Anime was weird last year.
There have been a LOT of mystery games this year. I feel like I’ve played them all by now. I mean c’mon, two Danganronpas and an Ace Attorney in ONE YEAR! And to round it off, we have Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright, a game that fans have been waiting for since it was announced in 2010. Now, four years later, I enjoyed the game, but four years of waiting? Ehhh.
Full disclosure, I haven’t played much Professor Layton. I’ve played maybe an hour of Curious Village when I was in middle school, but that’s about it. For those curious, no, you don’t need to know much about either series to care about this game. In fact, I’d say this is a perfect way to test the waters and see if you enjoy the basic gameplay of each series.I’d say you should like at least one of them before you step in, but otherwise it’s a perfect entry point.
The story is hairbrained, but enjoyable. Professor Layton is visited by a strange girl named Espella who seems to recall a faraway land called Labyrinthia. After some sleuthing, Layton and Luke are sucked into a storybook to the aforementioned town. Phoenix Wright and his assistant Maya Fey are thrown into the mix when they mysteriously defend Espella in an assault case, and are promptly whisked away afterwards. Both duos meet and team up to attempt to figure out why the town thinks Espella is a witch, which is especially troublesome in a town where witchcraft is punishable by death by fire. There’s also the mystery of the Storyteller, a man whose every written word seems to come true.
PLvsPW is split right down the middle between Layton style puzzles and Ace Attorney style trials. The puzzle-solving segments are exactly how you’d expect them to be from Layton. You progress around town, talk to people, and solve puzzles to get information. You can score picarats based on how many attempts you had to take to solve the puzzle, and you can use hint coins, another series staple, to get….well, hints. Picarats aren’t used to unlock bonuses like in previous Layton games, so unless you’re really invested in getting a high score that nobody else will see, don’t stress.
There’s not much when it comes to evidence collection, most of the time important pieces of evidence are dropped into your hands minutes before the trial starts. It’s a bit jarring, as an AA fan, to have to focus on puzzles and not finding clues, but the trials are much easier than your usual Ace Attorney fare, so it can be excused. Layton’s famous hint coins reappear in this game, and can even be used during trials to narrow down potential choices. This is a really neat way to ease Layton fans into Ace Attorney‘s unforgiving trials, unless they want to do what we always did and saved right before presenting evidence.
Trials in this game are easier, as I mentioned, but they’ve also been changed in a unique way. Multiple witnesses are testifying at the same time during the witch trials, and their testimony can contradict each other. You can press a witness for more information, and then if another witness reacts, press the second witness further to get a contradiction out of them. This makes the lack of physical evidence in this town a lighter burden, since there is no forensic science in Labyrinthia. It’s a really fun tactic and pressing the different witnesses and seeing them interact with each other makes for a fun experience.
Almost none of the supporting cast from either series show up at all, except for two short cameos at the beginning and end of the game. The new characters, such as the foreboding High Inquisitor Darklaw and the smarmy Inquisitor Barnham are a welcome addition to the immense cast of characters each series has, but the lack of returning faces is a bit upsetting. It’d be a huge and hilarious event to see someone like Larry Butz in Medieval times. Thankfully, there are also some fun witnesses to round out the supporting cast, the highlight being the bungling Emeer Punchenbaug, who gets wasted on the witness stand. The game was written by Ace Attorney series creator Shu Takumi, and it shows. There are bad puns, cute dogs, and neat twists all over the place, which is exactly what you’d expect from him. Also, there are a ton of anime cutscenes in this game; absolutely welcome in Ace Attorney 5 and doubly so here.
My one big gripe is the ending, it just went on too long. Ace Attorney fans might remember the terribly long ending to Ace Attorney Investigations, in which you had to build the most airtight case in the history of the series. Something similar happens in this game, and there’s a last second flip-flop that, while interesting in theory, ends up falling flat for me. I felt like there was no reason behind it. The bigger, cooler twist that happened just moments ago grabbed me much better than the tiny one I had just figured out. Nailing down this tiny twist after I had felt like I was done made the end drag and ruined the punch it should’ve ended on.
Overall Layton v Wright doesn’t live up to its name. Both men do not beat each other up in an Earth Shattering Cage Match To The Death, and I’m very disappointed in that. But otherwise, it’s a generally alright story with cute puzzles and some neat spice thrown into the trials. At the very least, I’m interested in Layton games now, which is what I bet the developers were going for. You’re not going to become a fan of both of these series at once with this single game, but maybe you can be swayed to one if you like another already.