Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney | Developer: Capcom, Level-5 | Publisher: Level-5, Nintendo | Year: 2012

A lavishly faithful crossover let down by its excessive length and weak finale.
Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney PAL Box Art

Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney

After finally wrapping up my DS Files series with the Chocobo Tales review, I’m doing the same for The Layton Files and The Wright Files by reviewing Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney. There are no Hadoukens or Burning Knuckles being thrown in this Nintendo 3DS crossover, but the basic setup follows Capcom’s usual gimmick of mashing two popular franchises together to create something fresh.

The story begins when Professor Layton and Phoenix Wright are transported to a strange town whose legal system is governed by matters of magic and mysticism. From within this world where forensic science doesn’t exist, the two men investigate a perplexing case involving a mysterious girl accused of witchcraft.

After one pretty sweet intro movie, players solve puzzles in the traditional Layton style before rounding up their investigation with Phoenix Wright in the court room. Players see Wright in his first 3D appearance here, and also impressive is the crisp voice acting that compliments Wright’s inner monologue. Using the tinny Ace Attorney sound effects is an odd choice considering the music has been remixed, but the full motion video and location design comes through for a handsome presentation.

The strong soundtrack favours the Layton style, and it’s a similar case with the game’s bonus content. Crucially, this crossover uses Layton’s hint coins which players can spend to get clues during puzzling and cross examination. This helps offset Ace Attorney’s stupid penalty system, with a smooth difficulty curve being the positive result.

Rather than just questioning one person on the stand, Wright & co. sometimes question multiple witnesses at once. There are some great characters featured during these bits (the 10-man “Vigilantes” testimony is comedy gold), and yet, questioning so many people takes much longer to do. I found the hint system to be a real blessing during these parts due to the sheer volume of information you have to sift through otherwise.

There are two styles of play running side by side here and it creates a fine dish, but equally, nothing particularly groundbreaking is done with the formula either. Layton’s puzzles never bleed into the courtroom, for example, and the story is still plagued by distracting filler, like when the heroes chase an animal across town (again).

On the plus side, the investigation segments follow Layton’s superior formula for clue hunting, and likewise, I didn’t notice any of the usual puzzle barriers, meaning the story develops without players needing to tackle an arbitrary number of puzzles first, which is great.

Most puzzles are attempted in real time as they usually involve players moving objects around instead of answering riddles or maths problems. The easiness here is probably a good thing because the story is already pushing 30 hours in length, and that’s with players doing the bare minimum.

Gameplay screenshots from Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney.

The courtroom sections aren’t broken up as well as the Phoenix Wright games usually are because players are always debating the same case involving the witch girl, Espella Cantabella. With the game lasting so long, it becomes exhausting towards the end.

The tone can be particularly grim at times, but Capcom’s trademark humour is alive and well whenever Phoenix Wright is doing his thing. Although, more characters does mean more melodrama. (Expect a lot of “I’m sorry” and “It’s all my fault” when it comes to dialogue.) Several characters get reused in the courtroom scenes as well, although the writers find some humorous excuses for this economy, so it’s certainly not to any detriment.

Layton and Wright’s shared screen time is balanced very well, and the reason behind the “versus” in the game’s title is intelligently explored, even if it becomes a nonissue by the end. Speaking of endings, both franchises are known for going all out during their final chapters, but the climax in this crossover sadly doesn’t have many surprising moments. It’s also dreadfully long and doesn’t really peak either.

This is because the finale isn’t structured like a typical case file. Instead it feels more like a three hour exposition dump; one where the prosecution team gives up early and stands around waiting until the heroes to figure it out for themselves. It’s bitterly disappointing as denouements go, and I was begging for the whole thing to end before long.

I think it’s telling that Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney hasn’t stuck with me like the other games have. It’s a decent side story, but in needing to stay so faithful, it does have its problems with characters not growing much and ultimately, I think the entire crossover idea should be explored again in a better-paced sequel, hopefully one that blends the two genres together in a more innovative way.