Developers: Level-5, Capcom
Publishers: Level-5, Nintendo
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: August 29th (North America)
Like most crossovers, it’s difficult to review a game like Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney. The inherent draw is a familiarity with one or both of the properties and seeing how your favorite characters from each might interact in a believable way. That anticipation and hope of what a crossover might entail – especially considering how long it’s taken for this game to come to North America – often blinds one from seeing if the venture actually works.
Does Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney work? Very much yes.
Both the Professor Layton and Ace Attorney franchises are known for their stellar narratives and this game is no different. This crossover is more inspired by the former, though, so rather than the intricately woven tales of the latter, this game provides a taut and concise story that, of course, has at least one twist involved. Here, Professor Layton, his apprentice Luke, Phoenix Wright and Maya Fey all find themselves in a mysterious village – which is practically a Layton series staple – called Labyrinthia.
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In this enigmatic locale, witches and magic appear to be real and a figure known as the Storyteller is both praised and feared because his writings inevitably become reality. At the center of it all is a new character named Espella Cantabella, who is accused of witchcraft and must stand trial. She crosses paths with both pairs of heroes and becomes the medium through which these two seemingly disparate game universes can believably coexist.
Puzzles and investigation lie at the heart of both the Professor Layton and Ace Attorney franchises. It’s natural, then, that that would be the focus of this crossover. As in Professor Layton, you traverse the various locales by simply tapping on specific parts of an overworld map.
You’re then taken to fairly static scenes that you can scan for hint coins, clues, hidden puzzles or just general items for the characters to comment on. Helpfully, before entering a specific area, the game tells you how many hint coins and puzzles there are in it, so it’s easy to keep track if you’re a completionist.
If you’ve played any Professor Layton titles, you’ll find that the dozens of puzzles in his sizeable portion of this game are generally less frustrating than those in the main series. I couldn’t recall any infuriating brainteasers, but most do offer some semblance of challenge, especially the ones that require spatial awareness and object manipulation.
The same can be said of the Ace Attorney-based trial sections because you’re able to use the hint coins you acquire from investigating. For example, if you find yourself stuck during witness testimony, unsure of which statements to unravel, the hint coins will help narrow down what options you can take to progress. This really isn’t a game you can just breeze through, though, and more often than not, solving a puzzle results in a sense of accomplishment.
more often than not, solving a puzzle results in a sense of accomplishment.
And that’s the natural ebb-and-flow of the game. You investigate the town as Professor Layton, solve puzzles along the way, and gather clues that Phoenix Wright might find useful in court. Overall, the variety of Professor Layton-style puzzles is noticeably smaller, but that’s to be expected when the other bulk of the game is devoted to the ridiculously fun courtroom. It’s the best of the two separate franchises held together by an intriguing story and entertaining character dynamics.
Luckily, that same high amount of care shown in the gameplay also went into the game’s presentation. A quick superficial glance at the artwork of any title in either series will show you that they are very much distinct universes. Characters in the Professor Layton games tend to sport exaggerated forms, mixing oddly shaped, often bulky bodies with lanky limbs, while the Ace Attorney games opt for anime-inspired designs.
Seeing the two contrasting styles on the same screen can be a bit jarring. However, this was used to the game’s advantage. Most characters outside of the main four are cleverly designed and, if you’re paying enough attention, those design cues offer a hint as to who is actually important to the overall narrative.
The game is presented in a visual novel style with character portraits in the foreground and beautifully illustrated locations in the background. In a nice change for both of the series, all of the characters are modeled in 3D. Despite the change, they retain their cartoon-like quality.
This is important to note because static screenshots don’t do this game justice, making the models look otherwise stilted. The limited animation is surprisingly fluid and, especially in the courtroom sections, these memorable animations easily bring unique personalities to one-off characters. It’s just a shame that not every line is voiced because, overall, the voice acting in the game is top notch. Similarly, as is par for the course for both franchises, the soundtrack offered here is splendid.
As this game does focus more on the Professor Layton series than the Ace Attorney series, that’s where the a lot of the game’s original score is dedicated. The background music for the various locations Professor Layton investigates around London and Labyrinthia are expectedly simultaneously eerie and memorable. In contrast, the courtroom sections where Phoenix Wright takes over borrow heavily from the Ace Attorney games and instill a sense of urgency and excitement to the proceedings, which is remarkable considering the setting.
Delve beyond the surface and you’ll find a series of challenging puzzles interspersed amongst an engaging tale that’s very well paced and masterfully executed.
For a player who somehow decides to make Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney their first foray into either series, this game may appear to be disjointed. Delve beyond the surface and you’ll find a series of challenging puzzles interspersed amongst an engaging tale that’s very well paced and masterfully executed. For anyone who is already a fan of either the gentleman archaeologist in the top hat or the humble yet indomitable lawyer, Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney exceeds all expectations.
(A copy of this game was provided to GameSided for the purpose of this review.)