If there's anything that Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy taught me, it's that the world would be a better place if there were more puzzles. Dementia would no longer plague the geriatric. Fights would be bloodless, played out over brain-teasers and sliding conundrums. Teenagers wouldn't distribute selfies, they'd socialize word games instead. It'd be an utopia of smart people.
Or just very frustrating.
It's weirdly fitting to be introduced to a franchise via the last game to feature its titular protagonist. After all, Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy is the conclusion to the prequel arc - a gateway to the "contemporary" Professor Layton games. What surprised me was the fact that, in spite of its unique chronological position, The Azran Legacy didn't leave me feeling ruthlessly lost. There's a cozy familiarity to the game's warmly-tinted dream of a steampunk England, to the child-friendly wardrobe and impeccably polite roster of characters. The Azran Legacy, safely free of unnecessary edginess or memes, is like an episode straight out of one of those old Saturday cartoons.
On the off-chance you have no idea as to what a Professor Layton game is, they're essentially point-and-tap adventures punctuated by a splendid array of pleasingly relevant puzzles. That said, "relevant" is a subjective word. The Layton universe is infatuated with puzzles. Everything is a riddle, an enigma wrapped in a mystery. Husbands give puzzles to their wives while thieves issue mathematical problems to Scotland Yard. I remember laughing when I was instructed to take command of an airship's limited defenses and shoot down missiles in a series of time-sensitive challenges. "Which projectile is not like the rest?" The game shrilled anxiously. "Shoot down the odd-numbered missiles!" It barked. Odd? Maybe, but completely in line with everything else in the world.
The Azran Legacy opens easily enough, spilling you into the world without extraneous exposition. The top-hatted Professor Layton, along with his apprentice Luke and assistant Emmy, are on their way to winter-locked Froenberg in pursuit of a "living mummy". After a perfunctory tutorial session, where various characters introduce you to the controls and the format of the game, the narrative takes off. The group soon finds itself coming into contact with Aurora, who had been cryogenic stasis for millions of years, and The Azran Legacy's main antagonistic force, a paramilitary organization called Targent.
Hijinks quickly follow, of course. A chase, a rescue, a handful of non-violent confrontations. In between all of that, The Azran Legacy continues chucking puzzles with all the enthusiasm of a caffeinated crosswords evangelists. Happily, most of The Azran Legacy's brain teasers are a joy to dissect. The graphics will often shift to something more akin to what is found in a children's storybook. Both failure and success is commented upon with extreme supportiveness. Screw up a puzzle? That's okay. It's a challenging one. Even if it's not. The Azran Legacy's a kind game in more than one ways. Hint coins, scattered across the varied environments, can be used to purchase assistance in a puzzle. You get a memo panel too, which allows you to scribble equations and notes as necessary.
The puzzles themselves are widely varied, ranging from geo-locational mysteries to mathematical bugaboos. Similarly, difficulty levels span a wide spectrum: some are easy, requiring only a minute's thought while others will set your gray matter on fire. (Disclaimer: Puzzles are more the former than the latter, in my opinion.) That said, I did find some of the puzzles frustrating for the wrong reasons. I remember one problem in the beginning which presented it as a test of one's competence at equations. It turned out to be something else entirely, a fact that did not make itself clear until after I had exhausted a few hint coins. Later, I found myself vexed again by a puzzle that wouldn't accept anything but one definitive answer - even though alternatives looked like they would have worked just as well. (At least, that's my story and I'm sticking by it.)
Moving back to the plot, I'm undecided as to how much I like it. Period pieces, even garnished with steampunk sensibilities, were never really my thing. In spite of how it begins, the Azran Legacy actually breaks into a non-linear experience partway through, something I'm tentatively fond of. I liked how the game stopped ostensibly herding me along a pre-determined path but that freedom came with a price: a slump in the narrative's already conservative pacing. The voice acting in The Azran Legacy is sparse, and occasionally a little stilted. The characters themselves are interesting within a limited scope. I found some of them slightly too rooted in their archetypes to be genuinely charming. I suppose that's what you get for entering an established franchise fresh - the shared adventures, the time needed to develop emotional connections with the cast, these vital elements are all absent. Oh, well.
There are a series of mini-games available for the discerning customer in The Azran Legacy, all of which are charming and just a touch silly. Dissatisfied with the already ponderous amount of puzzles? Don't fret. Downloadable puzzles abound. Similarly, it's possible to engage in Treasure Hunt mode and either partake in another's challenge or issue one of your own. The Azran Legacy is a game to be savoured, metered out over the days. Which means you'll probably enjoy it way more than I did, you lucky people. Is Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy a fitting conclusion to Layton's adventures? Maybe. I couldn't tell you from the perspective of a long-time fan. But it was more than charming to this newcomer, a beautiful and good-natured mental exercise that will most likely have me scooping up the rest of the series at some point.