Outstretched arms and pointed fingers unite, as LEVEL-5 and Capcom’s sleuthing heavyweights find themselves inadvertently brought together in what proves to be a collaborative cataclysm of deafening proportions. It is a pairing that dared to risk angering series purists, but wade your way through Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney‘s exhaustive three-hour exposition and even diehard critics will be left struggling to rebuke that the dual lead’s worlds so easily meld.
We still need a reason for their paths to cross, however, with Ace Attorney creator Shu Takumi’s script weaving a dark tale that pivots around the rather forlorn destiny of Espella Cantabella. Hunted by witches as she flees from captivity against a backdrop of stormy skies swirling over London, she takes refuge at Professor Layton’s residence only to soon find herself kidnapped by her pursuers once more. As only a true gentleman would, Layton gives chase with his trusty, returning sidekick Luke Triton, successfully deceiving the advancing witch to grant Espella an opportunity to escape once again. It’s a small victory, the ominous book that she had been carrying miraculously warping the pair to the medieval city of Labyrinthia.
Defence attorney Phoenix Wright and accompanying spirit medium Maya Fey meet with the same transportation fate, soon after appearing in court to refute accusations made against the young damsel during the second part of her escape. These opening chapters, whilst largely responsible for setting the grandiose adventure in motion, are more geared toward addressing any unfamiliarity that players may have with either series. Simplistic puzzles and rather transparent courtroom-action cover any knowledge gaps, before eagerly thrusting players into the unknown.
It is when you find yourself cast into Labyrinthia’s witch-fearing society that everything really begins to heat up, in more ways than one. This new world in which we find ourselves is a whimsical one and is overseen by the Storyteller – a shadowy figure who pens prophecies within a thick tome that all come true. Whilst Layton’s irrepressible, quizzical side sees him look to unravel the city’s mysteries, Wright finds his courtroom experience put to the test after Espella is suddenly charged with using witchcraft. She, therefore, must partake in the Witch Trials, an otherwise rather standard courtroom battle if it weren’t for the fact that those condemned are, rather gruesomely, engulfed in flame. And so the scene is set.
It is Labyrinthia’s fanciful setting that lends so much strength to the game, with law-abiding knights clanking down each street and distrustful citizens jumping to their own conclusions amounting to a city that is soon riddled with intrigue. This finds itself elevated further through the way in which the game’s creators toy with already established gameplay concepts of either series.
Whilst Layton’s portion is rather standard, puzzles ranging from being either far too strenuous or not taxing enough at all, it is the way in which the Witch Trials are approached that allow Wright’s defence attorney flair to provide the most exhilarating moments that LEVEL-5 can conjure. Thought that unearthing contradictions within a single testimony was hard enough? Well, here you are tasked with interpreting up to five at once, the limitations of the medieval world in which you find yourself meaning that you can’t even rely on forensics to aid you to achieve your Not Guilty verdict.
You’ll press, question, and present evidence as always, although the multi-angled testimony sees you observe witnesses for any reactions to each other’s statements. Whilst Labyrinthia’s Grand Grimoire will soon come into your possession as another lawyerly tool, holding magical records that will be required to help interpret what spells have been cast within each separate incident. These undoubtedly thrill throughout, especially when all four protagonists come together in the courtroom to defy the prosecution’s claims. With so many twists and turns always keeping you second guessing, it is easily the game’s storyline that becomes its greatest accomplishment.
Trademark Hint Coins make their return, scattered throughout the idyllic streets and cluttered rooms that you trawl. Now able to be used in the courtroom to indicate where to direct your attention next, they continue to ease the experience for those who would otherwise struggle through.
Special mention goes to the game’s returning cast, even if it still feels fairly odd to hear Phoenix and Maya now voiced. Whereas LEVEL-5’s penchant for high production values sees Labyrinthia truly brought to life through beautifully crafted cinematics and wondrous backdrops, accompanied by a magnificent soundtrack that matches the high risk of the game’s frequent, climactic scenes.
Even after the rousing finale to Hershel Layton’s adventures in last November’s Azran Legacy and Phoenix Wright’s return to the courtroom in Dual Destinies, this witchcraft-ridden chapter of their tale is perfectly executed. After several titles in each of their respective series, it is when brilliant minds come together that something truly special can occur. Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney is one such moment.