Professor Layton Versus Phoenix Wright is a crossover game that caters directly to me, featuring two of my favorite DS franchises, which makes me a somewhat sad that I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as I had hoped to. All the elements that make both series great are there, but somehow it doesn’t come together quite as well as the games from either. This is not a peanut butter and chocolate situation of two great tastes going great together; these two distinct flavors do not mix as well as one would expect.
It is less a natural failure of mixing these two game series, but a failure of this specific game’s attempt at comingling those two worlds. While it was written by Shu Takumi the creator of the Ace Attorney series, Phoenix and Maya’s inclusion almost seems an afterthought. The structure of the game is much more like the Layton series, but the puzzles aren’t really up to snuff. Outside of the protagonist duos, the game does nothing to leverage the rest of these games excellent cast to help fill out the story. Finally, when it comes down to it, often this game just isn’t all that well written; a big problem when the game is essentially a visual novel.
It starts with Professor Layton and Luke having a girl show up on their doorstep in some sort of trouble. It is the starting point of most Layton games. Trying to help her out, Layton and Luke get pulled into a deeper mystery. And they get pulled into a mysterious book. At the same time, Phoenix and Maya travel from Japan America to England to learn from their legal system. When he gets there, he discovers that he has been put in charge of a case, a case involving the girl that Layton and Luke were protecting. After winning the case, Nick and Maya also get sucked into the mystery.
While there are several cases for Phoenix to try, they are mostly unsatisfying affairs. Mostly because the legal system in the witch trials is pointless. It is annoying to use logic when the system itself ignores it. The rules in a regular Ace Attorney game don’t exactly make sense, but they are consistent. Cases build up to their conclusions. Here they tend to just go on until someone else admits to the crime. No matter how effectively you prove your client innocent, unless you can pin the crime on someone else it doesn’t matter. Yes, they are witch hunts; they have to find someone to blame things on, but it doesn’t make for a satisfying experience.
My complaints about the Layton portions are less pronounced. A lot of the puzzles are less brainteasers and more trial and error. There are also fewer of them than the usual Layton game. They are actually tied into the game more organically than usual, but at the cost of some of the Layton’s series unique charm.
Outside of a cameo by Inspector Chelmey and Constable Barton, the supporting cast is all new. In a lot of ways this is a good thing, it lets the game tell its own story and build an organic way for these characters to interact. Still, the crossover appeal would have been stronger if they would have dug just a little deeper. Why does Flora constantly get shoved aside? Why couldn’t Gumshoe have shown up to bumble around with Chelmey and Barton? Maybe a role for Miles Edgeworth? While they definitely should not have been allowed to take over the game, a few more familiar faces would have been appreciated. Another problem is that the investigation group expands to five people, all of which have to give their two cents at every opportunity. It slows the pace down, particularly since Maya and Luke don’t really have much to do for the bulk of the game.
There are plenty of good things, though. The overall scenario is solidly entertaining, with a suitably Layton-esque escalation near the end. Both Layton and Phoenix get their chances to shine; opportunities to bring their unique skills to the fore. Plenty of the new characters are highly entertaining. There are some interesting advancements to the trial system as well. While letting the player cross exam multiple witnesses at once is kind of ludicrous, allowing the player the use pieces of testimony to point out contradictions to other witnesses is a nice touch.
The game is pure fan service for fans of both series. It doesn’t make either of is separate parts better, but it doesn’t diminish them enough to make them unenjoyable. Plus, there is a good chance that this is the last we see of either of these protagonists. The Layton series is headed off to the unexplored territory of Layton 7, which is not going to be like the previous games in the series. And the Ace Attorney series is heading into the past for Great Ace Attorney, with Sherlock Holmes as a supporting cast member as they try cases in Japan’s America’s Meiji Period. Professor Layton Versus Phoenix Wright is not a perfect game, but it is a fine send off for two of the best new video game characters of the last decade.