Doctor Lautrec and the Forgotten Knights
3DS | Konami | 1 Player | Out Now
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15th February 2012; By KnucklesSonic8
The game stars Doctor Lautrec and his loyal assistant, Sophie, who are quickly plunged into a dangerous adventure when two visitors come to their door under mysterious pretenses. They also have a (pet?) monkey named Nico who tags along and likes to cause a bit of trouble once in a while. As a character, Doctor Lautrec has a strong sense of self, constantly reminding characters that he is not an adventurer; in fact, he looks down on people who claim that they are. As if he were a close companion to Professor Layton, Lautrec does what he does for the mystery and not the treasures found along the way. He makes the statement "No mystery is unsolvable" numerous times throughout the game as though it was his personal motto. Now where have I heard that one before? Although both Lautrec and Layton share some similarities, Lautrec is quickly portrayed in the game as having a strong personality with a rather blunt attitude. In contrast to Hershel's gentlemanly ways, Lautrec outwardly shows that he was bored by conversation and also fearlessly comments that his assistant's background "is of no concern". He sure does know how to woo a crowd.
Real-world 19th century Paris serves as the main setting for everything that takes place in the game, and players are often reminded of this in the locations they visit (like the Arc de Triomphe) and the utilization of French words and phrases. Demonstrating just how much the developers believed in the project, one of the game's finer qualities is its visual approach. The game features sweet-looking anime-esque cinematics, along with 3D cutscenes and comic-style character drawings for conversations. Even before this game came out, I would often catch myself thinking about how much the standard visual style looked like it was adapted for the Dreamcast era, just with slightly more polish. On that note, the 3D Slider actually adds an extra layer of visual depth, but it's nothing dramatic.
Aside from the odd briefing or preamble, more than 75% of the dialogue that takes place amongst key characters features voice acting, and more often than not, there's quite a bit of humor thrown in that helps make up for Lautrec's independent attitude. Conversations will unravel on the top screen with pictures on the Touch Screen relating to items in question or background information on the subject matter. Although you have occasional framerate reductions popping up at times, I have to say the developers did a great job with the overall presentation.
Once you get going, your main task will be to search out and gather various treasures hidden underground. The adventure field is considerable in size with a large map allowing you to navigate to smaller locations quite easily. NPC's are usually found standing in the streets, and although you can go up to them and start a conversation, the things they say are ultimately useless. Unless, of course, you start talking to select persons during a quest, in which case they will give you more information. By traveling to various town squares and locating designated search spots, you can use the Circle Pad to look around a small part of the environment for a labyrinth entrance marked by a Fleur-de-lis symbol. Before heading underground, you'll receive a warning, if you will, as to the total attack power you have to work with based on the treasures you've brought along. You are only permitted to equip three items and three treasures going into a labyrinth. Although you discover more along the way, you should be able to discern why this wasn't the greatest move as the review progresses.
The underground dungeons the game has you traversing are stealth-focused in nature. Principally, you'll need to escape the attention of police officers and knights situated in well-placed areas. If you get caught, the room will reset with Lautrec being sent back to the entrance he came from. There isn't much in the way of secret rooms to discover, and you shouldn't expect to encounter constant battle sequences either. This isn't your typical RPG dungeon, so if that's what you were hoping for with this game, you will be sorely disappointed. As I said before, there are a couple treasures to be found along the way inside navy-coloured chests. These may come in the form of actual artifacts or gemstones that you can collect, level up and later appraise if you so choose.
One other thing to keep in mind about these labyrinths is the fact that you'll have to solve the odd puzzle now and again just to get to the next room. Pushing large crates is often the norm, and there are only a few dungeons that actually have you positioning them in not-so-obvious places. Everything else is straightforward with little overall challenge to be seen in the dungeon exploration. Unfortunately, when you leave a room, the changes you've made get reset, forcing you to do everything all over again if you have to go back.
Aside from these normalities, puzzle doors are another frequent component of the labyrinths in this game. These are divided into the following categories: Numbers, Logic, Crossword, Block, and Differences. With the first group, players are given a grid with numbers to provide clues as to how many panels within a surrounding 3x3 frame can be used to reveal a picture. Logic Puzzles involve figuring out the missing entry in a pattern of shape or numerical changes, while Crosswords have you arranging a series of French words so they reveal a proverb with an English translation. The fourth category simply has you fitting shapes into a box, and the fifth plays out like a Spot the Difference mini-game.
In addition to all these, you also have miscellaneous story puzzles surrounding the gadget obtained at the start of the game as well as the maps to the gardens outside the Palace of Versailles. You're always faced with the same basic puzzles again and again, which does get irritating, and the fact that only two of the above categories gradually become more challenging doesn't help matters. It wouldn't even be so bad if the puzzles were unique or at least mildly interesting. Instead, what you have here are a bunch of basic challenges that (with the exception of Numbers) you've surely been exposed to countless times.
Your ultimate goal in exploring these labyrinths is to find one or more special treasures that house a species known as Treasures Animatus. It's never really explained why this is, but without Sophie by Lautrec's side, the treasures wouldn't be seen in their true form. Some of these creatures look quite dynamic in appearance, while others look a bit uninspired in their resemblance to other animals. What essentially happens in these rooms is you'll use the treasures and gems in your possession to weaken the beast in the center. Battles take place on boards with circular pedestals around the central figure for placing items. Once the needle for the energy gauge moves into the blue zone, that'll be enough to tame it and have it join your team. If you run out of treasure to place or if the enemy is still standing after all the pedestals are occupied, you'll be given the option to start again or exit the labyrinth completely (which will nullify any progress you made before the battle).
All selections are made on the Touch Screen with the battle actually taking place on the 3D Screen. Players will use their stylus to tap and drag icons over to the pedestals on the board. Each treasure has its own HP, attack power, defense, and element classification. To even see the relevant stats of each item, you'll have to hold the stylus on each icon, which isn't very intuitive. Understanding how each treasure can have a gain on certain types of enemies is valuable knowledge that you'll learn to appreciate early on. However, there's a whole bunch of other variables you need to keep in mind as well.
For one, some treasures can produce Synergy Effects when they are placed next to each other, which can include anything from an increase in attack power to lowering the Guardian's defenses. Also, with the board having both an inner and outer ring of plates, distance becomes a factor in the amount of damage that can be dealt. One other major thing has to do with the fact that some pedestals actually have cracks, which automatically decreases the amount of damage a creature can deal. However, if you take a gamble, these can also produce random effects like a 10% or 30% increase or decrease in attack power for that one turn.
Mastering the system is more about uncertainty and risk-taking than it is about making definite, sure-fire decisions with guaranteed results. And although it may seem to have a strategic focus, the battle system is ultimately lacking. The game tries to make it more substantial by throwing in the Synergy Effects, but due to a series of compounding problems, these elements don't make Treasure Animatus battles more enjoyable. If anything, it leads to a lack of cohesion. Evidencing this very fact, there's actually a hidden link system relating to the elemental food chain that helps neutralize negative effects or increase the boost in attack power. The order in which you do things has a bearing on the matter, and although the bonuses given by the cracked plates may appear totally random, there is a way to control it in your favor. Even when the treasure icons glitter to indicate the possibility for a Synergy link, there's no indication as to what the matching icon on the board is and what the effects are. None of these things are explained to you at any point in the game. You're just kind of expected to go along and encounter these by surprise, and for some reason, the developers count on you learning why the surprise occurred in the first place. There's a real lack of clarity here and I can't help but feel like the game could have used more organization and just pure refinement in this area.
Moreover, the whole idea of single-use treasures doesn't work totally well when you consider the limitation imposed upon you at the outset with only being allowed to take three into the labyrinth originally. Adding to the flawed situation is the fact that you're not even allowed to use items mid-battle to recover HP or revive fallen creatures. What all this does is it forces you to hunt for more treasures within the labyrinth you're in, which is fine in itself, but there are times when even this is insufficient. When this occurs, no matter how many times you try to tame a Guardian, success will constantly escape your grasp.
Treasures need to be leveled-up through use, but again, because of the inventory limitations, this perpetuates a mindset that you need to bring along the most powerful treasures instead of balancing out the elements to cover your skin. When these don't measure up -- as often is the case -- it then becomes a situation where players are forced to withdraw from labyrinths after having made so much progress, put the storyline progression on pause, and go do some side-missions to build up your arsenal. The fact that you need to do this at all is really clumsy, and it doesn't say good things about the game's design and battle structure.
Labyrinths often contain more than one Treasure Animatus room, with one of these being the main Guardian, or boss, if you will. Featuring HP that can go past the 1,000 mark, Treasure Guardians are too much of a threat to be tamed, so they need to be completely extinguished. Before even attempting these boss battles, it's simply a must that players will explore other areas, as a new addition to the team can make a huge difference in leveling the playing field. It's the difference between being 200 points and 20 points off from defeating a boss, with the strategic systems playing a part in this as well.
With the uncertain conditions often becoming the reason why your strategy backfires during critical encounters, frustration starts to build early on and it's not something that goes away as you engage in much more difficult fights. I often found the later fights to be stressful -- needlessly so, in fact -- and the final boss in particular nearly drove me up the wall because of how many times I came close to defeating it but continuously came up short. I touched on this already, but because of the strength that some of these creatures have, once you realize that you have no chance of succeeding, your attention is diverted from advancing the storyline as you go on quests to build more experience and level-up your tools. Again, this doesn't reflect good game design, and it's too bad the building frustration overshadows their attempts to develop the core battle system.
Ignoring the way the game forces you to complete them, the over 20 treasure-collecting quests that you can volunteer for at the Opera House are hardly pointless. Yes, you still have to go through the same procedure of searching for labyrinth entrances and participating in Treasure Animatus battles, but everything that precedes this is different. First off, during a number of these quests, there are some good attempts at pushing for some character development. I found it interesting to hear a bit about Sophie's past, and I quite liked the ongoing banter between both her and the trouble-making hostess, Milady. Upon leaving the secret adventurers-only HQ, Lautrec and Sophie will immediately try to piece together what the riddle on the provided map points to. Even though the riddle examination takes place automatically, it's usually quite interesting to see the process play out -- especially when Sophie takes the occasional lead. From there, you'll explore locations for clues and talk to NPC's to verify hunches. It hardly feels like you're going through the motions whenever you go on one of these missions. As a matter of fact, with the way they've incorporated paintings, monuments and other items, this first part often feels like a fun little history lesson.
Much of this depends on how many quests you do and whether or not you get stuck at certain portions in the game, but generally speaking, Doctor Lautrec and the Forgotten Knights contains around 20 to 30 hours worth of content -- which is more than you can say about a lot of 3DS games. As a handheld adventure game, it has quite a bit of meat to it, and for what it's worth, I did find the game to be addicting. But quite frankly, not all of what's presented makes the game worth sinking your teeth into. Between moments of significant frustration, a battle system that not only lacks substance but also doesn't carry a strong presence for players to interact with, somewhat repetitive puzzles, and a progression that sends players on a lot of side-missions more than it does advance the storyline, nearly every inch of the game is flawed in some way.
Doctor Lautrec and the Forgotten Knights is quite unique and a fairly memorable game at that, but it's mostly for the wrong reasons. The game doesn't provide a cohesive experience as elements often don't mesh well together all the way through, even lacking in substance in places. Just about the only truly praiseworthy aspect of the entire package stems from the visual approach, with great animated cutscenes being just about the only area where the game serves up a strong hand. If you're desperate for something new to play on your 3DS, this isn't a terrible choice. In fact, the game can be quite fun to play. But sad to say, despite the clear amount of effort vested into this project, the game's flaws turn this full-fledged title into an often frustrating, never fulfilling adventure.
18/30 - Okay/Average
Gameplay 5/10 - Treasure Animatus battles have significant flaws, simple stealth-focused dungeons, repetitive puzzles, lacks good design in places
Presentation 8/10 - Visuals are most certainly deserving of praise, good voice acting prevalent, cutscene animations look great, setting used really effectively
Enjoyment 2/5 - Frustration really gets in the way, lacks cohesion and clarity in many ways, quests are usually enjoyable mini-adventures, can be addicting
Extra Content 3/5 - A whole bunch of quests to participate in, unlockable treasures, different puzzle rooms, great amount of content for the price
Equivalent to a score of 60% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating) - Our Rating System