"Every murder has an answer"
It is not every day that two visual novel gaming icons meet face to face, and it is even rarer to find a case where both icons fit well together despite their vastly different art and gameplay styles. Nonetheless, Level 5 and Capcom have managed to give both puzzle fans and aspiring lawyers just that with Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright
. It might still be a bit of a wait for any US fans, but the game is worth the wait in gold.
It goes without saying that a British professor of archeology and an American/Japanese lawyer don't just meet by pure chance. Even though it appears that the Professor Layton
and Ace Attorney
series share the same universe, what ultimately brings the two unlikely heroes together is nothing short of magic. Literally. The story begins when one of Layton's old students has managed to find a strange town called Labyrinthia and in the process rescued a girl from the witches hunting her. The witches catch up to them though, and ultimately it is up to Layton and Luke themselves to keep this girl, Espella, safe. This proves to be their undoing, however, as the witches suck them into a magic book that instantly warps them to Labyrinthia.
Meanwhile, Phoenix Wright and Maya Fey are just chillin'. Phoenix has been enlisted in a lawyer's exchange program with the UK. While there, he has to defend a strange absent-minded girl from being found guilty of (for the first time in the series) something other than murder. During those proceedings Phoenix and Maya are confronted with the same magic book and find themselves in Labyrinthia as well.
From there on out a tale of magic, witches, murders, Stories and much more unfolds. In Labyrinthia magic and witches are very real, and there is a mysterious figure called the Storyteller who basically writes the future. It will require both the puzzle-solving skills of the gentleman professor and the outside-the-box thinking of the ace attorney to get to the bottom of the many mysteries of the town stuck in fantasy.
The above is just about all that I can share about the story without going into spoiler territory. That said, the plot of Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright
takes some definite twists and turns throughout its 20-hour run. Some of them you'll see coming, others definitely not. The story is also quite dark this time around. Witch trials are very real in Labyrinthia and those found guilty will be burned alive without hesitation. We also see several counts of (attempted) suicide as well, with one instance of attempted child
suicide. For me this only served to draw me ever deeper into the story, as I find "dark as fuck" to be just inherently gripping, but I'm warning you all the same. All in all, the story is well paced and well told. New mysteries keep popping up even up until the final hours of the game, and you're given plenty of material to work with in order to forge your own theories. Moreover, story progression isn't just restricted to the Professor Layton
portions of the game. The Ace Attorney
-style court cases have an major bearing on the story as well, causing them to feel just as relevant as anything the Layton team comes up with if not more so. Don't be surprised if a major revelation isn't the result of an investigation but rather of a witness spilling the beans. The game's endgame is particularly well done; when you hit the final chapter you will not want to put your 3DS down until you've seen it all the way through. To be honest I always find the endings of Professor Layton
games to be kind of hit-or-miss, but I'd place this one squarely in the "hit" camp. Although it's probably still advisable not to think about it too hard.
The characters that inhabit this magical world feel like they came straight out of the Professor Layton
-verse. They tend to have their own little quirks and mannerisms, but you will meet more serious people as well. In my opinion they're not quite as funny as the characters you would find in the Ace Attorney
series, but they fit well within the bounds of Labyrinthia and interact well with both sets of characters. It helps that all of them have beautifully animated 3D models and are still expertly written. The same goes for the voice-acting. There are quite a bit of voice-acted lines this time around; with one or two exceptions they fit very well with their characters and bring some much-appreciated life to the cast. Professor Layton himself is (still) the standout in this field, but even one-off witnesses sound completely believable. The one downside presentation-wise is that Phoenix' model looks like a step down from the one we have already seen in Dual Destinies
and his voice sounds a little bit off sometimes. On the other hand it is incredibly nice to see Maya fully animated and voiced.
Despite how good any side characters are, the main draw of this game is inevitably going to be the interaction between Layton, Luke, Phoenix and Maya. Rest assured that there is indeed plenty of interaction and it is without a doubt the highlight of the game. While Phoenix and Layton have vastly different personalities they work very well together, and the lovely assistants hit it off almost immediately, with Luke even adopting the moniker of "ace apprentice". Over the course of the game you'll also see some mixing and matching of characters, so that you won't be stuck with the two distinct duos throughout the entire game. This even transitions into the gameplay. The good professor is very helpful during the court cases (in which he even gets to shout "OBJECTION!" at multiple points), and the ace attorney likes to try his hand at a puzzle every once in a while too. As far as crossovers go you can't get it any better than this and honestly I didn't expect the IPs to intertwine as much as they do. The final few hours of the game in particular are a shining example of how crossovers should be done.
While the story and the characters are arguably the biggest draw for any fan of Layton or Phoenix, this game wouldn't be complete without a healthy mix of puzzles and cross-examinations. Fortunately, Professor Layton vs. Ace Attorney
delivers plenty of both. In fact, the game provides an almost 50-50 split between the two different gameplay styles.
During one part, you get to walk around the town of Labyrinthia. You will search the background for hint coins, talk to the quirky characters mentioned above, and research the many mysteries of Labyrinthia. Most importantly, of course, you get to solve the characteristic Professor Layton
puzzles. In what I thought was a nice touch, many of these puzzles have a medieval theme, dealing with knights and witches and the like. Unfortunately, this time around the puzzles are almost all quite easy. Many of the puzzles you can't actually fail because they only end when you've found the solution, and even the few pure logic-based puzzles that have been included are unlikely to stump any seasoned gamer. Out of the 70 puzzles that are in the game there was only one occasion where I legitimately failed, and only a few that took me longer than a couple of minutes to solve. In contrast, there were only a handful of puzzles that I would count among the better ones of the series. Anyone playing this game purely as a Professor Layton fan will probably find the game lacking in this regard. That's not to say that solving puzzles isn't still fun, but it definitely would've done the game good if the difficulty had been upped somewhat.
During the investigation/puzzle-solving parts of the game, there are several points in the story where shit hits the fan. For the most part, that means that people get murdered by witches. What follows is a full-on Ace Attorney
trial done in the style of the infamous witch trials. This brings with it certain noticeable changes to the gameplay. First of all, everyone in the courtroom is more hostile towards Phoenix than ever. Everyone, judge included, has already made up their minds that your client is guilty as sin and should be burned on the spot. They're not called witch trials for nothing, after all! They tend to ease up towards the end of the game, but for the most part you're fighting a steep uphill battle. This isn't helped by the fact that in medieval times there is very little evidence for Phoenix to work his magic with. You can't check a magic staff for fingerprints, because there's no such thing as fingerprinting in Labyrinthia. Crime scene photos don't exist either, and the artist sketches you do get contain dubious information at best. Fortunately, the ace attorney gets a few new tricks up his sleeve to deal with a world in which magic is real. For one, you get a tome of magic that explains how every magic spell works, which you can then use to your advantage. This leads to some interesting scenarios, as it becomes perfectly viable to claim that the real killer was simply invisible. If such a spell exists and there is evidence that it has been used, all possibilities are still on the table.
Perhaps more importantly, you get to cross-examine multiple witnesses at once. In doing so you can set the witnesses up against each other and see whether their stories match up to your liking. Because of the number of witness that you have to examine, however, they tend to be less interesting than those you’d expect to find in an Ace Attorney
game, with most having one defining quirk and little screentime. The final case has one instance where the system works brilliantly, but I can't help but feel that it fell a bit short during the rest of the game. There is one witness in the prologue case that channels the Ace Attorney
spirit with gusto, fans of the original game and/or Dual Destinies
will find a few funny familiar scenarios and the participation of Professor Layton and Luke helps to soften the blow significantly, but the cross-examinations don't reach their full potential.
- The witnesses are most certainly not above conspiring against you.
One final thing to mention is that both the background art and the music managed to stand out in my mind. Backgrounds are always highly detailed and particularly towards the endgame you will come across some startling backdrops. The music meanwhile is a great selection of both familiar Layton
music, with some original work thrown in. Anyone who has played either of these series will doubtlessly find some familiar stuff in here, as you'd expect from any good cross-over game. My personal favorite was a beautiful music-box version of the Turnabout Sisters theme from the original Ace Attorney
, which played at exactly the right moment to make me tear up a little.
Ultimately, Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright
delivers an excellent Layton-esque story complemented by court cases that feel right at home in the setting. With puzzles that are easier than they needed to be and cross-examinations that are not as wacky as one might expect, the gameplay won't astound any longtime fan. Fortunately, the interesting story and especially the great interaction between the two IPs makes this a game that is nonetheless more than worth playing. For the price of one you get a good Professor Layton
game paired with a good Phoenix Wright
game, joining forces to make a great crossover experience.