The story of the stories of the Diabolical Box and the Unwound Future

So I started writing a post on the continuation of my adventures with Professor Layton and his curious sidekick Luke, but it got really boring.  My writing, I mean — I couldn’t come up with much more to say about the gameplay and my words got very repetitious.  The games were fine.  I stayed with Layton on the Nintendo DS through to more adventures: the Diabolical Box (DB) (2009) and the Unwound Future (UF) (2010) – but the gameplay was pretty much exactly like the first game: find clues, solve puzzles, seek out special items, meet and unusual array of characters.  It’s hardly odd for game sequels to not include more of the same, but good developers usually throw in a little something different to help keep players interested.  With DB and UF, eh, that didn’t really happen, but they did succeed in trying to make the puzzles relate a little more to the on-screen action, so that was something, I guess.  For me, the best part of these latter games was their stories..

***Obviously, story spoilers ahead***

Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box cover art © Level-5 and Nintendo (source)

Okay, so the Diabolical Box had a diabolically confusing story.   After I finished playing the game, I went back and re-watched all the animated cutscenes, and then I played the game again, just to better understand what exactly was going on.  (Yes, I’m  a little dense…I’m aware of that.)

The story opened with Layton and Luke on their way to visit Layton’s mentor, one Dr. Schrader who had come into possession of a mysterious box (are there any other kinds?).  When the duo arrived, they found Schrader passed out on the floor, and the box…duh duh duuuuuh! had been stolen!  But, of course, there was clue: a train ticket, which Layton and Luke summarily used to journey onward to find the box.   Along the way, they met two folks from their last adventure, the gruff Inspector Chelmey, who’s also on the hunt for the stolen box, the little girl Flora, whom Layton and Luke met in the Curious Village, and Layton’s archenemy Don Paolo.  They make their way to a town called Folsense. (And it’s in Folsense and on the train that much of the duo’s puzzling work takes place.)

The events in Folsense are a little tricky for me to remember, apologies, but en route, the train cars get separated.  Layton and Luke were on a car that made it Folsense, thankfully. They explored the town a bit to discover that it was founded on a mine that contained some sort of strange gold deposits.  More clues revealed that the town’s founders were a man named Herzen and his two sons, and that the Folsense had been plagued by a series of odd events ever since the mine was discovered.  Also, one of Herzen’s sons, Anton, was rumored to be a vampire and he lived in a creepy castle overlooking the mines.  So there’s that.

To make a long story kinda shorter, Layton and Luke do eventually find the box and manage to open it, only to find it…duh duh duuuuuh! empty! (And that was a damn shame because I really wanted something to be in that box after all the damn puzzles I had to solve!!)  Layton and Luke decided to pay Anton a visit, a journey which was of course fraught with peril.  Layton dueled with Anton, as all good British folks do, and the ruckus caused the castle to collapse, because it was apparently one hell of a duel.   Everyone managed to escape however…whew!  Other stuff happened which led to big reveal that the mine actually contained a poisonous fumes that, when released after so many years, made everyone in the town hallucinate.  Anton was not a vampire, but actually just an old man and he had made the box for his wife as a keepsake after his death.  (That reveal was very sweet, as was the discovery that the box had a secret compartment with a note for his wife ~sniffle~.)  As for the box, it actually had contained a small amount of the gas, which knocked out Dr. Schrader when he opened it.

And the story came full circle. And I was glad it was over.  The whole issue about the town hallucinating made for several red herrings that confused the hell outta me.  If that was the point, then bravo Level-5!

But at the end of DB, a picture of Layton and Luke with a time machine was shown.  I’ve seen Back to the Future, I like time machines, though theirs was not a DeLorean, but I was eager to get the next title.

Professor Layton and the Unwound Future cover art © Level-5 and Nintendo

The story that I expected from the Unwound Future was not the story I got…it was better.  As with most time machine stories, it involved a debacle.  And as with most time machine stories, it involved a lot of back and forth between the present and the past.  But the game dealt with that pretty well, and it was always obvious (even to me, the dense one) which time was being discussed and/or shown.  I also really liked this story because it brought Layton’s girlfriend, Claire, into the picture.  She had been hinted at in previous games, but her whereabouts were never revealed.  I’m not always a sucker for a good romance, but their story was sweet; and the telling that Claire had been killed in an accident involving the same time machine ten years ago (present time) was poignant.  It makes me sniffle a little more right now.

But yes, the Unwound Future.  The debacle involved the aforementioned time machine and its malfunction during a presentation involving the Prime Minister and some other folks.  The machine blew up, injuring or killing bystanders, but not before it sucked up the Prime Minister into the future.  It was up to Layton and Luke to find out what happened.  Somehow, they got a letter from “Future Luke” claiming that the future London has gone horribly awry and that they had to help set things right. Using the time machine they travel 10 years into the future to find out what the devil was going on. (They also used the time machine to go into the past, which is where the information about Claire was revealed.)

The future London they arrived in was a steampunk-y mess replete with the expected cast of unusual townsfolk.  There they met Future Luke and discovered that Layton had become a wanted fugitive due to his connection to the mob or some sort of criminal organization.  (And, once again, our friends Inspector Chelmey and Flora were once again along for the ride, from the “past” as it were.)   Puzzling and other action occurred and it was eventually revealed that Future Layton was actually one of Layton’s former colleagues named Dmitri, and Dmitri was also in love with Claire.  Dmitri had captured the Prime Minister – who had pushed for the making of the machine – because he felt he was responsible for taking Claire’s life.  Dmitri became obsessed with building the time machine so he could save Claire.  (That part was creepy, not so sweet).  More puzzling, more action, and then we find out that Future London was not in the future at all, but rather was a replica of the city built underground. And the time machine didn’t allow for actual time travel, but was rathe the entrance to the underground.

I’m confusing myself with this story, but I’m barreling ahead…read at your own risk and possible depletion of brain cells….

And then one more big reveal happened…duh duh duuuuuh! Future Luke was not Luke!  He was a guy named Clive (and still all I can think of is Whose Line is It Anyway) who wanted revenge because his parents were killed during the original time machine presentation/accident. He was a bit evil, to say the least.

And, oh my, how could I forget Celeste!  During their adventures in Future/Underground London, Layton and Luke met up with Celeste, a woman claiming to be Claire’s twin sister.  She helped the two discover the truth behind the future/time machine/Clive, etc.  In the most sappily sweet and probably supernatural part of the story, Celeste is revealed to actually be Claire – she was not killed but instead was transported into the future (which was actually the present).  She had lived long enough in the present to help Layton but had to return to the ether of the past.  Their reunion was strange but heartfelt and human.  I was surprised at how emotional it was, and the sniffles, yes, I got them.  With Claire’s final “death,” Layton had closure and the story ended.

It’s no secret that many games these days have better stories than most movies, and it’s pleasantly surprising when they take a touching turn and play off of our humanity.  I miss Professor Layton and his curious sidekick Luke.  If I ever get back into handheld gaming, I’ll have to pay them a visit – not necessarily for the puzzles, but, despite their twisted-roundness, for the stories.

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