Each of the four cases is divided up into a set number of days, with the final day occupied by court proceedings. The days leading up to the trial are spent sleuthing around Paris, with locations falling into one of two categories: some locales can be visited at will, as often as you like, with no time penalty, though most locations will, when visited, take up a full day of your timeline. This is no problem early in the game – with three days before a trial it is a simple thing to visit three locations – but the restriction becomes more problematic later on. It becomes entirely possible, if your eleven days for investigating haven’t given you enough time to visit every available location, that you’ll show up in court without a key piece of evidence that would’ve otherwise refuted a false claim. Add to that the fact that characters react to your choices during investigation and may leave or refuse to help if you handle them incorrectly, and trial day becomes a malevolent force on your in-game calendar, always looming way too close for comfort. Combined with the permanence of your verdict, the responsibility resting on your shoulders often became an almost tangible weight to bear.
Yet all this stress is nicely balanced by expert use of humor throughout the game. Comedy is extremely difficult to create in video games, but Aviary Attorney has no shortage of it. Though none of it is voiced, the repartee between Falcon and Sparrowson in particular is a joy to follow, and it’s as heartfelt as it is funny. But even supporting characters aren’t given short shrift here: head prosecutor Séverin Cocorico is a pompous but sympathetic blowhard that you love to envy, and private investigator Renard Vulpes never misses an opportunity to make a profit, even while helping Falcon out of one predicament or another. There’s witty wordplay aplenty, and the writing remains top-notch throughout.
I’ve saved it for last, but the game’s presentation is certainly not the least of its strong points, either visually or musically. The all-animal cast is either taken from or inspired by the works of French caricaturist J.J. Grandville, and consists of impressively detailed pencil sketches. The graphics (which include backgrounds in the same hand-drawn style) show a high level of quality, with shading and cross-hatching that remind me heavily of paper currency design worldwide. All of this impressive art is presented against a yellowed backdrop, evoking the feeling of reading a scroll of parchment paper from that time period. It’s an effective approach that goes beyond mere gimmick to give the game a real “historical document” feel.
The musical score is similarly ooh la la, consisting of works by period-appropriate French composer Camille Saint-Saëns. Characters and locations have distinct themes, and every piece of music (starting with the title screen and main menu) has an inimitable authenticity that perfectly spices the game with that Parisian je ne sais quoi.
At seven hours, Aviary Attorney is longer than I had expected, though not quite as long as its bigger-budget contemporaries. Its cases are also more straightforward than those of Phoenix Wright, with fewer twists and turns by far. One of my few quibbles with game – and I feel as if I’m reaching here – is that the cases are a little unbalanced between investigation and trial. The day arguing the case in court is easily the longest of each case, with the investigation days being short by comparison. In fact, if you choose to travel to a location that holds no information whatsoever, an entire day of investigation might go by in only ten seconds of game time. This complaint is minor, however, and didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the game in the least.
Any other drawbacks are equally nitpicky. In place of spoken dialog, each character’s voice is emulated through a series of high- or low-pitched beeps, similar to the way dialog was often handled in 8- and 16-bit days of old. Each character has uniquely-pitched beeps and boops, and a small handful of these hit upon my ears in a grating way. A more serious issue came in the form of a bug that occurred several times when trying to continue a saved game from the very beginning of a case. In these instances – and it happened two or three separate times – the game would get hung up on the case’s opening cinematic and not progress, forcing me to replay the previous case’s trial section and continue through at least the first day of the new case, to avoid encountering the same save game bug on my next game session.
At the end of my time with Aviary Attorney, I was honestly sad to see the credits roll. It’s not that it uses a novel concept or a big budget for eye-popping effects. Rather, it focuses on all the right places – loveable characters, authentic charm befitting its setting, tense drama, and humor in spades – to make a rather unforgettable game, and certainly one that can stand next to those that so clearly inspired it with feathered head held high. It successfully created a world I looked forward to returning to each evening, one that I didn’t want to leave once it was over. If this is proof of the good can come of the French rising up, then I say “Viva la revolución!”