Building Character: Emmy Altava

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The lack of powerful, female protagonist in video games has become one of those entrenched truisms that everybody would like to see go away. What few female protagonists we do have tend to have baggage that makes the achievement of being a female protagonist a moot point. Bayonetta is as powerful as they come, being able to topple angels the size of skyscrapers. She could have been a role model for others to follow if she wasn’t portrayed as a stripper who doesn’t know the meaning of “off-duty.” At one point in time, Samus Aran was the role model for other female protagonist to follow. Metroid: Other M disagrees. Some lucky ones have been able to buck this trend, like Jade from Beyond Good and Evil and Faith from Mirror’s Edge. Let’s add Emmy Altava from Professor Layton to that short list.

Emmy Altava Emmy Altava was first introduced in Professor Layton And The Last Specter as an assigned assistant to Professor Layton. It doesn’t take long for her to endear herself to Layton and ultimately the player. Right off the bat Emmy shows off her brazen side by nearly causing a car accident just to get his attention. Later she demonstrates her athleticism and determination by chasing down a seemingly agile mystery man who can jump onto two story buildings with relative ease. Emmy was able to keep up every step of the way easily by jumping up onto the building herself while Layton and Luke could only run through the streets to follow. Just to top it off, she later single-handedly dispatches three burly thugs with ease and grace.

Her fist isn’t her only strong suit. Like Luke, she can solve any puzzle the professor throws at her. She feels that as his assistant it is her duty to be able to solve puzzles, and by extension to love them as well. She takes the mysteries that Layton investigates seriously. She keeps a camera on her at all times taking pictures of evidence and scenes of the crime, and the occasional picturesque scenery. She also carries a notepad for writing down important clues and findings. Suffice it to say, Emmy proves herself to be Layton’s most capable sidekick. That might explain why they don’t let her do much of anything anymore.

After The Last Specter, Emmy either gets sidelined or doesn’t do much at all. At the beginning of Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva, Emmy is sent off to do more research while Layton and Luke partake in the game set up by the villain. She won’t rejoin the duo until much later in the story. By that point the villain’s game is over, and only physical action has any hope of stopping the villain. Emmy dutifully obliges and hands out the ass kicking necessary to keep the villain from getting what he wants. But then when said villain manages to turn the tables and leaves on his twenty story mechanized robot, Layton leaves her behind opting to take Luke to stop the villain. Instead of taking a woman who just minutes ago karate chopped a wolf into submission, Layton took an 11 year old with him to stop a man controlling a robot straight out of Pacific Rim.

Perhaps realizing the rather ridiculous decision-making of Layton in Eternal Diva, the developers never put Layton and crew in any similar situations in the next game, Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask. Not a single thug or henchmen bars Layton’s way. The only one that comes close is a con artist who decides to challenge Layton with puzzles despite the rather intimidating size of the fellow. This has the unfortunate effect of leaving Emmy with nothing to do but become Layton’s sounding board, a role Luke has taken up since the very beginning of the series.

Emmy vs. Wolf

Wolves are a big bunch of furry wusses, anyway.

To the developers, Emmy must’ve been a solution to what they thought was a problem that needed to be solved. Back in Professor Layton and the Unwound Future, Layton was confronted by a couple of the villain’s henchmen. But instead of using the threat of violence, the henchmen presented a puzzle. Once solved they simply moved aside. Granted pretty much every puzzle presented to Layton feels incredibly out of place. Who in the real world actually give out puzzles to random strangers on the street, but having thugs dispense puzzles over fists certainly feels more out of place than usual. At the same time, the members of Layton’s regular crew cannot deal with violence. Emmy’s athleticism and martial arts know-how fixes that problem easily. Maybe too easily. Back in Eternal Diva, she didn’t just take down a couple of thugs, she beat up 11 guys and at least four wolves without breaking a sweat. Those same wolves had everyone running for their lives earlier in the story. In a sense, the developers detonated a nuclear bomb just to kill a flea.

Whatever the reason for Emmy’s diminished role, the developers cannot undo what they have done. Emmy Altava exists and there’s no taking that back. Unfortunately, she’s stuck in a series that doesn’t really have a place for a person of both action and intelligence. With the popularity of the Professor Layton series waning, her story may very well end after the third of the prequel trilogy. And that’s a bit of a shame. Video games in general could use more female characters like Emmy Altava: a strong, confident woman with a smart head on her shoulders and the skills to kick your ass when she needs to. Pray that she never needs to.

Emmy Kicks You Where It Hurts

About Karli Winata

Karli Winata is an avid gamer with a taste for a little bit of everything. Except for sports games. And racing sims. And definitely not hidden object games! I guess everything is too broad a term. Suffice it to say that he has been known to play hours of Call of Duty multiplayer in between bouts of Persona fusing and Star Coin collecting while saving the world/galaxy through sensibly bald space marines or plucky teenagers with impossible hairstyles. Where does he find the time to write about them?