Professor Hershel Layton is a man. He was the star of developer Level-5’s series of titular Professor Layton games, joined by his able companion Luke on a variety of puzzle-based adventures. In Lady Layton, the upcoming sequel in the long-running series, there’s a new puzzle solver in the lead: Hershel’s daughter Katrielle Layton (that first name might change when/if the game is ever brought west). It’s a seemingly conscious decision by Level-5 to make the series more inclusive by making the star a woman rather than a man, and I’m all for it.
The reason I’m so gung-ho for this shift to a new star for the series is twofold. For one, there’s a distinct lack of female leads in the video game industry. Characters like Lara Croft, who’s known the world over and sells boatloads of games, is more of an exception than a standard. There have been definite inroads made with more and more female leads popping up in recent years, including notable characters like Princess Ida of Monument Valley and Faith of the Mirror’s Edge series. Still, when pointing to the blockbuster, marquee franchises of the video game industry, it’s a male-dominated list: Uncharted, Call of Duty, Super Mario, and so on. Lady Layton is taking a triple-A series in Professor Layton and attaching a new, female protagonist for fans to adopt. Granted, I don’t think a female or minority character should have to rent respectability and recognition by being shoehorned into a known franchise, but when something organic like the shift from Hershel to Katrielle can happen, I say go for it.
Frankly, it’s because of her pedigree that I’m so enthusiastic about the adventures of Katrielle. She isn’t a female version of Layton, she isn’t erasing Hershel from existence; she’s instead a natural progression of the storyline that was started way back on DS in 2008 in Professor Layton and the Curious Village. Diversification is a huge, huge talking point across popular media the world over. Whether it’s changing character genders in superhero movies in comic books, or simply adding a wider selection of skin tones to character creation in video games, people across the globe want to see more characters who look like them. The audience for mass media stopped being virtually exclusively white males a long time ago, and we’re finally starting to see that shift reflected in the movies, games, and TV shows that we consume.
I made it plain back when Linkle was announced for Hyrule Warriors Legends that I wasn’t a fan of the character. “It’s a female Link!” people shouted with glee. I never warmed up to her. Not because I’m opposed to a female lead in a Zelda game; the second Nintendo decides to make Zelda the star of her own series I’ll be ready and anxious to give it a shot. Sheik taking on Ganon? Sold. Impa versus Vaati? Take my money! Linkle, however, failed to impress me because she was little more than a half-hearted attempt at diversification. It was as though Nintendo had decided it was easier to gender-swap a widely known character in Link rather than embrace one of the many established and beloved female characters in the series who have been dying to share the spotlight for years, or even make an outright new one– which is ironic given how many great female characters old and new that Legends has! Linkle was a lazy stab at diversity. Linkle was a step backwards.
Lady Layton, on the other hand, is a wonderful way to appeal to a broader demographic of players without bastardizing what’s come before. It’s reminiscent of the moves that Marvel and DC Comics have been making with their publishing lines, introducing legacy characters of different genders and races, as well as promoting longstanding characters to more prominent roles, while maintaining the original versions who fans have come to love for decades now. I adore Peter Parker, but now there’s also the half-black, half-Puerto Rican Miles Morales sharing the role of Spider-Man in the Marvel Universe, allowing a wider variety of fans to identify with the web slinger than ever before. I get to have my cake and eat it, too. While I can acknowledge that Linkle wasn’t made to supplant Link in any way, the difference between her and Miles is that Miles was never passed off as Peter. He’s his own character, allowed to stand on his own two legs and establish his own identity.
Diversification in mass media should be all about promoting race and gender equality, and that’s exactly what Lady Layton is doing. Katrielle is doing the work of her father, carrying on his series with what I’m sure will be a new flavor and style that allows her to stand on her own. I hope to see more of this mix of new franchises starring females, like Monument Valley, and old series allowing someone new to share the spotlight. Frankly, it’s an almost perfect way of introducing a healthier spectrum of representation while also not alienating longtime fans. Level-5 is taking a risk attaching a female lead to one of its most important franchises, and it’s a risk that I wish more developers would take in the future.