Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy marks the end of the second Layton trilogy, and it may even be the swan song for our puzzle-loving English gentleman. As such, it attempts to provide closure for the characters fans have loved over the years, while serving as a solid puzzle game in its own right. And though it does certainly close the book on this prequel trilogy, it works best when it's reminiscent of the quirks that worked so well to begin with.
As the name implies, the story centers around discovering the secrets of the mystical Azran, a sort of hodgepodge of various lost civilization myths. Layton and his crew quickly discover a young girl named Aurora, the emissary of the deceased culture. They learn from her that they need five egg-shaped artifacts to unlock the secrets, and so Layton and his assistants head off on a globe-trotting adventure to find them.
I never much cared for the Azran subplot that served as the through-line for this trilogy, and the idea of being sent on a multi-location fetch-quest made me bristle. I was surprised, however, that the episodic nature turned out to be one of my favorite elements of the experience. The five locations are distinctive, granting some much-needed variety, and each area was its own self-contained short story. The Azran MacGuffins were always the ultimate goal, but the tales were well-paced and interesting themselves.
These five vignettes range from subject matter that's playful (community gift-giving) to slightly disturbing (human sacrifice). They harken back to the original trilogy, when the series was more focused on Layton and Luke explaining impossible acts of magic with improbable logic, while the professor taught his young ward how to be a proper gentleman. More often than not, these short-form nuggets held my interest better than the main plot they were made to service.
The larger story, by contrast, starts to creak under its own weight. Especially in its last hour, the ultimate conclusion of the Azran trilogy is heavy on gimmicky twists and supposed-to-be-shocking revelations. One reveal regarding Layton's rival did pack some emotional punch, mainly due to the subtly sweet animated sequence that came with it. But as a whole, I could sense the studio meticulously wrapping up loose ends, and I became a little too aware of the clean-up duty.
All of this plot is once again delivered around a loose conceit of puzzle-solving, which seems so strained I'm almost certain Level-5 was cracking fun at themselves. I wouldn't be entirely surprised if the studio is closing the book on Layton simply because it's running out of ways for villagers to withhold vital information behind puzzles. The conceit was always silly, but this one is a little more open and honest about its own ridiculousness.
Important story moments are often punctuated with contextual puzzles, be it navigating a dangerous room or manipulating some Azran mechanism. Those are the points during which the puzzle design really shines and becomes part of the story, instead of an arbitrary roadblock to it. It's understandable that the full suite of 150 or so puzzles can't all be integrated so well, but those moments do feel more special than the rest.
The rest of the puzzles are as well-designed as we've come to expect, even if longtime Layton fans will notice some repetition. There are simply only so many ways you can remix puzzles about spatial reasoning, logic, and simple math. It does seem to provide an Undo function more often than previous games for puzzles with multiple steps, which works as a de facto checkpointing system. It really makes some of the multi-stage puzzles much more workable than in past games.
Azran Legacy comes full circle, with this trilogy leading neatly into the other. It feels like this is meant to be a stopping point for the series, at least in this exact format. The series of short stories served as a reminder of my affection for these characters, and the puzzles ran the gamut from tried-and-true to truly clever. This is a fine send-off, and if that's what Level-5 intends, it will be a perfectly timed one. As Layton would inform Luke, a proper gentleman knows not to overstay his welcome. 
This review is based on downloadable 3DS code provided by the publisher. Prfoessor Layton and the Azran Legacy will be available on February 28 on Nintendo 3DS for $39.99. The game is rated E10.
Steve Watts posted a new article, Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy review: last piece of the puzzle.
Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy closes the second trilogy, and might end up a swan song for the puzzle-loving English gentleman. Is the final conclusion a neat fit?