Review: Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - You Got Your Puzzles in My Courtroom!
Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney
Review copy provided by the publisher
When Level-5 and Capcom came together for a surprising crossover between two very different — but wildly popular — franchises, there was much celebrating as fans could now experience them in one exciting mash-up. So, how well does the cross-over stack up, both as a stand-alone title and compared to their own respective series?
Unlike a certain other massive cross-over title that dove headfirst into a vat of crazy and implausible fan-service filled shenanigans, Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney starts off at a much more sedated pace. It slowly develops a sensible and engaging plot with the title characters existing in two very unique settings — Professor Layton examining a strange mystery and getting into hijinks in his charmingly old-world London while Phoenix Wright is busy defending a school girl in the more sterile and professional world of law.
After that, the two eventually meet after encountering the same mysterious girl they previously aided and eventually work together to solve the grand mysteries of Labryrinthia. At first the styles are very much separated, with Layton’s puzzle solving relegated to investigations while Phoenix is given the grave task of keeping his client from not dying an excruciating and fiery death.
Puzzles, such as in the more recent Layton titles, take full advantage of the 3D in fun and creative ways; however, they offer very little challenge compared to other entries in the series, and this comes from someone who is absolutely horrendous at puzzles in the first place. There’s also the issue of there being just over 70 puzzles, which sounds like a great amount except it’s actually half of what’s usually featured in your average Layton game.
Meanwhile, the Ace Attorney aspects also see a decrease in difficulty, both in the return of the “five strikes system” and in the general testimony logic. Coupled with the hint coins (found in Layton segments and used there too) that can be used to pinpoint contradictory testimony and narrow down evidence choices, and you have the easiest Ace Attorney title since the original.
This sounds like a detriment to the enjoyability of the title, and it certainly can be a bit strange for veterans to adjust to immediately, but it actually works as a nice segway when the two styles of gameplay begin to change dramatically later on. Instead of the game focusing on simply providing the biggest challenge, it’s free to explore more unique avenues and even merge together in the court junctions.
The first hint of this takes place in the second chapter, which introduces what constitutes as a normal cross-examination in Labryrinthia — the “Inquisitor” (aka Prosecutor) questioning several witnesses at once. Later on, a more intense version appears called the mob testimony; this forces Phoenix to interrogate multiple witnesses at once and actually use their body language as visual cues to spot inconsistencies, then put their own statements against each other to disprove the overall testimony. Puzzles also make their way into cross-examinations thanks to Layton’s inclusion in later trials.
The investigation segments run by Professor Layton unfortunately do not incorporate cross-examinations later on. It would have been rather thrilling to see the good Professor questioning witnesses in a similar style to Miles Edgeworth in Ace Attorney: Investigations. This shows another missed opportunity that would have better balanced gameplay additions between the two games.
Small gripes aside, the merging of these very different gameplay mechanics is nothing short of magical. I admire that every mechanic isn’t thrown at the player all at once, but instead allows you to slowly digest each one and then slowly learn how to master the gradual fusions. This trait speaks of masterful writing and pacing.
Labryrinthia being used as the setting was an excellent choice and creates a perfect meeting point; the village contains all the beautiful, life and charm of any Layton game, and the villagers retain an almost serene and lazy whimsy about them. Compare that lightheartedness with the much darker theme, urgency and tone of the courtroom, which represents the Ace Attorney side quite well.
Adding to that level of proper setting unfolding are the small details that convey to the player at every moment just what kind of world the characters currently inhabit. An example of this at work is the fact that Labyrinthia does not keep time as the modern age does. Everything is measured by sun positions, social details (like dinnertime) and changes in weather patterns. This becomes of import later on during trial scenes, as time of murder and other events are established from these details alone.
Another excellent example of a detail that fleshes out the world is the fact that technology is at a very underdeveloped level. This means that amenities the modern legal world takes for granted, such as fingerprinting, blood tests or even basic detective work, are all concepts that don’t exist in any form in Labryrinthia. There is, however, one detail added to this strange world which becomes the focal point of nearly every aspect of daily life: the very real existence of magic and its wielders.
To elaborate on that last point, these citizens fear the threat of the magic-wielding witches at every turn; with good reason, as they frequently torment and even kill. As such, magic is considered a normal part of life and permeates every aspect of it, up to and including the courtroom. There will be moments that require the cast to pour over magical texts to find contradictions and apply the magical laws to witness testimony.
Thanks to these details, as well as the well-written characters and engrossing mysteries, Professor Layton vs. Ace Attorney ends up with a storyline that will keep players engaged for its entirety. Occasionally the pacing sedates a bit but punchy and often hilarious dialogue prevents it from becoming outright boring.
On a minor aside, I did notice that UK English is used in this title, so for all you Americans get use to seeing “defence” and “Your Honour” a lot. Between that and the voice actor changes, its clear that the European version was simply ported to the States, which begs the question: why did it take so long to reach North America shores in the first place?
The scenario writing itself was done by Ace Attorney creator Shu Takami, which is unsurprising considering the quality of the work. Not only is the tragic tale of the Storyteller, the one who creates the stories of Labryrinthia for the villagers to faithfully follow, compelling but the way he seems to understand his own characters’ intrinsic personality traits so well.
It’s also refreshing to see Professor Layton and his apprentice Luke stay so in character, even when facing unusually dark plot points. Each franchise’s unique quirks and writing style shows through, really showcasing Takami’s penchant for balancing character opposites together.
I will admit that while Takami did treat the character of the Professor Layton series well, there is still a slight bias present in favor of the Ace Attorney characters. In terms of gameplay, the crossover does seem to benefit the court side of things, with very few enhancements made to the puzzle mechanics.
Music sees more of a balance between the two titles, and it’s easy to spot how each game influenced the others soundtracks. For instance, the Ace Attorney music has a noticeably more mysterious and heavier sound thanks to the use of cellos and accordions normally used in Layton. Likewise, the Professor Layton soundtrack is much tenser and aggressive due to the trademark frenetic instrument playing of Phoenix Wright.
Its artstyle also features the same kind of great blending, as Layton and Luke are drawn with more detail, matching with Phoenix Wright and Maya’s simplified designs. Layton’s height was also stealth stretched to better match the normally proportioned Phoenix. Interestingly enough, not much else was done with the art to better fuse them together — they naturally compliment each other surprisingly well. Animated cutscenes (done by Bones, aka the studio responsible for Full Metal Alchemist) look just as amazing with both styles stacked close-by.
Two worlds collide in Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney and they collide quite well. Great pains have been taken to ensure that the combination works as a cohesive unit, and for the most part it succeeds (with some minor hiccups along the way). There’s more than enough content for old fans of either franchise and new players will find this game as a more than welcoming entry point to both games. Those that enter the world of Labrynthia will thoroughly enjoy their foray — just mind the witch trials.