Review by _Bad_Player_
"A Crossover that Combines the Good-but not Best-Elements of Both Franchises"
If you read the title of the review, you've basically read the tl;dr version of it. If you're a fan of Professor Layton or Ace Attorney (or haven't played either, but have played and liked other plot-driven mystery games, such as Hotel Dusk or 999) I do recommend that you get this game. You'll enjoy it. A lot, probably. It just won't be your favorite game.
Story: The story is arguably the best and most important of both the Professor Layton and Ace Attorney games, and thus one would expect the same of Professor Layton vs Ace Attorney. The game opens with the two pairs of protagonists, Layton and Luke, and Phoenix and Maya, independently meeting a strange girl, Mahone, and mysteriously being transported to Labyrinth City, a medieval town where magic is real that is controlled by Story Teller, whose written word comes true. The four heroes join forces to solve the mystery of the town, and along the way become involved in the Witch Trials, where girls are put on trial for practicing magic.
I feel the mysteries of this game can be divided into Big Mysteries and Little Mysteries. The Big Mysteries encompass the whole game, and are very Layton-esque. Like the Layton games, there is a tab in the menu that lists 10 main mysteries for the game, although I felt that most of those mysteries could just be replaced with What the heck is going on with this town?!. The biggest problem I had with these mysteries is that if you've played the Layton games, certain things will likely feel familiar to you, giving the game a bit of a rehashed feel in the end.
However, there are also the Little Mysteries, which are basically the mystery of what happened in each incident that you face in court. As such, they are very Ace Attorney-esque. My biggest complaint is that the general solution to these mysteries tends to be extremely obvious; the criminals are even easier to spot than in the regular Ace Attorney games, if you can believe it. However, like with the Ace Attorney games, there are plenty of surprises in the nitty gritty details, including some extremely creative and clever problems/contradictions/explanations.
The story starts out a bit slow, but really picks up at the first Witch Trial. The tension and pacing then remains steady for most of the game, keeping you engaged and wanting to see what happens next the entire time. The mysteries are interesting, but, as in Ace Attorney, are more howdunits than whodunits.
And to mystery fans, rest assured that all solutions are appropriate. (There is, however, one mystery that ends up not being explained in the end; the mystery is not very important though, so, while a bit bothersome, is not too big a deal.)
Gameplay: True to its name, Professor Layton vs Ace Attorney uses gameplay from both the Professor Layton and the Ace Attorney games. Rather than combining the two styles of gameplay, it splits them into Professor Layton-style gameplay during investigation and Ace Attorney-style gameplay during court segments.
During investigations, you run around Labyrinth City, talking to townspeople and solving riddles. Unlike Ace Attorney games, you don't collect evidence (almost all of it is submitted during the trial itself), and instead devote most of your time to the mystery of the city itself. This gameplay is exactly like Professor Layton games (although it doesn't feel quite as puzzle-filled), and also has a very similar feel to investigations in the Ace Attorney games.
Court segments play out just like Ace Attorney games. Witnesses give testimony, which your cross-examine to find contradictions. You present evidence, and also sometimes answer multiple-choice questions or point to a location in a picture. Professor Layton vs Ace Attorney, however, introduces Mob Examinations, where multiple witnesses will testify simultaneously. This plays out just like a regular Cross-Examination, except each statement is made by a different person. However, when pressing for details, you can stop and ask for someone else's opinion on what the initial witness just said, leading to more depth in the gameplay. The Mob Examinations feel like a pointless convolution at first, but ends up being used quite cleverly for puzzles and experiences that would never be able to appear in a real Ace Attorney game. The other major deviation the regular Ace Attorney games is the Book of Magic. The Book of Magic lists magic spells relevant to the case, which can be presented just like evidence and profiles in the Court Record. This game uses the penalty system from the first Ace Attorney game (rather than the lifebar system from the other games), where you have 5 strikes, answering any question wrong results in the loss of a strike, and the game ends if you lose all 5 of your strikes. However, there is no limit on when or how often you can save, so you will likely never have to worry about being set back too far.
The court segments feel just like an Ace Attorney game, as they should. The investigation segments mostly feel like a Professor Layton game, but oftentimes I felt like it was Ace Attorney with riddles instead.
Characters: In the Professor Layton games there is a small handful of main characters who get a good deal of development (albeit not much growth), and then a ton of throwaway characters who exist solely to say one or two lines and then throw a riddle at Layton. In the Ace Attorney games, there are just a few characters (or at least, a few new characters each case) who get a lot of development, and usually a good amount of growth by the end. Professor Layton vs Ace Attorney is in the middle of these two styles.
There are the four main heroes, who get very little growth or development. (If you want that, you should play their main games.) There's then a very small number of original main characters, who get a good deal of development (that's basically the major mystery of the game, after all), and a bit of growth. There are then a lot of minor characters, albeit not quite as much as in a Professor Layton game. While these characters' personalities can usually be summed up in a phrase or sentence (as with Professor Layton games), we usually end up encountering the characters in court and cross-examining them. Because we get to interact with them for a good chunk of time in court, rather than speaking to them for five seconds and then getting a puzzle, they at least feel deeper than the characters in Professor Layton, although it is nowhere near Ace Attorney level.
The characters don't feel as flat as in Professor Layton due to extended interaction with them, but for the most part don't except characters as deep or mystery as character-driven as in Ace Attorney (or, for example, Hotel Dusk).
Graphics: The graphics are all nice. The game uses 3D models, and while Professor Layton has already had a game like that, it is a first for Ace Attorneyand it looks fine. Backgrounds, evidence, and other graphics all look nice and sharp. The game also has animated cutscenes, which are all high-quality and pretty to watch. 3D is implemented nicely, although I tended to turn it off during investigations.
And a minor note for Ace Attorney players: because models, rather than sprites, are used, characters are properly rotated rather than flipped when they appear on the left/right sides of the screen! A small but satisfying detail.
Sound: Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright includes (redone/remixed) music from both games, in addition to original music. The remixed Ace Attorney music is all from the first game, and is simply fantastic. I don't know the Professor Layton music well enough to know which games the music is from (or even which music was from Professor Layton games and which was original), but I thought all of the music during the investigation segments (both Professor Layton and original) was good. However, the original court themes were not quite to my liking; they're all fine songs, but there are other Ace Attorney soundtracks that I think do it better. However, it's a very good soundtrack on the whole, and is also entirely orchestrated.
The other component of sound is the voice acting. The cutscenes are all voice-acted, and a fair amount of the important dialogue scenes are voice-acted, too. I thought the quality of the voice-acting was all fine. (Note, however, that I am very uncritical on this sort of thing; a friend of mine thought Phoenix Wright's voice actor did a terrible job.) However, I do have a complaint about the consistency of the voice acting; there are certain scenes that are not fully voice acted. That is, one character's dialogue is voiced, but another's isn't. They will literally switch between blips and voiced dialogue between each text box, and it really breaks the immersion of the game when it happens. It didn't happen very often, though, thankfully.
However, the music and voice acting is still very good on the whole.
Length/Replayability: I clocked in at a bit over 30 hours, which isn't bad for a story-driven text adventure like this. By continually introducing new mysteries (usually in the form of a new case/incident), the game doesn't get stale, and you feel like you're making good progress. Neither investigations nor trials are too long, so you likely won't get bored. However, if you're a seasoned Ace Attorney player, the trials may feel a bit short to you. (They tend to be somewhere between the length of a first and second case of an Ace Attorney game.)
This game has a set story, and it doesn't change with each playthrough. You're also going to know the solutions to the riddles and cross-examinations on a second playthrough. Some people enjoy the stories enough that they like playing these types of games multiple times, some people are just bored by it; I don't know which kind of person you are, so I can't tell you how much you'll enjoy replaying the game. However, you cannot start playing from the beginning of the individual chapters/trials, so if you want to see/play a specific part of the game, you're going to have to start from the very beginning to do so (unless the part you want to see is in the final trial, at least).
Other: These are a few points that don't fit into any other category, but which I believe are worth mentioning:
-There is furigana for all the kanji in the game, making reading (and looking up) words quite easy, even if you don't have so great Japanese skills.
-Hint Coins from the Professor Layton games appear here, too, and can also be used during trial segments, meaning you'll never get stuck. The game even tells you how many hint coins are in each location, so you won't have to go crazy pixel-hunting.
-References to Professor Layton and Ace Attorney games are extremely minimal. This may be a bit disappointing (especially if you're an Ace Attorney fan, considering the newer games love referencing the older ones), but on the flip side it means that you aren't missing out on anything if you aren't familiar with one (or both) of the franchises. (However, note that I've only played one Ace Attorney game in Japanese, I've played no Professor Layton games in Japanese, and in fact haven't even played all of the Layton games period, and my Japanese is not fantastic; there could be more references than I realized, either because I didn't examine the specific object, or I didn't understand the sentence, or I didn't recognize the reference as a reference.)
-(This one is for mystery fans.) Including magic in a mystery seems almost inherently contradictory. However, rest assured that the game incorporates magic very well and, perhaps more importantly, fairly to the player.
Conclusion: Like I said at the beginning of the review, Professor Layton vs Ace Attorney combines some of the really great qualities of both Professor Layton and Ace Attorney, but doesn't quite compare to the best games in either franchise. The puzzles don't feel quite as numerous, hard, or integral to the game as in other Professor Layton games. The trials don't feel quite as long, difficult, or complex as in other Ace Attorney games. The major mysteries aren't quite as innovative, the characters aren't quite as deep.
However, this is all comparing Professor Layton vs Ace Attorney to the games of its parent franchises, which is a very high bar; if I sound like there's a lot of things wrong with the game, there isn't. The story and (main) characters are still top-notch, and the visuals and audio are both fantastic.
If you're a fan of either Professor Layton or Ace Attorney, I highly recommend getting this game; just don't expect it to be a Trials & Tribulations or Unwound Future.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.0 - Great
Originally Posted: 02/07/13, Updated 10/24/13
Game Release: Layton Kyouju vs Gyakuten Saiban (JP, 11/29/12)
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