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On Formulaic Games: Professor Layton

Sorry about last post. Crap be whack, and I think I defined Rant well.

Alright, time for something a little more light-hearted.

It's time to talk about the value of repetitiveness.

It seems to be a popular topic on message boards or Call of Duty posts to talk about how the industry isn't doing anything to innovate, pushing out yearly installments that are minor improvements over the originals. It's always centered around Call of Duty or Battlefield or Final Fantasy, or Kingdom Hearts, and the entire Mario empire.

It's come to the point that "innovation" and "reinvention" are the most overused buzzwords in the industry, and everybody points fingers at every other series that doesn't stay in a constant state of flux. However, EA and Activision, SquEnix, and Nintendo keep doing that they're doing, seemingly wishing to stick to the formula for years to come.

I understand where the hate is coming from. The wish to improve and change the way we play is always something to strive for. New IP's are always great things to have. But that creates a conflict between us and the Businesses, who want to guarantee a profit and not take risks, meaning the only new IP's we see in the Triple-A industry are from the big companies who have extra resources or aren't working on anything.

Also, please don't suck

So we're kind of stuck. While the indie game scene does alleviate this pain with a bunch of highly original games, we have to deal with installments that continue on this tradition of business. And people will always complain that companies aren't as bold as they used to be, or that the newest version of watchamacallit is old, overdone, and unoriginal.

But there is a right way to do repetition. It doesn't have to be all bad. In fact Level-5 showed us how to do it right. Companies should take notes.

Look at that cold killer. Look at that badass.

Professor Layton is a repetitive series. There's simply no way around it. Level-5 sticks to a formula that they created out of the boom of Brain Age, and the series still runs today.

Think about it. We've had five (FIVE) installments of this game so far, Curious Village, Diabolical Box, Unwound Future, Last Specter, And Mask of Miracle, with the last one to come out in Japan soon. In addition, it's spawned spinoffs (Vs. Phoenix Wright), Movies (Eternal Diva), and ripoffs (Rhythm Thief, which copies the story style to a tee). It's quite the IP. But I wouldn't say it's the most innovative series.

Six games is a lot of games. The sixth game in the main Call of Duty franchise was Modern Warfare 2. In fact, Many popular IP's today don't have more than three installments. This brings me to the question; why is Professor Layton seemingly impervious to fans after 6 installments? What makes it different than any other game? More importantly, Where are the Haters?

To asses that, of course, we need to show that the games are repetitive.

Is there any way to make this guy not a badass?

Professor Layton is a point-and-touch adventure game that happen to have a lot of puzzles in them. This stays constant throughout the entire series, and never once switches to another genre, like swordfighting or fingerpointing. It's just a puzzle game. You solve puzzles. That's it.

Well, just saying that would be doing the game disservice, right?

The meat of the game comes from the Story, in my opinion. While each entry gives you new puzzles, if you're playing the story, you're paying attention to that, as it varies from game to game. The mix of puzzles always works well with the story, like you're solving mini-mysteries while the big events unfold before you. But these stories aren't innovative. They're extremely formulaic. Go to Tv Tropes if you want to check. (Actually, forget I said that.)

Everything in the game is based a formula that has been, for the most part, either unnoticed or acknowledged. By the by, I'm going deep into vague spoiler territory for the rest of this blog post.

There's the beginning, which involves a letter being sent from... someone, explaining the mystery. In the first one it's... well, I haven't actually played that one. In the second, it's Dr. Schrader, in the Third, it's Future Luke, in the fourth, it's Luke. They embark to go solve the mystery, and along the way, Professor Layton will meet some quirky characters, have to collect a certain amount of something, and solve a bunch of mini-mysteries along the way.

There's some sort of dark and foreboding building they have to go searching, and they get in a fight.

Then there's the ending. I believe the ending to be most important, and in the case of Layton, the endings are really where the formula shows through. Through some Deus Ex Machina device, they uncover that something BIG is going down, have to solve a gauntlet of puzzles, and it always involves machinery of some sort. For some reason, it's ALWAYS machines and some giant robot or robots or something. Except for Diabolical Box, whose ending is probably the weirdest explanation I've heard for any mystery ever.

How is the Unwound Future SO GOOD?

And the feels. Man, the feels. Every single game tries to hit you right where you'll cry. These games are really sad. It's sentiment is always really well planned out, and it's character development and final revelations are a wonder to behold. I can't really Without going into spoilers, Unwound Future is the best example of this, as the love story is REALLY well planned out.

But the games stick to this formula, and you would think they lose some of the weight after a little while, right?

Professor Layton truly stretches the formula to the point where your suspension of disbelief is almost broken, but not. As you near the end of every game, things obviously get revealed, but over the course of the series, these revelations get bigger and bigger. Level-5 pushes the imaginative boundaries of it's own formula, but sticks to it to keep fans interested. As the games get less believable, if you've played them,they get blow to huge proportion, which is enough to keep us interested and excited. The mysteries get extremely unbelievable and explanations are ludicrous. But you don't care about that.

That's the secret. Level-5 sticks to formula, but makes each scenario grander than the last, letting us reflect on the past experiences these characters have shared to allow us to suspend our disbelief. As the tenseness of the situation grows over the course of three games, and solving puzzles really puts on more weight once these stakes are heightened.

The gameplay may stay relatively in a holding pattern, but that's okay with me. The constant output of original puzzles by these guys never fails to tease the brain. It's okay if the gameplay is similar, because the stories' grandioseness allow the gameplay to be similar.

For Professor Layton, the gameplay is really just the base where they build interesting stories on to. and that's what I think allows these games to do so well. The framework is well built, and what they make of it is always more eye-catching than their last installment.

I won't say it's timeless. That's something no game can attest to, as the wants of the masses vary. I think Level-5 knows this as well, as the Sixth installment will be the last. This may be another strength. Level-5 knows when it's running out of energy. Hopefully they end on a bang.

If a game's gameplay is going to stay exactly the same, they need to make up for it in a different department. Even then, if it is formulaic, it can be good by allowing that formula to shine, and polish it to a mirror sheen. Level-5 just gave us really good stories with the same frame. In the case of other games, they may not have an overly good story to build, but that doesn't mean it's bad. It's all about how you use formula to entertain the player in different ways. It's all about the execution.

Thanks for Reading,

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About Keurofone of us since 9:17 PM on 03.05.2013


Crap, I dunno. Um, I guess I like Anime, I guess... as well as video games...

I like strategy and simulation games.