The puzzle-filled Professor Layton games comprise one of the Nintendo DS's most popular franchises. Mixing brain teaser and occult mystical plot, the adventures of the gentleman archaeologist and his young apprentice are always enjoyable to play.
There are currently five games in the main series, with another on the way in the coming year. There's even a crossover game with the Ace Attorney series that was released in Japan last week. But today let's move away from the games and look at the franchise's other major piece of media, the feature film Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva.
Good -- Good — Porting the Puzzles
The biggest question I had when going into The Eternal Diva was how the puzzle-based gameplay would factor into the movie's non-interactive media. I was pleasantly surprised. As they progress through the adventure, the hidden villain of the film (who is, of course, featured prominently on the movie poster) occasionally appears to confront the cast with a puzzle -- much like those in the games. While Layton and Luke consider the mystery, we then see the other numerous random characters attempting to solve the puzzles in their own ways -- being wrong more often than not. These failures act as hints for us, the viewers, as we try to solve the puzzles before Layton and Luke. In this way, the movie becomes an interactive experience in and of itself -- and a fun one to boot.
Good -- A Good Overall Mystery
The overall plot of The Eternal Diva involves Layton and Luke unwittingly getting involved in a death game, with the sole survivor winning the prize of eternal life. But the true mystery runs far deeper than that, and figuring out the real purpose of the death game is yet another puzzle you are trying to solve as you watch the film. While it has many twists and turns, the mystery is quite solvable. So like the more normal puzzles, you will find yourself trying to beat Layton to the correct answer.
Mixed -- All Over the Top, All the Time
Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva features a scene where Layton has a sword fight with his arch rival on top of a giant, rampaging steam-punk mech that used to be a castle. And in many ways that perfectly exemplifies the tone set by the movie -- specifically and unabashedly over-the-top. This creates an exciting adventure where anything could happen as the normal rules of the world are often ignored for the sake of comedy or visual spectacle. And have no doubt, many scenes in the movie are quite spectacular.
Of course this is in many ways a double-edged sword as to enjoy the movie, you will need to work hard to suspend your disbelief. Questions like, "Who paid for all this?" and "How did he build a working helicopter in less than three minutes?" must be ignored to truly enjoy the film.
Bad -- What Exactly Was the Villain's Plan?
The film's biggest problem comes from the ultimate villain who has orchestrated everything from behind the scenes. Frankly, what exactly is the purpose of his evil plan? Now, we do know his plan, but we don't know why he is doing it or what the result will be of his success or failure. As both Luke and Layton know the villain by name, I can only assume he is a reoccurring character from the prequel games. Perhaps his motivations are explored there, but for anyone going into the movie fresh, his actions seem random and inexplicable. Honestly, the movie would have worked better without his involvement -- everything he did could have just as easily been done by the movie's other (original) villain.
All in all, Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva was an enjoyable, over-the-top adventure, but nothing spectacular. It fit the tone of the games very well and handled the puzzles far better than I could have possibly imagined. But many parts of the movie fall apart if you can't suspend your disbelief for the sake of seeing something cool. And while the overall plot was generally handled well, the inclusion of a behind-the-scenes villain with no apparent motivations drags the movie down a notch or two. Still, it is well worth a watch for fans of the series and anyone who likes puzzles or crazy adventures.
Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva is currently available on DVD in North America.