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Review | Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney

by on September 10, 2014
 

Let me just start off by saying this.  I love both of these franchises.  I’ve been playing the Ace Attorney series since it first came over to the states on the Nintendo DS and have been enjoying the courtroom antics of Phoenix and all the characters that have spawned from that series.  Professor Layton, I admittedly jumped into much later, as it was actually when this crossover game was announced that I decided to dive into it. I was lucky to find a bundle of the first three games for a good price, and I played right through all of them and became a fan, continuing to play them to this day (I just recently picked up my own copy of Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy).  Now, with that said, Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney isn’t so much of a “versus” game, but more like a crossover event that combines the best of both franchises into one stellar adventure.  This is a very story driven adventure game, so I will do my best to avoid any spoilers for this review.

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Developed in collaboration by Level-5 and Capcom, North America finally received this crossover after being announced all the way back in 2010.  Japan managed to get it two years ago, but North America and Europe had to wait another two years before being able to get their hands on this title.  After playing through it in its entirety (all picarats!), I can see why it took so long.  There is a lot of content to the game, which being a text styled adventure, this would seem like a heavy burden for localization already.

What really makes it a heavy project though is the presentation of the game.  I have to say, as a fan of both franchises, somehow, this crossover’s presentation surpasses the main games of their respective series.  Gorgeous background artwork is displayed all throughout, as well as a great looking user interface using fantasy elements, and wonderful use of camera angles for the events that unfold.  I also have to give credit to the game’s composer, Yasumasa Kitagawa, who not only does a wonderful job of arranging music from the standalone franchises, but also creates an enchanting score that really carries this adventure.

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The story of the game is an interesting approach.  The Ace Attorney series typically has a reality-based setting, with only a slight touch of the supernatural in the form of using spirit mediums.  Professor Layton, while almost always having fantastical settings, typically runs on a similar structure, as it brings logic in to explain the various “mysteries” that you uncover throughout your adventures.  Professor Layton games still have quite a few fantasy elements, which revealing those would be a spoiler to those respective games, which makes it a bit different from the Ace Attorney series.

This game goes more of a Professor Layton route, introducing us to the town of Labyrinthia, a setting that is literally straight out of a storybook filled with knights, witchcraft, and superstition.  After mysterious events, our heroes find themselves involved in the story of Labyrinthia, tasked with uncovering the truth about the town.  Now at first glance, this setting may seem to be a bit out of place for the Ace Attorney crew, but it shows it to be intentional.  How else could you explain a blue suited attorney walking around in medieval times?  Well regardless, the setting actually helps bring out new ideas, ones that will probably never show up in the respective franchises.

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Now those who are not familiar with the games and how they play, Professor Layton is an adventure game where you are to explore various areas, talking to different characters and investigating suspicious objects, all for the sake of solving puzzles to progress the story.  The Ace Attorney series is a bit different, though in a lot of ways is still a puzzle game.  You will often explore various crime scenes to gather clues and evidence to use in court to prove your client to be innocent.  To do this, you must expose contradictions in the testimonies of witnesses and expose the lies to uncover the truth.  Now, since both of these franchises typically take place in modern settings, this game throws us for a loop, removing the rules that apply to the protagonists worlds, and changing them  to better suit the new setting.

For example, in the courtroom sequences of the Ace Attorney games, to deduce that the murder weapon was used by your client, they would often present their fingerprints on the weapon.  In medieval times, the concept of fingerprinting did not exist, so you have to find new ways to expose the truth.  Another rule change for the courtroom is that you can actually have more than one witness at the stand at a time.  While a great feature in the beginning, the idea gets a bit ridiculous at one point later on in the game, where it feels like more of a chore than a fun cross-examination.  It also brings in the new gameplay feature of questioning witnesses “during” another testimony, as sometimes a witness will react to something said, and you have the chance to move to them and ask them questions.  It’s really a cool feature that really helps make this game stand out from the main Ace Attorney series, but like I said, it’s unlikely that we’ll see it return, and they overdo it at one point of the game.

Going back to the presentation of the game, the game takes a lot of influence from the Professor Layton series, using much more voice work during vital scenes. This definitely helps out the courtroom sequences, which adds to the tension and makes the game almost come to life.  The game also utilizes a lot of animated cutscenes from the animation studio BONES, which also helps the presentation, a feature that seemed to carry into Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies.

Even though the animation is solid though, one thing that makes this game show its age is the 3D use in these sequences.  It seems like the studio had yet to master getting layers to feel grounded, as everything seemed like it was floating off the ground in all the cutscenes.  It’s a minor complaint, but something that stands out nonetheless.  The 3D visuals for the rest of the game, however, were very well done.

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Now the animated cutscenes in 3D wasn’t the only flaw of course.  Other things I noticed was that the localization team seemed to take the lazy route, as they appeared to have used the exact dialogue as the European version.  Instead of seeing American spelling, we often see the British versions of words, like “honour” or even “tyre”, which is again a minor complaint, but it makes it feel like they didn’t even need an American localization team.  Another issue I had was that while the game’s story is fantastic, the game really drags it out, making it to the point that the end of the story is about an hour too long.  The game took me roughly 27 hours to finish, again, getting 100%. Still, this is very long for this type of game, and there are definitely areas that could’ve been shortened.

Regardless, the game still has solid pacing during the beginning and middle chapters, switching off between solving puzzles like the Professor, and cracking testimonies in court as Phoenix Wright.  It takes the best of both worlds and brings them together in a surprisingly convincing crossover, really making these characters from different franchises and companies connect, and really establishing a bond between them.  Despite a few minor flaws though, fans of point-and-click adventure games, or even just gamers that want a change of pace to play a “visual novel” style game, Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney is a wonderful addition to the 3DS library.  As for the question of if it’s necessary to play the individual games of the franchises to enjoy this game, I would say no, though if you do, you’ll definitely enjoy it more.  Not much is referenced from the other games, but it’s really awesome to hear the main Professor Layton theme start playing when he reveals a hidden truth to the audience, or just to see the iconic “OBJECTION!” shout.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

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