It was just shy of two years ago when I popped that unassuming DS cartridge in my 3DS. It certainly was an unattractive little cartridge that was an ugly blue with a white silhouette of a character loved by many but unknown to me. I remember not being overly impressed upon a play through of the first few chapters... but yes, I was incredibly impressed by the start: a body on the floor, blood slowly pooling around the victim and a heinous plot hatched by an evil looking, twisted faced man to blame an innocent passerby. Then in came a short monologue, cheesy courtroom drama channeling all sorts of early 1990s Law & Order music and a bumbling idiot named Larry Butz who you had to defend. The shift in tone made me scratch my head: exactly what had I gotten myself into?
With the 5th installment of Phoenix Wright due soon, and a Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright on its way for 2014 in the US; fellow TAYter Tot Sam G. and I each discovered a terrible secret about one another. He was incredibly ecstatic at the news that the Phoenix and Layton game was coming to the U.S. as many, myself included, were. But he had never played a Layton game. After some light judgment of his character on my part, I revealed my dark secret: I had played only the first installment in the Phoenix Wright saga.
A mini-war of words ensued with each of us trying our best to convince the other to play the respective lauded series. I would not stop gushing about the charming, beady eyed professor, his blue hat wearing adorable apprentice and their lighthearted, ridiculous puzzle-solving adventures; and Sam G. would not stop gushing about the engaging stories and mysteries of murder to unfold in an interactive setting that played and read like a good book in that you could go back to it any time or as many times as necessary and it would still be a fantastic read whenever.
We decided then that perhaps playing these games with fresh eyes could get us to come together before next year's release of Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright - two incredibly unique franchises with elements of story in presentation and style so different; characters so loved but with personality traits seemingly at odds - to figure out why there were collective cheers from fans of both series and on personal levels, to see what the big deal was about.
I needed to take a second look and do another play through of the first game for Phoenix Wright. It’s not that I did not like it upon first playing because I did but maybe there was more I needed to focus on. I am already burdened with the previous knowledge of future heartache and five games behind me that allowed me to grow with these friends I’ve made in Hershel Layton and Luke Triton every Autumn. I have come to know all those crazy villagers with their non-sequitur puzzles.
The logo alone draws me in. Mhm.
To me, the Professor Layton games get so involved in the mysteries that the storytelling is incredibly compelling for its often supernatural twists, while the picturesque art and beautiful music with its accordions and classical feel all assist in painting the settings of London and the surrounding areas in a quaint, stunning way. Later entries provided the opportunity to delve into Layton’s and Luke’s personal histories that fleshed out their flaws and personalities and wove such great backgrounds that it was hard for me to not feel a connection to those two. I fear at this moment in time, my opinion may be just a little bit skewed.
Those biases aside, it did not stop me from enjoying and appreciating Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney the second time.
I found a lot of the same experiences I had two years ago but I took the characterizations to heart and loved each one a little bit more this time. The art direction is amazing. Facial expressions coupled with an increased tension in those cheesy synthesizers in the music lead to both a sense of eager satisfaction of coming close to a case solved, and besting your opponents. It also made for some fantastic laughs. Comedic timing was brilliant in this game and an important element to what makes the world of Phoenix Wright so necessary.
Courtroom dramas may not always play out this way in real life but without these extreme and colourful personalities and jokes in ‘intense’ situations, this would be watching Court TV. Maybe the game series could have been like watching Judge Judy with a far kinder (and not so clever) judge?
It’s designed to entertain like a silly sitcom might.
If not for the humour, this game could have gone in the direction of something such as Kyle Hyde’s world in Hotel Dusk: Room 215. I enjoyed that game for what it was but mainly due to the fact that Kyle’s character was engaging and strong enough to stand as the main focal point for me to play through that interactive novel masquerading as a video game. The story did not grip me there.
The same may be said to a certain degree for Ace Attorney.
Now, surely I enjoyed trying to figure out who killed Bruce Goodman. I wanted to know the connection between the Blue Badger and what sort of clues I should have been looking for in the video footage (when I was not laughing like a maniac at that insanely incredible moment I’ve had in my personal video gaming history) …
...but that’s just it. I could not even truly tell you what went on two years later in trying to explain this game to an outsider.
What I would describe though are the terrible (and amazing!) puns, the ridiculous scenarios and the stylish, sexy Edgeworth.
Objection! What am I even going on about? No clue. I just wanted to say that.
For me, Phoenix Wright and co. - hilarious names that aptly describe each characters’ traits and personalities leading to fantastically funny stereotyped characters, great art direction for the aforementioned facial expressions and all expressed in their choice of clothes and physical appearances - exude such personality that they can easily overshadow everything else the game encompasses for the experience as a whole. Built upon those characters’ strengths, it’s easy for me to sometimes miss the little things.
As a whole with the stories and the ridiculous scenarios, the game is a wonderful and complete parody of every bad (yet good) 1980s and 1990s crime drama and ridiculous action shows. The attention to detail down to the sounds of the clicking of a typewriter to usher in the tales and time stamp of a new day give this game an all round, comedic feel that just works. It never takes itself seriously and that of course is the point.
What I found brilliant about the storytelling mechanics are the connecting characters spanning each of the chapters in some crucial way. It’s a very self-contained world and a good way to introduce more layers to each of the players in interesting ways. Each case may be something new but a connection to previous cases made for some serious fun and unexpected laughable surprises. Seeing a previous character pop up later on was often a joy and made me realize I actually missed them some. Seeing Phoenix’s reactions to previous callbacks was always a delight. Seeing Gumshoe was always a delight. There certainly was a colourful cast of characters here all with their quirks and vibrant oddities on display.
I have all those to play but...uh, Ghost Trick? How did you get in there?! Oh, that's a game I like better than Phoenix and is may be a story for another day? Perhaps, perhaps it is.
I am looking forward to continuing my early morning and after lunch courtroom appointments with Phoenix. Even I will admit that while I was enamoured with Layton and Luke from The Curious Village, enough to invest in another game, it was not until The Unwound Future that the series became one I hailed as an all time favourite. I am hoping the same rings true as I play through Phoenix’s games (and I believe it will).
The end result for this first round was that there is no real rivalry here as both game series have their merits as well-thought out stand alone entries. They’re both loved for various reasons unique to each other and it will be exciting to investigate the mysteries and solve the puzzles in Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright. Having not read any spoilers, previews or reviews on the game (already out in Japan), I’m going in blind as I always do. I want to be surprised. I want to gasp. I want to rattle my brain for an answer and use a hint coin if one is provided to me. I want to laugh at out of place jokes yet impeccable comedic timing.
I want to believe that all that finger-pointing can only have me feeling daft yet strangely correct about everything.
I want to believe that Layton vs Phoenix will have me giddy when I play because if not there will be some objections, murdering, followed by some puzzling, and finally a Trial. Of who? Don't concern yourself with that too much. We'll burn that witch if it comes to that.
I'm missing Apollo Justice, right? Was there another...?
Before all that, I have all those Phoenix Wright games to get through and I am looking forward to every intense exclamation point on my integrity's line for tricky decisions (using the evidence provided to me, of course...what? Did you think I just irresponsibly defend people on my good looks and spiky hair alone?) I have to make.
Though I have to say, I’m fairly certain at the end of this epic task that we are about to embark on that my Layton will still be better than your Phoenix, Sam.
But... that may just be my top hat wearing, tea drinking, smug and dapper confidence musing.