Game Review: Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney

As you no doubt already know by now, the Ace Attorney series is one series that I am constantly kicking myself over for not getting into it sooner. Better late than never, I suppose. Naturally, I was very hyped for this game because I will use any excuse to play more of Courtroom Hijinks: The Series.

I did come into this game with some reservations, however. I never got into the Professor Layton series because, truth be told, I’m horrible at solving puzzles, and telling me to “just solve it with math” is like telling me to drink vinegar. My experience with crossovers has been that they’re difficult to pull off and still maintain the charm of their respective series. I also noticed that the vast majority of professional reviews were coming to it as fans of Layton, not Ace Attorney, so their impressions of the game were skewed in that direction.

In PL vs.AA, Professor Layton and his “apprentice gentleman” assistant Luke Triton are enjoying a quiet evening at Layton’s residence in London when they are approached by a mysterious girl named Espella, seeking their aid against witches who are intent on capturing her. When Espella is abducted, Layton and Luke find themselves in the mysterious town of Labyrinthia, a place that is governed by a man known as the Storyteller, and whose inhabitants believe that the Story he writes literally comes true and malevolent witches are a reality.

Meanwhile, Phoenix Wright and Maya Fey are in London on an exchange trip organized by the Legal League of Attorneys. Naturally, they also end up in the town of Labyrinthia where they team up with Layton and Luke in order to uncover the secret of the town of Labyrinthia and the mysterious witches that plague it.

Gameplay is split between Layton-esque puzzle-solving and trial segments. As Layton and Luke, you explore the town solving puzzles. There are a good variety of puzzles in the game (although there are some repeats). if you ever get stuck on a puzzle (as I did countless times) there’s a handy hint system that costs hint coins–which you can find all over the town–that will practically tell you the answer if you are willing to sacrifice enough coins. As someone who isn’t  very good at puzzling, I found many of the puzzles frustrating, although most of them actually have very simple solutions if you stop and think. Solving puzzles without using hints and without failing awards you with the most Picarats (basically a points system), which are necessary to unlock bonus content. If you really don’t have the patience for a puzzle, you can always skip it. Unfortunately you can’t save during puzzles, but if you time your saves right you can save scum like a dirty cheater. 😀

The other half of the gameplay is the trial phase. This phase should be familiar to anyone who has played an Ace Attorney game as it’s the usual matter of pressing witness statements and pointing out contradictions with the help of evidence. This game’s trial phase adds a couple of twists, namely the ability to cross-examine multiple people at once (which is basically a standard cross examination with each person delivering a line of testimony) and the ability to question witnesses (“Hang On!”) about statements made by other witnesses. As I am much more competent when pointing out contradictions than puzzling, I found these sections to be relatively easy compared to other Ace Attorney games. Cross-examining multiple witnesses might seem intimidating at first but, as I said, it’s simply a single long testimony with each line spoken by a different person.

Graphically, the game has some really pretty background art. Many of the characters are done in a similar style to Professor Layton (highly stylized) while important characters are done in Ace Attorney’s still exaggerated but more anime-esque style. Layton’s art style was a little too cartoonish for my tastes (says the girl who loves cartoons) but mixing it up with Ace Attorney style characters helped a bit. Musically the game is gorgeous and familiar tracks from both series make an appearance. I was especially pleased with the arrangement of the “Pursuit” theme from the very first Ace Attorney game. Another big surprise for me was the amount of voice work in this game. Have you ever played an Ace Attorney game and wished that you could actually hear the witnesses shout “Hold it!” just like the main cast could? Well, here you go!

In terms of negatives, some of the secondary characters really annoyed me. There’s one in particular that shows up in at least two trials and I could not wait for this character to go away so I could get on with the trials. There’s another character whose “quirk” involves her shouting “Siiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiir!” very loudly and shrilly (complete with microphone feedback noise) which is just obnoxious. I thought that the characters’ personalities were true to their original series (or near as I can tell with Layton) but was slightly disappointed when Maya’s spirit medium abilities were barely mentioned, especially given that there were a couple of times in the plot where she could have used them, especially since we get to see Luke use his ability to talk to animals multiple times during the game.

As far as stuff to watch out for, well, this game involves witch trials and it’s made very clear that even admitting to being a witch is a death sentence involving a literal pit of fire. One case involves suicide. If you’re the type of person who is very attached to the main characters, there are definitely portions of this game that will either make you sad or fill you with rage. Overall, I would say that despite the, you know, witch-burning, PLvs.AA is definitely not as dark as Dual Destinies, which could get pretty dark.

I spent a good thirty hours with this game and the story has enough twists and turns that it kept it interesting even if the puzzles were frustrating at times and despite the sometimes heavy subject matter it’s actually a pretty lighthearted adventure. If you’re a fan of either series and you’re looking for a game you can play on Hallowe’en but you aren’t into jump scares, or even if you just like a good puzzle, Professor Layton vs. Ace Attorney would be a fine addition to your collection.

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