I'm a big Phoenix Wright fan, so I kind of lost my shit when it was announced that Professor Layton VS Ace Attorney was confirmed for a stateside release. Because, hell, it's more Phoenix Wright, and I'm more than down with that. Then I talked to my other friends who were excited for other reasons, namely the return of some chump named Professor Layton.
I figured I should figure out what all the fuss is about.
This is part 1 of a series where Zarnyx and I, up until the release of Professor Layton VS Ace Attorney, will play through each of the previous games in the series and give brief reviews of them. Since I haven't played any Layton games, I'm taking care of those, while Zarnyx is entering the wide world of lawyering through playing the Phoenix Wright games. And by the end, we'll find out that my Phoenix is better than your Layton, Zarnyx. Objection overruled.
So strap in. We're headed to St. Mystere.
Now if you're like me, and have no idea what the hell a Professor Layton is, well, The Curious Village will be a pleasant surprise for you. Here's the general way the game works. It's pretty much a point and click adventure game (albeit a very straightforward one). There are no real puzzles to speak of in the classic "use x on y" sense— the puzzles are all given to you by townsfolk, and you progress through the game by solving them. It's a simple enough formula, and save for the search for hint coins and hidden puzzles, there's no pixel hunting here; a pleasant surprise as I'm a Phoenix Wright fan.
Without getting too spoiler-y, here's the main plot of the game: Professor Layton and his apprentice Luka are called to the village of St. Mystere to solve the mystery of the Golden Apple, a treasure left behind by a recently deceased baron. When they get there, however, more mysteries appear— a strange girl lurking in the shadows, kidnappings, murder. It all gets kind of dark, but retains a certain levity through the engaging characters, visual style, and on-point voice acting. The story itself is great, and I found myself wholly taken in by the world of St. Mystere.
That's why it's such a damn shame that the game forcibly pulls you out of that beautiful, engaging world over 100 times.
You see, Professor Layton and the Curious Village is kind of 2 games at once. It's a wonderful point and click story-based adventure, with Brain Age puzzles awkwardly stuffed into the cracks wherever the programmers deemed necessary. It just doesn't seem to fit.
Now, that's not to say the puzzles aren't inspired— they are. A lot of them are truly, truly clever, and it gives a great sense of satisfaction when you solve a tough one without using a hint coin or an online guide. Plus, you get some bonus puzzles through the pause menu— a digital jigsaw puzzle, a room decoration minigame, and some super-tough secret puzzles to work through at your own leisure as they're unlocked.
The problem comes when you're out trying to find a murderer, or a kidnapper, and you can't proceed because this fatass in the middle of the street won't give you vital information until you arrange matchsticks in the exact right way. More than just seeming silly, it really breaks the flow of the game. Most of the puzzles don't really have anything to do with the situation at hand, except for a few in the bar and a few that act as keys for locked doors. Any justification would have really been appreciated, even a sentence explaining that oh, I just found this scroll promising me riches if I could find out how to change this pyramid made of coins to be downward-facing by only moving 3 of them. Help me out and I'll give you the key to that mysterious box over there.
It was frustrating, especially coming from the Ace Attorney series, because I always really liked how those games integrated puzzle solving and exploration into the plot. Granted, it's easier to do when you're not dealing with brainteasers, but regardless, it affected my enjoyment of the story. It's kind of like watching a TV show, except there's a commercial every 3 or so minutes. It didn't make the story any less good, or the puzzles any less clever, it just felt like a jumbled mishmash of all this great stuff that just needed a tidy little ribbon to tie it all up.
Having said all that, each of the component parts of this game are great. Even if you cheat your way through the whole thing and miss out on the satisfaction of completing the puzzles yourself, the puzzles are clever enough that just knowing the answer makes you feel smarter. And, again, the story is charming, the characters colorful, and the mystery overall appealing. You also get a chance to put together all the pieces of the mystery for yourself before Layton spells it out for you, another thing I love about the Ace Attorney games. It's just so satisfying.
NEXT TIME ON MY PHOENIX VS. YOUR LAYTON: I go balls deep into the Diabolical Box. If you know what I mean. (What I mean is I play the sequel to Professor Layton and the Curious Village)