By Jenni . February 21, 2012 . 3:30pm
Konami’s Doctor Lautrec and the Forgotten Knights doesn’t know what it wants to be. If you go by the title character and selection of puzzles, you’d think it a sure Professor Layton clone. The Treasure Animatus battling and collecting is something like a more complicated take on Pokemon.
Then there’s the labyrinth explorations, which involve the pushing of countless boxes while avoiding traps and police so you don’t have to start over from the beginning. If it focused on just one or two of these aspects, it might have been a rather solid and enjoyable knock-off. Unfortunately, it didn’t.
Still, its story is really quite interesting and I worry that I actually won’t do it justice with a brief summary. Doctor Lautrec is an archeologist at the Museum of Natural History that enjoys collecting Treasure Animatus, living treasures, and using logic to solve mysteries and prove they’re based on actual facts and not frivolous fantasies. He’s accompanied by his assistant Sophie, a student who enjoys fanciful indulgences, is quite talkative and happens to be good at sensing and identifying Treasure Animatus. This means the two of them often go into Paris’ Underground, investigating dungeons while Sophie chatters on and snarky Doctor Lautrec cuts her off and explains things.
One day, a man called Vidocq comes into Doctor Lautrec’s office with a young woman named Marie. Marie has a strange treasure that looks like a gun, but is really an antique, advanced decoder. After Doctor Lautrec successfully assembles it, Vidocq reveals he’s our big bad and wants this device as it could lead to King Louis XIV of France’s secret treasure. Doctor Lautrec, Sophie and Marie successfully escape and start the investigation to find the treasure on their own. However, they soon learn that an unusual, Underground order called the Knights of the Iron Mask have committed to protecting the treasure. So Doctor Lautrec and Sophie have to investigate the Underground and help Marie while avoiding Vidocq, his minions Jean and Paul, the Knights of the Iron Mask, a rival adventurer named Gustav that is constantly showing off and the police inspector Godot who wants all adventurers arrested.
So, Doctor Lautrec and Sophie are on the case. They’re either investigating a main storyline mission to find out what’s up with Marie’s treasure or performing a sidequest treasure hunt from a map Milady provided. First, Lautrec and Sophie have to figure out which location the mysterious riddle or puzzle leads to an Underground entrance. You don’t get to help figure it out. You get to read along while Doctor Lautrec and Sophie do. Well, read and then run around to the first two or three locations suggested. After all inital locations on the map have been investigated, Doctor Lautrec then decide to reveal the real location of the Underground entrance. So you run them over there, pull out the binoculars at the yellow spot on the map and search for a fleur-de-lis embedded in the surroundings. Spot it and you’ve found the entrance.
Congratulations! Doctor Lautrec and Sophie are now Underground. Which means it is now time for the one thing gamers love most in the world – block pushing. This isn’t just any kind of block pushing. This is block pushing in a labyrinth filled with cops that will chase you on sight, causing you to restart the room if caught with all blocks in their original places. Fortunately, you can press and hold B while moving the circle pad to see the rest of the room and watch guard’s patrol patterns.
Still, Doctor Lautrec takes a while to move those blocks and sometimes those policemen or knights can sneak up on you. The next thing you know, Lautrec is caught, you’re at the entrance where you came in and you have to move all of the blocks all over again. I hope you enjoyed that, because you’re going to have to do this multiple times in each dungeon. Usually at least three, maybe four times.
Eventually, you’ll run across a room with a fleur-de-lis on the door. This means it’s time for a puzzle. They’re all pretty much the same. You’ll either have to complete a pseudo crossword puzzle, where you place the right French words in the right places, spot difference, where you have to pick out a a few differences between a picture on the top screen and the bottom screen, a jigsaw-ish puzzle where you rearrange pieces to fill an empty space, a Minesweeper clone and sequence spotting, where you see a pattern on the top screen with one image omitted and you pick the one that’s missing.
As much as I hate sequence puzzles, I have since ACT/SAT testing, the spot-the-difference ones are far worse. There was one spot-the-difference puzzle in an early side quest where a picture of a museum was blocking the main Treasure Animatus’ room. It took me 8 tries to complete it because, as far as I could see, there was no difference. What made it more difficult was that the image was of a brown-beige-sepia museum set against an eggshell white background and the bottom image in all spot-the-difference puzzles is slightly washed-out. I resorted to using hints over and over, then just guessing by tapping the bottom screen. On the final try I got lucky, and I’m still not sure what the difference was. I think there might have been a cream-colored cloud in the eggshell sky, but by that point I didn’t care.
Which leads us to the taming/exterminating. Each dungeon has multiple Treasure Animatus inside, with a few being optional and one mandatory. Well, the optional ones aren’t really optional since you will need them to beat the main Treasure Animatus. You only get to take three tamed Treasure Animatus in with you and they likely won’t be strong enough on their own without living gems and newly tamed backups. When you enter the battle, you’ll see the Treasure Animatus in the center, surrounded by stone platforms that are either cracked or uncracked.
You drag and drop your own treasures and gems onto these platforms. You drop one, it attacks, the enemy Treasure Animatus attacks. You repeat this until the enemy’s HP has dropped into the blue zone of a gauge, showing it’s tamed, or is completely gone, showing it’s now just a normal piece of treasure. You can’t heal or reuse treasures in combat. All treasure are assigned experience points after the battle, allowing them to level up. Not that it matters much, as the side quests usually provide strong treasures that are at a higher level, making it easy to abandon level 1 treasures.
I suspected early on that there was something more to it than that, but Konami never went into it. It never explained exactly how cracked pedestals influence a Treasure Animatus’ power or why some pedestals have links connecting them. Doctor Lautrec and the Forgotten Knights just assumes you’ll eventually place compatible Treasure Animatus near one another, triggering a Synergy Move that will provide beneficial battle effects that will make your treasure stronger or the opposing treasure weaker.
The frustration of battling could have been eased if Konami had taken the time to include an adequate instruction manual. Do you know what the 15 page manual tells you? It says what the controls are, how to enter your name with the stylus and save the game in English, French and Spanish.
The rest of the pages are devoted to warranties and warnings. There isn’t even a digital manual included on the cartridge. I’ll admit, normally I don’t care about these kinds of things because I prefer to just jump into the game and see if I can figure things out on my own after the in-game tutorial. Except Doctor Lautrec‘s tutorial was less than helpful and doesn’t offer players anything. It did say how to move a box or drag a circle onto another circle, but I think all gamers could figure that out on their own.
At the very least, Doctor Lautrec looks fantastic when it’s 2D. The character art is stylized, crisp and vaguely reminiscent of the character art from the Puyo series. Voice acting is good as well and there’s quite a bit of it. I wish Doctor Lautrec’s VA didn’t sound like he was doing an elitist Professor Layton impersonation, but it’s easy to overlook since the rest of the casting was well done. Best of all are the animated segments scattered liberally throughout the adventure. I really looked forward to each one because they looked amazing. One typically popped up between missions in the main storyline. It’s obvious that Konami put effort into Doctor Lautrec and it’s only when gameplay interfered that the promising premise went astray.
I think Doctor Lautrec and the Forgotten Knights would have made a good anime series or straight-to-DVD movie thanks to its solid story and fantastic presentation. Alas, that didn’t happen and we’re stuck with a genre bending game that only excels when it comes to the delightful animated segments. If you’re willing to overlook the tedium, box-shoving and running around the entire city, it really isn’t all that bad. As long as I only played it in one hour bursts, I was able to forget I was doing the same activities over, and over, and over, and over again. Maybe you will be able to too.
Food for Thought
1. Don’t be afraid to search online for help. Especially when it comes to Synergy moves. It’s really difficult to stumble upon them on your own.
2. Save before every door puzzle. You earn reputation points from Milady for your performance in each labyrinth. Those points and the gems you find in a dungeon are the only way to buy resurrection gems for fallen Treasure Animatus or dungeon escape items. You will need those resurrection gems.
3. There is some post game content, as there’s a seventh chapter after the sixth main storyline chapter is done.
4. It took me just about 19 hours to beat it. So it is a really substantial adventure, especially if you go through the sidequests to get extra Treasure Animatus. I haven’t finished the seventh chapter yet.