It is hard to imagine two games that have less to do with each other somehow successfully fusing, but here we have it: Ace Attorney meets Hatoful Boyfriend. With that, I find my tongue growing thick with disgust as the phrase “bird romance” boils up from my palate with bile and disdain. Oh yes, we have a game about birds as defense attorneys and it is lighting up Steam even as I write this. This is Aviary Attorney.
To be fair, this might be the coolest thing I have seen in a while. Anyone who has been a fan of the Ace Attorney series has little to complain about; Ace Attorney 6 is in the making and an anime adaptation is forthcoming. However, let us review some of the evidence, shall we? The first Ace Attorney game came out in 2001 and did not make it to the West until 2005. By that time, the original Gyakuten Saiban trilogy had already been released in Japan, so there was significant lag time between the two halves of the world. The Japanese trilogy was released on the Game Boy Advance but the Western localization came in time to be released on the Nintendo DS. Yes, we all loved the ability to yell, “Objection!” into the DS’s microphone in the rare instance of the DS’s microphone having some meaningful functionality, but the games were not designed with all of the DS’s bells and whistles in mind, save for the bonus case at the end of the first game. The Western trilogy’s release spanned from 2005 to 2007, with a fourth game, Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney, coming out right after in 2008. If you were ever on the Internet in that time, you remember that Phoenix Wright was everywhere. It became a small cultural phenomenon that took the Internet by storm. Phoenix Wright, at that time, was ubiquitous. That is what makes the current state of the Ace Attorney fandom so unusual to me.
The zeitgeist of Phoenix Wright was at its high water mark from 2005 to about 2010. You see, after Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney, there was a temporary lull in the series. Original creator and director Shu Takumi had taken a backseat, comparable to the way Yuji Naka did with Sonic. Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney was met with favorable critical reviews, largely because it took full advantage of the Nintendo DS hardware for investigation sections. Personally, I objected to it because it starts off right away with our beloved Phoenix Wright being disbarred and tried for murder, in what I call “Not Giving a Darn” storytelling. The selling point of the Ace Attorney series has always been the characters; this is always true in visual novel games. Taking the hero of the previous trilogy and reducing him to nothing right out of the gate struck me as lazy. It’s like when Captain Kirk dies in Star Trek: Generations because the writers did not know what else to do with him and had never grasped the meaning of the word pathos (oh yeah, spoilers). A spin-off game, Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth, came out in 2009/2010 and sold oddly poorly in the West despite commercial success in Japan. After that, the Ace Attorney cultural fervor waned, and although there has been an HD remake of the original trilogy and Ace Attorney 5 for the Nintendo 3DS, that golden era has passed.
That brings us back to Aviary Attorney. One might call it a true spiritual successor to the games that Mr. Takumi directed; the games under the supervision of his successor have been written in a different way and anyone who understands narrative conventions can spot the difference immediately. Aviary Attorney follows in Takumi’s line of storytelling, which is a big selling point for anyone who felt that the Ace Attorney series wandered from its roots somewhere along the line. Aviary Attorney also boasts a rich score derived from post-Napoleonic France. Complimenting the elegance of the baroque and rococo music is the wood panel carving art design, painstakingly drawn by the game’s artist and rendered beautifully. It is impressive to think that the development team on this game consists of two people. Of course, any game following in the Ace Attorney tradition would miss the mark if it did not have strong characters, and Aviary Attorney nails it. Our hero, Jayjay Falcon, is a bumbling peregrine defense attorney in Paris whose best tactic for getting clients is being first in the directory alphabetically. His witty sidekick, Sparrowson, helps to direct Falcon from time to time so the player never feels lost. There are all kinds of distinguished and colorful characters, from the ruthless thief-taker Inspector Juste Volerti (who sounds like he takes a few pages from Inspector Javert’s playbook if you get my meaning) to the perennially anxious solicitor Rupert Rabbington (who may have graduated side by side with Winston Payne from Ace Attorney games) to the hard-nosed prosecutor Cocorico (which is also a great drink if you’ve ever had it).
May I also say the writing is excellent? Wry, dry humor abounds in this game, ranging from obligatory bird puns to contemporaneous pop culture references that ensure a smile. Oh yes, both Twitter and Facebook are referred to in the first case, as well as a reference to the ladder/stepladder running gag from Ace Attorney. There is also something hilarious about watching Inspector Volerti get royally scolded in the first case by the judge. The wit in this game is sharp as a tack. Malapropisms and misquotes work in harmony to guarantee a good laugh out loud every now and again. The characters crack wise often and they boldly define themselves by how they speak and speak of each other. Forget what I said earlier about Hatoful Boyfriend; this game has nothing to do with bird romance. First and foremost, it is a courtroom drama visual novel that is engaging and gripping at the most sublime.
Of course, all of this is fancy window dressing, but how does the game play? Rather well, in fact. This is perhaps what makes Aviary Attorney stand out from Ace Attorney. In Ace Attorney, the player loses by erring only at certain, critical times when the right evidence or answer is needed. Aviary Attorney builds on the courtroom drama mechanics by introducing a jury, whose favor the player must curry by demonstrating competence. Every time the player properly presents evidence, the jury chatters with little lines like, “What a twist!” and every time the player makes a mistake, the jury mutters about buffoonery. This gives the player more investment, since the judge in Ace Attorney gives no such ranging reactions. Naturally, all of this hangs on the traditional Ace Attorney framework of logic puzzles and cross-examination. Unlike Ace Attorney, where the player can press full statements, Aviary Attorney has the player press pre-selected phrases in the witness’s testimony. Pressing the wrong statement can annoy the jury, giving the player reason to be more focused on getting to the point. A time mechanic also ensures that the player does not dawdle during the investigation phases of cases. Optional cinematic scenes appear occasionally during investigation phases to build atmosphere, and this game has plenty of atmosphere.
In short, I highly wren-commend this game. Phoenix Wright and Jayjay Falcon are birds of a feather. Such an egg-ceptional game could only be rejected by a real feathers-for-brains. I think you’ll judge this game to be a splendid return to form if you have been missing that little spark in the recent Ace Attorney games. Aviary Attorney makes a case for the courtroom drama visual novel.