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Layton’s Mystery Journey: Katrielle And The Millionaire’s Conspiracy Review – Merry Old England

Under new management.

By Justin Clark | @justinofclark on November 15, 2020 at 5:03PM PST

GameSpot may get a commission from retail offers.

So much of the appeal of the original Professor Layton games on Nintendo DS comes from the sheer warmth. It’s a mahogany-toned warm blanket of a series of detective games. The puzzles might be non-sequitur brain-busters, but when it’s all over, you’re welcomed back into the game’s world with all the comfort of a cup of tea. Come now, chin up, don’t worry about how annoying that last one was, here’s another bad pun to soothe what ails you.

Layton’s Mystery Journey: Katrielle and the Millionaires’ Conspiracy walks the series back to that original warmth of its humble roots in the visual mystery novel genre. It’s a game that revels in its relative simplicity the way the series hasn’t in some time. Dig in deep enough, though, and you’ll find a game that conceals more than a couple of devious surprises under its sunny exterior.

The latest entry in the Layton’s Mystery Journey series once again takes place in a sort of Studio Ghibli-fied version of turn-of-the-century London. The hero detective this time around is the good professor’s cheery, aloof, and persistently hungry daughter, Katrielle. She’s joined by Ernest Grieves, a straight-laced and faithful assistant if there ever was one, and a basset hound who Kat names, in the game’s single laziest pun, Sherl O.C. Kholmes. As it turns out, Sherl is actually suffering from Detective Pikachu Syndrome: He’s able to talk to a select few humans, but he also has amnesia so he has no idea how exactly he got into this mess. Unfortunately, poor Sherl has to stick it out for a while longer, since the intro is the last time the game addresses his whole predicament in any meaningful way.

The game’s lack of an all-encompassing narrative is par for the course, however, and for most of the play time, it’s not necessarily to its detriment. The usual Layton series storytelling returns: It’s a visual novel at its core, with long stretches of dialogue with various characters broken up by point-and-click puzzles. As opposed to the earlier games’ overarching mysteries, however, Katrielle’s first outing is actually an episodic affair, where each case is its own self-contained little tale of low-stakes peril, ranging from the minute hand going missing from Big Ben to a wealthy madam’s missing cat, disconnected from any larger character development for the main protagonists until the literal final hour. What the game lacks in straightforward character arcs that build over the entire playtime, it makes up for in building an enormous and eclectic cast of oddballs and weirdos with hilariously punny names and peculiar quirks. Katrielle’s relationship with each character may only last for a single case, but each case is structured in such a way that the broad strokes–the frequent clapbacks, one-off zingers, friendly jabs at everyone’s expense–are allowed to make an impression. As far as the narrative is concerned, each new character is made to be memorable, not practical. And the episodic format makes it easy to enjoy the game in short bursts. Even if you only have a few minutes to spare, you can meet someone new, push the story forward, or finish a crucial puzzle.

Well, you can try to finish a crucial puzzle at the very least, but not all of them are pushovers. In lieu of any legitimate detective work, most of what you’ll be doing to help take a bite out of English crime is solving a vast series of one-off puzzles of various sorts for whoever asks. Some are just basic spatial problems, such as having a vat that holds five gallons of liquid and another that holds three, and trying to figure out how to get four gallons. Others are quirky little mini-games more akin to what you may find in WarioWare, just with a tricky twist like having a limit on how many moves you can make to finish the game. Some, however, are just flat out riddles, and these tend to be the ones that may leave you white-knuckle frustrated.

The game fires its first warning shot early on, with a riddle about the minimum number of times you need to touch a clock to get it to display properly. It’s a problem that’s very easy to overthink, not because the solution is simple, but because the description of the problem begs additional questions that the game does not answer.

Thankfully, for the vast majority of puzzles, sheer persistence is enough to power through and guess correctly. There are also tokens you can find scattered around every environment that allow you to unlock hints. However, even in cases where the hint walks you right up to the solution, the answer and its explanation can defy common sense in a truly underwhelming way that leaves you less with an “aha!” feeling of brilliance and more of an “oh, come on” feeling of disappointment.

That flaw is even more mind-boggling considering just how well localized and executed the game is otherwise. Each character is charming in their own right, rife with British affectations and deep-cut historical references–the Mayor’s name is a play on London’s original name from centuries ago. And when the game slips into its all-too-short and oddly placed stretches of voice acting or fully animated cutscenes, it’s chock-full of naturalistic and pleasant performances across the board, from Katrielle’s gentle lilt to Sherl’s stiff-upper-lip aristocratic grumble. No small effort has gone into truly realizing this world, causing the lack of clarity when it really matters to sting all the more.

But, perhaps more than any other game in the series, there’s plenty here allowing you to step back from the source of your aggravation and recharge. Exploring each environment turns up special coins that allow you to unlock new outfits for Kat and new furniture for her office. As you progress, you also unlock mini-games that are completely disconnected from the main quest–you can help a local chef cook a perfect meal for the residents of Kat’s neighborhood, you can run a maze where you have only a limited number of moves, or, you can play any of the dozens of additional puzzles that aren’t connected to progress in any of the actual cases. On mobile, this content was parsed out, piecemeal, over time after release. On the Switch, the game is overwhelmingly generous with content within an hour of starting, and most of it is just as charming and endlessly replayable as the rest of the game.

If there’s any one thing truly getting in the way of your joy, it’s the Switch itself. The Professor Layton games were staples of the Nintendo DS, taking full advantage of the added screen real estate so whatever you did on one screen didn’t block what was happening on the other. The Switch, however, has limitations the DS didn’t. Playing in docked mode means using the Joy-Cons to move your cursor around like a mouse, which is nice, but also a bit too fast and twitchy for many of the puzzles. In handheld, you have the option of using the analog sticks to move your cursor, which has the same problem with even less precision. You can also use the Switch’s touchscreen, but your fingers are too often in the way of the rest of the screen. This is a game that simply begs for a stylus.

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In Katrielle Layton’s London, it’s a season of golden leaves, stiff breezes, and sun that provides light but less warmth. It’s the perfect atmosphere for a game that provides such quaint joys for hours on end, cackling at its next pun, zippy one-liner, or absurd new scenario while putting creaky parts of the brain to good use. Sometimes the breeze is a bit too cold, or there’s rain, or, oh, you know, the solution to a logic problem you’ve been staring at for 45 minutes might be “air” and you hate everything for a few minutes, but it doesn’t last, and the next pleasant moment is never too far away.

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About the Author

John Kane I am a full time binary options trader. I was able to leave my job in the last 5 years and dedicate myself to trading fully. I never thought my hobby and passion would make a living for me but I am grateful every day that it has. My main goal now is to communicate with the binary trading community, contribute to different websites and learn from other traders.

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Layton’s Mystery Journey: Katrielle and the Millionaires’ Conspiracy – Deluxe Edition Review (Switch)

A story about one very curious Kat

Version Reviewed: European

The Professor Layton series is one that’s defined puzzling on Nintendo handhelds ever since the early days of the DS. Since 2007, we’ve received two trilogies and two spinoffs starring the eponymous professor, but declining sales and a general sense of stagnation seemed to have scared Level-5 off from greenlighting another trilogy in much the same vein.

So, the studio opted for something of a soft reboot with Layton’s Mystery Journey: Katrielle and the Millionaires’ Conspiracy in 2020, which put a new protagonist in the spotlight and made some small changes to the formula to freshen things up. Now, that release has come to the Switch in the form of the laboriously named Layton’s Mystery Journey: Katrielle and the Millionaires’ Conspiracy – Deluxe Edition, which makes small improvements on the already solid foundation of what came before.

Unlike the mainline entries in the series, Layton’s Mystery Journey follows the adventures of the esteemed professor’s daughter Katrielle, a confident and inimitable young woman who’s doing her utmost to step out of her father’s shadow and build her own legend as a respected puzzle-solver and private detective. Kat’s story doesn’t concern itself so much with enormous, world-ending threats or time-travelling shenanigans that series fans have become accustomed to. Rather, the adventure takes on a smaller, neighbourhood-sized scope as she embarks on several mostly disconnected cases that are presented in an episodic ‘monster of the week’ sort of manner.

Some may decry this step away from a grand, overarching mystery, but we rather enjoyed the diversity offered up by the episodic set up. New characters and scenarios are introduced at a blistering pace, keeping the experience constantly fresh as you bounce between varying locales and scenarios with hardly any idea of what could come next. For example, one case involves you searching for the ‘stolen’ final scene to an arthouse film while the next has you tracking down a crazy millionaire cat lady’s lost feline. As we mentioned above, the fate of the world isn’t at stake here, but that doesn’t stop the cases from being interesting in their own way.

The main factor that keeps this piecemeal approach so engaging from start to finish is the utterly stellar writing that shines through in virtually every line of dialogue. Richard Honeywood – the man who spearheaded several localization efforts on the Dragon Quest, Ni No Kuni, and Final Fantasy series – was responsible for the script here, and that characteristic charm, razor-sharp wit, and groan-inducing penchant for puns are all present and accounted for.

All the characters speak in an idealized ‘jolly good day’ sort of the Queen’s English, and it goes a long way toward infusing each dialogue scene with lots of personality. Given that you spend probably around half your time with this release mashing ‘A’ through dialogue scenes, it’s refreshing that it seldom feels like the conversations are dragging on for too long. A lot of this is down to the excellent characterization, too, whether it be a one-off character for a case or one of the main supporting characters. For example, Kat’s personal assistant, Ernest, is painfully deep in the friendzone with her, and his fumbled efforts to gain her favour are often laughed at or mocked by Sherl, their talking dog companion that they alone can understand. It’s these kinds of lighthearted interactions that keep the story so consistently endearing, and they’re almost sure to entice you to see through the narrative to its completion.

As you move through the story, gameplay takes on something of a cross between a point-and-click adventure and a more traditional puzzle game. Each case sees you moving between different areas that are made up of static screens you can scrutinize with a magnifying glass to find hidden goodies and interview characters. Though what you need to do to advance the story is usually made extremely plain and easy, it’s often worth your time to really scour every corner and make sure you’ve found everything. Hint Coins – which can be spent on helpful hints in devious puzzles – are scattered liberally through each area, alongside other collectables and even some hidden puzzles.

The bulk of your time actually ‘playing’ through Kat’s adventure will be spent on these puzzles, of which there are several hundred. These can come in a variety of forms, such as asking you to fit varying geometric shapes into a tight boundary or to move a chess piece across a board in as few moves as possible. The variety is really what keeps these puzzles so engaging, as each one introduces its own rules and unique logic that pushes you to think in new directions and out of the box.

We rather appreciated the challenge offered up by many of these as well; unlike, say, the puzzle design in your typical Legend of Zelda game, these puzzles will legitimately require you to sit and think for a while about varying approaches before finally pulling the trigger with your best guess. If you’re really stumped, the Hint Coins can offer up some helpful nudges in the right direction without giving it out away outright, and then if you still can’t figure it out, you can all but pay up enough coins to basically get the answer. Your performance will dictate how many “Picarats” are granted to you upon completing the puzzle, and these will unlock some cool bonuses at the end of the game if you can manage to collect enough of them. Most of the puzzle design is perfectly fine, then, but there are some unfortunate missteps that hold many of them back.

Level-5 has proudly stated that Layton’s Mystery Journey contains the most puzzles in the series and while that certainly is true, we’d argue that some of the quality found in past entries’ puzzle designs has been lost in the process. Though many of the several-hundred puzzles on offer adequately reward deduction and logical thought, we came across far too many that have the sort of ‘gotcha’ design that feels like it runs counter to the spirit of what these puzzles are supposed to represent.

For example, an early puzzle asks you the minimum number of times you’d have to touch a clock to get it to read a specific time. The answer is zero, because the clock will eventually reach that time on its own. It’s puzzles with solutions like this that prove to be all too frustrating, as they feel less like you’re solving a puzzle and more like you’re arguing semantics due to how ‘loose’ the unspoken rules were for that specific puzzle. In the case above, it’s assumed that you would have to touch the clock – especially when other, similar puzzles would require that of you – but the goalposts are silently moved in this instance so that it’s not strictly necessary. It’s not too often that puzzles pop up with such irritating answers, but they nonetheless pop up more often than we’d like and cheapen the experience to a certain extent.

From start to finish, the main story will run you between fifteen to twenty hours to complete, but there’s plenty of extra content on offer for those who are willing to go for the 100%. For one thing, you can go back to cases after solving them to weed out any hidden puzzles you may have missed and to find new ones that are added after you’ve seen the end of that arc. In addition to this, there’s also a daily puzzle mode where you can download a new, logic-based puzzle each day and earn some museum points for completing it that can then be spent on unlocking screens and art from past games in the Layton series.

Also, for the more cosmetically-minded players, Kat and company have a deep wardrobe of costumes that you can unlock by getting daily allowances of “Fashion Farthings” and you can similarly furnish Kat’s office with all manner of furniture by trading in vouchers that are given to you for every four completed puzzles. All told, you could probably squeeze up to forty hours out of this release when all is said and done, which is nothing to sneeze at for a game in this rather niche genre.

From a presentation standpoint, Kat’s adventure could most succinctly be summed up in one word: pleasant. Bright colours, smiling passersby, neatly-manicured lawns and friendly bicycle bell rings are the norm here, making for a world that feels friendly and unthreatening no matter what the esteemed detective happens to be investigating. Of particular note are the nicely-animated anime-style cutscenes that usually bookend each case, giving the characters and environments the kind of lively energy that they lack as you move from static screen to screen. This is hardly the release to showcase the hardware strengths of the Switch – its roots as a 3DS game make themselves evident from time to time – but the art and character models have all cleaned up quite well in HD and make for a smooth experience that’s as easy to slip into as one would a comfortable pair of slippers.

Those of you looking for why that “Deluxe Edition” has been added to the title may be a little disappointed to learn that not a whole lot has been added for this release. Aside from the remastered visuals, a little over forty new puzzles have been added into the mix, along with a host of outfits – some of which were paid DLC in the original version. We would’ve rather enjoyed it if something a little more substantial, such as an extra case, could’ve been present to add a little more value to this re-release, but it’s tough to complain too much for what is effectively the definitive version of this game. Still, those of you that already gave this one a go on either the 3DS or a smartphone may want to pause and think just how much you want it on your Switch; paying almost full retail price for effectively the same experience again is something that’s difficult to justify.

Conclusion

Layton’s Mystery Journey: Katrielle and the Millionaires’ Conspiracy – Deluxe Edition proves itself to be a strong puzzle game in its own right, although compared to the highs of its predecessors, it doesn’t nearly hold up as well. Even so, the pleasant visuals, wonderful writing, and (mostly) strong puzzle design make this an easy sell, even if the occasional missteps in some of the puzzle answers and the lack of compelling new features for this re-release prove to be drawbacks. We’d give this a recommendation to anybody looking for a slower-paced game that still demands lots of attention. It’s an excellent ‘winding down before bed’ sort of game, and though it might not fully live up to the series legacy, we’re still excited for whatever Level-5 is planning next for Kat.

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