In Professor Layton vs. Ace Attorney, two of the biggest names in the puzzle/crime solving video game genres, team up to unravel the mystery of Labyrinth City. Likewise, the composers of both series, Tomohito Nishiura (Professor Layton) and Masakazu Sugimori (Phoenix Wright), with newcomer Yasumasa Kitagawa, collaborate on a 3-disc epic that captures the atmosphere of Layton Kyouju VS Gyakuten Saiban Mahou Ongaku Taizen (Professor Layton vs. Gayuten Saiban Magical Mystery Music).
Disc one is loaded with familiar Professor Layton tunes, orchestrated beautifully with a sprinkling of new tunes. The disc starts with The Opening Theme of Professor Layton vs. Ace Attorney, a soaring piece that combines echoes of both professor and lawyer. The smooth strings and woodwinds from Layton’s melodies blend seamlessly into Wright’s staccato brass counter-melodies, creating a complementary ebb and flow. It’s unfortunate that such musical collaboration doesn’t reappear till the end of the entire set.
Still, the new songs live up to the Layton name. Labyrinth City creates scenes of a puzzling city filled with numerous misleading paths. Even unsettling songs like Forest manage to emit the gentleman’s sensibilities of restraint and carefulness. With its buoyant beats and dexterous piano melody, LINK is the only song on disc one that feels misplaced — it’s as if Phoenix Wright barged into Layton’s office during a tea time break.
Orchestrated versions of past songs, particularly Pinch! and Lost Forest, keep the repeated themes fresh with nuanced interpretations. Pinch! ramps up the tension and apprehension of the original while making it sound polished and gallant; I thought it was a new song until I checked the titles. Without the haunting flute of Lost Forest, the heavy strings and french horn render it pensive and serious. Disc one has no trouble meeting the expectations of a Layton fan.
Full of many new and some revisited old Phoenix Wright songs, disc two contains quite the robust selection. Admittedly, while I have found Ace Attorney’s music as suitable background to the games, I have never liked listening to them on their own. But on this disc, the orchestrated versions pleasantly add more depth to the tired tunes, earning them an ace in my book. Most notably, Ace Attorney ~ Court Begins and Logic and Trick weave multiple layers resulting in more abundant, complex pieces that make my ears tingle.
With a bounty of new pieces, more so than Layton’s disc, Yasumasa Kitagawa seems to draw from solemn, contemplative themes when out of the courtroom. Songs such as Straying ~ Suspense, Reminiscence ~ Bewitched Fate, and The Ruler and the Alchemist are far from the usual upbeat melodies of past games. The exception, Farce ~ Naive People, sticks out terribly with its silly, carnival lightheartedness amidst the courtroom tension and contemplative locations.
Unique characters have consistently been a highlight in the series, and though I don’t know who Jeeken Barnrod ~ Labyrinth Knight is, I can’t wait to meet the guy. With solid, no-nonsense brass and gliding strings announcing his arrival, he sounds suave, pompous, and self-important, but deservedly so. Mist Belduke ~ Twilight Memories mirrors its reminiscing title as haunting strings draw on an unraveling history. Overall, disc two is an impressive disc that significantly builds and expands on the Phoenix Wright discography.
Disc three contains music used during cinematic cutscenes in the game, thus including a bevy of new pieces with two orchestrated revisions: In-Flight, based on Turnabout Sister’s Theme from 2001, and a second arrangement of Professor Layton’s Theme. Most of the songs are under a minute long, understandably due to the nature of cut scenes. Unfortunately, these shorts don’t make a large impression, suffice for The Witches’ Theme ~ Attack, which boasts a dramatic introduction and strong string melody — my only complaint is it doesn’t last long enough.
Festival appears to stick out, but only because its Celtic and Irish roots are markedly different from what I’ve come to expect of Layton and Wright. Lively strings and steady beats convey a celebration that holds enough restraint to blend in with the rest. Like the common theme pervasive to this set, Mahoney’s Theme ~ Truth carries pensive and thoughtful moods through delicate piano notes and tender strings.
The final piece, The Ending Theme of Professor Layton vs Ace Attorney, brings the discs together in an epic cumulative piece. Snippets of well-known tunes from both sides are woven into an overlapping fabric rich in complimentary elements. Unlike the introductory theme, Layton and Wright melodies are heard across the strings, woodwinds, and brass, making a complete amalgamation of two seemingly disparate styles. Suffice to say, if the soundtrack was 5 songs with the equally executed finesse of this piece, I would buy it ten times over.
I am a little disappointed that the songs are segregated into two camps and have few overlaps with one another. However, the top-notch quality of music almost makes up for it, and the mash-ups push it over the line. If Level 5 and Capcom have plans to continue this game and music collaboration, I fervently hope they will stick more closely to the definition of “collaboration,” rather than making another set that’s mostly “compilation.”