Two of the greatest video game characters from the Nintendo DS era return to do battle on the Nintendo 3DS. Though both Professor Layton and Phoenix Wright both have their own 3DS titles already, the crossover in Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney marks one of the more interesting tag teams in recent memory.
Both series shine in the story department and are primarily text based games. Professor Layton games include many puzzles in between the dialogue and cutscenes while Phoenix Wright games require some point and click investigations and trials that test your logic. The games have similar approaches so fans of either series should easily warm to the other. So what can a professor of archaeology and a defense attorney accomplish when they join forces?
A Ridiculous Story
To reconcile the more modern, realistic feel of the Phoenix Wright games to the more wacky Professor Layton series, the story transports the protagonists of both series to a fantasy world of the medieval era. Not only are there knights, markets and limited technology, there is also a very disturbing set of witch trials.
The story begins with a few introductory puzzles and a simple trial to introduce the concepts and gameplay from both series. The protagonists, which include Professor Layton, Luke, Phoenix Wright and Maya, meet a mysterious girl named Espella Cantabella in modern day London before being transported to Labyrinthia, a medieval city filled with witches. The rules for both games are bent and distorted to fit the time period. Magic is very much real in Labyrinthia, and of course, the mechanics of a witch trial is very different from a modern trial.
Naturally, Professor Layton rises to the challenge and works with Phoenix Wright to become prominent public defenders for witches on trials. Phoenix Wright learns to deal with group testimonies and Professor Layton displays new uses for logic.
For fans of either games, there is a lot of influence from both series. Plenty of puzzle make it into the game, and the trials are prominently featured. The puzzles are found throughout your investigations as you chat with others and find interesting objects. The puzzles that are derived from Professor Layton games still remain very much the same. They are easily bent to feature a few medieval touches to the usual pattern spotting, close reading and space perception challenges. The puzzles are still as charming as ever, and there’s a good variety of them so that you aren’t confronted with the same puzzle over and over, like in the last Professor Layton game.
On the other hand, Phoenix Wright fans will have to adjust a little. The point and click investigations are entirely removed in favor of the Professor Layton-style puzzles, but the trials are still the predominant aspect of the game that drives the story. Almost all of the witch trials will feature group testimonies. Your client is guilty until proven innocent, and the witnesses are actively trying to prove your client guilty. They will team up and change their testimonies as they see fit to get your client declared guilty. While this has no real bearing on the classic mechanics of finding contradictions, the approach to proving your client innocent is a little different. You are still asked to find oddities in the statements provided by the witnesses and showing evidence when something seems suspicious. These cross-examinations help edge closer and closer to the truth and moves the story forward.
The difficulty level remains as challenging as ever, but the rules have been eased drastically, presumably to accommodate newcomers. Hint coins are given very liberally and can be used in puzzles and trials to reveal very precise solutions.
Neither series took roles that were too dominating. Professor Layton obviously had a greater influence in the story while Phoenix Wright commanded the attention of the gameplay. But the presence of both series are felt in everything from the gameplay to the art to the music. Though I have to say, Phoenix Wright does seem a little incompetent when compared to the brilliant Professor Hershel Layton. The two characters are often supporting one another, but also clash on key points, so they work as partners and adversaries.
I am certain that fans from either series will enjoy the package. There is enough from both series so that you can distinctly recognize and appreciate the Professor Layton or Phoenix Wright aspects of the game.
This game is so well polished and thought out that I’m certain that plenty of fans will bridge the gap and purchase from the other series sooner or later. Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney is a great sample of both series and will definitely entice some diehard fans to try another series in this niche market.
Nevertheless, my main concern is that the game is aimed heavily at fans that are already familiar with at least one of the series. They’ve obviously included instructions for both, but the story is so out of tune that neither the full Phoenix Wright or Professor Layton experience is truly there. It holds up for fans with a lot of nostalgic throwbacks or fun quips. But for a newcomer to both series though, it is an overwhelming amount of gameplay to learn, and there are so many references that will go unappreciated that I cannot recommend the game if you haven’t played at least one of the parent series.