Taking two of the most popular series from Nintendo’s handhelds and combining them in a highly anticipated crossover, Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney could be a joy for fans of either.  For a while it looked like this game would never be localized, limited to Japanese players where it released nearly a year ago.  Thankfully the game has now been released in all major territories, with North American owners able to pick it up starting August 29.

“Labyrinthia hides an ominous mystery”

The story has the initial appearance of being steeped in magical elements, yet you know that appearances can be deceiving – otherworldly things are never as they first seem. Those who’ve played any of the games previously should know to anticipate sound explanations for even the most unbelievable scenarios.  Plenty occur throughout the “mystical” city of Labyrinthia, and discovering the real reason behind them fits with both the logical mind of Professor Layton, and Phoenix Wright’s desire for truth.

Layton vs. Wright

Of course story is arguably the main element of this game.  It can make for tough reviewing, as I don’t want to give spoilers.   As it was, some of the game was already spoiled for me in part from having read reviews of the European release this past spring.  Without giving too much away, Labyrinthia is a place where science is unknown and logic is counterproductive– magic is used as explanation for many curious incidents.  Superstitious legends like witches are a perceived threat, which gives Labyrinthia a distinct Salem Massachusetts vibe.  Bizarre occurrences aren’t in short supply, and plenty of secrets are widespread.  The story definitely wasn’t what I was expecting.

Exploring and meeting new characters is a real highlight of the game.  The quirky supporting cast meshes well with the returning leads.  Some are better developed than others but all make an impression, especially the town folk who find their way to the witness stand!  Espella (whom you’re trying defending against witchcraft charges), inquisitors Barnham and Darklaw, and an enigmatic individual known only as the Storyteller, are the major players in this mysterious tale.

The main draw though is no doubt seeing Layton and Wright interact with each other.  Initially they’re working the same case from opposite ends, but it isn’t long before they’ll be introduced to one another.  Their initial encounter is a bit odd, but things will definitely develop and improve as time passes.  It’s an interesting pairing for sure.  Layton and Wright actually share many of the same qualities and skills, yet at times they seem like quite the odd couple.  Layton is almost always calm, with a confidence that solutions will be found no matter how seemingly puzzling circumstances are.  Wright meanwhile seems often on edge, and as skilled as he is at finding the truth you may doubt his ability to triumph, as he lacks the poise Layton possesses.  Overall they prove a good complement for each other.

“It’s a bit early to be drawing conclusions”

I found the game’s puzzles to vary somewhat in enjoyment.  Overall the structure is a bit on the easier side in this outing.  Hint coins are still fun to search for and discover, but you probably won’t be tempted to use them as much.  The puzzles also borrow from prior games, and repeat minor variants in new skins.  I think the slight unevenness perhaps makes them better suited for Ace Attorney players who’ve never played a Layton game before, or players with less experience.

The visuals are enjoyable to take in, as scenes are bursting with details and subtle animations.  I wouldn’t mind seeing character animations show more advancement however.  Being able to explore certain locales during both the day and night provides some nice diversity.  The occasional cinema scenes are great – I just wish there were even more of them!  The 3D effects don’t seem to add a great deal for most of the scenes, but are pleasant all the same.

The music in this game definitely excels.  I suspected this right away upon hearing the title screen composition – I must have sat for a good ten minutes just listening to the opening track!  The way the styles from both series are blended together is musical brilliance!  The soundtrack is an unlockable bonus, and one I definitely appreciate.  The voice acting provides a nice accompaniment to the various tunes.  It’s just too bad it’s so random when the voices are implemented, as they’d often come and go for reasons I wasn’t able to pick up on.  The acting itself is quite strong however, which is very refreshing.

 “Logic, coupled with careful, precise thinking, can topple any mystery”

I haven’t played a Professor Layton game since the DS, but I did play the last Phoenix Wright title, Dual Destinies.  I questioned that game’s inexplicable Mature rating.  This entry is only rated T for Teens.  I welcome that, and yet I found it to be darker overall.  To be clear I’m not saying I think it deserves an M rating, because I don’t.  But there are some disturbing scenes that caught me by surprise.  In any event, this reflects the ESRB’s need for continued improvement.  Layton vs. Wright is indeed suitable for teens, but I would not recommend it for children due to its themes.

I’d like to make a spoiler free observation concerning the ending – mainly that it dragged on a bit too long for its own good.  I actually did find it quite satisfying (if not entirely original) but whereas most of the game had a good flow, the end was peppered with more dialogue than perhaps was needed.  For me, the game wrapped up on an ever so slight down note because of this, while still managing to leave some questions unanswered.  Even so, the conclusion is clever and gratifying.

If you can get into the story, you’ll certainly enjoy Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright:  Ace Attorney.  It’s a quality title, with several enjoyable elements.  It has a lot of content (took me 25 hours or so to finish) some nice bonuses, and free DLC set to arrive. I can’t say it’s an improvement over solo outings however.  Perhaps a follow up from LEVEL-5 and Capcom can elevate this pairing to even greater heights, but their entertaining debut is sure to find a sizeable audience nonetheless.