The long-awaited meeting of these two true gentlemen does not disappoint.
Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney attempts the tricky task of melding the styles of two long-running series known for their personality-packed, story-driven presentations and well-defined, unique gameplay hooks. With this collaborative effort, Layton developer Level-5 and Ace Attorney creator Capcom prove that every puzzle does indeed have an answer by delivering an experience that’s none too objectionable.
The Layton and Ace Attorney franchises share much common ground: mystery-driven plots, a heavy emphasis on logic, and strong doses of whimsy, to name a few. It’s those many aspects of this game’s source material that allow the crossover to make sense in a fundamental way. The developers do an admirable job of focusing on these shared characteristics to ground things so that the back-and-forth emphasis on, say, Layton-style puzzle-solving and Ace Attorney-style trials feels a bit less jarring than it could have in less skilled hands.
For the most part, though, the gameplay is a piecemeal affair, with its various segments coming directly from one series at a time. There are drawn-out chapters focusing on trials in the style of Phoenix Wright and extended exploration-based chapters which feature navigation, conversation, and puzzle-solving straight out of a Layton game. I won’t say these styles never intermingle, but when they do it’s presented more as a special occasion.
From a gameplay perspective, the trial sections feel much like any other Ace Attorney game, and though spiced-up cross-examinations with several simultaneous witnesses make things feel a bit fresher, they can also lead to a bit of confusion in certain instances. In general there is, at times, a bit of clunkiness inherent in Ace Attorney games that comes from a disconnect between what the player can see and what the character understands in any given situation. This can result in either getting stuck or receiving a penalty that feels unfair. In this game, at least the former problem is a bit mitigated by the hint coin system. Employing hints feels like something of a silver bullet, so this doesn’t solve the problem in a particularly organic way, but it’s a start. Having played Dual Destinies recently, I also found I missed the useful ability to review the conversation history at any time.
The Layton-style gameplay is subtly improved by key tweaks, such as a streamlined navigation system and screen-by-screen checklist of remaining hidden coins and puzzles. I also appreciated the continuation and furthered emphasis on a trend that the series has embraced more and more over the years: organic puzzle integration in which given puzzles actually represent substantive interactions with the game world. Not all the puzzles fall into this category, but a large enough percentage of them do that it was noticeable and welcome.
However, there is a double-edged sword in the puzzle selection. While they are generally well-designed, enjoyable, and varied enough to please, they feel a bit on the easy side. This isn’t strictly a bad thing, but considering the modest number of puzzles on offer (I found a meager 70 in my playthrough), the lack of significant challenge in the few on tap was a bit disappointing. While this does make the game a bit breezier, it also minimizes the feeling of accomplishment in some of the late game moments, making things feel a tad less epic in the climax from a gameplay perspective.
To be frank, though, if you’re a fan of the Layton or Wright series, you likely understand how integral the story and presentation are to their awesomeness. It’s in those areas that this game most satisfyingly shines, and the use of hint coins during trials coupled with the toned-down puzzle difficulty results in an increased emphasis on those strengths.
In many ways the overall setting and story feel like a Layton game that Phoenix Wright and Maya Fey were dropped into, but the way the Ace Attorney characters, interactions, and humor are handled is so well done that it simply works. The game captures each series’ signature personalities and quirks with aplomb, and seeing them bounce off each other never really gets old. Many of the minor ancillary characters are really well done, as well, which of course is a trademark of both series. This game packs more personality into random townsfolk than many games put into central characters.
The audiovisual presentation is generally of exceptional quality, with a handful of qualifiers. The character models look really nice, especially in regards to the more prominent characters, though not as good as the latest releases in their respective series. Most of the animations are also well-done, though oddly some of Phoenix Wright's animations seem a little off. There’s also a bit of a framerate issue in a small handful of scenarios, though it’s not a significant problem. The backgrounds, puzzles, and UI are all aesthetically pleasing.
While the music is good and riffs nicely on Layton and Wright’s signature compositions, the voice acting presents a few nagging concerns. Most glaringly, Phoenix Wright and Maya Fey’s voice actors are not quite up to par, especially in comparison to charming performances from the other main duo. Layton’s portrayal is as gentlemanly as ever, and though it is a bit jarring to hear Luke voiced by the longtime voice actor from the European releases of the Professor Layton series for some reason, she does a good job with the role.
The story pulls everything together, capturing all the mystery, outlandishness, and pathos that fans of both series have come to expect. I found it thought-provoking and touching, which is pretty typical of my reactions to both series’ previous entries, as well as writer/director Shu Takumi’s last game, Ghost Trick. Its final chapters may not satisfy everyone, but it feels genuine and fits well with the established styles of the Layton and Ace Attorney series.
In the end, there’s a magical quality to this game’s blend of ingredients that makes some of its minor faults seem insignificant. The undeniable charm of its presentation, thoughtful and ever-winding story, and joyous personality on display here are interwoven with threads from two outstanding series. Your mileage may vary based upon your feelings about the source material. But if you, like me, are smitten with both, then this crossover will inevitably put a smile on your face again and again over its 30 or so hours. Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright is a truly worthy celebration of two fantastic franchises.