Fried Take - "Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney" (3DS)
Yet there were some bastions of hope. Some of the upcoming Fall titles look engaging, the return of survival horror into the marketplace is great, and, more related to this review, Nintendo has put up its dukes again and started pounding into the competition again. Given that I love the company dearly, and that I obviously am heavily invested in the "Ace Attorney" franchise, this title was always a no-brainer purchase for me. In fact, it was one of the reasons I wanted a 3DS, when it was announced way back in 2010. I didn't know how good it would be, though. In fact, I had no idea that one game could singlehandedly restore my faith in video games, and my love of them. But that's what's happening with "Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney." It sounds hyperbolic, but this is one of the best games I've played this year.
The set-up is ridiculous and whimsical, very befitting of both franchise involved. A mysterious book owned by a girl named Espella holds the history of Labyrinthia, a sleepy town that feels straight out of a fairy tale. And indeed, Espella's book makes that seem like a likely possibility, considering it not only holds the tale of Labyrinthia's past, but of its present and future as well. In two very different capacities, Layton, Luke, Phoenix and Maya get involved with Espella, and get drawn inside of the magical tome. To their surprise, being sucked inside of the book takes them straight to Labyrinthia, which is very much a medieval joint complete with knights, cobblestone streets, and... witch trials. Yep, you see where this is going, don't you?
Four rational individuals are thrown into a wildly irrational world and expected to survive. Not only that, but they're expected to go up against widespread superstition to save innocent lives, and to try and topple a man known only as the Storyteller, who is essentially a god. Will logic prevail? Will their objections be heard? Or will the future written by the Storyteller come to fruition and foil everything our heroes are working towards? The basic conflict of this game is a top-notch "fish out of water story," and it's one of the best adventures any of the characters have ever had.
|The entire experience is punctuated by clever moments of self-awareness.|
The gameplay itself is a perfect combination of both series' hallmarks. Sections in which you're pointing and clicking are now not only filled with puzzles, but with clues and evidence that can be used in court. This means that you'll see Phoenix and Maya solving puzzles in the same fashion as a Layton game, as well as Layton and Luke questioning witnesses and discussing evidence in a similar way to an Ace Attorney entry. This simultaneous combination and role-reversal is the compelling kick in the pants both franchises have needed in recent entries, in my opinion, and keeps things constantly engaging.
Long-time fans of the Ace Attorney franchise, the ones who expect each entry to have a cool new mechanic (Psyche-Locks, the Mood Matrix, and the like,) will be pleased to see two new features added here. It's a bit of a mixed bag, though, as one of them is a bit perfunctory, while the other is surprisingly novel and interesting. The useless one is the addition of a spell book, which the player can use to present different spells in court. We've been collecting and presenting evidence since 2005 (earlier in Japan,) though, and this just feels like another arsenal of evidence as opposed to a legitimate new feature. That being said, the second addition is having multiple witnesses on the stand at once, which is a healthy amount of chaotic fun. Different testimonies contradict each other and trigger other trains of thought of other witnesses, and it's up to the player to suss through all of these to get to the bottom of each case. It's a novel feature that could only really work in this setting, and while I'd like it to return, I understand that it wouldn't work using the modern legal system as a template. As it stands, I'm grateful for such a cool feature here, and appreciate the exciting twist on the formula it brings to the table.
|All of the cutscenes are gorgeous.|
There are no real complaints in the presentation department. In fact, this is one of the best looking titles on the 3DS in terms of pure aesthetics. Just to be clear, that doesn't mean it has the most polygons, or the most "realistic" appearance. Instead, its art direction can only be described as brilliant. It is a beautiful collision of both Layton and Ace Attorney's radically different styles that feels tasteful, and is aided by a fantastic presentation in the town of Labyrinthia itself. Playing video games for as long as I have, I've seen plenty of medieval villages and mysterious dungeons. Yet few of them have managed to make me feel the sense of awe and whimsy I feel while playing "Layton vs Wright." It's filled with several interesting characters of varying art styles that, somehow, never clash, and feel like living, breathing citizens of their world. This fantastical cavalcade of bright color is tied together by a fantastic use of 3D and smooth character animations, further drawing players into Labyrinthia. Oh, yes, and those animated cutscenes? They're easily the best either franchise has ever had.
Arguably, though, my favorite part of this game is the soundtrack. Layton and Ace Attorney are both scored by some of the best in business, and have distinctive tunes which franchise fans know and love. While the primary Ace Attorney composer didn't work on this, which is kind of surprising, the main Layton composer and another famed game musician teamed up for the soundtrack this time around. The results can only be described as... actually, no description does them justice. But what I can say is that this is the best soundtrack, to any game, that I have heard all year. The light yet mysterious vibe of Level-5's games is given copious amounts of punch and spice by the signature brash and bold atmosphere of Capcom's. Musical hallmarks of both series are touched upon and messed around with in new, interesting ways, which helps drive home the fact that this is a true combination of both franchises.
|Get ready for a variety of weird, wacky moments.|
"Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney" is not without its issues, but in my years of experience, no game is. As it stands, though, it's two fantastic franchises done right, thrown into one game and then put on the market at a budgeted price. For adventure game fans, it's a fantastic value and a great introduction to a cast of unforgettable characters. For fans of both or either franchise, it's everything you know and love, plus so much more. Either way, it's a fantastic game with very little hampering it from being one of this year's best.
At the end of the year, after the overhyped shooters and DLC cashgrabs have come and gone, I will look back on this game still, and might even still be playing downloadable puzzles and bonus episodes. I will look back on it and remember it as the game that restored my faith in games.
Not bad, huh?