The handheld classics in the Professor Layton franchise have many times been praised for their many engaging brainteasers, stellar soundtracks, and gorgeous art. While all of these claims were well deserved, the main element that always had me buying more entries in the franchise was always the overarching mystery.
Every Layton game is at its core a mystery narrative, where you follow the professor and his assistant throughout a small town hiding many secrets and twists. As the stories unfold, you tend to uncover more riddles, clues and characters with shrouded motives. Coupled with the artstyle and music, the games take on a very storybook reminiscent style, complete with a little cover for every new chapter in the tale.
Now, even though the games are undoubtedly very short and simple compared to others of its kind, they’re still remarkably efficient at always keeping you up to speed in their intricate storylines. This is done through three clever functions that I dearly wish more story-driven games would adopt as well.
The first one of these is the journal – which is most likely the only one of these mechanics that semi-regularly shows up in other games. The Professor’s Journal is always available on the menu screen, and it records every detail of the investigation as one progresses through the story. Charmingly enough, it’s even told from the professor’s own point of view, including little internal comments on the story’s events.
Thankfully, most players won’t ever need to use the journal, thanks to the “The Story so Far…” function. Every time one loads their save file, they’re greeted with a quick TV-style recap of the last few events in the story. They’re always accompanied with a cozy music box jingle to gently ease you into the day’s session. I’ve always personally enjoyed these parts greatly, as they immediately welcome you back into the world without feeling excessive every time.
The most unique of these threads, however, is the ”Mysteries” tab present in every game. In simple terms, this is basically the collection of every unresolved plot point in the storyline. The Mystery menu gathers every unsolved question in one place, reminds you what you’re currently looking for, and even offers the Professor’s personal input on every mystery.
While all of these journaling methods may seem excessive when put together, they do serve different niches at keeping you fully immersed and up to speed every time you sit down to play. The Mysteries section in particular acts as an assurance on the games part that every plot thread will eventually be resolved, and it keeps them active in your mind even if the plot hasn’t mentioned them in a while. Though many could claim that the resolution to these plot threads are often rather silly or unbelievable, there’s no denying that they all do get resolved to a pretty satisfying degree.
Today we have more games rich with intricate storylines than ever, and keeping track of every detail can certainly prove difficult at times. We can only hope that more developers take a page out of Level-5’s book and provide us with an easy way to organize all the information.
Hampus Lindbergh graduated from the University of Skövde with a degree in Game Writing, and has previously acted as the lead writer for indie games such as Die, Recompile.
He loves being overly analytical about video games, television, and all other forms of fiction.