Announced back in 2010, Professor Layton vs Ace Attorney was the first crossover game between Level 5\’s and Capcom\’s respective series. The game looked to combine the puzzle solving and whimsical stores of one with the murder mysteries and court battles of the other. Fans of both series were excited while newcomers were intrigued by crossover. Four years later Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney has finally made its way to the US – As a whole just how well do these two games work together?
Professor Layton vs. Ace Attorney starts with a girl by the name of Espella Cantabella being chased by a hoard of witches. After narrowly escaping one of the witches attacks she makes her way to London and enlists the help of Professor Layton and (later on) Phoenix Wright to help her; however before either of these two make much progress in helping the girl they are inexplicably transported, by the writing on an odd book, to another place. They find themselves in Labyrinthia, a medieval world where witches reside, magic is real, and where every action and event is dictated by the will of a mysterious man called the Story Teller. Professor Layton and Phoenix Wright along with their respective partners must work together in order to protect Espella and uncover the truth behind Labyrinthia.
Throughout the story players will come across a handful of colorful characters and eccentric egos that are scattered throughout Labryinthia, each with their own unique personality and role to play in the Story Tellers scheme. Dotting from one lead to another, Layton and Phoenix gather information and find out more about the secret behind the strange world they have found themselves in; however they can never get far before before a witches trial inevitably requires their presence. At several points in the game, Layton, Wright, and their company will split up to investigate different parts of Labyrinthia or to defend their client at hand, serving to tell different sides of the story and progress the plot in a meaningful way. The majority of the story is told during exploration segments, while most major revelations are made during the court battles between Phoenix Wright and the Inquisition. The setting and pace is very Layton-esque in its style, presentation, and plot; players will be captivated from moment to moment, but the story itself falls apart with any degree of close scrutiny; the end game in particular tends to drag on for longer than it should while coming up with the most roundabout conclusion possible. One other thing to note however, is that due to the setting and source material the story is several shades darker than what you would typically expect from an Ace Attorney game, let alone from a Professor Layton title. While this may be initially jarring to some, the change in tone suits the game well and adds a sense of urgency to the plot that many previous games in the respective series have lacked.
Much like the two series that comprise the crossover, Professor Layton vs Ace Attorney is a visual novel in which players explore the world of Labyrinthia, investigate mysteries, and solve puzzles. Throughout Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright, players will guide Layton and Wright through the various locations of Labyrinthia in their mission to help Espella and to uncover the secret behind the medieval land they have found themselves in. Much like most visual novels and all previous games in their series, the world they find themselves in is split into a handful of static sections that players can examine to find puzzles, clues, NPCs, and the odd hint coin or three. Most locations have a handful of content scattered throughout them and you will often be tasked with examining them to make progress. As the game progresses and players scour the world for clues, you will collect a number of key items and story segments from these locations that play an important role later. Oddly enough, however, most of these locations contain very little to do, and do not need to be traversed more than once as the story progresses.
All in all, Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright is essentially split into two parts: Puzzles and Trials.
Puzzles were a defining factor of the Professor Layton series and they make a return in this game. They are often presented to the player by NPCs or after finding them hidden among the backdrop; and they play a major role in this game, so completing as many as possible is highly encouraged. Players are given a number of tools to assist them when it comes to puzzles should they find them to be too difficult or time consuming; the aptly named \”hint coins\” make a return and can be spent to unlock hints to the puzzle at hand, while the memo system is also included for players to work with if they so choose. Completing any puzzle will award the player with a number of points called “Picarats”, the amount of which varies depending on the difficulty of the puzzle and how easily you can complete them. A few select puzzles are required to finish the game, while most other puzzles given to the player are entirely optional; however players who can gather enough Picarats by the end of the game will be rewarded with additional content, creating an incentive to find and finish as many puzzles as possible for those interested in going the extra mile.
Trials on the other hand are the staple of the Ace Attorney series. During trials players take control of Phoenix Wright and are tasked with cross-examining witnesses to gather information and to present evidence when their testimony contradicts it. While simple in concept, these trials can be both extremely fun and harrowing in execution. Finding the contradiction to a testimony can be an exhilarating experience while hitting a dead end can be absolutely infuriating; however hint coins are also available for the player to use in trials which can greatly help mitigate the frustration and remove trial-and-error (long time fans of Ace Attorney series will likely love this particular addition). Much of a trial\’s content will also provide much needed comic relief via exaggerated character reactions, humorous dialogue, and clever animation.
Several other refinements have been made to the aspects of previous Layton and Ace Attorney games that made their way into the crossover. The magnifying glass used to interact with the game changes color when hovering over important objects and will glimmer when a hint coin can be found. Each segment has a clear list of items and puzzles so that players can find content they missed the first time through without aimlessly wandering the town checking every square inch for something they missed. Story progression has been streamlined. A new court mechanic has been added, allowing for multiple witness cross examination. Hints have been improved. Many other improvements stem from the marriage of game mechanics from the Layton and Ace Attorney series, however small or big some of them may be (once again, we can not emphasize enough how useful hint coins are during trials). On the other hand there are several features that did not make their way into the crossover, such as Layton\’s mini-games or Phoenix Wright\’s magatama interrogations. Despite this however, Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright still holds up against its predecessors and its unique combination of mechanics improve the game as a whole.
Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright takes the visual styles from previous games and combines them with a fantasy setting to create its own unique design; the styles of both series fit well together and in combination with the medieval setting manages to make the game feel like a story book come to life. Character models are well made and expertly animated to match their personalities while clever writing further complements the visual aesthetic; however there are times when the framerate will inexplicably drop, and while this is of little consequence in a text-based game it is noticeable none the less. The soundtrack consists of a number remixed themes from its parent games along with a score of original pieces for the crossover itself; the vast majority of these themes match the tone perfectly, and some are well worth listening to regardless of context.
Many parts of the game also include voice acting for the various characters while fully animated video are also included to denote important events. The voice acting is done well for most part – major characters and NPC\’s have their personality and styles portrayed flawlessly; however not all characters were so fortunate with their respective cast of voice actors, leaving some sounding quite different than what their personalities imply. The videos are well animated and executed, however most of them do not work well with the 3DS\’s 3D effect turned on – namely, depth perception errors. Ultimately the visual aesthetic matches both of its respective series well while its new additions complement them further. A few graphical hiccups will likely pull players out of the experience; as a whole, however, the game looks and feels great.
Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright is an entertaining crossover and a strong addition to the 3DS library. The story is both engaging and fun, albeit a touch nonsensical in hindsight. The two games and their mechanics combine and complement each other well, laying the foundation for improvements to both series; however the omission and dilution of several mechanics often feels like a missed opportunity. The first crossover between Professor Layton and Ace Attorney is a fantastic adventure that is sure to please fans of either series. At its best it is an engaging and entertaining visual novel, while at its worst it is less than sum of its parts.