Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright – Ace Attorney entwines two franchises around a single narrative. It is an odd coupling and the elements never fully mesh, but it’s as good a blend as could be expected, given the ingredients. Phoenix Wright games are about gathering and examining evidence and pointing out contradictions in testimony during elaborate murder cases. I’m a fan of these games, which I have reviewed here, here and here. Professor Layton games are about Layton and Luke, Layton’s puzzle apprenctice – yes, that’s a thing – going to a mysterious place and figuring out the truth behind the mystery. They achieve this by solving a large amount of puzzles pushed on them at the slightest provocation by everyone they meet. I didn’t really play any of the Layton games before this, so these elements of the Layton vs. Wright outing were new to me.
In this team-up both Layton and Wright, plus an apprentice each, end up in a storybook town, investigating a mystery centered on witches, a Great Fire and a Storyteller who seems capable of predicting exactly what is about to happen in the town. There are trials in which Wright ends up defending women who are accused of witchcraft. In between the courtroom battles, combinations of all the characters run around the town gathering evidence and getting puzzles thrown at them.
I may be biased in my description, but it does seem that the Wright trials are a more organic part of the story than the puzzles. The latter tend to break the flow. Some puzzles are only loosely related to the narrative – maybe just linked to the environment – and in other cases they stand for something that is happening in a different form. For instance; help two characters escape pursuers by solving a maze. So a lot of puzzles are only part of the story in an abstract kinda way. However, they are fun to solve for the most part, and if one stumps or annoys you, you can – often – skip it or spend a ‘hint’ coin to get a… well, guess. These coins can be found by tapping around the screen at the locations you visit, hidden in places that make some sense – like crates – or less sense – like chimneys and lamps.
The game looks good, its subtly moving 3D backgrounds having an appropriately storybook feel to them. Some of the characters are styled like in Layton’s universe – fairly simple shapes, cartoonish – while others look more realistic, relatively speaking, matching Wright and his companion (‘spirit medium’ Maya). The design elements don’t blend, but they co-exist quite well.
The story has some strange shifts in tone. You will witness someone seemingly being burned alive, but you will also help a pixie arrange the petals of a flower just so. These odd juxtapositions mean you end up less immersed than you could have been, but it’s all still entertaining. And the contrast of personalities in the main cast makes for interesting interactions. Wright and Maya are emotionally messy extroverts, while Layton is buttoned-up and Luke is also striving to be a well-behaved gentleman.
Wright’s witch trials are complicated by the fact that regular law doesn’t apply and that things like fingerprints don’t exist in this town. So you’ll have to use the peculiar logic set around the lore of witchcraft. And as a first, you’ll have more than one witness taking the stand at the same time. This leads to some funny moments and you’ll be able to switch between witnesses if you spot a reaction from one witness to a piece of testimony laid out by another. It’s not always clear where your focus should be, or how to get your point across, but hint coins can thankfully be used during trials as well.
Up until the end, you won’t be able to guess exactly what is going on beneath the surface of the town, but this is mostly because the explanation is layered, far-fetched and has some plot holes. The finale does its best trying to explain everything that happened and why it happened, but as lengthy as the conclusion is, there are still questions that go unanswered.
Despite odd variances in gameplay and style and despite a convoluted ending, you will have a good time with this game. Especially if you are already a fan of either of the two franchises involved. It is an interesting one-off, even if Wright and Layton would now do best to spend some time apart, to focus on their own strengths.