Saturday, September 27, 2014

Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright - Game Review

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What? GAME review? Am I on the right blog? 

That's right, game review. Yes, you're on the right blog. Today we're adding a new section to the Defender Logs - Game reviews.

But Rachel, games don't have anything to do with writing! D=

Untrue! Good games, especially the games I enjoy, have great stories. So while we're exploring the game play and the graphics and the music, we'll also look at character development, plot development, and world building. Is that acceptable?

Pfft, fine.

Okay then. Let's get started!

Awesome fanart by Itou Mari of DeviantART
 Today we're looking at Professor Layton Vs. Phoenix Wright (or Ace Attorney, if you play in a different country). It's a crossover game, which Capcom tends to do often, and it stars two of Japan's biggest handheld stars, Professor Layton and Phoenix Wright.

Both Layton's and Wright's individual games are heavily story based and are often known as "visual novels." The player does not do much in the way of playing. They make choices and follow a story. 

I've never played a Layton game before, but I've played every Phoenix Wright game that's been localized (including the Miles Edgeworth spin off games) so I'll be making a lot of comparisons between Wright games and this game.

In this game, Phoenix Wright visits London, Professor Layton's home, and the two get caught up with their "sidekicks" in a world of witches, witch trials, puzzles, and magic. The game takes place in Labyrinthia, a town ruled by the Storyteller, a man who predicts events by writing Stories for the people of the town. And all his stories come true. 

The town is portrayed as a medieval town, complete with knights, mistrals , and old fashioned bread baking.

Let's take a look at their combo game.

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Layton vs. Wright relies heavily on Layton's game style. In the Ace Attorney games, the player runs through the game in a first person setting, usually through Phoenix's POV. Phoenix is rarely visible during most of the game, except during trials.

In this game, the player takes an omniscient POV, and all character interactions take place watching from basically a third person POV. Place-to-place movement is more similar to Layton's style, and there are hintcoins and hidden puzzles to find, which, again, comes from Layton's game, not Wright's. It's honestly refreshing to see Phoenix in cutscenes and discussions when we so rarely see his face in his own games.

Puzzles and Layton-style investigation takes precedence throughout most of the game. The puzzles are very fun and rarely frustrating and the music is calm enough that players won't tire of it after hearing it again and again while puzzle solving.

Wright's gameplay style comes up a lot more in the trial sections of the game, however, even these are done differently than a normal Ace Attorney game. Since the game's setting is in medieval times, modern day forensics can't be used in the courtroom whereas forensics are frequently used in typical Phoenix Wright games.

Also, whereas most Wright games would have Wright cross examining one witness at a time, in this game, Wright can cross examine any number of witnesses at once - a late trial has Wright examining ten witnesses at a time. This opens up new ways to find information and contradictions in cross examinations, including using other witness's testimonies. The changes are refreshing and it was fun to try something unusual to Phoenix's normal games.

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If there's one thing that Japanese games really excel in, it's music. Phoenix Wright games already have amazing music, but the remixed music and the new original music in this game really takes the cake.

One of my favorite songs is the main menu song that plays when the game first opens. It's a sad minor key song with just a hint of the drama that's to come. Add the witch trial courts and fire from the title screen and you really get a good understanding of what the game is about.

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The game's graphics are a combination of 3D sprites and anime cutscenes. The 3D sprites are visually appealing, and, for most Phoenix Wright fans, it's the first time we've seen Phoenix in full 3D. The 3D character models move smoother and more realistically than Phoenix's old pixel sprites, so the characters feel more real.

There are times when the sprites are reused to the point where they get dull and you can often guess what sprites will be used for which emotion or event, but the heavy emotional scenes, such as witch banishment, magic crimes, and the occasional fight scenes are often done in anime cut scenes, which keeps the emotion and tension high. The anime scenes aren't bogged down by a set number of limited sprites, so we get a lot of emotion in these scenes.

Puzzle sprites are often in "chibi" form, and all four main characters look adorable in these forms. Plus, it's fun to see Wright in Layton's animation style. Sadly, while the artbook has pictures of Layton on Phoenix's art style, we don't get to see this version in game.

Side character designs leap back and forth between Wright's more realistic style and Layton's more cartoony style. Important side characters, such as Inquisitor Barnham, Lady Darklaw, The Storyteller, and Espella, are done in Wright's style, whereas the townsfolk, usually the witnesses to whatever crime, are done in Layton's style. The two styles mix surprisingly well, though when you put Phoenix and Layton next to each other, it's obviously not a perfect match. Phoenix is taller than Layton, but Layton's head is bigger, so they clash a bit.

And now... on to the story bits.

Okay, I have to start this one out with some description.

In Japanese games, especially novel games and JRPGs, characters generally fall into obvious stereotypes. The perky girl, the angry shop owner, the crazy cat lady, that kind of thing. Usually this falls on minor characters, but major characters still get a bit of that side too. They aren't as well rounded as, say, Ezio from Assassin's Creed, or Cortana from Halo.

But this is not necessarily a weakness. Main characters are still well rounded, but they fall into broader categories than other characters might.

Phoenix Wright is one example. Phoenix is a passionate, kind man, with a small sarcastic streak in him, and loyal to a fault. He has a strange relationship with luck. He's got both bad luck and good luck at the same time. In one game, he falls forty feet into a raging river known for killing people and comes out with only a bad cold. In another, he gets hit by a car and sent sailing through the air, but only sprains his ankle on the fall. His luck follows him in the courtroom too, and he often wins by the skin of his teeth on pure luck.

While I don't know much about Layton's typical games, he's much the same way. A professor of archaeology by trade, Layton's major characterization comes from the fact that he is a proper English gentleman, something he often reminds the players of. Many of his actions, including defending the weak, standing up for justice, and trying to discover the truth of things comes from this characterization.

We get to see both characters in actions that aren't common for them in this game however. Layton fights knights head on with a sword and Phoenix tackles a knight to the ground trying to protect a friend. Both of them are desperate to find the truth behind the magic crimes, but neither wants to see a witch burn for such a crime and they try to fight back.

Phoenix especially acts out of his normal character at times. While Phoenix knows how to be loud about things (Objection!) he rarely gets seriously angry or seriously sad. He hits both extremes in this game because of dark event that takes place.

In other words, we get to see these quiet Japanese characters be bad asses. It's pretty fun and it allows them to be a little more rounded than normal. These are characters that you can really come to love. You care about what happens to them.

The only character I don't care for much is Espella. She has a streak of Mary Sue in her. Phoenix and Layton risk everything to help her, despite the fact that they just barely met her and don't know much about her. She's fairly helpless and probably couldn't get on without either Phoenix's or Layton's help. It doesn't help that she's the title character and pretty much everything revolves around her, but eh, if you focus on Layton and Phoenix then it's not that big a deal.

Lordy. The storyline is very complex (as is most novel style games) and has a whopper of an ending.

Typical Phoenix Wright games, and really, typical Japanese novel style games, are very episodic. They'll often connect the episodes to a degree, but generally each episode is self contained. With Phoenix Wright games, the episodes typically start with investigations, then go to court, then investigations, then court and so on. Usually a court date ends the episode.

This game has "chapters" but like a good novel, the chapters blend together and don't follow the episodic formula. Everything connects to everything else. There are minor witch trials that lead to the larger witch problem, but each trial leads to the bigger picture.

One thing the game is very good at is dropping hints about the actual truth behind the world they're in, while at the same time letting the player fall into the world of the game and take it on its own terms. Characters die and you believe it. People come back to life and you believe it. Everything fits in the world of the game.

As an author, I've always been impressed with Phoenix Wright storylines, and this game is no different. Phoenix storylines lack plot holes and logic holes. COMPLETELY. Everything fits perfectly with everything else. Yes, sometimes you get ridiculous ideas (like the old wives' tale that pepper can be used to make someone sneeze being an important part of a court case) but generally speaking, the storyline is perfect. And it has to be to make things make sense. And this game does a great job of making everything make sense.

And the twist ending is quite a mind blow.

So there you have it! This is probably one of the most enjoyable Phoenix Wright games I've played in a while and I highly recommend it. I give this game...


Go out and buy a copy today! 

(All images are official game images, unless otherwise stated. None of these images belong to me).

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