Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (3DS) Review
The game opens with Layton being called to investigate a mystery, as is the course for any adventure that Layton and his apprentice, Luke, set out on. One of his great friends has been rendered missing by presumed “witches”, and a mysterious girl appears to be at the centre of the event. They are eventually drawn into a world known as Labyrinthia , a mysterious city that doesn’t appear on any map. Meanwhile, Phoenix Wright and his own trusty sidekick of sorts, Maya Fey, are in London on exchange for a prestigious lawyer program. They must defend a girl who has been accused of heinous crimes, but strangely she seems to be the same girl at the centre of the mystery that Layton and Luke were investigating prior. Fast forward past the initial trial, and Phoenix and Maya find their way to Labyrinthia too. Both of the incredible duos meet, and they realise that there is much more to the goings-ons of Labyrinthia and that they must do their best to unravel it.
The game’s setting in particular is interesting – it provides a good kind of contradiction between the characters themselves and the setting. Phoenix Wright, for example, struggles to find sense in examining a testimony where magic is able to make the impossible possible, while Layton has trouble applying his logic to these firmly grounded in the illogical. The story itself is also not too scared to veer into darker territory, especially when compared to the things we see in other Layton and Ace Attorney games.
The adventure that the teams find themselves going through is pretty strong but it’s not the strongest that either Layton or Wright have been through. The conclusion in particular is quite disappointing and even a bit of a letdown – though the twists and turns players will have to take to get there are quite exciting. Despite this, it’s disappointing that the game seems to suffer from issues with pacing – where there are a lot of periods of “downtime” that really slow the pacing of the story. This problem is slightly exacerbated by the writing – which is excellent and totally en pointe here – as the writers seem to understand and incorporate appropriate humour here and there, but it’s not enough to keep the adventure thrilling throughout.
Layton vs. Ace Attorney employs a mix of gameplay styles from its respective franchises. The court and cross-examination mechanics, where players must examine testimony for contradictions to established evidence, are the main carry over from the Ace Attorney games. The investigation sequences are replaced with typical Layton gameplay – the players go through different environments, examine the environment and solve improbably placed puzzles to proceed through the game. Fans of the franchise won’t appreciate the game’s slow introduction to these mechanics, as the game’s formula doesn’t stray too far from what’s already been established in other games.
The Layton-esque puzzle segments remain mostly the same – though the puzzles on here are notably easier than other Layton games. It’s a disappointment, especially after the particularly challenging Azran Legacy, but given this game’s development period and the delay it’s taken to be localised it’s somewhat understandable. The courtroom segments take place within an execution chamber of sorts, and the focus isn’t really on dispensing justice but rather accumulating evidence against the accused. It’s a system that makes a lot more sense given the context of the game and it feels like the stakes have not only been upped but gives the games a much darker tone.
The courtroom sequences have probably received the most change. The most superficial one is the Grand Grimoire – a book of spells that illustrates how spells look and behave. This is Phoenix’s main crux when defending suspects in the witch trials – though it really is just a more elaborately decorated court case file than anything else, so its implementation is quite superficial.
A much better implemented change is the group testimony system – given the nature of a witch hunt, it is understandable that there would be angry mobs of people ganging up against a witness. During these moments, players can examine testimony as is usual for previous Ace Attorney games, but they must also keep an eye on other witnesses at the same time to see if they react to what other witnesses are saying. Given that lies usually beget more lies, it’s a fun way to find ways to expose contradictions in testimonies and watch the witnesses argue amongst themselves to decide what the “real” account of events is. It’s not as difficult as other gimmicks in the Ace Attorney games like the “perceive” or “mood matrix” systems, however, and it’s still disappointing to see these mechanics shoehorned into specific sections of a testimony rather than utilisable throughout the entire game.
As per usual for the Ace Attorney games, the cases are over the top and never stop in doling out the shocking revelations from beginning to end. The incorporation of magic as a narrative foil really helps to push the boundary of the craziness than ever could be seen in standard Ace Attorney games – those who enjoyed cross examining a parrot in the original game will find a lot of fun things to do in Layton vs. Ace Attorney. Unfortunately, there are many moments where players will probably arrive at a conclusion much faster than the games script does, which can be quite disappointing and especially annoying considering how long it might take the characters to arrive at the conclusion you arrived at fifteen minutes ago.
Most players will reach the end of Layton and Wright’s adventure after twenty five hours, though this may be stretched even further depending on the player’s own exploration style. Considering the asking price, Layton vs. Ace Attorney doesn’t leave players feeling short changed. To sweeten the deal even further, there are downloadable episodes that feature side stories and new puzzles – though only one is available right now. Besides that, the most (debatably) notable thing to unlock upon completion of the game is a sound gallery.
In terms of presentation, Layton vs. Ace Attorney really does a great job at transporting the player to the medieval town of Labyrinthia. Environments are beautifully realised, characters look like they fit right in and the art direction is incredible. The game could’ve looked incredibly generic, given the time period and the setting, but the team has managed to do a great job at bringing Labyrinthia to life. The 3D, as previously, is completely aesthetic. It adds depth to certain scenes and some witnesses during the courtrooms throw objects at the player which gives a nice popping effect, but it’s rarely used for gameplay purposes. The character models themselves look fantastic – Inquisitor Barnham in particular, although a bit of a Fire Emblem reject, looks like he stepped straight out of a proper anime production. Voice work is similarly well done, though sometimes there are notable “gaps” between lines of dialogue that kind of ruin the immersion, especially during intense moments where a witness is breaking down.
Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney is dripping with fantastic moments that fans of Layton or Ace Attorney (or both) will absolutely adore. There’s nothing quite like seeing Layton slam the bench yelling “Objection” or “Hold It” much like Phoenix does in his own games. And seeing this incredibly intelligent duo working together will bring a smile to almost any fans face. While it’s a good marriage of gameplay elements from both games, the problems that plague both those games still exist here – in particular the moments of poorly paced exposition and dialogue. Regardless, the new additions, such as the group testimony and subsequent cross-examinations, are cleverly implemented gameplay mechanics that fit the game’s setting and narrative too. And while the ending is slightly disappointing – don’t let that put you off – Layton and Phoenix’s journey through Labyrinthia is filled with enough exciting twists and turns to make up for it.