By Makeda Byfield
One of my favorite pastimes, when I was younger, was playing computer games. The little old lady within me especially loved the mystery puzzle games. My grandma and I would spend rainy weekends huddled next to the computer in the corner of the basement, focused on the screen in front of us. Those days are long gone now, and the specific games we played have faded from my memory. However, the warm, nostalgic feelings associated with those stormy game days remain a fond memory in the corner of my brain.
When I downloaded “Layton’s Mystery Journey: Katrielle and the Millionaires’ Conspiracy- Deluxe Edition,” those memories all came rushing back. The game opens by playing a dream sequence. A young girl runs through a fog to a figure that seems to be her father. The man turns away from her as she continues to move through the now thickening fog. When the girl, Katrielle Layton, awakens, we see her grown up. Kat (the daughter of the esteemed Professor Layton from the Layton videogame series) is opening her new detective agency today!
The opening credit scene shows Katrielle heading to her office in London. Decked out in petticoat that (I think) would make my favorite detective, Olivia Benson, proud, Kat is ready for her first day on the job.. The creators did an excellent job of establishing the facts – who Kat is, why she started her investigative agency, and her goal with the agency. While this game is my first introduction to the Layton franchise, the opening felt familiar. I’m not sure if it was the anime-like drawing style, the calming background music, or the early-2000’s movie-like style that the scene seemed to reference. Whatever it was, it felt welcoming. I had to play on.
I must add this before continuing with my review. I mentioned that this is my first time playing a Layton game. Other reviews might compare the game to others in the Layton franchise; Those opinions are 100% valid, as they are critiquing a “spinoff game” from a franchise that they already know and love. I will not be following in those reviews’ form or opinions. The game makers attracted a different audience by centering this game on Professor Layton’s daughter. Younger players might relate to this young woman who is trying to establish herself in her profession. Yes, we should remember Kat’s roots – the game makes sure to do that by bringing up her father’s legacy. But Katrielle is trying to branch out on her own now. Kat is her own strong person – instead of simply “Professor Layton’s daughter.”
That being said, this game has three characters that players will follow. Katrielle is setting up a sign outside her office when a talking dog approaches her. That’s right; it’s a talking dog that a few people can only hear! Their conversation goes something like this:
Kat: “Oh. A talking dog.”
Dog: “You aren’t surprised?”
Kat: “It’s only talking.”
Dog: “ONLY?? Talking?!?”
(This is a rough recollection of the script, I couldn’t rewind to transcribe the exact dialogue.)
The dog explains that he is going through some sort of memory lapse. He woke up as a dog with no memory of his parents, background, or name. In a way, he reminds me of the character from the game Hitchhiker (which I reviewed a couple months ago). They both have no idea who they are or what their origins are. The only difference is that the dog’s hilarious dialogue and expressions are entertaining enough to not make me feel like it’s torture to continue playing (as I felt with Hitchhiker). Katrielle names the dog Sherl (after Sherlock Holmes) and takes him in as her first client.
As they talk, a man named Ernest Greeves walks in. He introduces himself as Kat’s new personal assistant. The trio bonds when news of another case reaches our office. Abandoning Sherl’s request for assistance, they switch gears to uncover the mystery of the missing clock hand.
Up until this point in the game, voice actors brought the story to life for us. I think that the delivery of each line came across well! It was also clear that a lot of thought went into each character’s development. So it was easy to stay engaged when the game switched to just using written lines. It was up to us to read the dialogue now. While I enjoyed hearing the lines said out loud, there wasn’t an option to slow it down, pause, or rewind. Players can choose when to move to the next piece of written dialogue, so this method of reading text worked better when I needed to look away from the screen for a couple of seconds.
There are many cases to work through – about 12, to be specific. I didn’t feel there was a rush to “crack the case,” so I’m taking my time to play through them. Katrielle and her crew investigate everything from the aforementioned missing clock hand to a possible murder! Most of each case is spent in “investigation mode.” In “investigation mode,” the cursor on the screen turns into a magnifying glass; we can then use the glass to search for clues that are hidden on-screen. The audience can figure out what buttons to press to keep the game moving. Katrielle gives me all the instructions in the game, and Ernest loyally confirms that he understands Kat’s directions. It makes me feel like I’m on her investigative team, solving the case right beside her. Meanwhile, we still watch a story unfold. I love it!!
As we look for clues, we get the chance to solve different puzzles. Excluding the daily puzzles that show up in Kat’s bag, most puzzles are given to us while we talk to other characters. Each puzzle is worth a certain number of “picarats.” They are both a prize for completing puzzles and a measure of a puzzle’s difficulty. The number of picarats we earn decreases every time we get the puzzle wrong. We’ll find more “earth-shattering revelations” in the end-of-game bonus if we have more picarats. Each puzzle we play can be saved into Kat’s bag, making it available to replay for more picarats.
There are more “coins” to be earned. While picarats are acquired after solving puzzles, players may also discover “Hint Coins” (which can be redeemed for hints during puzzle-play) and “Fashion Farthings” (which can unlock new costumes for Katrielle and Sherl). These discoveries are made among the six clues we uncover for each case. Once we’ve found all six, the case will be solved! So these clues arise from character statements and can be accessed in the case files tucked away in Katrielle’s bag.
The game also has a relocation mode, which lets us switch locations to continue our investigation elsewhere.
Katrielle does a much better job of explaining the logistics than I do. I apologize if I’m overcomplicating everything; the game really is simple to play. Maybe that’s part of why I indulged for as long as I have. I was reading a mystery book before I picked up the game for the first time and kept playing long into the night. It’s not that the mystery picked up and got me going within the first half-hour of play. Mysteries usually ramp me up (much like the book that I forced myself to put down). But this game calms me down while making me lose track of time. And you know what? I’m not mad at that at all.
In the end, I don’t have many complaints about Layton’s Mystery Journey: Katrielle and the Millionaires’ Conspiracy. My biggest one would probably be the way that we brushed past Sherl’s mystery. He was the first character (besides Kat) that we were formally introduced to, and he just wanted Kat to help him figure out why he’s a talking dog with no recollection of his past. I still have a way to go before I’m done with Layton’s Mystery, but it doesn’t seem like Katrielle will ever get back to Sherl’s case in this game. When researching, I saw one blogger say that Katrielle promises to help Sherl later on (although that investigation doesn’t appear to take place in this game). I wish that Katrielle didn’t prioritize her work over the wants/needs of those close to her. To make myself feel better, I play the game with the objective of watching her business bloom. The game did that successfully.
With a wide variety of cases to dig into, characters that keep you laughing, and aesthetics that soothe the soul, Layton’s Mystery Journey is a game I’d easily and happilly pick up again.
Makeda Byfield is our newest New York Videogame Critics Circle contributor, part of our ongoing partnership with Bronxworks.