Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney is a mouthful of a title. It’s a mouthful of a game, too. Layton X Wright (you’ll forgive me if I forgo the full title through the playtest) is literally two visual novels in one. The amount of content is remarkable for the genre. I’ve played the game all the way through to the conclusion now and my 3DS reports a solid 28 hours of play.
Did I enjoy those 28 hours, though?
Layton X Wright has absolutely delightful music. Both original franchises feature great and distinct musical styles. The crossover game not only provides a greatest hits lineup from the original games but also features original compositions that if anything outshine the imported tracks. Where it would have been easy to just lean on compositions past and fan nostalgia to carry the soundtrack, this game goes above and beyond the call of duty.
Layton X Wright also looks fantastic. The two franchises this game crosses have totally different aesthetic approaches, but somehow the characters from those worlds are made share a screen without clashing. The best of both worlds have been lifted. Rapid fire close-ups from Ace Attorney play well between animated cutscenes similar to those found in Professor Layton.
As far as crossovers go, Layton X Wright is the most literal interpretation of the idea as I’ve encountered. The game is literally an Ace Attorney game and a Layton game cut into chapters and staggered between one another. This is a great idea—rather than taking characters from popular brands and mixing them in some sort of totally unrelated type of game, this game ensures that people who enjoy solving puzzles as Layton get to solve puzzles as Layton. That’s real fan service—making sure that people who are fans of the original games (and not just the characters) are served.
Layton X Wright is ambitious in a way few other crossovers are. Far too often crossovers assume that just leveraging popular brands/characters will be enough to draw in fans and cut corners. This game not only features higher production values than Ace Attorney ever has, but it meaningfully evolves the core Ace Attorney gameplay in a way that allows multiple characters to bounce off of each other as opposed to the traditional 1 on 1 witness interrogations those games normally feature. It also features an entirely new story that has a fully developed arc and original characters and at it at no point feels like a throwaway excuse to get these characters interacting with each other.
In case you haven’t noticed, I’m avoiding the question I presented before: Did I enjoy the 28 hours I spent playing this game? This kills me, but no. Not really.
I really wanted to like this game. I gushed over Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy in a playtest on this site previously, and my enthusiasm for Ace Attorney games is equally ardent. Getting this playtest assignment was a dream. And the game made a great first impression. I’ve done nothing but list positive traits about the game, and I could have listed more. But eventually a problem arose and I just could not get over it. One little problem that outweighed all the good and great things listed above.
Layton X Wright isn’t very well written. As a visual novel, that’s pretty damning. Normally if a game story is bad I can look the other way. Maybe the combat is fun, or maybe the difficulty curve is just right for me to zone out while playing. But a visual novel? Can a visual novel EVER be good if it’s not well written? Coming out of this, I have to say no. Without being too spoilerific, here’s a brief rundown of why:
- Phoenix appears to have lost about 40 IQ points in the transition to the crossover game. He’s pretty dumb now, and frequently fails to make even the most basic cause/effect predictions.
- You know that dialogue shortcut where character A says something and character B just repeats back a key word or phrase from the original statement? That is SO much of the dialogue in this game. Says Luke, “I think you’re a witch!” Says Layton “… a Witch?” It’s sloppy, and neither franchise has this issue in their regular games.
- Moving the game into a fantasy setting had a terrible side effect. Shu Takumi who wrote the original Ace Attorney games wrote this, and his fondness for convoluted mystery scenarios remains. The problem is that since there’s magic, he’s free to make up literally anything he wants and just say it was a spell. This leads to the most confusing and specific set of magic spells I’ve ever seen in a game, each clearly written with unusual traits designed just for the case at hand. Fireball spells with exactly a 1 meter cast range, spells that require special rare reagents… it’s a mess to keep track of and bogs the game down.
- The vast majority of conflicts in this game could be avoided if people would just tell each other the truth about what’s going on. And they rarely have a good reason for not doing so.
- It’s satisfying to nail a criminal in Ace Attorney because you know that once you’ve extracted a confession, justice will be done. This game yanks that assumption out from under you and makes securing convictions infinitely less cathartic.
- Luke Triton just feels like he’s along for the ride because he’s in the Layton games. He rarely gets anything meaningful to do. When he does, it feels oddly out of character.
So that’s the long and short of it. Layton X Wright is a wonderfully crafted game with devious puzzles and tons of content and I love both Layton and Wright individually, but they’re stuck in a dumb story and all the lavish presentation in the world can’t fix that.