I was a huge fan of Professor Layton, back in the day. I guess that makes me sound rather old, but the wonderfully presented cutscenes, brain-bending puzzles and interesting stories often had me hooked. However, the last couple of games have left me cold and it seemed the Layton magic had worn off. That’s why I was excited when Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney was announced. Can the combination of puzzle solving and courtroom drama shake things up a bit?
The game kicks off in London, with a young girl named Espella being chased by what appears to be witches. When the car she is in crashes, she stumbles from the wreckage and makes her way to find the one man she has been told can help – Professor Layton. At the exact same time Phoenix Wright and his assistant Maya are inbound on a flight to London. Needless to say, all their paths cross and they quickly end up in the mysterious city of Labyrinthia – a place where witch trials are a regular occurrence, with the punishment for a guilty verdict being death by the flame pit. It’s a decent enough story but I do have a few issues, which I shall address a little bit later on.
Throughout the game you will find yourself playing through both Adventure and Trial scenarios. Adventure will be instantly familiar to anyone who has played a Professor Layton game. You are presented with an environment which you must scan with the on-screen magnifying glass, which will turn a different colour if you stumble across an item of interest. These will often take on the form of puzzles, and while most can be returned to and completed at a later date, some must be solved in order to proceed to the next environment.
Now, I’m fairly sure I’ve not gotten any smarter in the last couple of years – quite the opposite in fact – but I had no trouble at all blasting through the puzzles. In previous Professor Layton games I used to get a little shudder of dread when a 50+ Picarat (the in-game currency) puzzle appeared, but not so in Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney. You also get given a large amount of hint coins at the start of the game, which can be exchanged for puzzle clues, but the sheer number of coins you can collect really negates any sort of threat a puzzle might pose to your progress.
For me, the trials are where the game really picks up. Taking on the role of Phoenix Wright, you have to defend various key characters who have been accused of being a witch. This involves listening to witness testimonies, pressing each witness for more information as well as examining clues – where the Adventure and Trial scenarios can often link up – and trying to find a logical explanation for various events.
This is made harder by the fact that Labyrinthia isn’t what you’d call technologically advanced. There is no such thing as DNA evidence, or fingerprinting of a crime scene – and often the witnesses will be allowed to alter their testimonies to suit new information due to “witchcraft confusing their minds”.
While they aren’t hugely challenging – although they do have their moments – the witch trials can go on for well over an hour, and you often emerge from them feeling like you’ve actually been through a gruelling courtroom battle, with constantly changing scenarios, new evidence and surprise witnesses at every turn.
The art styles from both the Professor Layton and Phoenix Wright games blend together better than you might think, and most of the voice acting is well done, although I really didn’t think much of the voices for a couple of key female characters. The musical score is also fantastic.
Those looking for a long game to sink their teeth into will certainly find it here, but bigger might not necessarily mean better. Reaching the end credits took me over 19 hours, and that isn’t even with completing all of the puzzles on offer. However, there is a large amount of text reading in the game, and while one might say that is to be expected, it often frustrated me and felt like it was interrupting the flow of the game.
My biggest issue with the game though, is the conclusion of the story – and don’t worry, I won’t spoil anything here. After sinking over 19 hours into the game I felt extremely underwhelmed by sections of the ending. Some parts were wrapped up nicely, but other parts were just like, “Really? That’s what you’re going with?”
Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney is very much a jack of all trades, master of none. The puzzles in the Adventure scenario can be enjoyable, but are mostly far too easy and it feels like the whole thing was designed on autopilot, and I was disappointed with the way the plot explained certain things away. Thankfully, the witch trials are a lot better, and certainly provide the high points for the game.
Don’t get me wrong, the game is certainly above average, but doesn’t come close to touching the best that Professor Layton or Phoenix Wright has to offer.