A Puzzling Objection: Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney

hisui_icon_4040 Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney always seemed like someone’s dream more than something that would get made. More the realm of fan fiction and comical videos than something you would actually play. Super Robot Wars, Project X Zone, Super Smash Bros., and Tekken X Street Fighter are all notable examples that while crossovers are not commonplace they are also hardly unheard of. So when the game was announced there was a good deal of buzz around the title. They are both melodramatic comedic puzzle games with a mystery structure and an anime style. The game play and mechanics  in both series was very different but it was fairly clear to most people with little effort both games could be combined in a way that let both of their strengths shine. All it would take is a smart story and a solid commitment to both sides of the crossover. There were a lot of things that could go wrong but it was equally feasible for the game to succeed big time.

And then we actually got Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney. I have read a bunch of reviews at this point and no one has hated the game. Overall all the reviews have been positive. But none of them have been glowing. If anything the general feeling has been underwhelming. It was fine but it could have been better. A lot of the complaints seem like nitpicks. They did not have enough cameos from fan favorite characters, mechanics from both main games could have blended more, the puzzles and court cases should have been tougher, hint coins made parts too easy, or the story could have been tighter were all sort of mediocre critics of the game I heard.

It is east to assume that this a the case of haters going to hate or that people have over inflated expectations that no game could live up to. But I don’t think that reaction is unwarranted. I think it is more people wandering through their reviews trying to touch on what made the game not live up to their dream but not being able to touch the core of their discontent. The thing is the sticking point might very well be at the heart of the story but to talk about that means spoiling a good deal of the plot.

So before we go to the rest of the review I’m going to give the game a quick one paragraph review and if you don’t want to be spoiled you can just read that and the decide if you want the game or not. But if you have played the game or don’t care about spoilers you can just continue past the next paragraph. I think that it the fairest way to do this.

I like the game but acknowledge its flaws. The game is decidedly more Professor Layton than Phoenix Wright in both storytelling and game play. Both halves get a chance to shine but Layton gets the first billing on the title for a reason. The puzzles for both halves is a bit more easy mode than what you are used to in the respective main series. If you are new to either half you won’t be over your head but if your and old hat don’t expect to be challenged most of the time. The story is fun but your mileage may vary on the twist during the last third. If you a fan of either series where is something to enjoy. The puzzles parts feel very Layton and I actually thought the Witch Trials were an interesting twist of the Ace Attorney formula. Just temper your expectations. This is more of good combination of two franchises than a golden child that is greater than the sums of its parts.

I might just be really happy that Maya has not been shipped off to the land of random offhanded mentions like she has in the recent games.

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Ongoing Investigations: Case #158

I went to see Studio Ghibli’s latest, The Secret World of Arrietty, in theaters this week. It follows a family of very tiny people known as The Borrowers because they take just what they need from the humans’ houses they live in. Borrowers move to a new location if they are seen by humans because it becomes too dangerous. Arrietty has just turned fourteen and will be doing her first “borrowing” with her father that very night. At the same time, a new human boy has come to live at the house. It is a fairly simple story of friendship and fantasy and therefore charming from beginning to end. There is a timeless quality to the country (thanks in no small part to Ghibli’s art style) and with the exception of one appearance of a cell phone it gives no hint of the broader world. The exploration of the house from the view of Borrowers is well-crafted and alive making the ordinary noteworthy. This is especially true for green Arrietty who has never ventured into its walls before but possesses all the youthful courage and curiosity you might imagine. The final resolution is possibly the most adventurous of all and made me sad that I could not see where it will lead. In a quite positive way, it breaks the spell of it being a small world and opens it up to thousands of possibilities. My only complaint is the English voice acting was not very good, there were a lot of times the voices sounded completely disconnected and disembodied. The only exception was Arrietty thank goodness. So I look forward to picking this up on DVD and hope the Japanese does it a bit more justice.

I might just stop watching Bodacious Space Pirates not because it is a bad show but because everyone loves it so much I think it is beginning to make me hate the show. When I originally watched the first episode I thought it was serviceable if a bit forgettable. But more and more I just heard people praising the show like it was the second coming of Fullmetal Alchemist. Narutaki and I joked that we must have accidentally watched Totally Tubular Space Pirates which must have been the inferior knock off show. It seems like the one show that is able to get the jaded old school fans and the young moe fans to sit down at the table and agree to enjoy something together. This keeps me watching the anime while trying to discover what I am missing that everyone else is in love with. But the more I watch the more flaws I see with the show. I feel more and more these are flaws I would normally forgive if it were watching this in a vacuum but are unmistakable when I examine the show so minutely. Plus being a Space Pirate seems to be more like a glorified Sea World stage show than the brave adventures of Captain Harlock. Maybe if I come back to this show a year from now I can give it a fair shake. Right now I feel like those people who picked apart Summer Wars until it was devoid of any fun because it got all the hype that it did and I don’t want to be that guy.

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Ongoing Investigations: Case #148

I’ve started playing Professor Layton and the Last Specter which is the start of the prequel arc featuring the first meeting of Layton and Luke. Since this is the case, the game begins with Layton meeting his new assistant Emmy who quickly became a favorite of mine. She is a new addition with her high energy and physical nature. At times she even acts as the audience to the strange happenings making comments like these villagers are so weird and the like. And it is a good thing I fell in love with her quickly, I just started a new chapter where she has broken off from Layton and Luke to go solo in London. So far the story has been in line with previous games which is a positive; I’ve been able to deduce small mysteries but the Specter remains elusive. The town seems more sprawling complete with canals and boat transportation but like the last two games it tends to box you into a path and only lets you explore at its discretion which I always take issue with. Puzzles are Layton puzzles and nothing has stood out though there does seem to be more real math than before. I’m happy to say the car path mini-game is back, but made way better because it is with trains! I haven’t gotten to London Life yet. If you’ve seen the movie Eternal Diva you know a little more about this game, but I’m looking forward to now go back and watch it with a fuller knowledge.

Mass Effect is a series that has a rich back story and world building aspects that can be totally ignored if you wish to play the game as a straight sci-fi action game. I being a Type-Moon fan of course am the sort of person who will pour over all the in-game encyclopedia entries and journals. So that fact alone won the game major bonus points with me. That aside I think the game lives up to all the praise the fans give to the series. It has a solid plot that you can play through fairly quickly if you skip all the side material. But half the fun is all the side missions you can do. The main plot line maybe be the entrée but the side dishes are equally important to the meal in its entirety although you might not want to do all the silly collect all the tchotchkes missions like I did. But the cool thing is so many of your decisions carry over to the next two games be it huge decisions you make in the main plot line or little choices you make in side quests. It gives you a reason to seek out missions just so you can impact the world as opposed to just collecting more money and experience. Knowing that the people you kill or tasks that you accomplish carry over give every decision you make a satisfying weight and consequence. The dialog and charterers are not War and Peace or Citizen Kane levels but you will get attached to most people and the writing is usually pithy. The morality system is one of the best for a modern video game. There are still some kick the dog ridiculously evil choices but most of the time picking the renegade choice is an acceptably gray moral decision. It makes playing the path other than the white knight choices viable to people who don’t just shoot the scientists in Half-Life because it is cool. As for the two biggest complaints I always hear about the game I agree with one and did not really care about the other. The Mako is sort of annoying as everyone says it is. It’s hardly unbearable but it is clunkier than it needs to be. When you are moving along it is fine but when you spend 10 minutes getting from one location of the map to another when is should have taken 30 seconds because of the terrain you quickly understand why people were glad they removed the tank driving from everything but some optional missions in the second game. The other major complain it’s the inventory system. I thought that about 90% of gear you pick up was just vendor trash but I did not find it that hard to deal with even on the 360. I just wish the shops were not just filled with random inventory as opposed to a fixed stock. I almost always had mediocre to poor armor because of this. Those flaws aside Mass Effect was pretty amazing. I beat it in about a week and missed quite a bit of sleep due to it keeping me up. If you any sort of American RPG fan it is worth trying it out.

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