Finished Professor Layton vs Pheonix Wright after 30 hours and I’m still not sure what to make of it. It’s a hugely ambitious game, bringing two big developers (it’s co-created by Capcom and Level 5) and franchises together, synthesising their gameplay and realising their worlds and characters in 3D for the first(?) time. And not just 3D, but 3D - this is a 3DS game after all, and they pulled out all the stops. The world of Labyrinthia really jumps off the screen.
There is so much art and music and animation in this game! It must have cost a fortune to make, which already gives me vague anxiety about how it performed sales-wise - I get no impression of it making much of a splash, at least in the west. Properly animated cutscenes and loads of lovingly animated models - it was a joy to see the sprites from the Ace Attorney games in particular given the 3D treatment, and they look a lot better to my eyes than the upscaled abominations in the HD remasters of the original trilogy.
Brand new assets are being shovelled onto the screen all the time, to the point where you begin to feel it’s excessive - a much loved character is even brought to life with full animation for the epilogue, which is all of about a minute long. I was struck by how almost no games would dream of doing such a thing in the modern era.
The gameplay is… all right, although I wouldn’t say the two halves here (puzzles and court cases) are done as well as they were in their respective series. It hangs together though, and breaks up the story, which again, is… all right. As you’d expect, it’s full of mysteries, twists, and pay-offs, some of which seem to stretch credulity even in a fantastical plot to breaking point.
As an early and spoiler-free example, Professor Layton, an unflappable Sherlock Holmes-type with a slightly weird obsession over gentlemanly conduct, remains steadfastly sceptical of the apparent supernatural phenomena which drive the central plot… something which doesn’t quite gel with the fact that one of his companions is a spirit medium, and another can talk to animals!
The game seems to have a slightly awkward relationship with reality; rather than having a clear divide between the real world and a fantasy world, we’re expected to hold in mind a three-layer model where there’s reality as we know it, there’s fantastical things which are real and commonplace, and then there’s fantastical things which are the childishly impossible conceits of fairytales and whimsy. The characters express consternation and amazement at evidence of the latter, but seem completely untroubled by the second. It doesn’t ruin the story or anything, but it does sort of interfere with what I expect were the intended payloads of some revelations.
All in all a very interesting game. It is a sort of towering monument in the middle of the desert, a lavish and lush production smack in the middle of a supposedly dead genre (the adventure) that came and went almost entirely without wider comment. You don’t even see fans of the two series talking about it often, probably due to the non-canon status of crossover works. I did enjoy it, but I also sort of feel like I played a game that doesn’t, on some level, exist.