Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney has been out for a whole month. Many more people have finished it now, and I’ve had time to think about it…. and its ending.
When I finished it, I praised it as “an almost perfect game” and named its ending as the major problem. Since then, my view of the ending has softened.
Oh, don’t get me wrong. The ending is still bad. Do a search for “Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright plot holes,” and you’ll see I’m not alone. It has so many problems, it’s actually funny, but it can also teach us some important lessons about writing stories.
(If you want to avoid Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright spoilers, you should leave now. Everything from this point on will include major spoilers.)
1. Don’t Introduce Plot Points with No Purpose
We’re jumping ahead of ourselves here, but once all the ridiculous plot holes and “explanations” have been revealed, Arthur Cantabella (“the Storyteller”) reveals that one of the reasons he chose then to end the Story is because he’s sick.
In fact, he has an incurable disease, much to Espella’s horror.
Contrary to what some fans say, this actually was foreshadowed. There’s a scene earlier in the game in which the Storyteller appeared to be in pain. When I first saw it, I wondered if he was dying.
The problem is that as soon as he’s revealed this tragedy to his daughter, he announces that a cure has just been discovered, and he’s going to have surgery soon!
Really? What was the point of that? It gives him a reason to end the Story, yes, but something else could have been used. (Like, I don’t know, realizing that the witch trials were actually causing psychological harm to everyone in the city, including Espella?) If they wanted to take this path, why not actually have the Storyteller die? It would have been more meaningful, and made it seem less like he got away with everything without any consequences.
At the very least, he could have said he thought he was dying and just recently found out about the cure. The way he breaks the news to Espella makes him even more of the jerk.
Bringing it up like this makes it feel like it was just there for shock value. It could have added an extra layer of depth to the ending, but instead it was just a pointless plot element.
2. Complete Your Character Development Arcs
You know what I love in stories? Redemption.
Few things are more satisfying to me than to watch an antihero or outright villain question his/her actions and switch sides.
I also like knights and swordsman, so I was interested in this guy back when I didn’t know much about him except that he looked like he’d wandered in from Fire Emblem. (No, I haven’t played any Fire Emblem games yet, but that’s still what I thought when I got my first good look at our new prosecutor.)
— Samantha Lienhard (@SamLienhard) August 24, 2014
When I actually got into the game and met Inquisitor Zacharias Barnham and watched him condemn screaming witches to be burned alive, I thought, “Oh, this guy is a redemption story waiting to happen.”
And he was. Uh, sort of.
As the story goes on, Barnham slowly progresses down the path of character development. When his actions inadvertently lead to the apparent death of one of our heroes, he helps the others escape. He starts searching for the truth. He insists Espella be treated with respect and announces that she’s innocent until proven guilty, which is a wild way of thinking for an Ace Attorney prosecutor.
Then he’s accused of treason, thrown into the dungeon, and doesn’t appear again until the final cutscene. Oops. So much for the rest of that character development.
I almost wonder if some of the lines about him being fair and just were added to make it seem like he was a wonderful guy all along, y’know, instead of someone who sent people to their horrible fiery deaths.
It’s as if they didn’t know how to include him in the final act of the game, so they just decided not to. They wrote him out of the plot and left his character development arc unfinished.
3. Actions Have Consequences
I like happy endings, but Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright’s ending was so happy, it annoyed me. All of the villains are sympathetic, everyone reconciles their differences, the Storyteller’s incurable disease is curable, no one died, and everyone’s going to live happily ever after.
I’m sure Kira won’t have nightmares about being burned as a witch now that her memories are restored!
The Judge, Barnham, and the other Inquisitors won’t suffer knowing they condemned so many innocent people to death!
Jean Greyerl won’t become suicidal…. again!
Neither will Espella!
Eve won’t have trouble coming to grips with the fact that she accidentally killed hundreds of people!
And isn’t it so wonderful that the Storyteller can live a happy, guilt-free life now that everyone is free of his brainwashing and he can just shut down the mind control experiment he and Umbrella–excuse me, Labrelum–did for the government?
Speaking of which, for those of you who have played Professor Layton and the Unwound Future…
These people have gone through so much psychological trauma, and no one’s even going to mention it. I know Layton stories like their sympathetic, redeemable villains, but even those villains usually go to jail. No one in this game retained their villain status by the end, and there isn’t even a hint that the Storyteller is going to pay for his morally questionable (and by “questionable,” I mean “wrong”) actions.
Let’s not forget that the people who originally joined the experiment were willing to have their memories wiped. Some of them may have to deal with the memories of a horrible life before all the witch-burning trauma.
And did they make it clear that Shades who “return” get their old lives back? Or is there a chance that we’ve got some women out there who were both Inquisitors and witches across the course of the ten years?
The Storyteller’s plan is absolutely horrible. Instead of getting actual therapy for Espella after she believed she wiped out the town, he decided to mind-wipe her, brainwash her, cut her off from the real world, and create a fake world around her where young women are regularly burned alive. Sure, I mean, what better way to recover from serious trauma than to live your life afraid you might be accused of being a witch and burned alive? That’s horrible!
Yet at the end of Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright, everyone smiled and hugged, and all the trauma was neatly pushed aside.
4. Be Careful With Science
I can suspend my disbelief a lot when it comes to science in fiction, especially video games… and especially something like Professor Layton, which is probably going to toss around some vague science to work with its absurd plot twists.
So, I have no problem with PL vs. PW saying something in the water makes everyone fall unconscious if silver strikes silver. I’m fine with the area having amazing plants that create mind-control drugs that erase memories, give people new memories, and brainwash them. I was willing to accept science-driven invisibility cloaks, and I applaud them for incorporating “pure black,” because even if we can’t make stuff that’s pure black yet, scientists are getting closer.
Using pure black for invisibility, though… doesn’t work. If you’re hypnotized so you can’t see a specific color, that doesn’t mean you can see through objects of that color. When Labyrinthians looked at invisible cranes or Shades, they wouldn’t have been able to see what was on the other side.
(I’d have been fine if Layton’s pseudo-science said the cloaks bent light.)
But now we’re getting a little too close to the moment you’ve all been waiting for…
5. Watch Out for Plot Holes!
Plot holes aren’t unusual for a Professor Layton game. They’re almost a tradition. Ace Attorney has a few here and there, too. Just about everything does. But this game took the plot holes to whole new levels.
Let’s ignore science and accept that if you’re hypnotized not to see pure black, a pure black object is invisible to you. That raises some questions.
- Why don’t the invisible people and objects cast shadows?
- Why can’t anyone hear the Shades’ footsteps or breathing?
- Why doesn’t anyone run into all the invisible CRANES AND MACHINERY around town?
And what about magic? All right, the invisible Shades run around after witches. When the witch casts a spell, they fake the spell, ringing a silver bell to knock everyone out for the more complicated ones. Now we have more questions:
- Ignaize: how do they know what the witch was aiming at? For example, how did they know Kira was targeting Robbs and Muggs, and not Espella?
- Goldor: how long do they have to keep them unconscious to make an entire statue? If Layton’s was made in advance (implied since the Storyteller called him in to meet with him), how did they know the exact position he would be in at the time?
- Godoor: do they knock the witch (and anyone else around) out, cut out part of the wall, revive her, and then when she’s finished, knock everyone out and keep them unconscious until they can fill in the hole?
- Granwyrm: possibly the most problematic of the bunch, how did the Shades create the illusion of a giant fire dragon eating the Storyteller?
A lot of these are usually answered by “hypnosis/brainwashing.” They were hypnotized not to walk into pure black objects. They were brainwashed so they imagined the fire dragon. All this does is hand wave the plot holes in a pseudo-scientific form of A Wizard Did It.
The greatest irony, of course, is that this is the logical explanation… as opposed to the structured, rule-based magic system with its own encyclopedia. We just can’t accept that magic is real, says the spirit medium! There must be a logical explanation, says the boy who can talk to animals!
And let’s go back to the Shades knocking people out by ringing their silver bells. Why does that work as a time skip for these people? Labyrinthians are knocked unconscious, and when they regain consciousness, it seems to them as if no time has passed at all. Why don’t they ever remember lying on the floor and getting up? Why do they all wake up at the same time so no one sees someone else unconscious?
A common argument is that they’re just put into some sort of a daze or trance. That doesn’t work. Ten years before the game takes place, Espella and Eve rang the Bell of Ruin and were knocked unconscious. Espella was on the ground, opened her eyes, and looked through the grating to see the fire dragon.
Some people claim it’s just because it was such a huge bell, and the little ones the Shades carry put people into a daze, except…
When Barnham followed the “Great Witch” through the forest, she knocked him out. He remembers falling unconscious.
More importantly, he was facing her at the time, about to draw his sword, so she couldn’t have used a drug the way she later knocked out Kira. She rang the bell, he fell unconscious… and remembers it. So why doesn’t anyone ever realize they were unconscious the rest of the time?
Enough of that plot hole. We’ve got more to cover.
Here’s a little oddity to consider–because this completely-logical-magic-free world includes a character who can talk to animals, the hypnosis, brainwashing, and silver-unconsciousness-trick must work on them as well as humans. When animals talk to Luke, they’re usually shown to have human-level comprehension and communication skills. Therefore, Constantine, Eve (the cat), Hoot, or Cracker could have revealed the truth if they weren’t under the same hypnosis.
That’s just a minor point. Why not try to figure out how Darklaw kidnapped Phoenix and Maya from the middle of a courthouse. Or better yet…
How is the entire first prologue possible? They explain in the ending that those invisible pure black cranes are what allow witches to “fly.” But Darklaw flies through the streets of London! A bird flies through Layton’s window and turns into her! She does all kinds of crazy stuff that would be questionable enough if it was in Labyrinthia, but it’s in LONDON!
“Robots” is the explanation for the statue that smacked Carmine’s car into a tree, and even the game acknowledges the absurdity, but the rest?
It just doesn’t work…
There’s probably more, so please chime in with any Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright plot holes I missed.
Despite all of this ranting and raving, I really loved this game. The Special Episodes, while they can’t fix the plot holes, have expanded on some of the loose ends, while also providing additional humor and puzzles (and the occasional bit of tragedy). If you haven’t played it… you really shouldn’t be reading this article… but anyway, if you haven’t played it, don’t let this deter you.
It really is a fantastic game, and I encourage everyone to play it.
I can’t wait to start on an alternate ending fanfic… and I hope to keep these important lessons in mind for all my writing!
Do you agree with me? Disagree? Just want to talk about the ending and twists in general? Let this be your haven for Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright spoiler-filled discussion! I look forward to seeing your thoughts in the comments.
Update: Reddit user italianspy has asked a new one: how did Carmine Accidenti and Espella escape Labyrinthia? Under the brainwashing, they couldn’t see the way out, and they couldn’t have just stumbled into the fake fire pit. Carmine’s letter made it clear he didn’t know the truth about Labyrinthia, and even if Darklaw secretly helped them escape (to get Layton involved), that doesn’t answer how.
Any ideas? Any other plot holes I missed?Like this post? Tell your friends!
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