A Puzzling Story

by Scott Nichols

I’ve been playing quite a lot of the new Professor Layton recently, and it’s gotten me thinking about the relationship between gameplay and story. Essentially, there is no relationship in Professor Layton, and yet I still enjoy it. This is troubling to me, since I’m typically of the school of thought insisting that gameplay should drive story and vice versa.

Sure, the occassional Professor Layton puzzle will relate to the story action in some cursory way – a door that needs unlocking or a maze puzzle to help some character who got lost on their way to the store – but for the most part the puzzles are complete non sequiturs. This should bother me, but it doesn’t for some reason that I can’t quite place. Perhaps because the puzzles are so short that they don’t detract from the story? Or maybe I”m just being indoctrinated into the delusional madness of puzzle obsession that infects every character in Professor Layton’s world? I’m still not convinced that Layton is not simply locked away in an asylum somewhere, rocking back and forth in his cell quietly chanting “Puzzle, puzzle, puzzle” with these adventures merely projections of his fevered imagination. Especially with this new one supposedly a prequel, I imagine it more as a genuine sequel where he is first locked away, and reminiscing through the distorted puzzle lens of his madness.

The other game that comes to mind when thinking of this disconnect between story and gameplay is Catherine. Though I must admit, I haven’t yet begun to actually play Catherine, but this is in large part because of the puzzles. I played the demo, and the puzzles just didn’t resonate with me in any way, nor did they appear to have any relation to the plot aside from the visual surroundings. I am curious, though, as to how the overall game experience is impacted by there only being one type of repeated non sequitur puzzle in Catherine, compared to the literally hundreds of different puzzle types in Professor Layton. I imagine Catherine wears out its welcome sooner, another reason why I have yet to pick it up. Perhaps I should get it though, just for comparison purposes.

This post isn’t really going anywhere, not yet at least. I haven’t yet finished the latest Layton and haven’t started Catherine. But I felt compelled to get some of my initial thoughts down nonetheless. After all, this blog is meant for my musings. I never promised conclusions.