I know this game isn't out in North America yet (and is probably still some way off), but it's been out in Europe for a while already. I just finished it yesterday, and this post will be my "review" of the game.
First, a few helpful disclaimers: I absolutely love the Phoenix Wright games and have played all of them except the second Miles Edgeworth game that hasn't yet been released in English (I also haven't finished the first ME-game, or the Apollo Justice game. Currently working on both). I enjoy the Professor Layton games. I detest Anime/Manga. You may be surprised that I'm mentioning the latter here. Just bear with me.
One of the the greatest strength of the Ace Attorney games has been how they manage to do great characterization and storytelling without falling into the typical tropes that Anime/Manga almost always does. In these games you'll find characters with wildly different and unique personalities (yes, even the women), characters with actual depth, feelings and motivations (yes, even the women), characters with unique facial structures (yes, even the women), characters with realistically colored hair (yes, even the women), characters who can speak without using ellipses every other line (yes, even the women), and storylines that can be about just about anything and that surprise and delight you at every turn (yes, even the... oh, wait).
The Professor Layton games also avoid most of the tropes, though after the first game they started to dip their fingers into the cesspool that is stereotypical Japanese storytelling (not saying they can't make good stories, only that their fear of standing out makes them copy each other way, way, way too often), without it getting obnoxious. Most characters are pretty 2-dimensional, but that appears to be deliberate and is played for comedic effect, so that's fine.
Among the features I like the least in Anime/Manga/visual novels, you'll find:
- Women who are designed from one of only two templates (timid and nice, or aggressive and domineering)
- Characters with absolutely no personality. This ties into the previous point, and is usually reserved for women, though it also happens to male characters on occasion.
- People who communicate at length using only ellipses (ie: "..............").
- Stories that are almost always about the dangers of technology.
- Stories that are needlessly wordy. Ace Attorney is exactly as wordy as it needs to be, but most visual novels could use heavy editing.
- Stories trying way, way too hard to be emotional and sad without really pulling it off.
- Female voice actors who have clearly been instructed by the director to raise the pitch of their voices to an annoying, unrealistic level (outside of Japan).
- Characters who moan, groan, gasp and make all kinds of reaction sounds that nobody makes in real life, but everyone makes all the fucking time in Anime.
Hey, guess what! This game has every single one of those "features," and this is its downfall.
Let me preface this by saying that the game is good enough. Good enough, not great. It's enjoyable for anyone who likes the games this is based on. However, Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright doesn't get anywhere near the heights of any game in its respective series.
The Professor Layton parts are probably the closest to their original games, and you'll be following the standard template from those. You walk around and talk to hilarious caricatures who'll hand out puzzles as if they were candy. The puzzles are what you'd expect from the series.
The Phoenix Wright parts start out promising, with two fun and relatively interesting cases introducing you to the setting. However, the last few cases fall completely flat, and are utterly predictable. The third case had me identifying the killer the second I met him/her, and the "big mysteries" were so obvious that I was rolling my eyes when the inquisitor (this game's version of prosecutors) presented his argument. The last case is boring, drags on way too long, is predictable, has no real climax, and builds its emotional focus around the most boring, lifeless, annoyingly voiced character in the entire game. More about that later.
The voice actors are of all levels of quality, but they are mostly good to passable. All the four primary characters (Phoenix, Maya, Layton, Luke) sound like they should and work well. But then we get to the primary characters that are introduced in this game.
These new characters don't fit into either universe. They don't look or act like characters out of either Ace Attorney or Professor Layton, instead coming off as Anime characters straight out of the template (which is exactly what they are). The entire story is built around one particular character who participates in the majority of the game. The problem with that is that she has absolutely no personality. I'm serious here. She's entirely devoid of life and uniqueness, and her voice actor works with a horribly high pitch and poorly written lines. If she even has lines in the first place, that is. She just as often only speaks in ellipses (.................) for multiple lines in a row (a quality she shares with other, almost equally lifeless characters in the game) or simply moans, groans and gasps (see Anime, above) in all the wrong places. With the climax of the story built around this particular character, the entire thing just fails to work because I. Don't. Care. There's nothing in there to be emotionally invested in.
The story culminates in a reveal that's supposed to explain all the things you've seen throughout the game. It kind of does until you stop and think about it. At that point you realize just how horribly convoluted the whole thing is, and even worse, you realize that it doesn't explain any of the stuff you see in the early parts of the game. There are enormously massive plot holes here, and try as I might, I simply can't explain what's going on in the game's opening hours (I suspect the writers can't either). If Phoenix Wright was aware of the 4th wall, he'd be pointing out contradictions left and right here.
The game tries to add drama by pretending to kill off some of the main characters. However, this falls flat because this game takes place between already released games in their respective series. You know that these people can't be dead, so the drama loses its impact. Even worse, because the game demonstrates so clearly that you can trust that these people are dead, you begin to think that anyone who dies in the game isn't truly dead, which completely undermines what they're trying to accomplish here. It removes all feeling of dread and tension from what could otherwise have been a dark and somewhat mature plot.
The game's soundtrack is excellent, though it never even gets close to the soundtrack for Phoenix Wright: Dual Destinies, which was released last year. Actually, I think that game might be what hurts this one the most. Dual Destinies is so damned good that it's competing with Trials & Tribulations for the status of being the best Phoenix Wright game ever. Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright competes for the worst place. The graphics, which would have been excellent had this come out before Dual Destinies as was intended, pale in comparison to the quality seen in that game. Some of Phoenix's poses are creepy in how they draw your attention to his dead eyes.
In the end, I was glad when the credits rolled. The final case ended with a big yawn, whereas Dual Destinies provided the world with one of the biggest HOLY F**KING S**T DID THAT JUST F**KING HAPPEN moments of 2013.
Don't get me wrong, despite all the shortcomings I did enjoy most of my time in this game, but Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright is enjoyable despite its individual parts, not because of them. That makes for a disjointed, hollow experience in the end.
Buy only if you're a big fan of these series. If you're unfamiliar with either, play the main series from the beginning and use this game as a supplement if you need more. It's a good game, but it's nothing special and far from a classic.
Edit: I forgot one important thing. This game sadly regresses in terms of case design in the Ace Attorney sections. The early games in that series sometimes struggled with testimonies where the game expect you to present something that didn't really make sense without the luxury of hindsight. The later games got much better at avoiding this, culminating in Dual Destinies, in which I only experienced it once (in the DLC case). Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright far too often expects you to present something based on ludicrous leaps in logic that don't make a sliver of sense without hindsight, often while there are much better theories and solutions available that make far more sense and that you (think you can) even present solid evidence for. But no, the game expects you to think exactly like the designers did. Thankfully, the hint coin system from the Layton games also extends to the Ace Attorney sections here, helping you get past the most obscure leaps of logic. This shouldn't be necessary though, and it's sad to see them forget the skills they've built up in designing these games.