Gamer Diary: Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright

I have been waiting for this stupid game for years. When they first announced the release of the 3DS and Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright was announced as one of the first games in development, I was hyped. And when it finally was released last year I was super excited to get it. But due to Amazon shenanigans the game never went on sale and the price for new copies skyrocketed immediately, much like Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy (but that’s a rant for another time.) As the price for new and used copies went higher and higher and my regular retail stores continued to simply have the game at retail price or just plain sell out, I was getting to the point where I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to play it.

Then a couple of weeks ago I happened by the local chain of game stores, Buy Back Games, and HOLY CRAP OH MY GOD THEY HAD A BRAND NEW COPY FOR ONLY 20 BUCKS. Naturally I told them to shut up and take my money (actually, I very nicely asked to get that game and one other) and started playing it almost immediately after I got home. I originally started playing the Professor Layton games because of the recommendation of a friend from an old forum I religiously visited, and over the years I became a huge fan of the franchise. And I had always wanted to play a Phoenix Wright game though never had the chance before because apparently Colorado hates VNs and you never, ever find copies, even at Gamestop.

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The game opens up with a pretty cool animated movie that introduces us to the plot with an exciting car chase that segways into showing Professor Layton and his assistant Luke, and Phoenix Wright and his assistant Maya Fey. Minor complaint is that Luke’s voice actor was changed. I eventually got used to it by the end of the game but it was pretty distracting in the beginning. Also, Phoenix and Maya are adorable. I love the idea that this brilliant attorney is largely everybody’s butt monkey and Maya is so plucky and feisty that you can’t help but love her. The first part of the game starts on Layton’s side when reoccurring Layton characters Inspector Chelmey and Constable Barton ask the Professor to look into a weird car crash that involved a former student who is now a detective. You can tell they simplified the game quite a bit for people unfamiliar with the Layton formula since the tutorial side was so. Damn. Long. Not only that, they made it super easy to find the hint coins, the Layton currency for when you get stuck trying to figure out a puzzle.

Once the Layton prologue ended it was time for the first case with our Ace Attorney. Unfortunately the case hit a little too close to home for me because it reminded me of something that happened this year, and it was a little difficult to get through. I don’t know if Phoenix Wright fans thought the cases were too simplified or not, but all I know is I’m glad I had those hint coins. While some of the contradictions and evidence was obvious, some of the logical deductions seemed to come out of left field. I did love the character designs and the animation, and it’s hard not to love a character who some get bitch-slapped with their own tuna (and that’s not a euphemism, there really was a tuna fish.)

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The two prologues, though very different, very nicely set up the main plot of the game that starts immediately after Phoenix’s first case ends. Through two different methods, Professor Layton, Luke, Phoenix and May all get dragged to the world of Labyrnthia, a medieval town ruled by the Storyteller, a man who ‘created the town’ and dictates the fates of all its residents with individual ‘Stories’ given out at regular parades. The stories can be anything from innocuous like ‘so and so’s business will succeed’ or more serious ‘someone will die’. When Professor Layton and Luke stumble across a parade, they learn that two people will be killed by a witch, and the witch will be discovered and burned. Horrified by this prediction, the Professor and his assistant further explore to discover the Storyteller is never, ever wrong. The Professor eventually stumbles across Espella, the girl who he meets in London after the initial car crash and Maya and Phoenix Wright. After that the group learns that the Storyteller’s Story has once again come true, and the witch accused of committing the crime is none other than Espella, and that’s when the game’s real plot begins.

Throughout the game the story continues to split between exploration and puzzle solving with the Professor as he tries to uncover the mysteries behind this weird, storybook town and their devotion to the seemingly infallible Storyteller, and Phoenix going to court to defend Espella from various accusations of witchcraft constantly brought about by the town’s law enforcement, the Inquisition (I’d make a joke about it, but I think you’d expect that.) Eventually as the secrets of the town are brought to light, the game delivers on its promise as Phoenix and Professor Layton ends up on opposing sides of court during the ‘Final Witch Trial.’

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As I started playing the game I sorta wondered how it got a ‘T’ rating instead of an ‘E’ rating like all the other PL games and I got my answer during the first witch trial when you first enter the court and HOLY FUCK WITNESS AN EXECUTION. Seriously, it was pretty horrible, especially if you think too long about it like I always do and realize these women aren’t be burned, they’re being cooked since they are locked in cages. That’s pretty fucking gruesome since in real witch trials most of the accused either had their necks snapped before the fires were lit or died pretty quickly from smoke inhalation. No such luck here. I started wondering how something so awful could be a reoccurring plot point of the game and then I remembered, oh right, this is a Professor Layton game. Seriously, behind those charming character designs and logic puzzles this series gets dark. Murder, suicide, animal torture and child endangerment are pretty much par for the course with this series.

In terms of gameplay if you are a puzzle fan there are far less puzzles than your typical Layton game. Not counting the DLC, there are 70 puzzles total, and there are also no bonus challenges like collecting all the pieces of a robot or helping a hamster out of a maze. The puzzles are also super easy, and many of them are just slight modifications of puzzles that appeared in earlier games (there is a potion mixing puzzle that I am 80% sure was the same as a milk measuring puzzle in the original game, Curious Village.) What it lacks in strict logic puzzles in makes up in the court cases. Honestly, after playing all the way through I really want to hit up Amazon and track down all the games that got released stateside. The cases don’t quite follow a strict chain of logic like the puzzles do, but by patiently paying attention to what witnesses say and examining the evidence, it did become a lot easier to go through the case without making mistakes—though like I said, because the logic isn’t entirely infallible I ended up using quite a few hint coins throughout the court cases and still would remark ‘wait, that’s what they wanted?!’

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As for the story, aside from eventually becoming unbelievably dark (I often remark to people unfamiliar with the Zero Escape series that they are like Saw meets Professor Layton. In this case, I wouldn’t even need the Saw reference) it does the crossover angle extremely well. Most crossovers in comics and movies end up really, really badly because they start off the story with the characters as antagonists. This doesn’t happen here. Instead, you have two sets of characters that stay true to their origins but respect one and other. Phoenix unquestioningly concedes to the Professor on most things because he realizes Professor Layton is crazy smart, and in court the Professor rarely interferes because even though Nick is a dork of colossal proportions, he is a very competent attorney (at least in this reality, most of my brain throughout the game kept screaming LAW DOESN’T WORK THAT WAY.) So when they eventually are pitted against each other, it creates a lot of tension and drama for a really compelling story.

My only real pet peeve is I thought it would be nice if the character designs got slightly modified. Though the townspeople and side characters were a nice mix of AA and PL styles, the character designs of the Professor and Nick were so contrasting that it made total immersion really hard. Especially when you look into the concept art that’s available on the DLC and see that a change of style was a consideration.

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Overall this game was well worth the wait and I’m happy I now finally own it. Now if anyone needs me, I’ll be hoarding Ace Attorney games.

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