My lack of money always stops me from being the avid gamer I’d like to be, but I’ve always bought every game from the Phoenix Wright series. Once I heard there was a collab game with Professor Layton, I knew I had to get my hands on it.
The Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney series follows the defense attorney, Phoenix Wright, as he covers different legal cases. In the older games he has an assistant, Maya Fey, who helps him throughout Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney. They generally cover murder cases and will investigate crime scenes on their own. Whenever you’re not investigating, you’re cross examining witnesses in court to uncover the truth. The game is a text RPG (or visual novel), along with areas you can investigate/examine.
The Professor Layton series is about Professor Hershel Layton and his assistant, Luke Triton. They travel the world deciphering mysteries, helping people in need, and solving puzzles. Their adventures vary from saving ancient civilizations to helping locals with small problems. The game style is an exploration RPG mixed with random brain teasers and puzzles to solve.
You’d think these two games merged together would be something amazing, right? Unfortunately that wasn’t the case. I’ve been putting off this article for months, wondering if I’d have a different opinion of the game over time, or if the after game content would soften the blow… but I just can’t like this game. The story wasn’t interesting, the game mechanics were frustrating, and the ending was horrendous. It’s possibly the laziest writing I’ve ever seen, and I’m hoping I never have to again. What really kills the game for me is the emotional and mental abuse the main female character goes through from her family.
Spoilers after the jump!
Phoenix and Maya travel to London, while Layton and Luke come across a young girl in London seeking help. She’s carrying a magical book that sucks everyone inside. They wake up in Labyrinthia, a city that exists within the story, and that they must solve the mystery of the town. They’re trapped inside, so they decide to explore Labyrinthia. Soon they find out witch trials are frequently being held. The girl, Espella, gets accused as a witch, and Phoenix has to defend her. He soon finds out that the town intends on burning any witch proven guilty by throwing them into a fire pit after the trial ends.
Layton and Phoenix meet again after he’s successfully proved Espella to be innocent. Phoenix shares the reason why the town is hunting witches; the town’s inquisitors are searching for the Great Witch Bezella, who destroyed the town thousands of years ago. He explains that even though he proved Espella to be innocent, she was arrested for being Bezella and thrown in jail. So to save her from another trial, they go searching for the Great Witch Bezella.
Layton and Luke run into the Storyteller, the person in charge of Labyrinthia. He asks them (along with Phoenix and Maya) to leave the town immediately because they’re disturbing the citizens. Layton doesn’t believe his reason, and insists that they stay. The Storyteller claims to have magic powers where anything he writes will come true. Out of spite he writes that Layton will be turned into gold, and asks them to leave. Shortly after, as the group is investigating an alchemist’s home, a witch appears and turns Layton’s body into a gold statue and leaves. Maya is accused of being a witch, and Phoenix has to defend her. As the trail goes on, they reveal another citizen to be a witch instead, and Espella (witnessing it in the background) demands she be burned instead. The court goes into chaos as people start rushing around, and Maya gets sent into the fire pit by accident. The group flees into the woods, leaving the Layton gold statue behind.
In the Eldwitch Woods they find Maya and Layton alive and healthy, with little to no memory of the past events. They decide to go back into town, where the Storyteller has gathered everyone for “his final story”. He claims the Great Witch Bezella will kill him atop the clock tower. Presumably he dies, and the group rushes up to find Espella in the clock tower. She’s put on trial for being the Great Witch Bezella. Long story short, Espella is found innocent, and we find the whole town was an experiment to test different hypnotic properties from the plants and the water in the town. The Storyteller (who’s also alive) is the president of Labrelum Inc., the chemicals company responsible for the experiment. Once this is revealed, everyone is oddly forgiving, and the group takes a boat back to London to rest.
I kid you not, when I tried finishing the game, every time a new plot twist was revealed, I had to close my 3DS and take a break. I don’t even know what to say about the story; it’s just bad. For your big plot twist to be “it’s in the water” is lazy, uncreative writing, and a slap in the face for the fans. Despite this, the game does do some things right.
Surprisingly, none of the characters are overly sexualized. As much as I love the Phoenix Wright series, they’re guilty of sexualizing at least one female character in each game. In PL vs. PW: AA, there are sexual characters, but they’re not presented as objects with boobs to ogle at.
One reason I was excited for this collab was because the Professor Layton games are known to have great animated cut scenes. This holds true in this game as well. The soundtrack and the animation don’t fail to impress. My only complaint would be that there were too many cut scenes, rather than game play. It’s difficult going through a game when you can’t save half the time.
When the trailer revealed there would be witch trials, I was skeptical but optimistic. Maybe they would talk about the Salem witch trials, or at least reference them. It would have been interesting to see a portrayal of American history through a different medium. Instead they made up a really strange system that said only women were guilty of using magic to kill or harm other people. Why? How can only women possess magical powers? The world was experimental anyway, what did it matter who could use magic? There’s even an alchemist in the game that people suspected of using magic for devious reasons, yet he was generally accepted as innocent because he was a man. There is even a character who acts like a boy so she doesn’t get accused of being a witch (which winds up happening anyway when she’s revealed to be a girl). This world had a lot of rules that made no sense, but the sexist worldbuilding was just the icing on the cake.
But the worst part of the game was the ending. We find out that Espella is the Storyteller’s daughter, and that she had a traumatizing experience as a child. Irritatingly the game never explains why this happens, but anyone who drinks the local water and hears a specific bell ring within their vicinity will fall asleep. The Storyteller used this to manipulate a lot of things and set up magical events (like replacing Layton with a gold statue to appear like he had turned to gold), even though he knows that doing so started a fire within the town years ago. He himself had started that fire by ringing the bell (during a fire festival), and in so doing, learned that it had serious consequences. Since they had drunk the water, everyone fell asleep and lay unconscious for presumably hours. The Storyteller never told his daughter about the effects of the bell, and her curiosity drove her to sneak out at night with a friend to ring the bell. This started another fire, and instead of helping Espella cope with her grief, he made up stories about witches and how she was possessed and nothing was her fault. This charade continued for about ten years! And only by the end of the game does her father tell her the truth, right when she’s about to commit suicide by jumping off the clock tower, because she’s depressed and blames herself again for her father’s mistakes. Not only that, but he neglected her for years to focus on the town, so she ran away from home, and he did nothing to try and bring her back home. He let her live with a stranger so he could focus on his experiments. How am I supposed to believe that she’s better off living with her father by the end of the game?! How is this a happy ending?
Overall, if you’re a diehard fan and enjoy the characters, you might enjoy the game, otherwise, I would pass on this one. The story is awful, and it feels more like watching a soap opera than playing a game. Even the title is misleading, since most of the time you’re working together as a team rather than fighting each other. It’s sad since there were good elements, like unique puzzles and a new court system where you cross examine several people at once. I wanted to like this game, but I couldn’t bring myself to.