Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box is the second game of the Layton series, originally for the Nintendo DS and more recently re-released in HD on mobile. We normally like to review series like this in order, but since we're in 2021, we currently do not give a shit. For the record, we have played the first game, Professor Layton and the Curious Village, and we liked it. However, this second game really amused us, and we want to write about it now, so we will.
Part of the reason why we found it so amusing is because the plot of this game is wild. So wild, that if we were to factually describe its conclusion to someone unfamiliar with it, we fear that they would think we were joking. In an unfunny way, no less.
So, for that reason, we should probably stick a spoiler warning here:
We are going to openly describe the plot of this game, so stop reading if you want to experience this wild ride yourself without any prior knowledge.
You know how Luke is Professor Layton's apprentice in all things puzzley? Well, when Professor Layton was younger, his professor was Dr. Schrader.
Dr. Schrader has written to Layton to inform him that he had come into the possession of a mysterious artifact known as the Elysian Box. This box is said to be cursed so that anyone who opens it DIES. That's why Dr. Schrader has decided to open it. For science!
Professor Layton and Luke go to check on Dr. Schrader, and find his body on the floor next to a ticket for a fancy train ride. The Elysian Box, however, is gone, apparently stolen...
Inspector Chelmey is investigating this case, but Professor Layton deems him not worthy of solving Professor-Layton-brand puzzles, so he keeps the train ticket evidence a secret, and instead uses it to continue his own investigation onboard the fancy-pants Molentary Express (which is totally an homage to The Murder on the Orient Express except no murder actually happens on the train, we were waiting for it the whole time, there is the tunnel though, but hold on).
The train is said to sometimes go to a mysterious phantom town that isn't on any map, ooooo.
On the train, there are some general hijinks of solving random puzzles, because this is a Professor Layton game. We meet the train's owner, Mr. Beluga, who is a nasty little toad. We rescue little Tommy - we solved that mystery about seven hours before Layton and Luke did, and so will you.
There's also been a mysterious stranger following Layton and Luke since the first cutscene. Now we find out that the stranger is actually Flora, the girl they met in the first game. For awhile, she gets third main character treatment. For awhile.
We also meet the chef on board, Chef Macaroon, and through some contrivances, we borrow his pet hamster. Because he overfeeds him, being a chef and all, Macaroon would like us to become his pet's personal trainer and whip him back into shape.
This hamster training is done through a puzzle mini-game. Throughout the plot, we can collect various items that are more or less of the hamster's interest, and we can arrange them inside the hamster's enclosure such that the hamster unknowingly gets some exercise by walking from item to item.
The minigame in itself is fine. The problem is that, as soon as you touch the button to make the hamster exercise... THE HAMSTER SPEAKS. LOUDLY. IN A BROOKLYN ACCENT.
When you manage to whip the hamster into enough shape, now the hamster can help you scout out the hidden hint coins in the world so you don't have to just tap all over the screen like a maniac to find out that one tree in the background for some reason has a hint coin on it. This would be wonderful, except it works by having the hamster just randomly pop up without any warning, and it speaks. This will be especially grating later on when we're trying to escape from the twisted castle of the dark vampire, our flesh aflutter with the excitement of the situation, and THE HAMSTER JUMPS OUT FROM BEHIND A PIPE and goes JACKPOT!.
Yeah, we're turned on by the vampire in a Professor Layton game. Shut up. Are you not? Look at him.
We're getting ahead of ourselves again.
Okay, so we ride on the Molentary Express into the quaint little village of Dropstone. Ah, how quaint. They are celebrating the town's founding, fifty years ago to this day. Oddly recent for England. The train is stopping here for some maintenance, so the train's passengers are free to explore this quaint little village during its quaint little festivities. Luke and Layton and Flora go around doing the fairgames and watching the livestock competition. This is the cute little fuddyduddy part of the game. Just going around this town being all folksy-wolksy.
There's a rich asshole named Mr. Anderson running the town, and his daughter Katia is planning to run away from home. No one feels the need to stop her or inform her rich asshole dad. Good.
It is at this point in the game something mysterious seems to happen to Flora. But pay no attention to that.
Back on the Molentary Express, Layton and Luke have been spending the whole train ride extolling how wonderful this train is, with the handmade curtains and the comfy couches and the nice lamps... But that is nothing compared to the Deluxe Carriage. The rest of the train is for the mundanely rich, but the Deluxe Carriage is for the obscenely filthy rich. ...Or at least for people who know how to solve the puzzle on the door.
(Is it gentlemanly to break into first class?)
They all talk about the Deluxe Carriage as if it has marble tables with gold trim and couches made with the fur of live minks... but this is what it looks like compared to the standard carriage:
Previously, the conductor, Sammy, was guarding the door to the Deluxe Carriage, and stopped Luke and Layton from entering. But then he left the door unattended, which let Layton and friends sneak in, and then they meet Sammy there, and he has no objections. We thought this was ominous, but it turns out that he just can't be bothered to remember who is in which class? Okay. He has us decorate the room with roses to satisfy a puzzle so that their smell covers the train car in the most efficient way. The roses' smell causes everyone to pass out asleep. Like, that's kinda sick. Do you blame us for thinking this was somehow twisted of Sammy?
While everyone is asleep, the traincars are switched in the dark tunnel, and the Deluxe Carriage goes to the secret phantom town of Folsense. And Sammy sings about Folsense into the PA system to the train full of sleeping passengers. Like, that's creepy.
But nope. Sammy is one of the most wholesome characters in the whole game. He's just that kind of guy.
But anyway, Luke, Layton, and Flora get off the train and enter the Folsense train station. In the station, there are photographs of the town they are about to visit. Professor Layton uses his archeology degree to assess that these photographs are fifty years old. This was a task that could only be carried out by a professor of archeology, apparently.
We were a bit surprised to learn that Layton's field is archeology of all things, but maybe we shouldn't find it strange. After all, what do archeologists do? Solve puzzles. Just like Indiana Jones and Lara Croft!
Layton, Luke, and Flora leave the station to emerge into the darkest of night, and the town is covered in neon lights exactly like in the photos, but with no one there. That's because Folsense is essentially a ghost town, and most people left the town during a plague fifty years ago. We are meeting with and talking to the last people who for some reason never left.
This town seems to be in some way connected to the history of the Elysian Box. Inspector Chelmey's investigation has also led him to this town. So much for Layton's assessment that Chelmey wouldn't be up to the task - he managed to figure out this much and arrive to Folsense, in spite of the fact that someone had taken away critical evidence from his investigation. And Katia's there too, also seemingly on the trail of the mysterious box. Mr. Beluga also wants the box and is chewing out Sammy, who is his nephew, for not managing to get it yet. Flora, in the meanwhile, says she isn't feeling well, and spends the majority of this part of the plot resting in a hotel room.
We puzzle all around, but the most important thing we learn is that Folsense has a castle that comes with a complimentary vampire.
Besides the hamster, there are some other overarching puzzle mini-game sorta things that become relevant now. Earlier, Sammy dropped Mr. Beluga's expensive camera, and we go around finding all the shattered pieces of the camera... and then somehow put all these random squigglies and screws back together again and it... functions?
The parts that go into the camera actually seem to be kinda accurate, at least based on our memories of using analog cameras. There's the button sticking out of the top to take the picture, there's the flash bulb through the window, there's the wheel on the bottom so you can wind the film... So this was actually kinda Educational, or at least a puzzle that we have an advantage over all you young whippersnappers that only know cameras from your smartphones. (You lucky fuckers).
Once we rebuild the camera from the shards of trash, we can take pictures around Folsense. Each picture is one of those "spot the differences" puzzles, where the photo looks a little different than what we see. But they're far from the little kid colouring book versions of these puzzles. These are pretty hard, and took us some time. Once you find all the differences, you can unlock hard secret puzzles that make us pull our hair out.
Another minigame is the one with the tea. Professor Layton acquires a magical tea set, and he can use it to make tea on the go, incredibly British as he is. They use Layton's sick burn power to heat the kettle.
We scrounge together ingredients from here and there. One of the ingredients, providing the smoky flavor, is a dead seahorse. Wtf????
Every once in a while, some character around town will have a mighty need for tea, and Layton will whip out the magical tea set and offer tea breaks to thirsty people around town, because, as he says, that's what a gentleman does. Together with never taking off his hat. Or never leaving a puzzle unsolved. Professor Layton has some interesting metrics of what makes a true gentleman.
Like the hamster, this tea set thing is really a nonsequitur. It is cute, however. Whenever we devise a tea that works, we get to see little angel versions of Layton and Luke tooting horns over this wonderful new tea. Luke and Layton have a lot of dialogue about how vile the failed teas are, and plenty of comments on what they think about each other's palate.
At one point in our journeys around town, Inspector Chelmey's assistant Constable Barton stops Luke and Layton from going down a particular street, citing that what's there is not appropriate for a child to see. If we go around the block, we can see that that's the red light district. Lit with literal red lights. And Luke himself says, oh look! a cabaret! ...Barton was too late.
And there is indeed a lady in front of the cabaret who hits on Luke and Layton and Inspector Chelmey and Mr. Beluga and everything male, and that's only because there's no female characters walking by. This part gets surprisingly dirty for this being a Professor Layton game.
Chelmey had a photo of the Elysian box, but it ended up ripped to pieces and scattered across town, so we must collect them all and put them back together. When we do so, we see that the box has a goat emblem, until we lose the central piece to a gust of wind, and now the photo looks more like a frog, but we saw what it looked like for a moment.
In the end, Chelmey announces that he's figured out what's going on. He gathers all the suspects and related parties back to the hotel, because, as he says, the whole point and joy of being an inspector is to be able to announce your deductions to a whole room of people.His first deduction is that Sammy killed Dr. Schrader to steal the Elysian Box. Completely off the mark. Although, to be fair, as we did say, something did seem strange about Sammy, and we know he's after the box, but... yeah, no.
During the mayhem of arresting Sammy, who's not going quietly, Layton shows the half-restored photo of the box to Flora, who comments on there being a goat in the photo. But Flora wasn't there when we put together the whole photo, and this partial photo looks nothing like a goat. Now we know what we've known for a long time: Flora is an impostor! And Layton isn't afraid to accuse her of the crime.
It turns out Flora is actually the dastardly Don Paolo in disguise, mustache and all! Don't even try to think about how the disguise works. He stole the Elysian Box in the first place and... he says he didn't kill Dr. Schrader? He seems to not realize that he was even dead? Anyway, that was his dastardly plan, and now he dastardly dashes away! To be chased by inspector Chelmey and all! Leaving behind the box on the floor, like an absolute fool. All his plans hinged on this box, that's why he stole it and has been secretly studying it all this time - and he dropped it when he ran away.
Layton picks up the box and says, there's only one thing we can do now: we must open the box! For science!
Well, Dr. Schrader was his mentor, after all.
They do open the box and they don't die. There's nothing in the box.
Instead, they go research some more. Sammy gets them into the local museum as a thanks for saving him from going to jail. There, we see paintings of the former Duke of Folsense and his two sons... one of the sons is Mr. Beluga, who has been claiming a right to the Elysian Box as a family heirloom (and possible key to unlocking the family fortune). However, we learn that Mr. Beluga had a spat with his father and renounced his inheritance, making his claim on the Elysian Box now kinda tenuous. The other son in the family portrait looks like a sexy bishonen straight out of Castlevania.
Throughout all of this, we've been learning that Folsense was a mining town where they found gold, but something about the mine changed the town, and then a plague forced the mine to be closed and the town to be abandoned. So Professor Layton takes young Luke to the abandoned quarantined mine full of plague for a wholesome field trip. Silent Hill Resident Evil Dead Space Professor Layton. We weren't expecting this out of this game, even if it is called the Diabolical Box.
To get into the mine, Layton and Luke have to get past someone who looks like an FBI agent. The presence of this agent gives the whole mine the feeling of being a classified government secret, and amps the creep factor. Then they have to open the puzzle lock that's sealing the plague inside the mine (brilliant idea). Then they have to repair the broken elevator. And once they go down, the elevator stops working anyway. Then they have to open a safe in which they find a document that details that there's something about the mineral they found which is creepy and cursed and evil and sick. And Luke and Layton are in this mine, and the elevator is still not working.
The document mentions that whoever wrote it intentionally left it here so that someone will find it and know not to go into the mine. Why did they put it inside the mine, down the elevator, and inside a locked safe then?!
Professor Layton and Luke somehow manage to fix the elevator while trapped in the supernatural mine of plague, and they come out seemingly unscathed. So, since they lived through this, next they decide to instead go to talk to the vampire!
He went to the vampire castle on purpose!
Layton and Luke follow the mysterious carriage through the dark woods and slide over the strangely frozen lakes for some sliding block puzzle fun. They walk over the rickety rope bridge of doom towards the castle that looks like it's made of bat wings and is precariously perched over a crater and might just fall back to hell any moment now.
Finally, we meet the vampire. Oh yes.
It is Anton, the older son of the duke. It's been 50 years, and he's still looking like the bishonen from the portrait, and is absolutely smashing in his vampire cloak. He invites Layton and Luke to a dinner over the long table while he's drinking red wine... or so you think. And then he invites them to spend the night.
They retire to their rooms, but wake up in the middle of the night to find themselves in a shack full of reddish stains. They're completely hogtied. There are manacles on the wall. An axe is readily available.
Anton gloats about how he hasn't had such feisty prey in a long time.
Luke announces, "I knew it! You ARE a vampire!"
This is the part where the hamster really breaks the mood.
When Anton leaves the room, Professor Layton manages to undo the knot puzzle, and calls out Anton on his shoddy knot-tying ability. A true gentleman knows how to tie a proper slipknot. We make it out, but Layton stops Luke from actually leaving through the front door, because, we're so close to solving the mystery of the box! We can't leave yet. Luke is all, "Professor, some things are more important than puzzles. We're also so close to dying."
Luke reluctantly follows Layton back into the depths of the vampire castle, and we bump into Katia. She says that it's dangerous here, and Luke and Layton should leave. As we said.
They run, but Anton reappears. From the diaries that belonged to him, we have learned that his whole problem was that his girlfriend left him. His former girlfriend, Sophia, ended up having a family elsewhere - in Dropstone, in fact, and Katia is her granddaughter. Anton mistakes Katia for Sophia, and begs her to return to him. Katia gets scared and cowers behind Professor Layton, so Anton thinks that Layton is Sophia's secret lover.
The difference in art style between Anton and Layton makes this all the more hilarious.
Anton draws his sword and challenges Layton to a duel. Layton actually can fence???? Of course, he's a proper gentleman. He can fence while brewing tea.
There is a whole fully-animated swordfight, during which no one bothers to explain that Katia is not Sophia. Probably because this swordfight is too much of a spectacle.
When the danger of bodily harm becomes too great, finally Katia says that's enough and explains the whole story. The mining released a hallucinogenic gas into Folsense, which is what caused the entire story of the town being cursed or haunted or full of plague. Sophia realized it was unsafe to remain in Folsense, but Anton, because of his duty to uphold his role as the town duke and/or because of his hallucinations, was unable or unwilling to leave. Since Sophia knew she was pregnant, she left without him, without ever bothering to actually say outright that she was pregnant, and instead leaving him with a cryptic message that there's someone else she loves, which he misunderstood into the whole idea that she had a secret lover and eventually that morphed into Katia dating Professor Layton.
On one hand, given that Anton was high as a kite, we can half-understand why Sophia maybe didn't want to see how he would react to the news of her pregnancy while in that state. But then again... she made no effort in fifty years to clarify the situation. She lived in the next town over, a stone's throw away. She went into the grassy hills nearby and founded Dropstone all by herself, yet she couldn't send the man she loved a normal letter? Couldn't they have met for one day out of town so he wouldn't be high and so they could have a real conversation? Couldn't she have gone back after she had safely given birth and tried to reason with him at least once?
So yeah, as it turns out, the plot is that the whole town is drugs. Being in Folsense gets you high. The town is actually a hallucination. It doesn't exist anymore, and just because Layton and Luke saw the photos on the wall in the train station, they conjured up this whole hallucinated town that looks exactly like the old photos. They even hallucinated that it was nighttime because the photos were taken at night.
All the people in town probably don't exist. The red light district was dreamed up by Constable Barton, and his suggestion that it existed made Luke and Layton decide that the thing that a child should not see is a sexy lady.
And that's why all the people in town give them puzzles, because Layton and Luke just got puzzles on the brain. The first part of the game, the puzzles were more so brainteasers that the two of them shared with each other. In Folsense, it becomes, "Hi, nice to meet you, here's a puzzle in greeting," and we were wondering what's wrong with people here. In the first game, there is a plot reason why all the people are obsessed with puzzles. Here too, there is a plot reason: Layton was just high for the whole game.
And the Elysian Box contains traces of hallucinogenic gas which would be released whenever the box was opened. Whoever opened the box had heard of its "curse", so they believed opening the box would kill them, and high as a kite as they were, they believed it so much they actually died.
And Anton is not actually a sexy bishonen anymore. He's actually an old grandpa.
In his rage to hear the plot, Anton attacks the chandelier and random vases. Because the hallucinated castle is actually just a ruin built on top of a crater to hell, the chandelier falling is enough to make the place dramatically collapse. Everyone makes it out, and the castle collapsing plugs the hole to drug mine and stops the vapors.
Grandpa Anton reveals the secret riddle to properly open the secret door of the Elysian Box. He had put a love letter to his dear Sophia inside. Luke opens it, but finds a note written by Sophia instead, explaining all that happened and that she loves him and now she's dead.
Could this not have been sent by regular mail and about 49 years earlier?
But Grandpa Anton decides to live the rest of his days as a grandpa and get to know his granddaughter Katia before he'll eventually die and rejoin Sophia.
During the credits, some last plot details are tied up. We see Anton joyfully reunite with Mr. Beluga, although we never really learn what the family feud was about.
Layton and Luke also rescue Flora from Dropstone. She apparently spent half of the game just passed out with the cows. Now we understand why the writers needed to park Flora in Dropstone for the rest of the game: can you imagine if this weird little girl went to the town with a vampire's castle? We would have Layton wanting to meet the vampire, Flora wanting to meet the vampire, and Luke would be the only one vanilla enough to have any sense of self-preservation. (It's still bullshit though that Flora is there but essentially not in this game).
And Dr. Schrader didn't actually die. He got so high he thought he died, but he was actually just in a coma. And everyone that saw him on the floor was also too high from the remaining fumes to recognize that he wasn't actually dead.
Was it actually a hallucination that Layton fixed the camera at all? Sammy dropped the camera on the train, so why did we find pieces of it in Folsense? How likely is it that Layton managed to restore a shattered camera to working condition? Was he just high and putting random candy wrappers and bottle caps into the shattered shell of the broken camera thinking he was fixing it, and then waving this mess around thinking he was taking photographs that never even existed?
- Small brain: The camera takes photos that are different from reality because it's one of those puzzles.
- Medium brain: The camera takes photos that are different from reality as a hint to the fact that Folsense isn't real.
- Big brain: Reality is actually very different from the hallucination of Folsense, but because Layton is high, he cannot see what the photo really looks like
- Galaxy brain: There is no camera, there are no photos, only drugs
Also, a hallucinated person gave Layton a "magic tea set". Layton must have gone around town picking up random trash off the ground and putting it into this vaguely teapot-shaped object. He sat down and invented blends of different types of trash and critiqued the subtle notes of each one. He then had imaginary tea parties with imaginary people in imaginary distress in this imaginary ghost town. To a sober observer, Professor Layton is just whipping out this broken watering can and sprinkling in some gravel and gesturing like he's drinking from a tea cup that doesn't exist. My, what a glorious blend of flavors!
There of course weren't three frozen lakes on the way to the castle. There weren't even three lakes. It wasn't even night. There was no dark forest. Layton was just running around spinning through the field all, watch out Luke, it's very slippery!!
While none of this is stated outright, these inferences are pretty likely to be true. If the Folsense we see during the game is canonically a hallucination, then that must have implications regarding the photos we take, the people we meet, the tea we brew. We believe that the camera mini-game was indeed meant to be some degree of clue regarding the truth of Folsense. We can have our own opinions regarding which residents of Folsense were completely imaginary - the only vague evidence we have of any of them being real is a non-literal illustration of Anton and Nigel meeting with the townsfolk of Dropstone. We suspect that the teaset minigame was not really intended to be taken as more than just a random minigame, but we can easily extend our thoughts to include it as part of the hallucination.
A true gentleman is high for half of the game.
Compared to the first game, we found this one to be more exciting. Vampires go a long way for us.
We would criticize the way the puzzles were less interactive and more like, here's your worksheet. But in general, the puzzles were more fair than in the first game. They were also well-integrated into the plot and relevant to what was going on.
The story, although fun, feels like the writers had like twenty different ideas all at the same time. There are lots of little storylines that don't necessarily add to the final plot. Luckily, they do not contradict anything that we consider important. They're just... left there. For example, in the end Mr. Beluga didn't really matter to the finale, despite being the younger brother of the main antagonist. We never know what's the deal with Mr. Anderson - he's still a rich fuck, but he lacks a cloak, so who cares. And the whole beginning of the game was almost inconsequential to the end. Nothing on the train ever mattered again. Even the entire plotpoint of Dropstone being 50 years old is not really a huge mystery once you get to Folsense. It is almost like each chapter is a separate idea that is barely tied together with the rest.
Then again, many of the strange things can be explained away by, it was drugs. Usually, the "it was all in their head" plot pisses us off, but in this case, we found it hilarious. Probably because it's just too funny to imagine Professor Layton offering a cup of garbage to an imaginary sexy lady.