Professor Layton Vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney
Publisher: Level-5 Developer: Level-5/Capcom
Fanboys don’t want to hear this, nor do most people who post on internet forums; but when it comes to fiction crossovers usually suck. This is easily explainable; creators and writers are often highly protective of their intellectual property and rarely take huge risks for the sake of usually non-canonical stories that take place in a world not entirely of their own creation. The truth of the matter is that crossovers, more often than not, are a compromise between the two franchises rather than a sum of all the parts which is what makes so many of them disappointing.
Having said that; on paper it’s hard to imagine a more perfect crossover videogame than Professor Layton Vs. Phoenix Wright. Both franchises concern themselves with puzzles and mysteries, and their general formulas would seem to complement each other. Professor Layton games are often somewhat sluggishly paced and have a bad habit of the actual mystery being solved by the professor in a cutscene that has nothing to do with the players input, leaving a huge void between interactivity and the story that some Ace Attorney courtroom drama could flesh out happily. Of course, in between courtroom sections the “investigation” segments of Ace Attorney games can get a bit dry themselves, so some Layton style puzzles can jazz these bits up as well.
So when put into practice does this all work out? Short answer: pretty much. The two franchises gel so well the only confusing part about this game is why no-one thought to do this project sooner. What’s also interesting is the writers went for a story about witches set in a fantasy land, now Professor Layton veterans will know that there’s usually some pseudo-science anime style explanation for any supernatural elements to the mystery. However, the Ace Attorney series has dipped its toes into the realms of magic in the past so for this crossover you’re not entirely sure how much “magic” is actually at work in the story. This actually adds more intrigue to the mysteries of the game and keeps you guessing until the very end, which already puts it above the more recent Layton entries such as Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask.
The absolute standout moments of Professor Layton Vs. Phoenix Wright are the courtroom sections, mostly because it’s so interesting to see a) Phoenix Wright taken out of his comfort zone and having to make arguments based on arbitrary magic-based rules and b) the Ace Attorney formula being handled by a different team of puzzle designers. The scenarios presented in this game are as sharp as broken glass, there’s little to no witness testimonies that can be passed by brute forcing obviously contradictory evidence at, you need to really get a mental grasp on what is being said and what actually happened to get anywhere in this game.
The gimmick the crossover adds is having multiple witnesses testify at once, and pressing one of the witnesses may end up giving you opportunities to question one of the other ones and open up new paths to get new information. It is mostly a gimmick that changes the game very little, but it does seem to say a lot about how much fun the team working on this project were having. Near the end of the game there’s a section where you have to cross-examine 10 knights at once, and this is only for two testimonies. It would have been ridiculous easily to rewrite the script so the testimony was given by one or two guys, but they wanted this to be a memorable scene so they actually bothered to design and fully animate 10 whole characters, 8 of which would never be seen again before or after this segment. The amount of effort that was placed into half an hour of a 25-30 hour long game is astounding and really should be applauded.
On the Professor Layton side of things the game feels a little weaker. Due to the long trial segments this game only contains about half the puzzles that the average Layton entry would contain, and none of the side mini-games the series has become known for. This is all understandable, and it would certainly be unfair and flat out incorrect to claim that Professor Layton Vs. Phoenix Wright short changes anyone on content; but there is kind of a “phoned-in” feeling to the puzzles. This feeling could just come from (personally) playing five of the Professor’s previous games and being a little burned out, but considering this is a crossover title bursting with fan-boy appeal we have to assume that the vast majority of people playing this game know their way around Layton puzzles by now, and these ones just don’t feel up to the same standard. It’s hard to say considering different people will have different experiences with the puzzles, but there seems to be far too many puzzles that can be solved immediately, or by accident, or by just “hitting it until it works”.
These are all minor complaints though, overall Professor Layton Vs. Phoenix Wright generally holds up in the puzzle department. The other side of the coin here is the story, and with the fantastic visuals, soundtrack and overall presentation if the game can pull this off then we might be in a position to call it one of the best crossovers ever!
This is where things get more complicated…
Okay, the story isn’t terrible; it’s not even bad really. The mysteries as discussed earlier hold up really well for the majority of the running time and keep you guessing to the end, there’s just a few weird things about it. First off, outside of a couple of mostly irrelevant cameos no-one from either franchise makes an appearance other than the four leads. There’s no problem with that, personally I applaud the game for having the stones to be its own thing and not subject itself to constant lowbrow fan-service, the problem is a lot of the new characters aren’t especially interesting.
There are some exceptions, and few of the new characters are awful, however the most important character that the entire game is based around definitely IS awful. Her name is Espella, and she’s an incredibly boring and impossible to care about character who is the centre of this games universe, neither Phoenix or Layton have ever met her before yet they’re completely devoted to saving her to an extend that just starts to get weird. It’s hard to go into details here without spoiling things, but here’s one factoid about Espella, she’s such an obviously empowered and amazing character that she attempts to commit suicide FOUR times in the story. By the third time you’ll probably be cheering her on yourself.
There’s also the nature of the ending, which it has to be said will be a deal breaker for a lot of players. Maybe you’re reading this having already beaten the game and are shaking your head thinking “well I didn’t mind the ending”, that’s good for you champ! But it has to be mentioned that it’s really going to bother a lot of people. Although things are basically all explained and there aren’t any massive plotholes that break the story, there sure as hell are a ton of little ones that will probably make this game fall apart slightly on a second playthrough. Again, trying to avoid spoilers here, but basically the crime that the third court case is based around doesn’t make any sense whatsoever in light of the ending, and the entirety of the story could have been avoided if it had occurred to one character to just go to a therapist or something.
As a fan of both franchises, I can say that Professor Layton Vs. Phoenix Wright is a mostly happy marriage between the two games. Frankly, I see no reason why there couldn’t be a sequel to this game, there’s certainly still untapped potential in having the characters of Professor Layton and Phoenix Wright on screen together. Maybe the ending and elements of the story will leave a bad taste in your mouth at the end, and hey, you’ll just have to settle for the 20 hours of good times you had before the game got to that. Then again, you might be totally fine with all that and retain a gooey feeling from seeing these two iconic characters together in a project that was so obviously adored by its creators.