As the saying goes, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and no other adventure game in recent memory embodies this sentiment better than Sketchy Logic’s Aviary Attorney. Modeled on Capcom’s Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney series, the game is so steeped in inspiration from the popular Nintendo courtroom drama that it offers instant familiarity to its players. But for all the obvious parallels, it also manages to set itself apart in key ways that make it… well, not superior but equally as accomplished as its Japanese counterpart, with a distinctive style all its own. Most importantly, the game succeeds at what is most important of all: creating a genuinely enjoyable world I couldn’t wait to spend time in as I played.
Taking place in 1840s France, the game sends players to a time and place not commonly found in the realm of interactive media. And Aviary Attorney takes full advantage of its unique setting beyond simply using it as a visual backdrop. France is buzzing with rumors of discontent over its monarchy, and of its class system favoring the bourgeois. Revolution is in the air, and it becomes a major theme in the game’s plot. This may be a game about an anthropomorphic bird lawyer, but arguing cases in front of a judge isn’t at the forefront of the plot during the game’s latter stages, which is by no means a bad thing.
As private defense attorney Jayjay Falcon, players must investigate murder cases and defend, to the best of their abilities, those accused of committing them by searching locations for clues, interviewing witnesses, following up on leads, and ultimately presenting a case on your day in court. But as the game moves along and the populace becomes more restless, Falcon’s cases take on a different tone, as he’s forced to put his lawyerly and investigative talents to work for the cause of France’s greater good. While gameplay elements remain the same throughout, there’s barely an actual courtroom in sight for much of the second half, and I found myself carried along in the story’s turbulent wake.
Basic gameplay in Aviary Attorney is fairly similar to its handheld predecessors. Much of the game is essentially a visual novel, with a fair amount of game-altering choices interspersed throughout. Once Falcon has been presented with a case, he and his ever-ravenous assistant Sparrowson hit the streets of Paris, traveling to various locations throughout the city on a hunt for clues to help piece together the truth of the murder and – hopefully – gather key evidence to exonerate their client.
The point-and-click mechanics, which usually involve advancing on-screen dialog but sometimes require clicking areas in the environment directly to have Falcon examine them, are as simple as they are sufficient for their purpose. This rudimentary investigative method is as close as you’ll ever get to scouring a crime scene, and the game will only allow you to do so at a small handful of locations scattered throughout the cases – usually no more than one or two per case. The clues and information you gather are available for perusal at any time in your inventory, though you won’t need to make use of it very much apart from trial days. Also included in the user interface are a log of characters you’ve met during your investigation and your wallet, for when the wheels of justice need a little greasing. Occasionally you’ll need to pull out your wallet to pay off a pesky official or acquire information from the poverty-stricken public. Should Falcon find himself running short on cash, he can head to the local pub to play a few rounds of a version of Blackjack, though an unlucky streak may lead to him losing all of his remaining money instead.
Courtroom scenes add a significant wrinkle that sets Aviary Attorney apart from Phoenix Wright, though they play out in much the same style. Witnesses give testimony for the crime in question, aided by the prosecuting attorney. After their statement, Falcon gets his turn to cross-examine the witness by choosing a particular part of the testimony to press for a bit more information. This, however, has to be approached with caution. Ask for information that leads nowhere, and the jury will start to lose faith in you and your case. Making a claim without the necessary evidence to back it up has the same result. And the jury is extremely fickle: too many missteps will result in an automatic “Guilty” verdict for your client. There is no on-screen meter to represent the jury’s state of mind, but the magic number of cross-examination mistakes seems to be three.
That part should sound familiar, but what really puts the pressure on in these situations, particularly if the jury has already expressed their annoyance once or twice, is the fact that the game carries on regardless of the verdict you secure. This seems like a small change, but the amount of tension it adds over the Capcom formula is no small matter. It is entirely possible, even probable, that you will lose some of your cases – and in 19th century France, that means your client’s life (no small-stakes cases here). Falcon will even make reference to the sting of a lost case going forward in the game. Then again, a “Not Guilty” verdict may not always be optimal; what if the defendant turns out to have really done the deed? Rarely did I feel fully comfortable with the outcome of a case, whether I had successfully defended my client or not. Had I truly served justice? More importantly, had the right parties been punished? These gray areas add a lovely little touch of emotional depth to what could have been a cut-and-dried affair.
For those seeking the “most perfect” run through the game, the developers have made it possible to return to any completed day – including the trial – and replay it making different choices, going for different verdicts. However, a less-than-perfect run of things is also an option; the game not only includes three different endings, but rather three entirely separate versions of the fourth (and final) case can be achieved, as determined by your choices made during the third case. With certain key characters either dead or alive by this time in the story, players will have an active hand in shaping the future of the entire nation by game’s end!Continued on the next page...