Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask

"The trick is this: Keep your eyes on the ball, even when you can't see the ball."  
- Tom Robbins

18 years ago in a small town named Stansbury that lies beyond a desert, a duo of young men's journey as archaeologists began along with the story of this game.
Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask tells two sides of a story: the story about a series of incidents taking place in the miraculous city of Monte d'Or in which the gentleman archaeologist professor Hershel Layton along with his two new assistants from the last game - the Last Specter - Luke Triton and Emmy Altava, have a goal: apprehend the Masked Gentleman which is terrorizing the city with his own 'miracles.' With clowns and a circus being a heavy part of the story in the 'present,' the atmosphere of the game from its setting to the soundtrack are at times similar to a PS2 classic named Dark Chronicles, the sequel of Dark Cloud. As well as the other side of the story; the backstory of Hershel Layton, which takes up multiple chapters of this game, is quite the breath of fresh air to the franchise as a whole. The story of the game jumps like this: Present - Past - Present - Past ->, as Luke and Emmy figure that they might learn more about an item named the Mask of Chaos if they learn more about Layton's past of which the MoC is heavily part of.
So they ask Hershel Layton to tell his tale to them.

Although all of the Layton games have at least a little bit of a connection or information towards Layton's past in the forms of flashbacks, or the conflicts have a little bit to do with his personal connections, especially the most recent games up until this point: The Unwound Future and the Last Specter. However, the Miracle Mask is the first game in Layton history where the story itself has a heavy focus on his past. You even get to play during the time when Layton was going to school in his little hometown where he lived with his friends and family that are also a part of this story.

Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask (2011) is the fifth game in the popular handheld puzzle adventure game series, the second game in the second/prequel trilogy, and the first Professor Layton game in the series to be done in 3D. It was developed on Nintendo 3DS by Level-5. I will mostly focus on the events of the story after this part so I will already tell my thoughts here: The Miracle Mask is one of the better Layton games for sure. The final part of the story is a bit lackluster due to how cliched it is in a sense, but as a whole it's a very family-friendly game with a very nice pacing to it. Alot happens in the story and you get to focus on a different variety of puzzles in the way they're presented - play a battle of wits with couple of scammers and help the detectives to solve the tricks behind the numerous miracles performed by the Masked Gentleman, and there are a few upgraded puzzle styles from the change to 3DS as well. There's quite a few brain crackers in the game.
The soundtrack, animated sequences and character writing are mostly consistently decent in the game - and there are no same faces as you can expect from the Layton game in which the faces twist and turn to all sorts of.. things. Aside from the main theme, "The Mask of Miracles," OST's like "Illusion," the track played when you figure out the truth behind the Gentleman's Miracle's as well as the theme of the Casino, "Scorpion," are really great.

The story: 

The story begins as Luke and professor Layton arrive at Monte d'Or which is often called the city of miracles mainly due to its, well, miraculous outlook. It's a city which, 18 years ago, began as a single inn in the desert and at an extremely quick pace mysteriously grew into a massive city. The city was "built from nothing" by a man named Henry Ledore who happens to be one of Layton's old friends from his time in a small town named Stansbury.
Layton had yet again got a letter, as tends to happen in all of the games, this time from a person named Angela Ledore who writes that in this fantastic city, terrible things occur. The story kicks right into gameplay in the story's prologue which happens in the city. The 3D character models and a more sluggy gameplay - mostly due to the 3D models and due to the movement and the much worse investigation mode being split - make for a game that takes the fans of the 4 older games some getting used to for a bit, however, the animated cut scenes are still done in the same beautiful 2D as always.
There is a carnival in the city of miracles, and all of a sudden people start screaming. A massive balloon clown falls and afterwards Layton sees statues... ff people, or more accurately people turned to statues! A person walks over a roof with a mask over his face. He claims that the city of Monte d'Or will soon be destroyed, and then this 'Masked Gentleman' gains wings and begins to fly. Layton, Luke and Emmy start to ride horses as they follow after this flying person.

Chapter 1: The Mask of Chaos

A little bit in the past before the prequel, Angela Ledore whom Layton had known 18 years ago during his school days in Stansbury, had sent a letter to Layton's residence which now contains Hershel Layton and his two assistants from Luke Triton and Emmy Altava. She claims that she has been cursed by Mask of Chaos, an item which is known to archaeologists, a mask of omnipotence. The d'Orian police say that a case of Living Paintings has happened before, simply, the drawn things in paintings had become living beings which jumped out of the frames, hence why they even closed the gallery in the city.
Two men block the way as Layton and co. head to the Ledore residence: Narcisse and Frankie. The puzzle they give is an active one similar to the puzzle of 'future Luke vs Layton' in the Unwound Future and the active puzzles in the Last Specter.
Before heading inside the residence it's actually pretty nice to see Layton a bit nervous as he has not seen her since his school years. Angela lives in a massive residence and the theme of the manor is quite majestic. Angela's husband is named Henry Ledore, the leader of the city, who is also Layton's old classmate.

The Mask of Chaos. Layton himself claims to have seen it disappear, supposedly for forever, along with a person. Layton claims that his best friend named Randall Ascot, during their school years, had discovered the mask. Despite the mask being found, Randall was not and he's believed to have died. The search for him however still lasts all these years later, and the Masked Man had somehow stolen the Mask of Chaos recently.
Luke and Emmy ask Layton to tell them more about his past and Randall, his best friend, as we learn that Randall was the very person who made Hershel get interested in archaeology in the first place. And so the first chapter closes up.

Randall, Angela, Henry and Layton used to live beyond a desert in a town called Stansbury.
The massive city of Monte d'Or exists in the desert.

Chapter 2 The Secret of Norwell

We focus on Layton's past, a flashback. Layton has a friendly sword fight with Randall Ascot in school - we are familiar with Layton's sword skills from the Diabolical Box - we see Hershel lose "again" to him and we hear Layton say "I have no interest in archaeology." Randall pushes Layton usually on his archeology events and now he tells about finding the Mask of Chaos which is supposed to be only a legend. Layton heads home, where his mother Lucille says that weird black suited men came earlier and Layton's father might be in trouble but Layton finds his father and he's OK.
At night Layton and Angela arrive at Randall's place where he shows the Mask of Chaos to them. Randall claims that the mask contains a puzzle - it's a key to finding an ancient civilization and an unimaginable amount of wealth along with it.

Chapter 3: Discord in Monte d'Or

Layton mentions that there's a parade every night around the Celebration Boulevard. Angela talks about how Dalston, a bully-type person from Layton's past who is a rival of Henry due to hotel business, might be the Masked Gentleman. However, Dalton himself makes up a pretty good theory about how Angela might be the Masked Gentleman, you see, Henry was in love with Angela, Angela was in love with Randall. Henry took everything from Randall as he supposedly died and Angela might have been trying to exact revenge for many years now. To turn the city which Henry founded into ruins... Layton and Dalton get a threatening letter from the masked gentleman. Layton and co. head over to the mayor's office to talk about what he has in plan to take down the Masked Gentleman. What's happening right now is that the mayor has created a special task force to take down the perp, including inspector Grosky from the last game, Last Specter, among a couple other new characters of "Scotland Yard's finest," as Luke puts it.
In the Last Specter we had a cool active puzzle series and the most impressive of them was Layton figuring out the identity of the Black Raven. In this game, however, we have three solid short active puzzle mysteries for Layton to solve in row as he speaks with the leading inspectors of the Masked Gentleman case.
During the gathering of the police Detective Bloom has a case of people being turned into horses by the Masked Gentleman, the truth behind the mystery is easy to figure out in its basics but the facts that Layton lays out expand the trick to be very believable, and the same goes with the next one.
Detective Sheffield, a cube-headed man, has a case of art. The Masked Gentleman apparently, as was mentioned before, has made the characters inside paintings run out of them. The trick in of itself might not be as clear to everyone as this has a chemistry answer to the puzzle. Sheffield also later mentions that he has a perp in mind but needs more evidence.
Detective Grosky has a case of people being engulfed in flames. At the morning of the previous Sunday, 13 people had received an ominous letter calling these people to a plaza unless they wish to die. During the carnival at the plaza the 13 people were all on a small tent and then bursted into flames, along with the entire tent. No potential hiding place under the tent and what's crazier the 13 people appeared in their homes suddenly, all fine. Not remembering that anything beyond arriving on the stage. However there are some clues: They all were on the same popular squash club. No eyewitnesses saw any of the 13 got on the stage. The answers to this mysterious puzzle might not be that surprising but Layton does somewhat think outside the box to get the answer to what was going on with the victims which I doubt many would think of.

That night the Masked Gentleman were to perform their miracles once again. Who are his accomplices and who is he? Angela and Henry had gotten letters as well and have arrived. The Masked Gentleman appears and does a miracle air walking trick. Panic attack happens as people start to fly towards the air. The amusement park named Tingly Town is to be his next target. The Gentleman mentions another mask: The Mask of Order which would be capable of defeating the Mask of Chaos that the Gentleman possesses. As the bully-type Dalston whom Layton used to know gets arrested, Layton and co. head back to the hotel and Layton continues his backstory about Randall and the Mask of Chaos.

Chapter 4: Angela's Tears

18 years ago once more. Randall, Layton's best friend, wants to show his discovery that happened in Norwell to Layton and Angela.
Professor Rutledge is famous for writing about the legendary Mask of Chaos and it's twin mask. Beyond a simple puzzle lies a map towards the 'Masks'. According to the ciphers which Randall deciphered the masks belonged to a civilization that's been gone for a long, long time. There is another map leading to a place that has not been found but is known by archaeologists named Akbadain. Angela takes the Mask of Chaos from Randall and escapes because she doesn't want Randall to go to Akbadain due to the dangers. As Layton and Randall find her she mentions about her brother who had disappeared. Henry the current husband of Angela is also some form of servant of Randall's family, and he knows everything about his excavations.

Chapter 5: On the Gentleman's Trail

The day when the Masked Gentleman will create "miracles" in the area of Tingly Town in the city is now. Heading towards the quarters where the most likely innocent Dalton's being kept by the police to hear what they have to say. At the HQ they make it clear that Dalton is being kept captive due to his resources and him owning a horse, however he mentions that there's a horse track with many horses - the police had naturally questioned the place's manager but Layton decides to go investigate it himself. A chariot from the racing track was said to be out during the statues incident - a great vehicle in carrying statues around - and the chariot being "repaired" (taken apart and taken elsewhere) was signed by Henry, the owner of the entire city. Layton claims to have somehow figured out the Levitation Miracle's trick from visiting the racing track as well. Back at the Ledore mansion, Layton confronts Henry straightforwardly about his connections to the Levitation and Petrification miracles. Later on a citizen named Serena who tends to hang around everywhere where the M.Gentleman appears is saying that something is going on at the Scorpion Casino.
At the Scorpion Casino the two trickster weird men who Layton and co. had to puzzle-battle before, before arriving at the manor, are also in there. This time they have a puzzle about numbers in all columns adding up to the same number vertically and diagonally. However the way Layton goes at this is pretty great. As Layton and co. head to Tingly Town they witness Halloween-themed park around themselves. Layton and Luke quickly ride one of the machines while Emmy stays behind, and after inspector Grosky appears, telling them that he's found a clue, a poster, saying: "a new spin on miraculous." They assume it has to do with the spinning things - ferris wheel, etc, that are around the amusement part. After solving 4 puzzles around the spinning machines of the amusement park, they gather 4 Mask of Chaos cards which form a map that all lead to Tingly Tower which happens to be the park's control room. And now it's time for the next "miracle." The masked gentleman appears and leads them in the tower. Then he escapes again and Layton and co. run after him to find that no visitors are left on the crowded amusement park.
The M.Gentleman kidnaps Angela to lure them back to the control tower and then he claims that there will be a massive body count and his next miracle will be visible from anywhere on the city. The final act will happen tomorrow.

Chapter 6: The Ruins of Akbadain

Layton's flashback about his best friend Randall continues once more. Before embarking on their journey to Akbadain, Randall gives a donut-shaped rock with markings on it to Angela for safekeeping and Henry, Angela's current boyfriend and Randall's butler-type friend helps her not to keep worrying about Randall. Layton and Randall head to the desert, south of Stansbury where the Mask of Chaos, that Randall spent three months deciphering, leads to. And here's the real kicker: the long-gone civilization which the mask relates to is from one called Azran, and Azran Legacy happens to be the final Layton game of the second trilogy. Anyway, Azran is a legendary civilization and its existence was never proven; Randall believes that Azran created the Akbadain ruins.
The gameplay in the ruins of Akbadain is different from the other Layton gameplay titles. You travel with Randall in a 3D adventure game type of manner, dig the site, check for traps and tricks and mummies that exist in the vast ruins.
After traversing a long, long time in the ruins of Akbadain, we learn of Randall's fate - and the Last Door, Hershel finds the treasure of the Azran, but leaves as he doesn't want a part of any of it - with the memory of his dear friend, Hershel wants to distance himself from Stansbury, and leaves his home town as well.

Chapter 7: The Reunion Inn

According to Drake the Scorpion Casino security man, when Henry was underage he had already started creating the city of Monte d'Or, so he needed a person who would co-sign the purchases Henry needed; that person was a woman who has apparently passed away a long time ago. Layton gets an idea about what happened in Tingly Tower when he hears his old acquaintance the bully-type Dalton utter the words "dark," so Layton, Luke and Emmy decide to head towards Tingly Tower once more. Everyone disappearing has to be just a trick, right!?
As they head inside, it's pitch black and Layton explains: The Masked Gentleman used the Tower's rotating floor mechanism to rotate the tower 180 degrees. There's an exact replica of the Tingly Town on the other side, but... why has it gone unnoticed? Henry is the person responsible for building it according to informants, so Layton needs answers and it's time to talk to the man.
At Henry's place he claims he has nothing to do with the fake Tingly Town. Layton comes up with an unusual answer to his questions: maybe Henry is hiding something else than the truth behind the masked man? And that's when Layton sees Randall's aged mother who has come to Monte d'Or to live with Henry after her husband died. Layton heads to Mayor Williams to check out his suspicions about Henry; are they on the wrong track of not? So he goes and asks Williams about all the information on what properties Henry owns in the city.

The biggest hotel of Monte d'Or, the Reunion Inn, is said to be a place where the Masked Gentleman struck according to detective Bloom, who told about it to inspector Grosky, so next up Layton and co. head to speak with Bloom. Detective Bloom claims that the police has figured out who took the chariot for one of the "miracles" however there's no leads towards the Masked Gentleman. Bloom asks Layton to go investigate the Reunion Inn as it's the most ideal place for a criminal to reside in. Also, Layton says that the Gentleman only wanted to make it seem so that Henry would seem suspicious, but he's still holding some secrets, just unrelated to the culprit.

The Reunion Inn is a massive castle so trying to find the Gentleman in there is going to prove to be quite the challenge. In the private room of Henry Ledore in the hotel, Emmy and Luke find a journal which contains the expedition for finding Randall. The boy was never found, Henry found the treasure that Layton found and used it to become rich and everything was forgotten. Henry's room contains dozens of investigation books on Randall so it seems he's to only one who did not give up. Layton was investigating another room and as he comes back, he shows a surprising find that he made: He found the Real Mask of Chaos. Who planted it in Henry's room and why?

In the lobby. Layton gets a book - an unfinished children's story about five friends in the woods and a treasure - and then the lights go out. Layton believes that the book is an "invitation" by the Gentleman - "find me with the clues in this book." One book subtly shows the way towards one room where another book is hidden in, one after another.
All of a sudden Detective Bloom is seen visiting a suspicious man who says that they've found "two of the three" - places which Layton found in Last Specter and Miracle Mask's flashback.. The man continues: "find the mask."
And at the very end the Masked Gentleman is unmasked. He sort of reminds me of Future Luke from The Unwound Future.

Chapter 8: The Final Miracle

The massive miracle promised by the Gentleman is the destruction of Monte d'Or. A massive flood of sand happens on the city and Layton and co. must stop it.

The deepest chambers of Akbadain; the place that is hidden beyond the treasure (that was just another trap to stop people from making their way to what Akbadain truly protects) exists right below Monte d'Or. Luke finds a manhole with Akbadain's markings and the group heads down to find the true final chamber of Akbadain with a pedestal that requires the Mask of Chaos and the Mask of Order to activate a puzzle; and Layton has them both with him despite only having one Mask.
And after solving the puzzle, the entire city starts to lift up.

Couple of consecutive final twists happen in this chapter.


The exposed Masked Gentleman is standing in the middle of the city. The true treasure of Azran was not the money but the archaeological treasure which Layton now found but it's not delved in-depth in this game, as the next one will most likely explain it all.
And the mystery deepens. Someone was behind using the Masked Gentleman as a puppet for all this time and it's Descole dressed up as someone, claiming that he's already won. Layton solving the puzzle of Akbadain was what Descole had planned.
After Descole escapes, Layton explains the true miracle of the city of Monte d'Or and it all relates to Preserving everything instead of Taking everything, from Randall.

Descole is in the opened ruins of Akbadain (he calls them "infinite") and all of a sudden dozens of armed helicopters and a man claims that the area belongs to Targent - they take control of the area. As the Targent boss dude beats Descole up and begins to unmask him, Descole's assistant throws a smoke bomb and escapes with him.
The man, possibly named Targent, claims that "they" have access to all three of the places created by Azran civilization, and soon they will have the power of the Azran as well. To be continued . . .

So: Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask is one of the more eventful entries in the game series with alot of good puzzles and atmosphere in the storytelling, but it has a major problem. 
A slight problem: the current investigation mode which feels like a downgrade from the first four games. 
The major problem: the plot twists related to Layton's past are too easily guessable that it feels rather too cliche. As a player I wanted them Not to do what they did. The twists are basically the core of the entire story from the beginning so when they end up being bad, the entire game does leave a bad aftertaste.
However: The puzzles are on average better than in the earlier titles in my opinion and the story ends up being a really strong build up to the final Hershel Layton game (so far) so in case you want to play the Azran Legacy, playing the Miracle Mask is suggested - note that the Last Specter also has a few bits and pieces foreshadowing what will take place during the Azran Legacy. 

Let's see how this ends...!

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Professor Layton and the Last Specter

"Soon, the World will end."
- Luke Triton

Professor Layton and the Last Specter, a game also known as the Spectre's Call in the states, released in 2009 in Japan and 2011 in other regions, is the fourth game in the Professor Layton game series on Nintendo DS, and the first game in the second trilogy of this quirky puzzle-adventure and mystery series. What's interesting about the Layton franchise itself is that how it evolves is the same as the Ace Attorney game series. What I mean by that is not the gameplay or the storyline but the fact that they both contain two main trilogies, the first game of the second trilogy (in other words up to the first four games) is done in the normal 2D style as the first three games, with some upgraded-to-3D models here and there, however the games after the fourth main game in both franchises is done in the Nintendo 3DS system; all characters and areas shown fully in 3D. The upgrade to the 3DS system makes the gameplay in both noticeably lag a bit compared to the earlier games but it's something that the player can get used to quickly.
The difference between the similarities I've mentioned with AA and PL exists in the timelines of the two game series. Layton's second trilogy is a prequel to the first trilogy, while AA's second trilogy is a sequel to the first trilogy.

What the Professor Layton game series are known for are ofcourse the puzzles along with the use of an overarching story to create a puzzle game with actual characters. While none of the puzzles are World's Record tier, I very much appreciate many of them for the ability to try to make the player think outside of the box for the answers - that is a real-world ability that I want to master some day myself. While there are not too many puzzles such as those, they still do exist in all of the Layton games; any puzzle solver should enjoy playing the games just for that, even if the puzzles aren't "up to par" for the standards of the best of the best of the best - to quote Will Smith in Men in Black
I personally don't care about trying to solve a puzzle like a chess game for five hours, so the Layton games are excellent use of time for me - there's a great amount of puzzles in each game and the pacing of the puzzle-solving is family friendly but still challenging enough for any Joe out there - average or not.

The Last Specter is a story about how the famous gentleman archaeologist Professor Layton met his young self-claimed apprentice Luke Triton.

This blog post is going to be a bit special compared to the rest as it will contain information about the events of the storyline from every single chapter of the game as I figure that no one else on the internet has this type of information available for the fans of the series who want to check up on what exactly happened in a specific chapter of a game. I will continue doing these types of posts for the last two games of the second trilogy as well.

The Story:

A woman parks her bike and arrives outside of Hershel Layton's household. The old Rosa, a worker at Layton's apartment gives him a letter and the man himself decides to go out - but not before finishing his tea! As Layton drives past the woman with his Laytonmobile, the woman goes after him, driving dangerously fast and stopping Layton in his tracks. Her name is Emmy Altava, she claims to be Layton's new assistant, hired by a person named Dean Dalmona who is Layton's superior at the University.
Layton is on the tracks heading towards a place where a friend of his lives, as they had sent a letter to Layton mentioning something about a "giant attacking a town." The letter also contains a hidden message: HELPSOS, solving the hidden message is the first puzzle of the game.

"Hershel Layton: At age 27, became youngest professor of Gressenheller University. Published in numerous academic journals, which I could recite chronologically, if you like. Astute intellect and preternatural skills of observation have been utilized by Scotland Yard to solve some of the toughest criminal cases."
She stops for a second, and then continues:
"Single. Thirty-four years old. Capricorn. I made that last part up... Just a guess!"
So says Emmy Altava with her surprising amount of knowledge on Hershel Layton. Emmy seems to hide a secret or two about why she in actuality wants to be Layton's assistant so bad. This truth will be revealed in the final game of the second trilogy, the Azran Legacy.

Six months ago, the newspapers of London `the Times` reported about ancient remains being found in the town of Misthallery, the remains belonging to ruins known as Golden Garden, and so the story begins...

Chapter One: The Fog of Misthallery
Prof. Hershel Layton, our gentleman protagonist, as well as Emmy Altava, his new assistant at the time, arrive at the eerie town of Misthallery where new puzzles await. Layton's goal is to meet up with an old friend of his named Clark Triton. Clark is a person who, along with Layton both together in their younger days wanted to become elite archaeologist's, which Layton successfully managed to do but Clark did not. Although Layton does not know it at first, about a year ago Mr. Triton had become the mayor of the town of Misthallery, living in a mansion with servants. That fact is not too important however. The game does not take too much of its time to guide you on how to play - already a few seconds into the game you begin the story with quick summaries of how to move around in this point-and-click-type of DS game.

In the town of Misthallery, an Oracle who is claimed to have saved many lives over the recent times in the town has told people to evacuate as the Oracle claims to have seen the future. As Clark Triton had sent a letter to Mr. Layton in which he mentions a "giant," could this giant have something to do with the evacuation plans? - that's the question.
Going deeper into the town of Misthallery, Hershel and Emmy find destruction all over the place in the nearby streets. A building and the road next to it have been completely destroyed, as if a wrecking ball had smashed on them. Emmy takes photographs of the destroyed places as evidence.
The front door that had flown off from a nearby destroyed building has a red X-shaped mark with couple of red dots on it. The citizen call it the Witch's Mark, which appear on the victim's households before the destruction of the Specter happens.

Two mysteries appear:
A forged letter. After meeting up with Clark Triton, Hershel realizes that Clark did not in fact send the letter - someone had purposefully wanted Layton to the town for unknown reasons.
A legend in town. A folk story about a specter, an ancient spirit which protected the town from danger. However for unknown reasons the attacking specter is supposedly evil instead of a guardian spirit.

Due to Clark's personal plea for help when meeting with Layton - a request from an old friend to friend - despite Clark actually not sending the original letter - Layton agrees that he will do all he can in order to solve the case of the Specter/Giant/Witch-Oracle which fills the townspeople's minds with questions, tension and insecurity.

- Mayor Clark Triton's wife is named Brenda. Due to family matters Brenda is away from the Misthallery. And yes, their son is named Luke. Luke Triton is a young boy who keeps himself shut inside of his room.
- Layton is known in the story for solving cases for Scotland Yard, and never leaving a single one unsolved.
- There are only couple of puzzles in the first chapter. The cutting of the rope of the bridge-puzzle uses a fresh mechanic for this game series, but the puzzle itself is not special. It's not that new either but it's done in a somewhat similar way as when Layton pulled the swords during the finale of Diabolical Box - so a puzzle that ties directly to how the story moves on, and it flows better with the story than a random puzzle thrown between the story which breaks the flow, but it's done in a more casual manner in this game, showing off the experience of the game creators. In Unwound Future there was also one puzzle like that which was impressive in how it was presented - I mean the card games between Adult Luke and Layton.

Since Layton has not seen Luke Triton since he was a baby, he wants to talk to him for a bit. Clark appreciates the thought due to Luke's weird, unnatural act of not wanting to leave his room and not wanting to talk to anyone.

Chapter 2: The Boy Who Foretold Disaster

Luke Triton is known in the household as a young, bright boy who doesn't hate to talk with people, however since the last six months, ever since the appearance of the Specter, he has withdrawn into his room beyond a door locked with a puzzle. Luke has barely talked with his father. His mother's leave from the town is speculated by the household workers to be the reason for this withdrawal from the world, however, as Layton points out that Luke was the person who sent the letter to him in his father's name (pretty quick thinking from our gentleman!), Luke has an ominous thing to say: "Soon... The world will end."

Doland the household butler has told the townspeople of the foretold destruction that will happen in the Great Ely Street of Misthallery, this information was told to him by Luke Triton himself, as he knows that the Specter is to appear this very night that Layton had come to visit on that particular area. Luke knows exactly where and when the Specter will appear, but how..?

There have been sinkholes appearing around the town along with an unnatural amounts of fog, told to Layton by a townsperson named Mido.
Geography of Misthallery:
The Great Ely Street, North Ely district. That's where the Specter will attack.
South Ely district, that's where Layton came from and saw the destroyed house.
East Ely district, that's where the Specter is said to have attacked before.

In the north Ely Street; an inn run by a man named Joseph, whom has no intention of leaving because of the Specter and always has a bottle of alcohol at hand, decides to give Emmy, Luke and Layton room number 302 with a nice view to the disctrict, due to them solving an important puzzle for him.
When the fog hits, Layton and the others get ready to see the attack of the "giant," of the Specter.

In this second chapter there were about as few puzzles as in the first except the introduction of special puzzles. The story progresses quickly at a nice pace and you get to know more of the town of Misthallery.

Chapter 3
: The Specter Appears

The way of the real english gentleman is to always keep your mind focused and clear, and to pay attention to your surroundings. Before the specter appears, Layton wants to check the surrounding area of North Ely district out in order to plan for the future accordingly.
Luke tries to catch a cat which escapes and they run to the nearby forest area to look for it.
In the forest there's a worn-out laboratorium ran by a woman named Marion who happens to know where the cat lives but only tells them after you solve an aquarium puzzle. Marion opens up a fish minigame for the player. Where the cat Luke was going after lives in, is an old house in the northern parts of the woods. He lives with our good old Granny Riddleton, the, when it comes to puzzles, omniscient old lady who is ready to go to the hot springs and leaves the puzzles in the kind care of her cat's paws.

After investigating around and asking questions from people who know nothing, they head for Paddy's place, a restaurant, and decide to head for the hotel to get ready for the Specter after grabbing a bite. It's night and the soundtrack changes.
Music starts playing as Layton is sipping his gentlemanly tea, and the ground starts to shake. A massive black ant-looking creature with red eyes attacks the hotel and leaves. Layton gives Luke a pep talk about bravery and they go after the Specter, plunging right into the thick fog. The song starts to play again, as if someone is playing a flute. As they ask around during the night the song keeps playing, a weird echo makes it sound as if it's coming from all directions.

Luke tells the story about Specter's Flute. A long time ago the villagers used to call the specter with a flute. Layton speculates that the water left in the specter's wake means that it comes from the canals that surround the town and that the townspeople use to move around. Luke tells Emmy and Layton about a flute that was recently sold off at a black market. The music playing when the Specter moves is their only clue to investigate at this point in time, so they have to get to the bottom of who is behind the Black Market.

Chapter 4: Shadowy Manipulator

Cuckoo. Morning arrives. The plan is to head west, go through the rope bridge they arrived from to get into town, and go to the regular outdoor market in order to gather information on the Black Market which sold the Specter's Flute.
Joseph the innkeeper whos inn the specter wrecked up a bit is a man who cares more about the people than the money as he shows care towards Layton's group not getting hurt; the specter was attacking their room personally.
Layton stops walking and claims that he felt as if someone was tailing them. They head next to a factory which was made to create cars but due to the pollution it created on the town's canal waters, the factory had to be closed.

An old lady claims that Emmy is too old to be sold any candy to, so she won't. A bit of a comedic moment but unskippable as it's important for the storyline. At the the normal outdoors market. After solving her puzzle, Marilyn, a seller tells about a mysterious man who no one has seen before: that's the person running the black market.
The market area is filled with poor people from the slums. After asking around, a young man named Badger claims that he doesn't know a thing, but the old lady who sells candies knows everything. Everything. The old lady, Aunt Tuffy has a puzzle to sell before giving out information. She claims that "a dark bird" runs the black market.
At the market area again, a person with a bird's mask and black clothes jumps down from a building, manically laughing, breaking a table and almost hitting Layton's gang. They can't seem to catch the man. He calls himself the Black Raven. He wants to make Layton figure out a puzzle but won't give it to him just yet as Layton has to figure out what it really is.
After solving a puzzle, a man named Tweeds is there to give them a hint: "If you put the Raven's body together, that will guide you to the black market. I can't tell you anymore than that, but the Medallion will guide you." Tweeds hands them a medallion with a design of a bird's wing. Layton's theory is that there are other medallions out there in the market with the other parts of the bird, put them together to create a full bird.
Badger has more information for them: "The door will open when you put all of the pieces together." He also hints about medallion in the Chimney quartet. Louis and the chimney as well as Aunt Tuffy's place. That's four medals.
The puzzle is a sliding puzzle to create the bird from the medals. A boy named Nabby suddenly changes his tone about not knowing anything about the black market; he was the "gate guardian" of the way to that place. Although it's no gate, it's a hole downwards. 

Down the sinkhole. Layton doesn't feel too concerned about it possibly being a trap. Emmy, Luke and Layton arrive at a worn-out stage where the Black Raven stands at. Layton out of nowhere claims to have figured out the identity of the Black Raven. This part is probably the best of the game so far - we take a backseat as Luke and Emmy, and myself (the player), have to figure out what exactly Layton meant. The Black Raven seems to have teleported
around - how? It's Layton's quiz time. The answer is quite something; there are subtle hints, or I guess it'd be more accurate to say that I wasn't really expecting that kinds of hints to figuring out the Black Raven's identity from a Layton game despite its history on similar things - this was more subtle than normal and the clues exist in the animated cutscenes as well.

Due to the Identity of the Black Raven not being too important aspect of the story, but still a clever trick, I will be warning you (the blog reader) as I am going to the SPOILER TERRITORY for a bit in order to explain how this was done. This quiz of Layton's is progressive, there are multiple active choices, and after figuring out the first one, you have to answer the second question which also asks the player to pick an answer from multiple choices. The quiz is not hard but it's very needed for the freshness of the gameplay's style as it's different from the traditional Layton-styled puzzles.
The quiz goes on for three times until you reach a marvelous conclusion: the Black Raven are actually all of the children of the market area as Aunt Taffy will not sell candies to adults. Layton, during their chase after the Black Raven, saw Taffy's candies inside the Black Raven's coat, which was gone the next time he saw the B.R all of a sudden much further away, which happened almost instantly - making it seem as if the Black Raven had teleported.
This means both: The Black Raven = a child, and, The Black Raven = many people together.
Such a quickly paced sequence contains such a nice mystery! Great! Layton's quick wits really shine in this game and it feels really natural. Very Ace Attorney styled visual clues as well.

The Black Raven at the time in the manhole during Layton's reveal is a person named Crow. He explains that almost exactly a year ago a flute reminiscent to the legend's Specter's Flute was sold to a man named Barde from Highyard Hill. The problem with meeting up with Barde is that the man died a year ago.

At the Barde Manor, a young girl called the "Calamity Witch" is claimed to reside in - Arianna Barde's the name, the townspeople claim that she's cursed and urge not to go near the manor. "Anyone who speaks ill of Arianna ends up regretting it."

While Chapter 3 takes longer than the other ones, chapter 4 takes almost twice the time chapter 3 takes to play through at a decent pace, provided that you try to explore every nook and cranny instead of rushing through the story only.

Luke claims that a man named Greppe likes the town so much that he has spent alot of his wealth in rebuilding the town for its people. Greppe is a man that likes the restaurant Paddy's Place at North Ely, however he's not in the mood to talk with Layton's ilk at the time so it's time to head for the Witch's manor...

Chapter 5: The Witch's Castle

Chapter 5 is the first really 'free' chapter when it comes to gameplay in the way that you can find many hidden puzzles and extra puzzles in it than than just having to keep progressing the story.

Highyard Hill. A more normal and beautiful residential area from the slums of the market area - the police station and the excavation side for the foreshadowed Golden Garden exist nearby as well.
Layton and co. arrive at the Barde Manor but the garden around it has grown too thick to walk through without a navigator - a map that acts as a puzzle! After solving it they gaze their eyes on the massive manor which is in bad condition. Layton sees someone watching them through the windows and knocks the door. The gardener, Seamus, opens the door and won't let them in to meet the manor's owner. It's Weird, though. A snobby gardener but a garden that is in terrible condition...
The group decide to invade the manor through a very old lookout tower (you can see the town, garden etc. from it) that looks almost like a tree on first sight. The upper bridge gives access to the manor itself. From outside it seems as if you can get to the bridge from the tower but however from the inside it's not so easy - there's only graffiti on the wall and no access elsewhere. Layton figures out that the lighting the torches of the manor in a specific manner does something, and it opens a trap-door on the second floor.
Another Door puzzle to solve. Inside the manor this time: a picture of Arianna and her brother Tony on the wall can be seen. The manor is filled with spider webs from top to bottom, giving it an eerie and old feeling. How can peopel live there? comes immediately to mind. Emmy shows that she's scared of spiders.
Before the Specter arrived Luke and Arianna used to be friends; now she's called the cursed witch. The squad is forced to leave by the gardner again and they decide to leave to talk about Arianna more with Luke.

Arianna is... Very sick. Luke tells Layton that her dad, the person who bought the Specter's flute and died, had told him that Arianna didn't have much longer to live despite her young age. Terrible is fate, as they say... To gain more information about her, the group decides to ask information from the townsfolk. After asking around, one of the people tell them that the gardener, Seamus, had been sailing through the canals. At the market however no one's seen "an old man with a beard" but instead "a boy from Highyard Hill who was stocking up quite alot on household items and groceries," has been around just recently, yes...
Right afterwards there is commotion at east of the Crossroads of the town. A Witch's mark has appeared on a building - remember that whenever someone speaks ill of Arianna, the Witch's mark appears on the house of the person who says so, and that building would get destroyed by the Specter.

At this point we get another storyline related multiquiz related to Seamus the Gardener. It's not hard to guess the answer to this quiz and Layton will shot Emmy and Luke what it is at the Barde Manor. At this point in time the canals are free for use for quickly moving around Misthallery.

Arianna and the "gardener" at the lake. The curse of the calamity Witch is not a curse, just a simple trick created by a young boy who wanted to protect Arianna from all the people who talk ill of her - Seamus is indeed just her younger brother Tony. The entire gist of things is that Arianna and Tony wanted to be left alone, that's all. Arianna tells them that she absolutely has no idea about any flute and they simply have to leave.

The Specter is claimed to be able to take over the hearts of everyone in the town and we see a flashback of Arianna next to her father as he was found dead. "The Specter... It changes people." Not soon after Mr. Barde's passing, the Specter became active and Arianna was never the same again.
Luke also believes that his father Clark Triton is lying about his mother being on a trip and that she's really missing, he claims that it must all be because the Specter is controlling Clark.

The group goes to the police HQ of the town to ask for information on the Specter but the Chief who is gone right now anywhere from 5 to 10 hours is the one who can grant access to the information - and he may not do that at all, so Emmy decides to go to the Scotland Yard which also have the information of the Town's police - Layton tells her to pick up his notes and the recent newspapers as well. When Emmy returns they are to meet up at the town's library.

Chapter 6:
London's Hidden Secrets

A quick little chapter compared to the previous two. Emmy is in London to pick up the goodies - Layton's items and info on the Specter case from Scotland Yard. She rans into Dean Delmona who claims to have hired her as Layton's assistant. Dean knows her. She also meets Layton's household cleaner Rosa. After solving a couple Hat puzzles in the office and heading to the Yard, officer Colby is there to block Emmy's way from information on Misthallery's police reports about the Specter case. An old acquaintance of Emmy's points out that inspector Grosky is solving a case in Central London; Emmy needs to find him exactly...
Inspector Grosky has been battling a crook across the London streets. His muscular and manly outlook charmes the people around him. Back at the Yard, Grosky and the thug both come through the window and Emmy knocks the thug out. Grosky allows Emmy to see the police files. Inspector Chelmey notes that there is something weird about the death and the death also has only one eye witness account. Inspector Grosky decides to go to Misthallery by sprinting with his own two feet as Emmy rides the bike back.

Chapter 7:
Third Eye Jakes

As Emmy left for London, Layton and Luke continue about their investigation; the people of Misthallery weren't very fond of Arianna's father, time to find out why.

Hans, a young man, tells them that his father figured out that Arianna's father did a suicide. Maggie, another town person, tells them that she arrived to the town hoping to see the Golden Garden, and the Specter appeared on the town on her first day there.
Layton the archaeologist decides to go see the dig site for the Golden Garden himself. Around the town it seems that sinkholes have been appearing along with the specter. What could their connection be? Around the dig site everyone seems to have given up on the dig for the golden garden and only one person is there, doing whatever. The guy, Dugan, says that they dug really deep and found nothing. Lukes father's personality has changed ever since he became the mayor which was right before the specter appeared, to get to the bottom of Clark's problems, they decide to talk with him after Emmy returns - she should be back so.. to the Library now! There, Layton checks out the newspaper for the time when mr. Barde's death was seen and there is no mention of it. Emmy wonders if Layton's "memory was jogged," foreshadowing something that Emmy wants Layton to remember. Layton also knows inspector Grosky who came from London by foot.

The police report on Mr. Barde's/Arianna's father's death:
Mr. Barde fell off a cliff. No sign of struggle, a will was discovered at his house. Details are sketchy but it appears that it was either a suicide or an accident. According to a single eyewitness there was no one else around the area. The eyewitness of the death is Clark Triton, who never spoke of the situation to Luke before. Nothing on the newspaper, this incident... Is someone trying to keep everything under wraps?

At this point you can travel back to London and meet up with Dean Delmona, help him with a puzzle. Dean is very interested in the Golden Garden and wants Layton to write a report about it; archaeologist stuff. You can talk with everyone around the places that were visited in chp 6.

Chief Jakes of the police PD in the town known as Three Eyes Jakes; a name that comes from him never leaving a single case solved. Jake says that he absolutely wants Layton out of the town. He has 24 hours to pack his stuff and leave. As they leave, he starts laughing maniacally. Time to speak with the witness of the supposed suicide/accident; Clark Triton. At the mayor's house (Triton house) Clark claims that what he saw was "a person/a dark silhouette" fell to the lake," that's all. He didn't see the body being mr. Barde's but his was found there so it's a logical conclusion to make. Layton, however, thinks that the police chief "third eye Jake" might have something to do with the case personally. Clark tells Layton to go pick a wine from the wine cellar for their dinner however Layton and co. have to leave..
People assumed to be working under Jakes' surround Laytons squad as they go after inspector Grosky. Three thugs attack them however Emmy beats them all up - she's somehow very skilled in hand-to-hand combat. Layton explains to Grosky that Jakes might be behind everything and Grosky leaves to his place again as Jakes tried to lie to him that Layton kidnapped Luke...

Despite the chapter's name, Jakes was not that heavily part of it as you can spend most of the time solving puzzles in more places than just the town such as London.

Chapter 8: Face-to-Face with the Specter

Chapter 8 is again a rather short chapter if you've solved the puzzles around the town by then.

To avoid Jakes's attacks the group will move in more populated areas of Misthallery's streets. Luke doesn't have a "prophecy" for the next attack of the specter, however, Layton does: it will happen somewhere between Highyard Arch and the reservoir - he predicted this from Luke's notes as the Specter never attacks the same buildings twice so it would look for new areas. Luke explains how he's able to predict the specter's appearance: the water level of the area drops below normal = the specter appears. Luke never left the room but as he can talk to animals, his pet mice told him about the water levels dropping.
Instead of telling the butler Doland to inform the police of the appearance of the specter, Layton decides that it is time for them to alert the people alone as they set a trap for the specter. Evacuate the residents, then visit the Black Market, then... A final showdown with the specter.

The police officer Jakes visits a mysterious man with a mask who already knows about Layton: "Fate is so interesting sometimes," the masked person says.

The stubborn politician Mr. Greppe who is known by the locals decides to help evacuate the people from Highyard Arch, but they need a plan instead of going from door-to-door; so it's puzzle time!
Layton decides to pull a trap on the specter to see its true nature; a trap that encompasses the whole town, however in order to do that they need the help of the Black Raven of the Black Market.
Next it's night time. The mist fills the entire town. What could the Specter's identity truly be? The song of the Specter's flute starts playing. Specter falls down in front of Layton due to a trap and looks at him with its red eyes. Layton manages to see the Specter clearly with his own two eyes. As Layton is about to tell Emmy and Luke what it really is, Jakes comes and tells the police to arrest them. Jakes goes to the masked man to tell that they "don't have to worry anymore," Layton decides to break out of the interrogation room with the help of Luke's pet mouse. It's quite funny to see Layton prison break though, via puzzles ofcourse.
The next problem to solve is the Specter's Flute. What exactly carries the sound around the town which controls the specter? Ah also Layton still hasn't told the true identity of the specter.
At the scene of the latest crime of the specter Layton notices something and says that all the pieces are finally in place. The third multiquiz of the game takes place as we figure out that the pipes around the town that lead to the lake are where the sound of the flute echoes from. It's time to go back to Barde Manor to see this through.

Via Bucky the boatman there are multiple shortcuts you can take to quickly access different areas.

Chapter 9: The Specter Becomes Clear

Layton and co. arrive at the Barde manor. Layton speaks to Arianna claiming that he has figured out who controls the specter and what it really is. Arianna tells them to follow her and pulls out a flute from a bag and starts playing the theme of the specter in front of the large lake, summoning a.. "monster." Arianna calls her "Loosha," a creature which comes from an ancient race - an obvious reference to the Loch Ness's monster. Layton claims that Loosha is actually not the specter but a being that protects the town from the specter - and the real specter is something "far worse." So basically playing the flute stops Loosha from fighting and calms her down. Chief Jakes appears again and catches Loosha and Arianna and accuses them of being the culprits behind Misthallery's destruction.
Layton gives Tony, Arianna's brother, a letter to take to the boy named Crow in order to save Arianna. Back to the town. The Black Raven have helped with a trap. Instead of telling, Layton wants to show Luke and Emmy what exactly the real evil specter is when it gets trapped.

After getting intel and a key from an old factory worker named Sebastian, Layton and co. head over to the factory itself through a secret passageway. You see, despite the factory being shut for years, someone is in there at the moment. The music turns ominous. The Chief Engineer can be found inside of the factory; he's been creating machines that create the thick fog around the area and he knows more of the Specter. Thugs are keeping him there against his will. Behind a secret door we see the Specter. Jakes and a masked man, supposedly the boss of the enemy, make their move.

Chapter 10:
A Legend Revealed

Layton's squad is heading to save Arianna from Jakes's evil and corrupt hands. At the Grand Plaza the policeman Jakes has the cute monster Loosha and Arianna caught, and Luke arrives to the scene with the real Specter. The truth of the Specter is quite fascinating - the fog, its connection with the beast Loosha, the true Specter, the Golden Garden... Someone taking an advantage of the old folktale. A person willing to destroy the town for his own lust towards finding the Golden Garden... Luke looks angrily at his father as Layton points out the culprit behind it all and it is quite a surprise I would say. It makes sense... Although there's a woman as well in the story who is also after the Golden Garden in such a way, thought the culprit might be her. A person had kidnapped Luke's mother and the butler and he makes an appearance himself by revealation: his name is Descole. His ultimate goal is to find the Golden Garden, which does not exist in Misthallery like was previously thought, however, Descole will destroy the town with.. a mass amount of 'Specters's' and Layton has to face a final boss fight and despite his warnings the others join in too. Take down Descole! After solving half a dozen puzzles the legs of the finall boss weapon are taken out. The Black Crow is with Layton to create a catapult through another multi-puzzle to deal the final blow on Descole and the machinery breaks apart but due to how it's formed, it simply reforms itself. Water fills the town in a tsunami as Floosha breaks down the floodgate to break the machine with water. Descole claims that he will defeat Layton and Layton will never be able to take him down - Layton says that he feels as though he's seen this masked man before.

Epilogue: The Last Gift

Loosha tries to break down the flood gate despite the Specter already being defeated, and she manages to do it. The entire town is engulfed under the lake's water and Loosha walks to the emptied lake area. In the middle of the lake there is a massive crest that opens up a leadway below to an unknown area, after solving a puzzle. The crest is the road to the legendary Golden Garden. Loosha's and Arianna's journey ends where it began for Loosha as well with the Golden Garden being found... Hershel Layton claims that the Golden Garden is not meant to be exposed to the public until much later - due to its pure air and water, it is capable of healing Arianna, which was why Loosh wanted Arianna to see the Golden Garden.
Archeological finds are what Layton lives for but there are countless puzzles out there that Layton says that he must solve until one day he will solve the one puzzle that is meant only for him. 
Luke wants to be Layton's new apprentice, well now. That makes two in such a short amount of time! Layton before the story of the Last Specter started his days alone, solving puzzles. From now on he has both Emmy Altava and Luke Triton to look after.
At the end of the story as Luke is about to leave Misthallery behind, every kid in the town says goodbye to him as he leaves as Layton's new assistant.
A year later Arianna was cured of her illness and Layton's world-changing discovery of the Golden Garden was made public in the newspapers.

To be continued . . .


"Soon, the world will end," a young boy named Luke Triton once said. Professor Layton and the Last Specter is the first game of the game series's second trilogy which is a prequel story as it marks the beginning of the journey when Luke met Layton; it's a story about an ominous Specter which is attacking the town of Misthallery. The game is shorter than the Unwound Future and it's the last Layton game done in 2D. The puzzles in it are, on average, better than the ones in the first three. The character models are more lively than they've been before and the handling of the characters, Layton and Luke, as well as the newly introduced Emmy, was well done as they showed other sides than just being a gentleman to them. The story had couple nice twists to it, the Black Raven's and Descole's identities mainly, and the story was somewhat emotional aswell towards the end, but despite the emotional aspect of it, a problem I feel was that the ending felt rushed and that it was quickly over. As a puzzle game it was good, the story was good but too quick but after the Unwound Future it needs to take its time to build up to the more overarching story as, despite it being a self-contained story like the earlier ones, The Last Specter was simply the beginning of it all - Descole, "the one puzzle meant only for Layton," Emmy's true motives...

What I really liked about this story was the fact that, even though they did somewhat of a good job in The Unwound Future, Professor Layton who is hailed to be a person to help the Scotland Yard (he lives in London as well) solve difficult mysteries, he has never been all that smart aside from you, the player, solving the puzzles as him. In this game he got to shine as a guy who can figure out three different things from seeing a piece of candy.
Great start to the second trilogy. Almost at the level of the Unwound Future which means that the Last Specter dunked on the Curious Village&the Diabolical Box story-wise.
So this was the final Layton game in 2D. The 3D ones take some time to get used to as they look a bit worse and the gameplay is far more laggy.

Also I don't like how Jakes's fate is not mentioned. He simply ran away after confirming that he has forged the will of Mr. Barde in order to fit Luke's father's agendas etc. That would change the story a bit, what exctly happened to Jakes? no one knows. Seems almost too serious not to mention, but that's just one nitpick, time to move on.

The story itself being connected to Layton's past - connected to a friend of his just like the next game, the Miracle Mask - makes the journey more personal and interesting to play through. Despite the Layton game series always having towns to stay in as their main settings, Curious Village and the Last Specter share more similarities in their core stories that the Last Specter almost feels like, yes, an upgrade on the ideas of the first game of the franchise, which was a simple story with ok-nice puzzles.

So: PL and the Last Specter is a neat story with some nice puzzles in it. Expectations were met.

First trilogy

Professor Layton and the Curious Village
Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box
Professor Layton and the Unwound Future

Second trilogy

Professor Layton and the Last Specter
Professor Layton and the  Miracle Mask
Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy 

Other games 

Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney
Layton's Mystery Journey: Katrielle and the Millionaire's conspiracy

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Professor Layton and the Curious Village / Diabolical Box / Unwound Future

Professor Layton games are mystery puzzle-adventure games developed by LEVEL-5 on the handheld Nintendo DS console. The games have gotten quite popular over the years which is visible on the amount of games created under the name. The game series started in 2007 and since then there have been made two main trilogies about Layton and Luke, a crossover game with the Ace Attorney -series and the first game in the next Layton game series named Katrielle Layton.
Each of the main games has a slew of brain teaser puzzles and an overarching story which begins with our main character, the famous gentleman professor Hershel Layton, a professor of archaeology at Gressenheller University in London who has solved complex cases for the Scotland Yard in the past, having gotten a letter, and the letters always have to do with the main gist of the story and its setting. The games of the first trilogy are mainly self-contained stories so you don't have to play the other titles before getting to one that piques your interest the most. The second trilogy after these however contains plot points that get built up across those three games.
Layton travels around with a young boy named Luke Triton who claims to be Layton's apprentice, a gentleman in training. Each of the games contain beautifully animated cutscenes across the chapters from the beginning to the end.
The stories always contain a grander mystery that showcase the sci-fi-fantasy aspects of the Professor Layton world, and the answer to what those mysteries mean gets revealed at the end of each game.

Professor Layton and the Curious Village (2007)
"A true gentleman never refuses the request of a beautiful lady."

- Hershel Layton

The story kicks off with professor Hershel Layton and Luke Triton driving the Layton mobile. Layton has gotten a letter which piques his intellectual curiosity. Two months before, Baron Augustus Reinhold the owner of the Reinhold Manor had passed away and although his wife has never met our professor before, after reading an article about him she had decided to ask Layton to investigate the matter of Augustus's will.
In the will left behind by Mr. Reinhold, he claims that the family's treasure, named the Golden Apple, is hidden somewhere in the village of St. Mystere, and whoever finds it will get everything that belongs to the Reinhold family. Despite treasure hunters coming and going, trying to find the treasure, no one had found anything noteworthy. The entire thing is almost like a one huge puzzle!
After solving a map-type puzzle left behind by Dahlia in the letter as a test to Hershel Layton (whether he's worthy or not to solve the mystery of Reinhold fortune - well, Layton solves her puzzle with a glance here), the duo squad of Hershel and Luke arrive at the town of St. Mystere which contains a massive towery building in the middle of it.

Curious Village is an okay puzzle game- the puzzles are nothing groundbreaking but they are still worthwhile and the main attraction of the series. The storyline is okay, it plays out like a generic murder mystery when it comes to the events of the Reinhold Manor - a death happens, and then a man is seen kidnapping a person. It all builds up to a grand-scale reveal at the end and I think it is actually possible to deduce what's going on in St. Mystere before the reveal.
Adventuring through a similar setting and going through similar content - solving similar puzzles and going from town to town in each game - may become tiring after you have played numerous Layton games, but since this one is the very first Layton game, everything should feel rather fresh. It's easy to rate this game higher than what it really is story-wise because of the way the games are written. The investigation mode, talking to people and moving forward in the game has its own style and it all works nicely without lag or problems in the DS system.
The characters in the game don't really shine out in any way in this particular game; aside from Layton and Luke they are just background cast that you talk to in order to get puzzles to solve and progress with the story.
The soundtrack however is very good - in each of the Professor Layton game in fact. Theme expert use of instruments in themes such as Something Happens!, The Curious Village and ofcourse the very first Professor Layton's theme song really helps to set up the atmosphere of the game.

Professor Layton and the Pandora's Box (2007)
"There are tales of a box that brings death upon any who dare open it. Tell me, do you think those rumours could be true?"
- ???, at the very beginning of the game

The story begins with Luke Triton and Professor Hershel Layton boarding a train. The Molentary Express is known as a 'cruise ship on rails' due to its deluxe-level rooms and service. The train departs and Layton and Luke talk about the Elysian Box that kills any who may open it - and the story goes back a few days ago.
Layton had gotten a letter from his mentor and friend Dr. Andrew Schrader claiming that he has finally found the Elysian Box after a long research. Andrew's request to Hershel is that if anything were to happen to him - as he might open the box - then Hershel should be the one to finish his research. As the letter was sent to Layton a few days ago, he decides to go meet with Andrew in case anything has happened. Layton and Luke travel across the city of London with the Layton mobile and solve couple of puzzles to find his apartment, and when they get in, they find Dr. Andrew lying on the ground, dead, and nearby the body they find a ticket to the Molentary Express with no destination written on it. After Inspector Chelmey arrives to the crime scene and tries to claim that the death was an accident due to Andrew's old age, Layton points out that one of the curtains is torn and it was used by the culprit to escape the apartment through the window, and in Andrew's hand there's a photograph which has been torn to many pieces.

Pandora's/Diabolical Box is the second released professor Layton game. Overall it's an okay game, I personally rate it probably as one of the worst next to Curious Village, however the game does have alot of positives to it that you can remember when you play it. The puzzles are equally decent as in the first game and as far as the story quality goes, well, it has ups and downs; it's not as consistent as the first game, however, it deserves to be called an adventure game much more than the Curious Village as well. There are three different main settings in this game, making the adventure much better paced as you progress from one place to another. First, the Molentary Express in which you can spend time on the train solving puzzles and meeting with people, then the Country Village of Dropstone which is celebrating its 50th anniversary, making it a young place, and finally the main setting of the game after going through the first two is the Phantom Town of Folsense in which impossible things seem to happen.

The handling of the cast of characters and the soundtrack is as decent as in the first game. The theme of the town of Folsense is one of the more memorable town themes in the game series.

Professor Layton and the Unwound Future (2008)
"Somehow a single letter had made its way back through time. And the sender, strange as it sounds, was me!"
- Luke Triton

Layton had, as always before setting on an adventure at the beginning of a story, gotten a letter which surprises Luke the most as he reads it while they travel the city of London via bus to the letter's destination. The letter claims that London has been thrown into chaos - ten years from the time where Layton currently exists in. The letter sender asks Layton to go to the clock shop on Midland Road in Raldwin for explanations. The letter is signed by Luke Triton.
Layton feels that the letter's contents are related to the events which happened a week before.

A week ago before the start of the story. Dr. Alain Stahngun claims that he's now capable of traveling through time - that he has created a real time machine. The prime minister, the police, even Layton and Luke have been called to the presentation of the time machine and Layton feels as if there's something very off about it all - but if a real time machine has been created - it will be huge. As the presentation is about to start, Stahngun calls the prime minister Bill Hawks on the stage and then asks his 'help' with the time machine demonstration. As the prime minister enters the machine and the lever is pulled, the entire contraption explodes. Prime Minister along with Dr. Stahngun have vanished.
In present time. Layton shows a news articles to Luke where some of London's greatest scientists have gone missing lately and he feels that this is all connected to the event one week ago as well.
Layton and Luke finally arrive at the clock shop - its door locked with a puzzle - which exists in a dark alley. Inside, there are clocks after clocks and one massive clock in the middle of them all. After fixing up the large clock, an earthquake happens and the duo run outside to see the London they know has changed massively and that's where the game really starts.

During the game Layton and Luke travel between the present and the future in order to solve the largest mysteries they have ever come across so far. 

Professor Layton and the Unwound Future is one of the most popular titles in the series - I also think it's potentially the best. The game has underlying themes to it which relate to the antagonists and Layton himself. This is also the first Layton game to actually have more than just the main characters be very heavily part of how the story plays out; there are more standout personalities in this title in comparison to the earlier games. The storyline/plot of Unwound Future also needs to be praised as it kicks into high gear right off the bat with the prologue, telling us a real story with more sides and included characters to it than in the earlier titles - and the story does hold up from the prologue up to the epilogue.

The Unwound Future is the best game of the first trilogy with the finest plot and character presentation seen so far, bunch of neat puzzles - there are some memorable ones in this game as well such as the Active Puzzle during Layton VS Future Luke. TUW has a good score to listen to as always with one of the most memorable main tracks and ending themes in the series, and it's also one of the longest Layton games. 

Even if you don't want to go through the first two games in fear of the gameplay becoming repetitive, which it can seriously turn out to be like for a puzzle game series, for any handheld console fan I still highly recommend the third title in the series, the Unwound Future. 

 *Next up I will be posting specially long posts about each of the prequel trilogy games. 

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

ERASED: Boku dake ga inai Machi

"You are seeing his comic book about a girl who is in Hell and her father who goes to Hell to bring her back."
- Jodi Picoult 

It's the year 2006. Satoru Fujinuma is a 29-year-old pizza delivery man who very much aspires to be a mangaka as he's a talented artist, and he happens to have another skill which no one in the world has: the ability to get strange sensations of when something really bad - a death in particular - is about to happen, and he's capable of changing the course of fate before the death happens. At the beginning of the story as he's delivering pizzas, Satoru senses something bad about to happen nearby, and he can tell it's going to happen to a elementary school kid who is about to be crossing the road. By investigating his surroundings he is able to deduce that a truck driver has fallen asleep on the wheel. As Satoru makes the driver avoid hitting the boy, he himself gets hit by a car.
He calls this ability Revival, where he's usually able to go back one to five minutes into the past after an incident has happened - and then he stops them from happening. The negatives of it are that sometimes things go bad for him.
After Satoru's accident his 52-year-old mother, Sachiko Fujinuma, stays with him for a while in his place and reminds him of a past case as they're watching the news; a case where two of his classmates and a girl from another school, from the time when Satoru was on the fifth grade, happened to disappear.

ERASED: Boku dake ga inai Machi (2016, trans. "The Town Without Me") is a 12-episode long supernatural crime-mystery animated series produced by A-1 Pictures. ERASED tells the story about a time traveler, and it handles concepts such as child abuse, kidnapping and murder. It is one of the better works of that particular studio in my opinion as I don't consider their overall quality that good. The anime is adapted from a manga of the same name created by Kei Sanbe. The original comic ran for eight volumes between 2012 and 2016, ending around the same time as the anime did.

A Revival happens as Satoru and his mother are walking from the mall, and Satoru's mother notices a man - and the man notices him - walking along the road with a young girl, getting on a car and then leaving the girl behind. Satoru's mother reminiscences back to the kidnapping cases from 18 years ago. She starts to suspect that the culprit is still at large despite there being a death row prisoner who was convicted for the crimes, and that's the person that she saw trying to kidnap the girl earlier. As she goes back to Satoru's apartment to wait for him, she gets stabbed by the culprit and the police surround the apartment after Satoru finds the corpse of his mother with the kitchen knife still stuck in her stomach; Satoru panics and tries to escape the police by running, and the next thing he notices in front of him is a young boy running next to him and the large announcement on his old school's wall saying "Ice Hockey Club 1988 National Champions."

During this time period of the grand Revival where Satoru goes 18 years to the past, to the time where the kidnappings happened is where the story takes place. The first part of the story which takes place from episode 2 to episode 8, what I like to call the "Kayo Hinazuki arc," is the best arc of the series and the most important. You can consider it the the meat and bones of the series. The arc introduces us to the past which is the main setting of the anime. The basic idea of the story is to tell the tales of the kidnapping victims from the viewpoint of a time traveler; what was going on during that time period eighteen years ago, and then see Satoru try to save them. Changing the fate of the past and avoiding the same events which unfolded back then is not an easy task however.
The story of Erased starts out pretty strong aside from the very rushed pacing of the first episode (which can still be overlooked in this show due to the quality of the first "arc"). Three kidnapping cases took place 18 years ago: Kayo Hinazuki (10) disappeared in March and her body was found after the snow had melted, Aya Nakanishi's (11) disappearance and Hiromi Sugita's (11) disappearance would soon follow suit. The kidnappings of these three young children is what Satoru is trying to prevent in order to prevent his mother's death in the present-time because Satoru believes that there must be a reason why he was thrown so far back in order to save her, as that's how the Revival apparently works. However it's too bad that the Revival was never actually truly explained in the series; it just exists. Many other people can have it, or can't have it, in the series. We don't know. All I can take from it is that it's a plot device to fix the problems of the world as Satoru as a kid aspires to be a superhero. Continuing on with the problems, after Kayo's arc, the story basically gets ready to already end as there are still three more children to save and a killer to catch in the last four episodes. As Satoru jumps between the past and the present in order to catch the culprit in both timelines, he has to face challenges and hardships which are quite well presented for what they are. The wrap-up is frankly too quick-paced and the story loses the atmosphere it had between episodes 2-8. Although the cast of characters in the story are not that great, they aren't bad either. Satoru's mother, Kid Satoru and Kayo are all great and interesting to follow. However, the identity of the killer is obvious and lackluster; there is not really any other possible person when you think about it, so the story should not be called a whodunnit, and the ending is kind of badly written from many different points of views when looking at what happened to the characters; Kayo's, Satoru's, the Killer's and Satoru's futures are pretty lame, honestly. 

The cool and rough atmosphere and modern clean style of the anime are great. In graphic novels/comic books the flashback aspects (flashback is an even which happened in the past in comparison to the current timeline of a story) are sometimes done in a way that the left-right, bottom-top parts of the panels/pages are drawn in large black lines. This is a style used in the anime of ERASED as well. During the majority of the story which is spent in the past, the anime has the bottom and top of the screen in black while the screen in which the anime is displayed is condensed in a more cinematography way. It even looks great (because it's a more fresh style) when the subtitles are on the bottom black part of the screen.

All in all: The Kayo Hinazuki arc is the only standout thing about the show from atmosphere, presentation and storytelling standpoints, but as it takes a good half of the story, ERASED: Boku dake ga inai Machi still ends up being a worthwhile watch and it still has more to talk about than many other series.

Something to take from this show:
+ Focus on the style and presentation in order to make the story enjoyable to follow.
- Too quick of a pacing can ofcourse also be detrimental to the enjoyment factor of a show; a well presented Substance - Style ratio is important to understand.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

In the Clutches of the Devil

Kill as Directed (1963) by Ellery Queen is, let's be real here, a mostly linear and predictable crime novel unlike most other works published under the name of Queen and as far as quality of storytelling goes, it's certainly not comparable in any way.

The story has two sides to it, one that's superficial and one that's going on in the backgrounds and is explained when the story reaches towards its end - but anyone should be able to see through it.

Doctor Harry (Harrison) Brown. A man in rather good shape from his sports years, thirty years old and considers himself a failure. That's our main character for Kill as Directed. He graduated two years before the start of the story and set up his own office, a private clinic in Central Par, New York, as soon as he could all for the sake of one thing - money. You see, Harry Brown grew up surrounded by rich people, by money, and got caught up with a sickness as he likes to call it - the obsession towards money and becoming rich, obsessed about having to make people see him living like a doctor with money, and he needs it quickly. He needs money when he's still young.
The $30 000 he got from his father's life insurance - all gone, and what's more, he's in huge debts all because he absolutely needs to drive in a new car to please the people. He needs a costy and wealthy environment created in his office for the patients - which he has none! Day after day Harry gets all the way from a couple to zero patients - someone with dirt in eye, another with an injured finger... Far from the road to the riches which he had imagined a doctor to have in his younger days.

As Harrison Brown sits in his office waiting for a call from a friend of his, Tony Mitchell, he thinks about the past two years and considers them completely wasted. His father, Simon Brown, timid like him, father like son, was a lawyer; a judge, whom introduced Tony (Anthony) to him seven years before the start of the book and they became friends. Tony's and Harry's ways separated quickly until four months ago they met suddenly again and they befriended. Harry explained his debt problems and money problems to Tony who was a lawyer at the time and his world turned upside down. Tony paid his debts by giving him a loan of five digit numbers of dollars, and introduced Harry to to people: a very influential and wealthy man way past his heydays named Kurt Gresham and Kurt's beautiful young wife Karen. Before the start of the story Harry had already been wrapped under Karen's finger, of her always repeating the same sentence: I love you. I love you.

The story begins as Harry heads home from the restaurant Big Dipper where he, Tony and Karen ate a costy meal of $150 like rich people always do - Harry left Tony to pay for it though - and after taking the beautiful Karen home, beyond the locked door of his apartment he finds a woman dressed up in black, a woman whom he had never seen before - "Who are you? How'd you get in here?" Harry asks? Well, the woman, Lynne Maxwell, won't answer because she's dead.

Now because I'm not selling a book here or trying to make people buy this one, the explanation for Lynne's body beyond the locked room is just because. There is no mystery to be cracked here. The story is based on trying to see everything from the criminal's eyes, or maybe it's the dual nature of the Devils in whose clutches Harry's gotten himself to, I guess, so there's quite a bit of dialogue that repeats information that you should already be aware of at that point in time, information that the characters think Harry does not know.

I'd say that the book tells a story about trust, friendship and love built up around money: Can it be real?

There are pretty much only four important characters in this story:

Harry (Harrison) Brown, a doctor who gets stuck to being the private doctor of a multimillionaire.
Tony (Anthony) Mitchell, a friend of Harry and the lawyer of Greshams.
Kurt Gresham, the rich big bad who wants to own everything, even the people around him, has heart problems which is why he needs constant doctor check-ups. He tries to get Harry onto his side.
And Karen Gresham, the wife of Kurt and the lover of Harry.

It's really not hard to guess how these characters are used in the story. They eat and dine and try to live like rich people - money,money,money,money. The root of all evil... Or what was it again.

The main gist of the actual story is an eternal classic just like locked room murders. Except this time it's not the readers solving the murders, it's them seeing the planning of it play out. How does Harry Brown, a timid guy who obeys law to a T, come up to a situation where he makes up his mind to carry out a murder for the better future?
The planning of the case is really simple:
 Kill mr. Gresham or get killed.
 Avoid any suspicion, in other words avoid killing via a way any doctor could use.
 And plan out the perfect time to strike.

The Finnish cover certainly looks great
That's all there is. The information on things such as the place and time for the murder were presented in a lackluster way, it's nothing groundbreaking and it's easy to remember everything since the beginning, but the act of carrying out the murder is not even considered until pretty much too late into the book as the book itself is very short, ~160 pages. Still, since everything about it was rather simplistic, the way it was, which is a mediocre story, played out at a decent pace I guess.

  I'm not sure that the planning of the events of certain culprits actually makes sense, realistically speaking, and the handling of all the characters towards the end, as well as the wrapping up of the story, felt very lackluster and cheap.
Well, maybe it was seen differently in the past than how I see it now. You know, before the era of computers and all the TV dramas. I decided to read the novel in a day as it is quite short, but mostly I do believe I wanted to just get it over with as I had read it before around four or so years ago but never got around to actually thinking it through and writing about it. So it was a quick re-read. At first I felt like I did not remember much of it but, surprisingly enough, I did. I remembered lines before they even happened, and this novel's not that memorable at all.

I guess the author tried to make the readers to consider questions such as do we really act as human beings with morals? how much has money changed us from being humans? as after finishing the story, the story somewhat tries to point out that there was only one human in the story - a certain coward who was being manipulated by everyone.