Saturday, December 1, 2012

To Switch a Witch

"If she weighs the same as a duck..... She's made of wood"
"And therefore?"
"A witch!"
"Monty Python and the Holy Grail"

Many moons ago, I bought my Nintendo DS for the sole purpose of playing the courtroom battle detective game Gyakuten Saiban / Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney after seeing this awesome trailer. And then I switched over to a DS Lite, put gave clear instructions that 'my' DS has to play at least one Gyakuten game once a year. And once again, I bought a new game system to play one game.

Professor Layton vs Gyakuten Saiban (Nintendo 3DS) is a grand crossover between Level-5's Professor Layton series and Capcom's Gyakuten Saiban series, the former being a quirky adventure game built around the premise of solving (mostly non-story related) puzzles, while the latter is an adventure detective game built around the premise of courtroom battles. And I like both series. So there was no way I was going to miss this release. Especially not when I heard that Takumi Shuu, the original creater / scenario writer / director of the main Gyakuten Saiban series was involved with the scenario.

The game starts with both professor Layton (and assistant Luke) and ace attorney Naruhodo (and assistent Mayoi) getting involved with a mysterious girl called Mahone in London. After their respective encounters with the girl, both the Layton and Naruhodo duo end up in a mysterious place called Labyrinth City, a medieval town where magic and witches exist. Mahone ends up being arrested for suspicion of being a witch (with her seemingly incinerating two robbers with fire magic according to the witnesses) and it is up to Naruhodo to defend Mahone in the Witch Trials. And Layton is there solving random puzzles and the mystery behind Labyrinth City, like he always does.

This game really did it right by making witch trials its subject, because it is a theme that fits both the Professor Layton and Gyakuten Saiban series. What's more, it brings all kinds of new elements to the familiar courtroom battles of Gyakuten Saiban that really make it a must-play for fans of the series (the Layton part of the game is sadly enough not as interesting, with few interesting puzzles). I already wrote about how detecting works within the Gyakuten Saiban games (multiple times by now), so I will mostly look at the new things here.

And witches are definitely new. Whereas in the main Gyakuten Saiban series, you are 1) trying to prove your client's innocence and 2) trying to find the real culprit, you are doing something completely different here. Technically, Mahone is tried for being a witch, not for killing two men with magic. Naruhodo thus isn't trying to find the real culprit (witch) or trying to prove Mahone didn't kill anyone, he has to proof that Mahone isn't a witch. Which requires quite a different approach to the trials.

One might also wonder, how does a detective game work in a fantasy setting where magic and witches exist? (It is actually a bit like this) Well, by having rules to magic (akin to how alchemy works in Fullmetal Alchemist). In Layton vs Gyakuten Saiban, there exists three conditions to magic: a witch must be holding a staff as she casts magic, she must say the proper enchantment for it to work and the staff she is holding must be equiped with the proper magic stone for the type of magic she wants to cast. These conditions form the foundation upon Witch Trials are based.

The clear rules to witchcraft is what makes Layton vs Gyakuten Saiban work as a fair detective. While set in a fantasy setting, Takumi Shuu made sure that the player knows what is possible (and not) even in a world where magic exists, thus preserving a fair-play setting. Like I mentioned in my review of Mori Hiroshi's Subete ga F ga ni Naru, not knowing what is possible can have great effects on how one perceives/enjoys a certain detective story. A bit back a Guess the Criminal script presented at the Mystery Club also revolved around the existence of youkai and such, but the clear presentation of the rules of the game made it a very enjoyable story.

Abstractly seen, the whole witchcraft setting isn't that different from what you usually do in Gyakuten Saiban though: like always you're on the lookout for contradictions made by witnesses by comparing testimonies with evidence. This time however, Naruhodo is also in possession of the Complete Works in Witchcraft, where you can check what rules exist for the different kinds of magic. What is considered common sense, might be different in a world where witchcraft exists, but it is the same logic with which you find the real murderer (witch) in this game.

The other big difference in the Witch Trials compared with the main Gyakuten Saiban series is the mob examination. Instead of listening to each witness' testimony after another, you are now forced to crossexamine multiple persons at the same time, with sometimes extra people suddenly dropping in and out! It is supposed to emulate the chaos Takumi envisioned when imagining how a witch trial would proceed, and it works. Witnesses react to each other's testimonies, resulting in some very unpredictable trials. Suspense in its storytelling has always been a staple of the Gyakuten Saiban series and it is only strengthened by the mob testimonies.

It's because of these additions that the Layton part of the game feels underwhelming. Whereas the courtroom segments (i.e. the Gyakuten Saiban part of the game) have all kinds of new things, the Layton part of the game (exploration of the town, solving logic puzzles) features nothing new. In fact, it's not nearly as interesting as a real Layton game, as this game features fewer and easier puzzles compared to full-fledged Layton titles.

Though I have to admit: the new elements in the courtroom segments aren't always used as effectively as I would have liked (especially the Complete Works on Witchcraft feels underused) and the last trial segment is too long and not particularly interesting actually. The Gyakuten Saiban part of the game reaches its climax relatively early in the game, sadly enough.

Some other non-detective points of interest: the game has great production values, as expected from Level-5 (responsible for main programming). Animated sections, music, voiced lines. Seeing Naruhodo as a 3D model (instead of sprites) actually works and the orchestrated music is simply amazing (seriously, I want this running in the background if I ever get to accuse someone of murder). Too bad they used Narumiya Hiroki as Naruhodo's voice actor though: he played a solid Naruhodo in the live-action movie, but he just doesn't work as a game/animation voice actor. It's been a while since I heard such boring voice-acting (well, April actually).

Anyway, this is must-play material for fans of both series, naturally. It especially poses interesting stuff to Gyakuten Saiban fans, as expected because of Takumi's involvement with the development, but Professor Layton vs Gyakuten Saiban also serves as a great example of how to effectively present a fair detective story within a fantasy setting.

Original Japanese title(s): 『レイトン教授vs逆転裁判』


  1. I. Stump / HeartfeltAugust 29, 2022 at 8:26 AM

    Sorry to comment on an old post, Ho-Ling, but I ended up taking a look at the Ace Attorney posts on your blog when BP and I ended up talking about Ace Attorney in a Kindaichi Discord server we share. For anyone else reading this 10 year old blog post, SPOILERS FOLLOW.

    Professor Layton VS Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney is a favorite in the series for me. While I think Ace Attorney's *plotting* peaked in Trials & Tribulations, and its *mysteries* peaked in Miles Edgeworth: Investigations 2, I adore VS and consider it a close third favorite, as I consider it to be one of the absolute best crossovers ever made.

    Ultimately, despite both being mystery series, Professor Layton and Ace Attorney are two dramatically different game series in practically every way and I was impressed at how well every single aspect of this crossover managed to feel like it could've been either in an Ace Attorney game or a Layton game and it would've felt right at home either way. The music, the character designs, and the mysteries all feel like perfect amalgamations of Layton and Ace Attorney on thematic and stylistic levels.

    Heck, the third case, The Golden Court, is such a surreal way to take the game that captures everything that a game called "Professor Layton VS Phoenix Wright" SHOULD be. By having Luke genuinely think Maya has murdered the Professor, this case drops Luke into a situation he'd NEVER have to deal with in a mainline Layton and it results in some of the absolute best characterization he's seen in the series. Nevermind that the case and its mystery are... well, Gold!

    Also, contrary to you, I actually think the finale is super good too, since it underscores everything I love about this crossover element of VS, with a prosecuting Layton using the Ace Attorney structure to goad Phoenix into solving a Layton-styled mystery. It's all just so fun!

    My only gripe with VS is I wish they would've demonstrated how Layton wouldn't work without Phoenix there. A common complaint I see of this game is that Layton always seems so much more intelligent than Phoenix, and often people feel as if Layton could've just lawyered in Phoenix's place and not much would've changed practically.

    While I understand this complaint, given Layton's character I don't think he'd be able to function in an Ace Attorney court, as I think his perfection and gentlemanliness would ironically be his undoing. He's too polite to interrupt prosecutors and he's much too obliging to even rude people -- he'd be easily talked over by an aggressive prosecution. He'd also respect the rules and due process of a court to a fault, to the point that he'd refuse to interrupt the judge during a verdict. Flouting courtroom procedure *always* helped Phoenix in the past. I also think Layton would refuse to bluff, as he prefers to reason with absolute certainty (this being part of his Sherlockian inspiration, he wouldn't theorize without all necessary facts), which would put him at a massive disadvantage. He's a very smart person and he'd easily spot contradictions, but I do not believe he'd be a good lawyer, especially in Ace Attorney-verse.

    What I would've loved for VS-2 is for Layton to initially try to play defense attorney while Phoenix still suffered from amnesia, and just... do absolutely dogwater at it. He'd be pushed around by aggressive prosecutors, he'd be talked over, he'd refuse to make unnecessary bluffs or leaps in logic, and he'd be talked circles around by witnesses who refuse to listen to a word this erringly enabling man has to say. When the judge is getting ready to hand down a verdict, Luke begs Layton to do something, but Layton laments that it's not his place to interfere with the due process of the law, even if he believes he's in the right. It's at THAT moment that a newly-awakened Phoenix Wright would shout "OBJECTION" and save Layton and Espella (Mahone).

    1. (posted in two parts because the comment was too long)

      Not only do I think this would enhance Layton's characterization, giving him a reason to reflect on his methods and to commend Phoenix for doing something he couldn't, it would also better justify Phoenix's presence in the game in a much better way than that one (1) single puzzle in the ruins did.

      I would've loved to see what PLvsPW:AA looked like that alternate universe where Layton was the prosecutor... but I adore the product we got now. Even if it's imperfect as both a Layton and an Ace Attorney game, I think as a crossover it's a bloody perfect merging of two series into something surreal and amazingly fun. I couldn't think of a better crossover for these two series if I tried, and I'd love to see them return to this crossover in the future... if only because mainline Layton died with Akira Tago, and any possibility of a new mainline Ace Attorney is just a cocktease Capcom uses to sell its fiftieth trilogy port. "We have big news for Ace Attorney fans!" "Ace Attorney 7? :eyes:" "No, Ace Attorney 1, but faster!"

      Anyway, sorry for this long and rambling comment on an old post. I just love VS so much, and I rarely get a chance to talk about it!

    2. Yeah, despite the often-heard complaint, at least in AA-fandom, that this game is "a Layton game with minimal Ace Attorney elements inserted" I never felt the same, and I think that as a crossover between two very different kind of adventure games and their respective atmospheres, it's a really good product that really balances the two sides. Sure, there are parts where the seperate series are better, like Layton's puzzle variety, and the more structured clewing of Ace Attorney (the finale's "BIG" surprise would've worked better if that one thing had been hinted at more often through observations).

      But I also think it's a product of its time for those specific series, so I wouldn't mind if there would never be a sequel. Both series were just about their peak in name recognition in Japan, Layton have seen its animated theatrical release and having a 3DS game already, Ace Attorney having spent the last few years succesfully building out to a much larger multimedia franchise in Japan with Ace Attorney Investigations doing very well for a spin-off, musicals, and the film releasing. The crossover made absolutely sense at that specific time, when both franchises were just becoming so big and trying so many things out a crossover just seemed like a very logical step.

    3. I. Stump / HeartfeltAugust 29, 2022 at 9:19 AM

      I suppose you're right. With Layton and Ace Attorney both in limbo, it would probably be a bad movie fiscally to make another crossover, even if it's in an attempt to reignite interest in both series... Still, I guess I can adore this game while it exists, and hope that Takumi eventually makes that Ghost Trick x Ace Attorney crossover he was teasing...