Warning: This post will be reeking with SPOILERS for the first three Layton games, so read at your own risk.
I'm trying to start a little series here where I want to shed light on characters that I feel are under-appreciated or were not used to their best potential. As this the first post, I'm still somehow experimenting with the layout, so bear with me here. I'll outline the character's role in the games they appeared in and then go on to ramble about that.
Flora Reinhold is a recurring character in the Professor Layton franchise. Although we only meet her at the end of the first game and she doesn't get a lot of overall screen-time, she also is the very element that the actions of the first game revolve around. The little time she got to speak for herself was enough to make me fall in love with this adorable little girl and I was hoping that she would be added to the regular cast in following games.
At the beginning of the second game, Flora is inexplicably absent although we know it's set shortly after the first game, at the end of which Professor Layton took her in. We then get to meet her in a sorry excuse for a disguise on the Molentary Express, where Luke and Layton for some reason fail to recognise until she drops the charade. As we explore the village where the Molentary Express has to stop for a while, Flora is with us just as good protagonist would be. Not for long though, as she soon gets kidnapped and replaced by a disguised Don Paolo (you gotta hand it to him, HE knows how to disguise himself). She remains absent for the rest of the game until she is discovered sleeping peacefully in a barn. Meh.
Can't say she didn't cater to my thing for glasses, though.
On to the third game, where – surprise – Flora yet again fails to appear at the beginning of the game. We only meet her as we set foot into Layton's office where she has been waiting for Layton all the time because he left her alone. She then goes to make tea and cucumber sandwiches for the professor and Luke, an opportunity they use to abandon her yet again (for safety reasons, as the professor says). Flora is less than amused and trails Layton and Luke to the clock shop, where Cogg hauls everyone present to the future before Layton can kick Flora out. After that she is pretty much dragged around without ever getting mentioned until she once again gets kidnapped – this time by Clive. Layton proves what a knight he is by putting her rescue over London's rescue, then follows the Happy Ending, etc.
Now, as you probably caught from my tone already, I'm less than satisfied with the way Flora was handled in the games. The first game set Flora up as an interesting character in my eyes. She has had a troubled past, has lived in a city inhabited by robots built to entertain her and now as an orphan has to handle being the future heir to enormous wealth and all the problems that come with that. On a side note, she also looks incredibly cute (come on, don't you just want to hug her whenever you see her?) and would surely have made a good counterpart to Luke. That is a promising premise and so I was psyched to see where the developers would go with that in the following games.
Enter the second game, where she's absent and unmentioned at the beginning, as if to prove that she's not been accepted into the ring of protagonists and that she's not a part of their everyday puzzle-solving life. When we then meet her in her extremely easy to see through disguise, the otherwise so sharp Luke and Layton fail to recognise her. Have they already forgotten how she looks or did just try to leave her out of the plot a bit longer? It turns out Flora has followed them onto the train, all on her own. It may be subtle but to me, she already proves at this very point that she is more capable of taking care of herself than anyone gives her credit for. So when we already rejoice about her finally getting added into the crew, the party doesn't last long. Flora gets kidnapped in Dropstone when the characters lose each other in the crowd. Of course we as the players are in the know but the fake Flora that returns so obviously is off that we are left to wonder about why the two again don't recognise the change. Necessary for the plot? The two just don't know her well enough to notice the difference? Or they simply never listen to her? Heaven knows. At the end, Flora is found peacefully asleep in a barn, placing her somewhere between delusional and bad-ass and making her appearance in the game even more anti-climatic.
Her involvement in the story of the third game is surprisingly similar: Not there in beginning, complains about being left alone and trails Layton and Luke, is kidnapped and successfully saved by Layton. The third game only makes a point of making the process of Flora being left alone all the more horrible. Flora, willing to forgive Layton for leaving him alone, goes to make tea for them and then they have the nerves to just up and run. Layton says that it's "all just for her safety" but that is a weak argument in face of the fact he takes a roughly ten-year-old boy to casinos and mobster hide-outs. Flora doesn't give up, though but goes on to prove her woman-balls once again by trailing Layton through half London, only to not be left behind again. Even in the face of this – for a small, young girl - astonishing accomplishment, Layton has nothing better to do than to send her home again. I really wanted to punch him by that point.
Now, why is it that all this wonderful premise went to waste like this? My personal answer to this question is simple: She wasn't written as a character.
If she wasn't written as a character with her own will, importance, thoughts, feelings and motivations, what was she written as then? A characterisation device. Nothing more. She only serves one purpose in the second and third game: To give Layton a chance to prove how much of a gentleman he is towards woman. That is why he always grounds her, that is why she always has to get kidnapped: So he can save her and say a few lines about how gentlemanly that is. Now you might say that Clive just wanted to kidnap someone dear to Layton – then why didn't he take Luke? The relationship between Layton and Luke (and I'm closing my eyes to everything fan girls will interpret into that now) is MUCH more of a focus in the games than the one between Layton and Flora. Ten-year-old Luke is just as defenceless against being kidnapped by an adult as Flora is; and wouldn't it have been much more interesting if Clive took Luke? To separate the Holmes/Watson duo and see Layton and Flora rush to Luke's rescue? That would certainly have been fuelled more by genuine character relations and not the typical damsel in distress-blah.
Now that's what a good girl should be like.
What has happened to Flora and also to many other female video gaming characters (Samus, anyone?) is what I like to call the Japan-treatment. Female characters don't get credit for what they achieve, or even better, can't achieve it without male help. They also regularly let out high pitched screams, especially when as always being the one chosen to get in an unfortunate situation everyone could have gotten into. If possible, add some household-related hobbies and remove any form of deepness and bad-assery. There you go, a good female character that won't distract any positive recognition from the male cast.
Suggestions and critique are very welcome. Also feel free to correct any grammar, spelling or punctuation mistakes or point out where my tone sounds "un-english", English isn't my first language.