Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney review
I have to admit, the announcement of Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney all the way back in 2010 floored me. It’s a brilliant conceit: tying together two of the Nintendo DS’ most loved franchises for Nintendo’s latest handheld. Both series are known for their strong writing, puzzles involving logic and absolutely ludicrous climaxes making this a match made in heaven (well, until developers finally see the genius of a Trauma Center X Surgeon Simulator crossover, anyway). But can this collaboration between Level-5 and Capcom truly live up to the expectations of hordes of fanboys of both franchises?
In many ways, Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney may even make some new fans to add to each gentleman’s following. The game is split down the middle, offering alternating gameplay styles from each protagonist’s series with the difficulty taken down a couple of notches. Whenever there is investigating to be done, the Professor Layton gameplay design takes hold over the admittedly-inferior style found in the Ace Attorney games. You can explore screens with Layton’s magnifying glass, uncovering a generous number of hint coins and discovering puzzles hidden away in items, and in conversations with the people you meet. There are a smaller number of puzzles than any other Layton title out there, and they do feel easier to accommodate to newcomers.
You still earn picarats for completing puzzles with accuracy and efficiency, and the hint system is still available with various levels of help if you get really stuck. Charmingly, quite a few puzzles take the crossover nature of the game into account, and feature chibi-ized versions of all four protagonists.
Between these sections are Wright’s famous courtroom battles, taking the form of ‘witch trials’ that have a unique twist on his traditional gameplay. The Ace Attorney model of gameplay resembles a visual novel more than it does Layton’s adventuring and puzzle-solving, testing your ability to follow the story, go down various dialogue trees, gain information and evidence in your ‘Court Record’ and then use that to point out contradictions in the case. However, this timer ather than an objective and unbiased court (well, as ‘objective’ as courtrooms have ever been in Phoenix Wright), everyone in the witch trials is frothing at the mouth to put your client to the flames as soon as possible – from the judge to the gallery to the prosecution. To this end, rather than hearing an account from individual witnesses one at a time, and being able to cross examine them separately, you’ll have to face them as mobs.
Having to cross examine several witnesses at once introduces one big change – that witnesses can react to each other’s testimony while they are speaking. Catching a witness letting out an exclamation while another is testifying brings forth a new ‘HANG ON!’ bellow from Wright, and opens up a new dialogue path which may yield new information. This is a cool twist, although it does slow down the gameplay at points as you have to press each witness for information, just to extract one precise statement which your evidence contradicts. It works better than a very limited feature that allows you to compare testimonies for contradictions, and the ‘Grand Grimoire’ – a book of spells which can also be presented as evidence, which is really just another ‘Court Record’ but filled with different evidence. Trials can also be beaten with the aid of hint coins, of which there is a more than ample supply that direct you to the exact actions you need to take to win, effectively demolishing the difficulty level if you use them.
The story that ties our two heroes together is compelling, and surprisingly seems to work within each respective universe as well. The tones and styles of both series are blended well together, to make a game that could be considered canon in both franchises, and could even lead to sequels. Pursued by witches, a frightened teenager, Espella, finds her way to Professor Layton and Luke in London to ask their help in unraveling the mystery of her hometown. At the same time, Phoenix Wright and his spirit medium assistant Maya are visiting England as part of an attorney exchange program, and encounter Espella as well. Both parties are then sucked into a mysterious book, containing the medieval town of Labyrinthia, where magic is real, witches terrorise the populace and the writings of the town’s revered ‘Storyteller’ come true without fail.
Despite promising a rivalry in the title, Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney doesn’t pit the pair against each other apart from one pivotal moment towards the climax. Instead, they spend most of the game working together as the best of friends, full of nothing but praise and fostering one of the biggest bromances in gaming. Nonetheless, the game is surprisingly dark, with big events leading to moments of fear, spite and even severe depression in its cast, which isn’t something you’d expect from a crossover title. I also have to point out that the ultimate ending reveal has to be the most outrageous product I have seen from either series, and I am including the endings to Unwound Future and Trials & Tribulations in that assessment.
In addition to the main game, free DLC is being released over the coming months featuring a follow-up story scenario, with new puzzles and a weird (but funny) fourth-wall breaking sensibility.
Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney works just as well you would have hoped, and is a fine addition to the catalogue of both franchises. It’s not the best title of either series, nor will hardcore fans find themselves challenged by its low difficulty, even with the ‘easy out’ of the hint coins. However, it effectively ties the puzzle-solving and contradiction-pointing of both series together cohesively as well as allowing fan-fiction writers from both sides to see their ultimate dream realised. It’s a lot of fun, and works not only as a love letter to fans of Professor Layton and Phoenix Wright, but an effective gateway to newcomers as well. No objections here!