Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright I’ve just one objection that is also the puzzle: Why?

At the end of Professor Layton’s ‘last’ adventure, The Azran Legacy, Herschel Layton said a gut-wrenching goodbye to two of his closest companions—both allies and rivals—just as I parted ways with the good Professor in that bittersweet ending.

A meaningful farewell of sorts would happen again for me some months later upon completing Phoenix Wright’s Trial and Tribulations. Seemingly bizarre connections to the Kurain Spirit Channeling School were interwoven in a complicated mystery spanning three installments. The final case put all the pieces together for Phoenix to finally stand on his own, say goodbye to dependency and grow as a person and attorney.

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Having the opportunity to say hello once more to old friends should be the things that dreams are made of. Surely, an ambitious undertaking to bring these two great minds together in one adventure for all the finger pointing and smug smiles anyone can handle could do no wrong. But here’s the funny thing about dreams—they’re fickle things that aren’t always great. And in this case, sometimes even pleasant experiences get bogged down with high expectations and what follows is a lukewarm reception that toys with emotions.

While I will forever cherish my time spent in the worlds of Professor Layton and Phoenix Wright as separate, contained, untarnished, spellbinding memories, I am less inclined to hold on to the memories that Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright tried—and somewhat failed—to bewitch me with.

Weaving A Tale with Magic

If there’s one thing that’s a major draw to the Professor Layton games, it’s their stories. Well-crafted fantasy tales in somewhat modern and often whimsical locations is the backbone for any of the series. It’s no different here. If anything, the set pieces are even grander—a perfect backdrop for a fairy tale whose characters are knights defending the townspeople against witches, and where magic replaces logic. There are nail biting moments right next to some near heart breaking ones but ultimately, knowing that everything in Layton and Wright involve sound reasoning, it’s more a “how are they going to explain this one away?”. Nevertheless, the story’s engaging to be sure and brought to life by some exquisitely compelling mysteries.

Music and the Little Things

In Layton vs Phoenix, both series’ staple and various iconic themes get some lovely arrangements fitting for the fairy tale. With music being important to both of the series, it’s no surprise that the trends of past games is continued here.

Professor Layton’s theme song is one that has evolved with every new installment. Generally the soundtracks to any of the games are ones that are the perfect, beautiful accompaniment to the perplexing scenarios Luke and Layton often find themselves embroiled in. The music’s often strange, enchanting, complicated and layered with pep and mystery.

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For the Ace Attorney series, the strength of the music often lies with the strength of their expertly written characters which in turn gives them a world of personality (coupled with their actions). Apart from that, Phoenix Wright has a few key memorable themes played in the courtroom any fan will recognize.

In addition to a stellar soundtrack (something I really cannot stress enough) of favorites and amazing original music, the game employs noticeable and familiar sound bites from each of the respective series. Save file screen music input, for instance, will alternate between whoever is in charge of the story at that point—whether Layton or Wright. It’s a small detail but a welcome one that is sure to bring a knowing smile.

Layton, Luke, Phoenix and Maya

The interactions between the characters makes for some really amusing conversations. It really is great to see them all together (even in those moments when they are against each other). In particular, when Layton and Maya team up at a certain point in the game, his method of dealing with her is sometimes really direct while being equal parts perplexed by Maya’s bubbling, lovable personality that has her spewing some really crazy schemes. The way Layton reacts to her is priceless.

Fan Service

Any long time fan of Layton and Wright will smile at little shout outs sprinkled here and there. Then there’s that post credits scene... don’t miss it!

A New Courtroom Addition

With magic in and logic *mostly* out of the door when dealing with the likes of witches, the opportunity was afforded to Phoenix and his Courtroom to give way to multiple witness account testimonies given all at the same time. During the cross-examination, witnesses would give clues that something was amiss (or that they remembered certain events differently) during another witness’ testimony and you could question them to hear conflicting accounts.

I had a moment of panic a little bit near the end of the game when the game called for a bevy of witnesses to take the stand at once. Unfortunately, a complicated nightmare never came to fruition. The stage was set for a downright mess requiring some extremely critical thinking but some hand-holding made it too easy to navigate. A little more on all of this later.

It was an interesting mechanic to be sure but without any real urgency in its implementation, it was one that was sorely not utilized in any meaningful way.

Some Characters are Not as Ridiculously Personable and Insane as They Could be

While I have been known to not be completely sold on Ace Attorney in the past, the thing I’ve always appreciated of the series is how amazing both the main and supporting characters are written. Their actions under pressure from cross-examining, the change in their demeanor, their madness in personalities—all make the characters fully realized and often times quite comical. Layton’s supporting characters all have a bit of quirkiness to them too as they get lost in their own worlds trying to solve puzzles.

In Layton vs Phoenix, make no mistake that quirky characters show up but they’re mostly on the witness stand. They were downright hilarious but the more interesting ones were there for fleeting moments of comedy. They rarely showed up as people you could talk to in town. They weren’t there during investigation portions of the game, nor were a lot of them even there to throw a ridiculous puzzle your way.

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SPOILER Update and Musings: There may be a very good reason for their lack of a presence outside of court.

A bit more jarring were the main supporting characters and their courtroom behavior. With the severity of their roles, crimes and personalities; their reactions in court were not as memorable and a bit stiff. Inquisitor Barnham for instance has a very stilted reaction when Phoenix throws down the gauntlet and lays the smack down on him in court. Unlike say, as a loose example, Phoenix Wright Prosecutor Edgeworth (or any of the prosecutors in the Wright series for that matter), Barnham’s much less personable.

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In the Wright series, Edgeworth’s disbelief whenever Phoenix makes ridiculous or spot on objections as conveyed by his actions in court defines his character in that he is serious but is still allowed to be pretty animated in his reactions. That conveying of character traits is not bestowed upon many of the main supporting characters in Layton vs Wright and as a result, leaves them sort of boring for being so super serious all the time. More specifically, it’s really noticeable in the courtroom setting when just about everyone in a standard Phoenix game gets some sort of extra quirky reaction for when things do not play to their favor.

It could probably be argued then that in these cases, characters you’d find in Layton fill these roles but even the more straight-laced in the Layton series have some kind of flair, or are even more interesting.

Almost Everyone Sounded Very Strange

Well, this took getting used to. Not by any means really bad but Luke’s VA was not the one I was used to and not really endearing to Luke’s character. Phoenix and Maya sounded not quite how I would imagined them to be (I’ve played only the first three games, so I’m not sure if this is how things are outside of “Objection!” and “Hold it!”). Maya in particular sounded a lot more mature and did not quite capture her free, ridiculous spirit as I was expecting.

Well This is Puzzling. Where’s The Real Fun?

The biggest offense I found with Layton vs Phoenix was the actual ease of the gameplay. Simply put, this game was not much of a challenge. Many of the puzzles, while fun, relied heavily on simple maze navigation type puzzles. Only nearing the end were there one or two puzzles that truly stood out. Even the often dreaded sliding puzzles were a breeze. The game also armed you with 30 hint coins from the start. I thought for certain that would be a great indicator of the difficulty that lay ahead. I could not be any more incorrect.

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As for the trial portions of the game, Phoenix’s work was easy. There are times in any of the Ace Attorney games where there’s a piece of evidence so convoluted that it can take you a few tries to see the steps ahead and where they’re going with a certain line of questioning. In Layton vs Phoenix, and as noted with the multiple witness testimonies, everything was done with ease. It was so easy in fact, that a lot of the trial portions began to feel long and drawn out. It was a matter of reading text after text without any real purpose for gameplay. For the most part, it felt was like the equivalent to button mashing to simply go next. That’s how objections and presenting evidence felt: So rote. So mundane. So obvious. So disappointing.

Oh and those hint coins? You could actually use some during Phoenix’s trial too in case you got stuck on where to present evidence. It’s a novel idea but not something that was ever really needed.

That Cheeseball Ending

There are certainly happy endings in both series but the great lure of any Wright and Layton game are those underlying hints of sadness born of life changing events. Sometimes there’s hope. But these events craft layers to each of the characters and makes them complicated and unique.

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Happy endings are not always and solely the case in either of their respective games and in Layton vs Wright, one particular part of the ending was so poorly executed at one point that it read like a soap opera. I didn’t even know what I was watching. Make no mistake, there was a lot of darkness and greatness to the plot even in the ending but a few moments therein made it full on cheese that didn’t really fit.

I am fully capable of loving cheese on my Layton vs Wright entree but those few moments… well. I’d rather not have melty cheddar cheese on my ice-cream.

This was the game that I anxiously awaited since its announcement a few years ago. And yeah, it really is something a little bit special in its own right. Getting to see Layton and Luke again is always a pleasure. Seeing Phoenix and Maya is great too knowing their complicated history. Having these wonderful characters team up is undoubtedly a little bit magical.

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While it crossed my mind that this could be the game that was constructed to introduce a lot of people to either series—by making the gameplay accessible to all—I think the game is both a yea and a nay. It’s by no means a terrible game, whether you’re a newcomer or a veteran.

The story and suspense will definitely leave anyone hooked but knowing that the games in each of the series are better than this, a person could easily start with both beginning games in Layton’s and Wright’s respective series and have a fully-fleshed out experience as intended.

If you do take that dive as an established fan of either (or both) series, do it if only for a fantastic story and saying hello to longtime friends. Just don’t go in expecting your dreams and wishes fulfilled. And don’t expect much of a challenge and instead, think of this game as the Layton and Phoenix Lite that will sit pretty in your collection right after Professor Layton and the Unwound Future and right before Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney.