What Is Professor Layton?
Professor Layton is a popular series of handheld adventure puzzle video games released by Level-5 in 2007 in Japan. Like its contemporaries, the equally popular Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney visual novel puzzle video game franchise, the player is led through a story in which they have to solve logic, math, and other kinds of puzzles to progress in the story.
There are currently nine games to date since its debut. It’s previously been available on the Nintendo DS, Nintendo 3DS, Android, iOS, and the Nintendo Switch. It has also spawned several spinoffs and adaptations – movies, manga, novels, and more.
The Professor Layton series has been generally successful in the UK, the US, and Japan.
There’s the original trilogy, then a series of prequel games, and few spinoffs, including a crossover game – Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright, featuring, of course, characters from Capcom’s hit series Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney.
The first installation in the series, Professor Layton and the Curious Village, hit the Nintendo DS in February 2007, later localized in 2008. The plot of the video game consists of the Professor and Luke investigating St. Mystere, a curious town made up of puzzle lovers, in search of the Golden Apple heirloom. The game was well-received in Japan, the United States, and the United Kingdom.
The next installment, Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box, released for the DS in Japan in November 2007 and then localized in 2009, did even better with players, widely considered having improved since the first installment.
Professor Layton and the Unwound Future, the third game in the series and final part of the original trilogy, was released for the DS in Japan on 27 November 2008, and localized in 2010, and was the last chronological appearance of the Professor Layton himself.
The next series of games take us back to the Professor’s first meeting with his apprentice, Luke, and his assistant, Emmy, and shows how they arrived at the events of the original trilogy. These games include Professor Layton and the Last Specter, Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask, and Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy.
How Do You Play Professor Layton?
The games consist of a combination of guided world exploration, visual novel elements such as different dialogue choices (no multiple endings or anything like that, though) and animated cutscenes, and of course, puzzles. Lots and lots of puzzles. The puzzles rank differently in terms of difficulty, marked in units called ‘picarats.’
The higher the picarat value, the more difficult the puzzle. Players can earn and trade up to three hint coins for – you guessed it – hints to solve the puzzles, but this lowers the potential picarat earnings.
A certain number of picarats is required to progress in the story at points, so it’s best to be judicious with hint coin usage. Getting the answer wrong will also decrease the picarat value, so choose your battles and really stretch your brain!
The puzzles themselves vary, ranging from logic-based to visual puzzles, math-based (admittedly my least favorite), lateral-thinking, sliding puzzles and more. Some puzzles are timed, but most are not. The game also has a helpful built-in ‘memo’ function that allows players to take notes on the puzzle as they chew on it and figure it out.
There are also mini-game brain teasers the player can work on while taking a break from the main story, such as getting a train from point A to point B while hitting all the stations and/or maneuvering around other trains in Professor Layton: The Last Specter.
- Professor Layton – Archaeology professor Hershel Layton is intent on solving mysteries while being a dashing English gentleman to boot. Near impeccable in logic as well as manner, he is a relatively unassuming man, letting his dignity and intellectual prowess speak for itself. He’s also very kind, but he doesn’t let his young apprentice Luke to try to cut corners in his logic.
- Luke Triton – the son of Layton’s college friend Clark Triton, devoted himself to being Professor Layton’s apprentice. He is ten at the start of the series, but his puzzle-solving abilities go beyond his lived years. Of course, he’s still a child and looks to Professor Layton for mentoring and guidance.
- Emmy Altava – A fiery woman in her mid-twenties and Professor Layton’s assistant, Emmy shows a keen interest in photography and the ability to kick some serious butt when called for. She helps Professor Layton solve mysteries alongside Luke.
Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney can be thought to be a predecessor of sorts to the Professor Layton games. Professor Layton follows a similar structure of an original trilogy, except the Phoenix Wright games have more sequels and side games as opposed to prequels.
In this ambitious crossover, Professor Layton and Luke team up with Phoenix Wright and his assistant Maya Fey, who are in town in London for a spell, to solve the mystery behind a woman’s arrest and suspected involvement with illegal activity.
The gameplay, predictably, is a mixture of the Professor Layton style, dubbed Adventure here, and Ace Attorney style, appropriately dubbed Witch Trial as that’s how most of the cases in the game proper feel. In the Adventure segments, the player can explore the world and talk with people Professor Layton style, uncovering clues and puzzles to progress in the game.
The Witch Trial segments pull from the cross-examination mechanic of the Ace Attorney games, listening to witness testimony and then cross-examining their statements. Much like in the Ace Attorney games, the player can press, present evidence, and of course, object.
Mechanics from both games can combine in interesting ways; hint coins from Professor Layton can be used in Ace Attorney cross-examinations, for example. The player can also earn picarats from leftover strikes from the trial segments.
Professor Layton isn’t wasting time dawdling behind: a Nintendo Switch version featuring his daughter Katrielle was released in the US and UK in November 2019. Layton’s Mystery Journey: Katrielle and the Millionaires’ Conspiracy follows Katrielle Layton and her assistant Ernest Greeves with a cute puppy sidekick whose thoughts they can somehow understand.
It’s not centered around one story as with previous Professor Layton games, but the puzzle-solving and mystery elements that brought the series fame are still present.