Review: Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (Nintendo 3DS)

Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Official GBAtemp Review

Nintendo 3DS 5,801 views 4 likes 9 comments
Reviewed by Brandon Boui, posted Aug 26, 2014
Aug 26, 2014
  • Release Date (NA): August 29, 2014
  • Release Date (EU): March 28, 2014
  • Release Date (JP): November 29, 2012
  • Publisher: Level-5/Nintendo
  • Developer: Level-5/Capcom
  • Genres: Adventure, Puzzle
  • ESRB Rating: Teen
  • PEGI Rating: Twelve years and older
  • Single player
    Local Multiplayer
    Online Multiplayer
    Co-operative
Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney is an adventure and puzzle game for the Nintendo 3DS, developed by Level-5 and Capcom. Bringing characters from the Professor Layton and Phoenix Wright franchise, puzzle meets trial turnabout in the world of Labyrinthia. The title was released in Japan back in November 2012, in Europe back in March 2014, and for North America on August 29, 2014.
Brandon Boui

Review of Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright - Ace Attorney (NA)

What could go wrong with putting a puzzle genius and a trial champion together? Our wildest dreams came true with this title, which puts Professor Layton and Phoenix Wright together on the same battlefield. Yes, that means puzzles and courtroom action. Having played games in the Professor Layton and Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney series, I had high expectations going into this title. Hearing about it back in 2012 when it was announced for Japan, I recall being eager and giddy about the prospect. It took two years, but the game finally came out for us here in North America. Did it live up to its hype?

The game opens up with a car chase - a man gives a decent looking blond girl an envelope, and then they're surrounded by a supernatural event. Giant statues are coming to life. There's weird people in robes and a one-eyed cloaked thing. The driver, who goes by Carmine Accidenti, is injured, and then cut to London, where Luke and Professor Hershel Layton are talking about the supernatural and a mysterious storm. A blond girl named Estella shows up at his house, and moments later is taken by the one-eyed cloaked figure. Layton follows her in a chase that leads to the Thames, in which they find a book with strange moving letters, and then they disappear. After a few tense moments, suddenly we're playing with Phoenix Wright, and we're in the courtroom, defending Espella, who seems to have lost her spark and has become rather emotionless.

Just a quick side note: we're told early on that Espella is a witch hailing from Labyrinthia - a mysterious kingdom that isn't traceable on any world map, where all of the events of the city are written into a magical book. Following the prologue case, the world of puzzles and courtroom drama collides, and Professor Layton and Phoenix Wright become acquainted with one another - in the land of Labyrinthia, fighting a man known as the Storyteller who has the power to change the events of the city by logging details in a magical book - the people of this city seem to take the events of the book as literal and it's basically common sense to these people that whatever the book says will happen - something that piques Layton's interest. Some time later, they become acquainted with Phoenix and Maya at a bread shop in town, and the fun only goes on from here. The story was actually quite great (not going to spoil too much) but let's just say the twists and turns that come up will keep you going. I was quite surprised at the revelations as they came out, and I have to commend the developers for their great writing. It's not perfect writing, but the storytelling is very strong, and it creates such a great hook that I didn't want to put my game down for some time. There were definitely occasions where I wanted to call in sick from work so that I can just continue. The story gets good because of the game's immediately noticeable dark atmosphere - you're going to be in some truly miserable locations, and the stakes are so much higher in this game. How so? Instead of being found guilty (and implicitly put to jail, imprisoned, etc) this game will kill your defendant in an iron maiden... ouch. The fates of the characters in the game are mostly written out in books. It sounds like another typical day of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney. With the game's story and darker writing tones, the characters end up finding solace in each other, becoming the other half that keeps the character grounded. They're sort of like the yin and yang here. It's interesting to see how they all interact and work together towards the common goal. The other miscellaneous characters that you will encounter are quite outlandish and as bizarre as they come, and their dialogue is great to read, very similar to characters in the Ace Attorney franchise - very memorable for the most part.

 

Gameplay follows the two lead characters - Hershel Layton and Phoenix Wright, along with their respective companions Luke and Maya. The game spends time in the points of view of each main character - solving puzzles as Professor Layton, or examining witness testimony as Phoenix Wright. The game spends equal time with each character, and each character will be doing what the other specializes in as well. What I did notice later on was that the game was more suited towards Ace Attorney gameplay - there was a lot more exploration and courtroom elements than there were puzzles... personally, I'm completely okay with that. The game has investigation phases for Professor Layton, which are simplistic and linear, which involves inspecting objects in the environment to gather clues, followed by puzzles. The puzzles themselves were charming and entirely doable. They started simplistic and became more difficult as the game went on, yet if you're struggling you can use hint coins to help. There's a good amount of the puzzles too, so you're going to be on your toes constantly. For Phoenix and Maya, you'll spend time exploring environments, talking to people, and spend time in court reading witness testimony and presenting faults in witness arguments. Next thing of note, the animations were solid given the limits of the 3DS console, and the 3D effects were eye-popping. Which leads nicely into my next point, graphics. 

Cutscenes with brighter lit areas looked really nice. This one looked great in 3D.

The graphics of the game were great but had minor issues. Some of the effects had very noticeable pixelation with the 3D off, creating a rather grainy image. There were some flame effects that just didn't feel sharp or defined, which is a shame because the execution could definitely be better. The overall atmosphere is subdued, with some darker colors, giving the game more of a darker vibe. As far as the 3D effect goes, it's actually great in this, especially during the courtroom portions. The 3D does actually pop out quite nicely, and actually makes the visuals more pleasing to look at. It reduces the grainy appearance and makes things have more depth to them. The courtroom portions of the prologue were great to look at, with a lot of attention to detail. Would recommend taking a break from it every so often if your eyes are not fond of the 3D effect.

Given the game's dramatic effect, it would make sense that the soundtrack should be on the dramatic side as well. Thankfully, the folks at Level-5 and Capcom nailed it in this collaboration, as music from both series is indeed present here, and they sound amazing. The Professor Layton music was never drop dead amazing, but I still liked it a lot. And I've always had a soft spot for Phoenix Wright, so I got immediately suckered in during the Phoenix gameplay moments, where the tunes from the first Ace Attorney title returned in orchestrated glory. Orchestrated music is so much better in creating that amazing game experience, I don't see why games wouldn't have it nowadays. Hearing that "Cornered!" theme was a huge nostalgia trip! Overall, though, the music has its darker moments, but it has its moments where it's quite soothing, and sounds quite nice.

There's only so much I could say about how great the game is, but one thing that really got to me involved the voice actors used for the North American version. Now, I'm going to admit that I love Japanese voices, even though they sound like complete gibberish. Epicness aside, the voice actors used for the main characters was rather weak with the exception of Phoenix Wright. The voices sounded amateurish. I'm looking at you, Luke. I heard that in Europe, Luke's voice is even more high-pitched and whiny, and I don't know how that's even possible. Prosecutor Flynch's "Objection!" voice was a bit over the top. The great story telling was sometimes marred by the cringe-worthy voice acting, and the fact that it's not present for a lot of the text makes it kind of jarring. There would be portions that would get the characters voicing dialogue, and then it'd follow with some non-spoken text. I feel like they should have made it a bit more uniform - either use the voices for all of the game or none of it.

In addition, for those that might want to look into an adventure of exploration, you might leave the title feeling empty and disappointed because the game is rather linear in its approach. For those familiar with the Ace Attorney approach, you'll fit right in, but for those who are new to the series and love exploring, you'll realize that there's not a ton of deviation present in the title - the game will basically tell you where you need to go, and when you resume playing, it will recap the events of the last playthrough. It's more suited for its visual novel approach, and the puzzles and logic will help give the game a bit more of a diverse feeling. You'll be exploring locales and then moving from one place to another, in a certain order. Talk to a person, solve a puzzle, investigate a location, move on to next area. Again, you Ace Attorney folk out there will feel right at home. But it's a fair warning for those who are new but want to try the game out and love exploration. It may be a bit dull for your tastes.  

Conclusions

For maximum enjoyment of this title, I would highly recommend playing the titles from both franchises. I feel that only enjoying one character's game will reduce the fun by half - thus limiting the overall enjoyment. Get into both series, and then this game becomes that much better, because the puzzles are still able to maintain a freshness without repeating. And at $30, this title is pretty dense in content. There's a lot to be able to witness in this game. Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney is a truly solid adventure that takes the best from two very greatly written worlds and puts them in the same game - puzzle solving and courtroom action. Fans of either franchise will feel at home and at the same time will be able to explore the other game, hopefully developing an interest in the other franchise to continue playing them once they beat this title. The best part is, you don't really need knowledge of either franchise to be able to play this game through (although playing the previous entries of each franchise will help you understand some of the jokes or references). You can simply pick up this title and the storytelling will do the rest. Putting aside the minor gripes of rather weak voice acting and some linearity problems, you still have an excellent title to look at, and I couldn't recommend this title more - it's thrilling entertainment that will be sure to last for a good number of hours. Big shout out to my press contacts at Nintendo of America for making this review possible!

Verdict
Pros
+ -Engaging dialogue, strong story
+ -Great visuals
+ -Lots of puzzles that don't feel repetitive
+ -Great soundtrack
Cons
- -Mediocre voice acting
- -Rather linear with little real exploration
8 Presentation
Graphics and visuals are strong for the title, with a strong soundtrack to back it up. Moody atmosphere is heightened with a strong storyline. The title was organized very nicely, making it very difficult to truly lose one's way.
9 Gameplay
Lots of puzzles, lots of engaging courtroom cases that are typical of the Phoenix Wright franchise. The puzzles are very fresh without feeling repetitive. It's pretty difficult to become "lost" because the game does, in a way, direct you to go places, most likely to pay attention to the script instead.
7 Lasting Appeal
There's puzzles, and hidden puzzles, but there's no new game plus feature so once you beat it, it's just about over. The daily puzzle feature of the older Professor Layton games isn't present, so that's a minor disappointment.
8.2
out of 10
Overall (not an average)
For maximum enjoyment of this title, I would highly recommend playing the titles from both franchises. I feel that only enjoying one character's game will reduce the fun by half - thus limiting the overall enjoyment. Get into both series, and then this game becomes that much better, because the puzzles are still able to maintain a freshness without repeating. And at $30, this title is pretty dense in content. There's a lot to be able to witness in this game. Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney is a truly solid adventure that takes the best from two very greatly written worlds and puts them in the same game - puzzle solving and courtroom action. Fans of either franchise will feel at home and at the same time will be able to explore the other game, hopefully developing an interest in the other franchise to continue playing them once they beat this title. The best part is, you don't really need knowledge of either franchise to be able to play this game through (although playing the previous entries of each franchise will help you understand some of the jokes or references). You can simply pick up this title and the storytelling will do the rest. Putting aside the minor gripes of rather weak voice acting and some linearity problems, you still have an excellent title to look at, and I couldn't recommend this title more - it's thrilling entertainment that will be sure to last for a good number of hours. Big shout out to my press contacts at Nintendo of America for making this review possible!
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