QuickRecs: Visual Novel Edition

Featuring Aviary Attorney, Asphyxia, and The Royal Trap. All three of these are on Steam, so support the creators!

So, basically, every genre ever should have a bird-themed parody, is what I’ve learned. This game has incredible art, astoundingly clever dialogue, and in the tradition of Hatoful Boyfriend, a surprisingly serious plot. The gameplay, from what I understand, follows the format of the Ace Attorney series, but I can’t imagine that game is this clever is only because I’ve rarely encountered games this clever.

It’s very rare I get fleeced by a plot, and I was completely and utterly tricked by this. I don’t want to say too much more because I want to avoid spoilers, but man oh man I think everyone should play this game.

First of all, this game has probably the most beautiful art I’ve ever seen in a visual novel. It is absolutely breathtaking.

Secondly, I want to attach a massive trigger warning to anyone like me who has a tough time dealing with depictions of depression and suicidal ideation. But! While this game was tough for me to get through, I think it was very worth it. I’ve honestly never encountered a story that so accurately outlined, to me, what it’s like to have depression. The thoughts and behaviors of the protagonist, Sam, were my thoughts and behaviors. Word for word, the things she would say, they were things I thought to myself. The way in which this illness entrenches itself by destroying relationships, the way in which thoughts of suicide manifest via seemingly irrelevant actions, how being lonely makes you desperate which makes you more lonely… this was my experience, to a T.

Worth noting is that the game is one giant literary allusion, which somehow made it even more like my life.

I also have thoughts about the endings.

I think that, from Samantha’s perspective, the one where she and Lily get back together is probably the ‘happy’ ending. But from experience, I think the real Good End is the Roberta ending, where Sam learns to move on from her relationship with the support of a true friend. Sam’s reliance on Lily isn’t healthy, and the ability to let yourself heal and learn that you can heal is so important. I think if you had asked me, when I was Sam, I would have said the Good End was winning over my Lily, but as an adult… it wouldn’t have been, and one day, when Sam is on the other side of her illness, she’ll see that, too.

A note: I hemmed and hawed a bit about putting this game in here because I wasn’t super amazed by the way it handled gender-identity issues, but ultimately decided to give it a boost, as I generally believe that trying to address these kind of issues but floundering is still more positive than negative, and that the game’s positives overall strongly outweighed its negatives. However, I missed some implications of the game — most notably the title — and suggest looking at the comments for further elaboration on the game’s handling of gender before diving in. The original paragraph I wrote here is below:

This is a more traditional VN that’s part adventure, part otome, and hails from the makers of Long Live the Queen. It was an interesting exploration of the kinds of situations that might emerge in a land where heredity was via the mother, not father, and explores questions of sexual identity, gender identity, and what it means to be a strong woman in an aristocratic society. The game features two female-male romance endings, two female-female, and one not-really-romance ending, all with a lot of great trope inversion. I found the protagonist likeable, the love interests enjoyable, and the art very nice in a whimsical, cotton-candy way. If you like otome games and are looking for one that trends a bit outside the norms of the genre, this is a good choice.

28 Comments

  1. Keltena says:
    I got Aviary Attorney this Christmas to play with my brother, so all the rave reviews for it are making me even more excited. I can’t wait to see what it does.

    (Re: Ace Attorney–as a fan of the series, I would say they’re pretty fantastic! The impression I’ve got from seeing fans talk about Aviary Attorney is that it takes a pretty different approach then Ace Attorney, but obviously I can’t speak to that myself yet.)

    Asphyxia’s been on my “check out at some point” list for ages, so thank you for both the warning and for rocketing it up to the top, because fiction that depicts depression well is my favorite thing.

    And I’m glad you liked The Royal Trap! I loved it too (though I played it back when it first came out, and I’m not positive whether the Steam release added anything.) I loved the focus on issues of class and people’s “place” in society, and Madeleine is one of my favorite protagonists to this day. Hanako Games have a talent for attention to detail that makes their games feel real, ime.

    1. actonthat says:
      Yeah Maddie is a great protag. She’s smart, capable and I really liked that there were non-romance tracks with the dude she was looking after (why can’t I remember his name…). I think there not being a ~how do you emotions~ thing between the two of them was a large factor in her coming across as independent.
  2. Goldreaver says:
    This is a really positive roundup!

    If you liked Aviary, you should play the Ace attorney series. They’re not as… refined, but they’re quite good and some twists catch you by surprise (others… not so much)

    Asphyxia sounds good… but I don’t think I will try it. Thanks for the review though!

    1. actonthat says:
      Yeah, Ace Attorney didn’t interest me until I played Aviary and someone was like, “Hey, that sounds familiar…” I’ve been keeping an eye out for it on my gameswap site.
      1. illhousen says:
        You should play Ace Attorney, at least a bit. That would add to your experience of Umineko.

        Yes, everything in your life ties to Umineko. It’s one of those things.

  3. PostguestivePostistPhase says:
    Hey, a thing I actually read. Royal Trap is a good enough thingy and the protagonist is cool, a very readable bit of storytelling despite the terrible drawing of that one dude.

    But it’s missing something. Not certain how it could be described except “the japanese touch” but basically every single western VNish thingy I’ve seen is somehow blander and less engaging. Maybe it’s some undiagnosed form of orientalist bullshit I’m harboring but japanese stuff comes across as much more creative, even when it’s bad and fail. Or it’s because western VNy stuff is too new and “the craft” hasn’t been established. Either way, I’ve never seen anything amazingly insane/insanely amazing in western gamey stuff, at best they’re neat. There needs to be more of this stuff until a western writer manages to produce something on par with at least Hatoful.

    Gonna try this bird attorney. Maybe that’ll be the ticket.

    1. actonthat says:
      Yeah, I agree. It’s not really going to wow anyone, and I don’t think someone who isn’t at least a little into otome games would love it.

      My hunch is that it’s a matter of time and money — in Japan, VNs are big business and companies have a lot of resources to put toward them. In the US, even the best one are produced by indie publishers who are tiny teams working with tiny budgets.

      1. PostguestivePostistPhase says:
        Typemoon was like 2 guys when they made Tsukihime. Higurashi didn’t even have a guy for drawings at start. Hatoful is just one writer dudette’s try to break into gaming. Cool japanese VNs are cool because of their nutsity and not excess of money.
        1. actonthat says:
          All good points. Touche!
  4. Nerem says:
    Asphyxia was another one my company published and did QA work for. I didn’t work on it personally, but I got it for free as a freebie for working on other games.
    1. actonthat says:
      That’s a pretty good deal!
  5. alice says:
    The Royal Trap does many things right, but it handles the gender identity issues very poorly (though likely with good intentions). Only one of the f/f paths is romantic, also.

    The perfect shouldn’t be the enemy of the good, and feminist and/or indie media shouldn’t be held to a higher standard re: orientation and gender identity than mainstream media, but still, I’m surprised to see this one recced without any caveats at all.

    1. SpoonyViking says:
      The Royal Trap does many things right, but it handles the gender identity issues very poorly (though likely with good intentions).

      Hm. And it was the one that interested me the most. Could you please explain a bit more about how it mishandles gender identity issues?

      1. alice says:
        ROT13’d for spoilers:

        Gur ovt cybg gjvfg bs gur tnzr vf gung gur cevaprff lbhe punetr vf fhccbfrq gb zneel vf genaftraqre. Fcrpvsvpnyyl, gur xvat naq dhrra arrqrq gb unir n qnhtugre orpnhfr bayl jbzra pbhyq vaurevg, naq fvapr bar bs gurve (NZNO) xvqf jnf nyernql fubjvat fvtaf bs vqragvslvat nf n tvey, gurl qrpvqrq gb cnff guvf xvq bss nf n arj naq qvssrerag xvq, naq gur gjvfg vf gung gur cevaprff jr zrrg vf gur fnzr crefba nf gur qrnq cevapr sebz orsber. Vg’f trarenyyl abg gung terng gb jevgr n ovt erirny gung [punenpgre jr zrrg nf n tvey/jbzna] vf ernyyl [cerivbhfyl-rfgnoyvfurq obl/zna punenpgre]. Rira vs lbh’er abg npghnyyl fnlvat “FUR’F ERNYYL N ZNA,” vg’f hapbzsbegnoyl pybfr gb gung sbe n ybg bs crbcyr jura gur tvey vqragvgl vf cbfvgvbarq nf n qrprcgvba naq gur obl vqragvgl vf cbfvgvbarq nf gur gehgu oruvaq vg. V zrna, ybbx ng gur ylevpf gb gur tnzr’f fbat: uggc://ylevpf.jvxvn.pbz/jvxv/Unanxb_Tnzrf:Rynobengr_Qrprcgvba Guvf vf xvaq bs oyngnagyl qbvat gung. “Genc” vf nyfb n irel haxvaq jbeq gb nccyl gb n genaf jbzna (vg’f orra hfrq nf fynat ersreevat gb gur vqrn gung genaf jbzra ner whfg cergraqvat gb or jbzra gb genc fgenvtug zra vagb univat tnl frk), fb vs gur qrirybcre vagragvbanyyl pnyyrq n tnzr nobhg n genaftraqre cevaprff “Gur Eblny Genc”… jryy, V qba’g guvax fur vagraqrq gubfr pbaabgngvbaf, ohg vg’f fgvyy irel vanccebcevngr gb qb.

        Nyfb dhrfgvbanoyr: fur unf ab vqrn fur jnf gur fnzr xvq orpnhfr ure zrzbevrf jrer gnzcrerq jvgu, naq fur qbrfa’g rira xabj fur’f genaftraqre orpnhfr fur’f orra qryvorengryl qravrq nal rqhpngvba nobhg ubj obqvrf jbex naq ubj uref vf qvssrerag sebz gur nirentr jbzna’f. V’z ersreevat gb ure nf n jbzna naq nf genaftraqre orpnhfr jura fur svaqf bhg, fur pbagvahrf gb vqragvsl nf n jbzna, naq vs “znlor vg’f whfg orpnhfr gurl jrer envfrq gung jnl” artngrf fbzrbar’f fgngrq traqre vqragvgl, gura V pregnvayl unir arjf sbe rirel pvf crefba bhg gurer. Ohg guvf frghc qrsvavgryl qbrf pbagevohgr gb gur tvey vqragvgl pbzvat npebff nf qrprcgvir naq abg yrtvgvzngr, NAQ vg’f abg yvxr gurer ner nal bgure genaf crbcyr va gur fgbel gb fubj gung zbfg bs gur gvzr vg’f abg yvxr gung naq guvf cnegvphyne snzvyl vf whfg ernyyl zrffrq hc.

        Guvf vf gerngrq nf zbenyyl terl, ohg nyfb, rirelguvat gung unccraf gb guvf cevaprff vf n znffvir ivbyngvba bs ure pbafrag, naq gur aneengvir oneryl frrzf gb pner. Yrnivat ure harqhpngrq nobhg ure obql naq zneelvat ure bss gb n uhfonaq jub rkcrpgf n pvf jbzna unf n irel uvtu punapr bs ABG JBEXVAT BHG JRYY SBE URE – n grkghnyyl npxabjyrqtrq irel uvtu punapr bs ABG JBEXVAT BHG JRYY SBE URE – ohg abobql vf rire uryq nppbhagnoyr sbe qbvat vg. Fur qbrfa’g unir n ebhgr bs ure bja, cyngbavp be ebznagvp, naq ure jryyorvat vfa’g uvtu ba gur cebgntbavfg’f be cynlre’f yvfg bs tbnyf. Fur’f n ceboyrz lbh unir gb qrny jvgu, rira gubhtu fur’f arire nalguvat ohg urycshy naq fhccbegvir gb lbh gb gur orfg bs ure (nqzvggrqyl yvzvgrq) novyvgvrf, naq lbh arire trg gur bcgvba gb cevbevgvmr frrxvat whfgvpr be unccvarff sbe ure. Fur’f gur ovt frperg, ohg vg’f arire ernyyl NOBHG ure va nal zrnavatshy jnl. Gurer vf bar raqvat jurer fur trgf gb zneel n zna jub fur yvxrf naq jub npprcgf ure gur jnl fur vf. Bar. Naq vg’f ba n s/s cngu qvfthvfrq nf n wbxr punenpgre’f s/z cngu, juvpu, hu… vf abg tbvat gb or gur ahzore bar pubvpr sbe zbfg crbcyr cynlvat guvf guvat, rfcrpvnyyl fvapr znal crbcyr jub npghnyyl jnag gb cynl s/s cnguf ner cebonoyl abg tbvat gb ohl n tnzr gung unf mreb nqiregvfrq s/s naq bayl bar ebznagvp raqvat jvgu n jbzna. Gurer’f nabgure jurer fur trgf n erfcrpgshy cbyvgvpny zneevntr jvgu fbzrbar jub’f qngvat lbh, juvpu vf abg dhvgr nf onq nf vg pbhyq or, ohg fgvyy ernyyl, ernyyl njxjneq.

        So it’s not as if the author is the
        transphobia devil for making this, but she could’ve done better, and a lot of people (especially among those with a personal connection to these issues) are going to find it Not Fun.

        1. actonthat says:
          Yeah, I agree the bulk of this. I don’t think the game comes down nearly hard enough on the king and queen for what they do to her. That was my thought at the reveal, and I kept waiting for everyone to turn on her parents, but it never happened. That she just kind of rolls with it was ehhh to me as well, since empirically we know that this kind of thing actually drives people to suicide IRL. That it then kind of just becomes a footnote is also an odd choice — the game could really have used a final Cassidy route to clean things up.

          I admittedly didn’t notice the ‘trap’ language until after I posted this and I read other reviews that pointed it out. I wonder if it’s a translation error? Because yeah, I don’t think it was on purpose, but it’s really, really Unfortunate.

          I think this is a case of good intent gone awry. The writers could have consulted some actual people who were trans about this and avoided a lot of the weirder issues, and simple research would have turned up the real-life stories about this kind of medical abuse and how unilaterally life-destroying it is.

          That said, I think it’s still a worthwhile game from this perspective, as it illustrates an honest attempt by the genre to examine the issue and, most importantly, reveals some ways to handle them incorrectly. Without missteps, you can’t right yourself. I’d always rather people try and fail than not try at all, no matter the issue.

          The nature of QuickPosts (TM) is that I don’t have the time or energy to examine all this, but want to get the games out there. And as a whole, I think the game does far more things right than wrong and, as I said in the post, if you’re looking for an otome game that trends outside genre norms, it’s a good pick, and I think games that seek to address these issues, even imperfect, should get screentime. That said, if you think it merits some kind of trigger warning (as opposed to just being a game that ends up kind of floundering in some execution) I’d be happy to oblige. ^^;

          1. Ember says:
            “I wonder if it’s a translation error?”

            Translation from what? This is an English game by an English-speaker. It’s pretty unlikely the pun wasn’t intentional, which means they didn’t even do enough research to realize that it’s widely considered a slur by actual trans people.

            1. actonthat says:
              Is Hanako not a Japanese publisher? Looking… eeesh, it’s not even not-Japanese, its a white woman. That feels… appropriative. And it also makes the ‘trap’ thing significantly worse than I initially thought, yeah. Ugh. Mea culpa.
              Reply
            2. actonthat says:
              Emberrrr this is totally unrelated, but I know you love PreCure, and I was given a Cure Twinkle canvas bag as a free gift with an order, and I was wondering if you’d like it? As a gift, obvi.
              Reply
              1. Ember says:
                Ah, thank you, it’s very kind of you to think of me! However, I never watched the season with Twinkle in it and don’t really intend to, so I shall pass!
          2. alice says:
            Spoilers again: Vg fbhaqf yvxr lbh’er guvaxvat nobhg pnfrf yvxr gung bs Qnivq Ervzre? V zrna, qenttvat n xvq guebhtu zrqvpny genafvgvba jura gurl unir ab vqrn jung’f tbvat ba naq gurl’er gbb lbhat gb pbafrag vf nyjnlf ubeevsvpnyyl jebat, ohg lbh’yy trg n qvssrerag raq erfhyg qrcraqvat ba jurgure lbh fgneg bhg jvgu n qlfcubevp xvq. Crefbanyyl, V yvxrq gung Pnffvql fgvyy vqragvsvrq nf n jbzna, naq V guvax gur tnzr jbhyq’ir pbzr bss jbefr ba genaf vffhrf vs fur qvqa’g (fvapr rirel vafgnapr bs fbzrguvat erfrzoyvat genafvgvba jbhyq’ir orra hanzovthbhfyl onq), ohg gung fgvyy qbrfa’g zrna fur jnfa’g jebatrq. Traqre-eryngrq zrqvpny nohfr qbrfa’g unir gb unccra gb n pvf crefba sbe vg gb or jebat, naq V guvax gurer’f n cnggrea bs gerngvat gurfr guvatf nf zhpu zber ubeevsvp jura unccravat gb pvf crbcyr. Qnivq Ervzre’f fgbel vf havirefnyyl erpbtavmrq nf shpxvat njshy – juvpu vf tbbq, orpnhfr vg JNF – ohg gur fnzr obql ubeebe naq abapbafrag vf ohfvarff nf hfhny jura unccravat gb gur znal, znal genaf xvqf qravrq rqhpngvba naq gerngzrag, naq gubhtu Pnffvql’f fcrpvsvp fvghngvba unf cebonoyl arire unccrarq va erny yvsr, gurer ner qrsvavgryl genaf crbcyr qravrq rqhpngvba nobhg gurve obqvrf naq gurve bcgvbaf naq sbeprq vagb qbvat guvatf gung gurl qba’g jnag gb qb va beqre gb or erpbtavmrq nf gurve vqragvsvrq traqre be
            rira gb or nyybjrq gb genafvgvba ng nyy.

            As Ember already pointed out, there is
            no translation error, as there was no translation.

            I do think it’s important to encourage
            people to try, and to be able to talk about when things go wrong without ignoring work that isn’t perfect and without punishing people for messing up and causing nobody to want to try at all. I also think it matters HOW people try. If you google “how to write trans characters” and look at even just the first page of results, you’ll see trans people telling you not to do several of the things that Hanako did. It seems like she wanted to do what she wanted to do without putting any effort into listening to how trans people want to be represented at all. (I know this is unverifiable and I’m expecting this to be taken with a grain of salt, but I’ve talked to her before about issues involving orientation in Long Live The Queen, and she definitely came off very unwilling to question anything she’d already decided to do.) How much is it trying when you’re not really listening? Is there a point where valuing the opportunity to have a discussion about it becomes “teaching the controversy”, so to speak?

            I’m not sure a trigger warning is
            really the right way to put it, but I think that some people might appreciate a heads up that there’s been criticism of the way the gender identity issues were handled. I would not want to accidentally wade into that while trying to play a fun otome, or accidentally spend money on that.

            1. actonthat says:
              (I know this is unverifiable and I’m expecting this to be taken with a grain of salt, but I’ve talked to her before about issues involving orientation in Long Live The Queen, and she definitely came off very unwilling to question anything she’d already decided to do.)

              I have no reason to disbelieve you! And yeah, that’s super unfortunate to hear. So apparently I gave the game and the writer way, way too much benefit of the doubt. Bleh. That’s… sad, to me.

              I’ve left a note above which, at the very least, should let people see the discussion here at decide from there. If you’d like, you can unscramble your posts — I think they’re very useful and I genuinely think all bets are off as far as spoilers in single-post reviews anyway. If there’s anything I should add to it, let me know!

              Reply
            2. Farla says:
              Hm. Do you think there’s any better way to do this particular plot setup, or is it best avoided entirely?

              It seems like the problem is intrinsic, because it’s a setup that ties being trans to being inferior goods. I’m trying to think of a different way of doing it but it seems to just result in moving the problem around. Like one solution would be to say that it’s just an inheritance issue and this is otherwise taking place in a world where people otherwise have no issues with what genitals someone has, but if it’s an inheritance issue then even if her husband is fine with dicks, he’s not going to be fine with the part where they can’t produce an heir. To avoid that, there’s handwaving that because magic she has a vagina and uterus now, but at that point it’d come off as how literally nothing, not even getting magicked into a brand-new body, will ever make you quite as good as someone born that way. Or everyone’s totally fine with being trans but you have to decide before age X and this kid was older than age X therefore scandal, which maps right onto identical real-life bullshit but could be used to criticize it by emphasizing that no, she really is?

              Would it have worked if they were trying to replace a dead kid with another and they’re only hiding it because it’s known the original princess was cis?

              Alternatively, is there a reason this couldn’t just be the standard “we’re passing off a commoner as our own blood” thing? Because that would seem to avoid the whole issue.

              Reply
              1. alice says:
                So, caveat here: this is an issue specifically related to the portrayal of trans women, and I’m not one. The criticisms I’ve made so far have come from reading things that trans women have written about transmisogynistic tropes and applying that to this particular setup, but when it comes to deciding what would be better in this particular setup, I’m left to figure that out on my own. I’d still like to take a crack at it because it’s an interesting question, but just saying, my opinion on the matter doesn’t amount to all that much.

                That said, I feel like a lot of the issues with the game would’ve been fixed if Madeleine was also trans – especially if she had a more realistic trans narrative, and her experience was positioned as the much more common one. She wouldn’t necessarily have to have had a shitty life full of constant transphobia or anything, but instead of having this pushed on her, she would’ve had to push every step of the way to show that she was really serious about it. If losing Madeleine as a cis woman means that the cis woman perspective on this world isn’t sufficiently represented, then the other cis women could have bigger roles, or we could even have additional cis woman characters if necessary. Then, when we hit the Cassidy reveal, we’d be coming at it from a very different angle. Cassidy’s situation would get to hit Madeleine in a very personal place and matter greatly to her, and trans womanhood wouldn’t just be a weird situation or a reveal, but part of the lens through which we’re experiencing this story. It would also help if Cassidy could have a little more narrative space to process what happened and figure out how she sees herself now, and if the people who did this to her were held accountable.

                Someone who isn’t a trans woman would
                probably need a trans woman consultant who felt comfortable being critical, and the ability to take said consultant’s criticism with an open mind and an even temper, but I think it could be done.

                So I guess my answer is that it’s a matter of the way certain topics are approached rather than a matter of certain topics being always bad. Of course you can have a world where transphobia exists and where weird situations involving gender happen, but is that the only place for trans people in the story? Are you telling a story that’s “about” trans people, but about cis people in terms of which characters’ storylines and experiences matter? Are gender identity issues presented only in ways that match common cis perspectives and never in ways that match common trans perspectives? If trans people are treated badly, is that something worth fighting, or is that business as usual? That kinda thing.

        2. SpoonyViking says:
          …Sorry, what? *Googles “ROT13″* Ah, ok. Honestly, I appreciate you trying to keep things spoiler-free for others, but would you mind sending the un-ciphered version to me? EDIT: Never mind, Act gave me a link. Thanks! :-)

          EDIT2: Ah, I see the issues. Thanks for explaining!

          1. actonthat says:
            Just copy and paste it into rot13.com ^^;
            1. SpoonyViking says:
              Oh, cool. Thanks! :-)
              Reply
  6. PostguestivePostistPhase says:
    So I got the bird lawyer game. Solved 2 cases so far. First one was good, second one was neat. I approve of it.
    It does come off as a bird knockoff of something else tho, it’s lacking that sparkle of creativity.
  7. Negrek says:
    I’d seen a bit about Aviary Attorney and was wondering whether it would turn out to be a decent game or more of a gimmick… nice to hear it’s well done. I might have to check it out.

    Also adding my voice to the recs of the Ace Attorney series, although from the way you describe Aviary Attorney I don’t know that they’re that similar. I wouldn’t really call the Ace Attorney games clever… more zany and over the top. They’re by the same guy who did Ghost Trick and similar in tone to that. Still definitely worth checking out, though!

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