I had to go back and check, but it turns out that Layton’s Mystery Journey: Katrielle and the Millionaires’ Conspiracy is the first Layton game we’ve ever reviewed, despite there being a veritable slew of Layton games in existence. Okay, not a slew…more like…six, or seven if you include this one. Nine if you include spin-offs. And one movie. I’ve played Layton games before, but this one takes things in a slightly different direction, so let’s grab our magnifying glasses and get sleuthing for this review!
I’m going to work from the assumption that you’ve not played a Layton game yet; although, if you have, feel free to skip this expository paragraph. Professor Herschel Layton is the hero of the six aforementioned prior games. He’s a gentleman and a scholar, and travels around with his young companion, Luke Triton, solving puzzles and mysteries. Following the grand tradition set out in Star Wars, the first three games in the series take place after the second three before following on with a seventh title. The confusion will be short-lived, I assure you.
So of course, it’s only fitting that the new seventh game in the series, Layton’s Mystery Journey, has very little to do with the Professor himself. The game instead stars his daughter, Katrielle–also known as Kat–in the role of the detective. She is helped by her handy assistant, Ernest, and a talking dog called Sherl, which is short for Sherlock. Well, I say “talking dog”, but it appears that only Kat and Ernest are able to hear him at all, which is very handy from a narrative point of view. The story itself concerns various vignettes featuring the “Seven Dragons”, the seven richest, most influential people in London.
The game itself is a series of brain-teaser style puzzles strung together by bits of story and dialog, all charmingly voiced and animated in the grand style of prior Professor Layton games. For fans of the prior games, I can say that the quality of the puzzles have, by and large, dropped significantly. Far too many of them are what I’d call trolling–the puzzle designer trying to be too darned clever for their own good and coming off as a smug little know-it-all. It’s difficult to give an example without giving away the answers to puzzles, but there are too many where tricky wordplay and hypercontextual answers makes the answer itself meaningless and frustratingly daft. There were too many answers that involved doing absolutely nothing. I was a little concerned about all this, and then I recalled reading that the original puzzle designer, Akira Tago, passed away in the middle of last year. I’m sad to say that the series replacement, Kuniaki Iwanami, has a lot to learn about creating puzzles that please the player and not the designer.
Kat herself is a bubbly personality that seems to show little regard for where her parents had gotten to. The question of Professor’s whereabouts are barely touched on, and Katrielle is either repressing her emotions about it in a really big way (and using food as her outlet), or is so ditsy that it seldom crosses her mind. She’s a passable detective, but the cases she works on are not Sherlock Holmesian level of clever in the least, and all the deduction and cleverness are Katrielle’s, not yours. You’re just here for the puzzles, apparently. Ernest and Sherl are pure narrative devices, to prevent Katrielle from talking to herself.
That all being said, many of the familiar series aspects return in Layton’s Mystery Journey, and you’ll still earn picarats for solving puzzles, still find hint coins hidden in each screen (and this game is particularly generous with hint coins!), and still have to solve the occasional mandatory puzzle in exchange for moving the story forward, and usually this will be given by one character or another. The cast of eccentric characters that dot London are delightful to experience, and the localization team have done a brilliant job as usual at translating Layton’s Mystery Journey from Japanese to English.
It’s been stated that the Layton series has a larger female gaming demographic than male, and it shows with the new direction that Layton’s Mystery Journey takes, and also with a number of the activities and minigames. You’re able to choose new outfits and looks for Kat, as well as change the decor in her parlor, and while I personally don’t understand these additions, I can’t fault the variety you’re given.
Overall, though, I did enjoy the game, despite the lower quality puzzles. The animated sections are beautiful, although the game lacks any 3D on the 3DS (possibly as a holdover from its initial iOS release). If it’s your first time playing a Layton game, you’ll have a grand time with it. But then the best thing about starting here is that there are a whole slew of older Layton games out there, with far superior puzzles to experience for the first time. I do envy you that!