When I was a child, choose-your-own-adventure books were the hot new thing, and I read gobs of them, over and over to see all the different storylines. I mention this only because it’s the closest parallel I can think of to visual novels. When they’re good, you absolutely want to play them over and over to see the results of all the possible choices you could have made.
Infer from this what you will, but if Aviary Attorney had been much longer than it was (I spent about two and a quarter hours on my playthrough), I probably wouldn’t have even finished it once.
It’s unfortunate, because the things it does well, it does very well. The artwork is lovely, and the sound design does a fantastic job of pulling together the serious with the silly. The writing, although a little pun-heavy for my personal taste, is inoffensive, and carries the plot along unobtrusively.
However, I felt that the mechanics of the game were at odds with the concept, and it really ruined the entire experience for me.
I certainly won’t claim to be an expert on the visual novel genre, and I realize that genre conventions as a whole are starting to slip away as developers continue to play with genre mash-ups, looking for the next hot combination. In this particular instance, I felt that the concept of tying the ability to make the “correct” choices in the VN portions to the adventure-game conventions of visiting the proper locations and successful pixel-hunting for clues detracted from the experience, and was an unsuccessful genre-blend here.
With everything being tied to a timer, if you missed something in a location, you either needed to reload a previous save, or be comfortable with the idea you might be missing a key piece of evidence when it was time to go to trial.
Some people might enjoy that the game allows you to make mistakes and the need to deal with the consequences, but I found it discouraging. In multiple cases, I knew the answer, but couldn’t prove it because I had failed to pick something up along the way. As a result, I was left blundering around for three attempts to choose the correct evidence, which I did not possess due to making an error in the investigation phase. I was not even give the option to back out – I had to progress through handing in three completely irrelevant pieces of evidence.
In a lot of ways, I felt as if Aviary Attorney intended to set the player up for failure, and while that might fit the darkly comedic narrative being presented, for me, it just didn’t feel good. Doing everything right in the first case was no more satisfying than doing everything wrong, and it just got worse from there. It’s unfortunate, because there was a lot of potential here, but it was wasted – too much time was wasted trying to be a point-n-click adventure, and it left me woefully under-prepared for the main course.