Professor Layton and the Curious Village: The Akihiro Hino Interview

Judging by the number of puzzle games on the DS clearly the genre does well on the platform. More often than not though the reasons behind this have at least as much to do the popularity of the DS than the actual content of the games. Every once in a while though a game comes along that clearly does well simply because it's a superior game. Professor Layton and the Curious Village is such a game. was lucky enough to get a little time with Akihiro Hino of Level-5, developers of Layton. Akihiro-san has a long resume including, but not limited to: the Overblood series, Dark Cloud, Dark Chronicle, Rogue Galaxy, Jeanne d'Arc and the upcoming White Knight Chronicles. Give the interview below a read to get some insight into exactly what went into Professor Layton and the Curious Village that has made it one of the best received games on the DS so far this year and maybe get some insight into the upcoming sequels to Professor Layton and the Curious Village: Professor Layton and Pandora's Box and Professor Layton and the Last Time Travel. First off, please introduce yourself and let our readers know what your role is in Professor Layton and the Curious Village.

Akihiro Hino: My name is Akihiro Hino, and I serve as both president and CEO of Level 5 Inc. For Professor Layton and the Curious Village, I was in charge of project planning, the main scenario, and overall game design. For those not familiar with Professor Layton, how would you describe the game?

Akihiro Hino: The Professor Layton series fuses two core elements, puzzle solving and adventure gaming, into a genre we call puzzle-adventure. This concept turns Layton into something very different from a simple puzzle game. As you play through the game, you'll encounter puzzles that advance the story when you solve them. In this way, you progress through the game and eventually solve the mystery at the heart of the story. This construction allows you to enjoy the game on two very different levels. The game is full of colorful, quirky characters. How many playable characters are there?

Akihiro Hino: Professor Layton and his young cohort Luke are the main characters in the adventure. The player embarks on a journey with these two through a tale laden with puzzles waiting to be solved. Luke and Layton are the two characters who you'll use to tackle the puzzles, but you'll also meet many other characters along the course of your journey. Regarding the characters, I'm always been intrigued by Eurocentric characters in Japanese games. These can obviously be hit and miss, but in the case of Professor Layton they are right on, if kind of a mix of French and British influences. Was this game's localization done after the fact, or was this something that was worked on simultaneous to the development of the game to the initial Japanese market?

Akihiro Hino: The American version of Professor Layton and the Curious Village is based upon the Japanese version of the same game. Professor Layton himself hails from London, so I spent a lot of time way back in the development stages of the game concentrating on constructing a convincing world and classic European-styled visuals. Additionally, when developing the American version of the game, we came across small differences between the language and cultural practices of America and Japan. To lessen this cultural gap, we decided to add original puzzles to the American release. And with regards to the game's puzzles, how many different kinds of puzzles can players expect to face? I've heard there are visual puzzles as well as spatial and logic based challenges.

Akihiro Hino: Many in-game conversations will trigger a puzzle, and several more puzzles are hidden throughout the game's environments. I'd like players to try to find all the puzzles for themselves, so I'm not going to give any hard numbers out, but there really are a great number of unique puzzles in the game. Variety is abundant. You can solve a lot of them by using instinct alone, but others will require you to do simple mental calculations or will try to baffle you with witty wording. Also, because of the atypical art―at least for the DS―and sense of humor of the game, I've seen Professor Layton compared to Hotel Dusk and Phoenix Wright. Do you think that's accurate?

Akihiro Hino: While I think the above games are similar to the Layton series in that they all have adventure elements, Professor Layton differs in that we've tried our best to design a game that can be enjoyed by players of all ages and abilities. For this reason, we avoided including any situations that might put off casual users, such as complicated branching paths. At the same time, we tried to make the experience fun for seasoned game fans by including high-quality animated sequences and a variety of fun modes that will keep all players coming back for more. Exactly. I could see Professor Layton being a hit across a wide demographic. Have you seen any evidence from the Japanese release to back this up?

Akihiro Hino: In Japan, the Professor Layton series has proved particularly popular with young women, but we have seen great reactions from players of all age groups, from children all the way up to adults. It's been more than a year since Professor Layton and the Curious Village launched in Japan, but even now the game continues to post great sales. While we're on the Japanese release, I've read that the game has earned a lot of praise over there, even being nominated for some awards. Can you give more detail on this?.

Akihiro Hino: In Famitsu Weekly Magazine's (an Enterbrain, Inc. publication and premier Japanese gaming magazine) review by a panel of critics, Professor Layton and the Curious Village received Gold status and went on to receive the award for excellence at the Japan Game Awards. Additionally, the sequel to Professor Layton and the Curious Village (Professor Layton and Pandora's Box) received the award for most anticipated title from the Japan Game Awards prior to its release and has gone on to follow in the footsteps of its predecessor, scoring Gold status once again at Famitsuu Weekly. Can users expect to be using the stylus and/or the DS's voice recognition in any special way in the game?

Akihiro Hino: We've done our best to capitalize on the DS's unique features and have devised a system that lets you work through the game's puzzles in an intuitive, fun way that makes full use of the DS touch interface and stylus. Call me cheap, but one of the most attractive features of the game is the additional puzzles downloadable via a Nintendo WiFi connection. Can you give more detail on these. Will there be a charge? How many will there be? Will they be stored on the games DS cartridge? Will they fit into the storyline or exist independently?

Akihiro Hino: The game's weekly download puzzles are distributed over the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection and are available completely free of charge. Once obtained, these new puzzles are saved on the DS Game Card so that you replay the puzzle whenever you wish. To answer the second part of your question, these puzzles aren't tied in to the main story of the game and are available purely for you to enjoy working through. If these extra puzzles are stored on the game cartridge, will they all fit?

Akihiro Hino: You can save all puzzles to the Game Card and play them as many times as you like. Finally, since there's no shortage puzzle games on the market, besides what we've already touched on, what would you say sets Professor Layton and the Curious Village apart from the rest of the pack?

Akihiro Hino: Regarding the wealth of DS games available out there, I think it's fair to say few come anywhere near Professor Layton in the number of quality animated scenes and voice-acted sequences. Of course, we've also put a lot of time and effort into developing engaging visuals and music for the world of Professor Layton. I'm particularly proud of the music employed during the puzzle sequences, as it is unobtrusive and catchy.

I'd also like to emphasize the great variety and number of puzzles available in the game, and I'm hoping each player will give them all a try. When you've solved the last of the puzzles in the story, the biggest reward of all―the solution to the greatest mystery in the game―will become clear, so I hope all the players out there try to see the finale for themselves.

Our thanks to Akihiro Hino for taking time out of his schedule to give us the lowdown on Layton. Before this interview I was totally unaware, as I think most Americans are, that Professor Layton is a series of games. With that in mind I can say that of those aware of this, I'm sure I'm not the only one anxiously awaiting the games to come.

--Tom Milnes

The Puzzles of St. Mystere

Professor Layton
Help Professor Layton untangle over 130 riddles and puzzles in the curious village of St. Mystere.

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