Very rarely does a video game have enough emotional impact to keep me thinking about it even days after I’ve played it to completion. A handful of titles come to mind, two of which are Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy, and Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Trials and Tribulations. Both series have been staples of Nintendo’s DS console and it was inevitable that Level-5 and Capcom would eventually team up to bring their iconic characters together in Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney.
As epic as a crossover between a gentlemanly puzzle-solver and an ace attorney may seem, you have to ask, does it deliver? Or is it just a hot mess of elements with both series being meshed together in illogical nonsense like a certain other crossover title also available on the 3DS? I’m looking at you, Project X Zone.
The medieval fantasy town of Labyrinthia sets the stage for both characters to make their appearances in Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright. The prologue starts off simply enough, treating players to a beautifully animated cutscene introducing your favorite characters. We see the good professor and the adorable Luke Triton sipping tea in their apartment in London when they receive a letter from an ex-student of the professor’s, asking him to assist a young woman named Espella Cantabella.
The second half of the prologue brings us to Phoenix and Maya, who are in London on an exchange trip organized by the Legal League of Attorneys. Needless to say, the pair is roped into a mysterious case in which Phoenix then finds himself taking on the role of the defense lawyer for one Espella Cantabella.
The beginning chapters are broken up in such a way that you play through a Layton puzzle-solving and exploration segment in one chapter before you move on to a courtroom segment in the next. Of course, both elements will start to meld together as you proceed further into the game. Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright plays predominantly like a Layton game, however, as you will often find yourself exploring the town of Labyrinthia while clicking around for hidden puzzles and hint coins. The crime scene investigation segments that Ace Attorney fans would be familiar with are barely in the game and even when they are, they’re extremely brief.
Speaking of puzzles, there are about 70 of them, which is half the number of puzzles you’d be accustomed to in a typical Layton game. Not only that, the puzzles in Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright are much easier than you’d expect from a Layton game as well. And this is coming from someone who is typically quite bad at solving logical brainteasers. Furthermore, the game provides you with an overabundance of hint coins that will make these puzzles even less of a challenge than they already are.
Chances are, you’re not going to be using many of these hint coins on the puzzle-solving segments. In fact, you might be better off saving them for the courtroom drama that Phoenix and Maya have to endure. In a world governed by magic and fantasy, players are forced to think in terms of magic spells and witchcraft. Technology is almost non-existent in Labyrinthia, meaning concepts such as fingerprinting and blood analysis are completely foreign to the townfolk there. It’s an interesting spin on things, and definitely provides a fresh experience for Ace Attorney veterans.
The game also introduces a few new courtroom mechanics such as the ability to cross-examine multiple witnesses at once, as well as finding contradictions by comparing two testimonies side-by-side. For instance, one witness may find something odd about another witness’ testimony and you can identify these occurrences through audio and visual cues. The player can then stop the cross-examination and choose to question the second witness to see if there are any new details to be gleaned from that. This can sometimes lead to dead ends, and players will have to use their better judgment to figure out which lines of questioning are worth pursuing. Of course, things get out of hand in the later chapters of the game when you get a grand total of 10 people taking the stand all at the same time. It’s chaotic, but definitely good for a few laughs.