table in the corner – though I sometimes would take a break to play my brother’s new Nintendo Entertainment System (nice graphics!). As I grew older, I gamed more, but I still had a penchant for puzzles. It was therefore no surprise that I took to the Professor Layton series of games as I did, and I am happy to report that the fourth installment, Professor Layton and the Last Specter, is just as engrossing.
In Last Specter, Professor Layton receives a letter from an old friend, begging him to travel to the town of Misthallery, where a giant specter often appears at night to wreak havoc on the town and its inhabitants. Joined by his new assistant, Emmy, Professor Layton travels to the town to speak to Clark, only to find that he’s become the newly-appointed mayor of the troubled town, and that Clark’s son Luke – who actually wrote the letter – appears to have some sort of connection to the destructive specter, including the ability to predict when and where it will strike next. It is up to Layton, Emmy, and Luke to untangle the mystery of the specter, as well as unmask the many secrets also hidden throughout the town.
Last Specter, despite being the fourth game in the series, is actually a prequel, taking place three years before the events of Professor Layton and the Curious Village, and serves to tell the story of how Professor Layton came to take young Luke Triton as his apprentice, helping him solve puzzles and mysteries across the land. Last Specter is the first of a brand-new prequel trilogy, to be followed by Mask of Miracle (releasing internationally in 2012) and an untitled (but confirmed) third entry.
The gameplay of Last Specter is unchanged from the original trilogy; it stands to reason that fans of the previous three games will enjoy the fourth installment just as much. The game’s formula is unchanged, and for the most part, the formula works, and doesn’t need to be changed. However, this decision brings with it a few disappointments with the game. In my review of Unwound Future last year, I pointed out that the story’s mysteries were getting more and more ridiculous as each game released. Each game’s overarching mystery had implausible explanations that were at least based in some sort of reality, but Last Specter pushes the series straight into pure fantasy – a direction from which I am afraid the series cannot return. It is certainly alarming, considering our dear Professor’s love of reason and logic.
However, the game’s strengths are as present as they have been since the series began. Every game has crafted a vibrant world of NPCs with distinct and unique personalities and quirks to humanize them, and Last Specter is no different. The game’s cut scenes are well-animated, and may be the best of the series to date, with fluid animation and a sense of cinematic flair. The music may also be the best the series has ever had, and much like with Unwound Future, still inspires me to sip coffee at a small European cafe and people watch.
Last Specter does bring with it a few minor changes. The most notable change is a series of side stories that have no impact on the plot, but simply serve to flesh out the lives of the various NPCs Layton encounters throughout the game. The side story system is reminiscent of Final Fantasy IX‘s Active Time Event system, with brief cut scenes guiding characters through a moments of development. I found it fun and refreshing to get to know the game’s minor characters outside of their obsession with puzzles, though at the end of the day it amounts to little more than a throwaway feature; as I noted before, these scenes have no impact on the plot, nor do they garner the player any valuable hint coins or extra riddles. While the extra bit of story was fine for me, some players may be frustrated with the side stories’ seeming lack of purpose.
Though I close the DS chapter of Professor Layton on a questionable note as to the series’ future direction, I can still highly recommend the series to any puzzle or adventure fan – and that includes this installment. Despite my hesitations with the direction of the storytelling, Last Specter is still a fun, solid play, and well worth the price of admission – especially if you bought the American version, which includes the London Life bonus RPG (sorry, Europe). For me, the Layton series has yet to wear out its welcome, and I welcome the 3DS installments with open arms.