Have you finished playing the Ace Attorney games, but still haven’t had enough of yelling “OBJECTION!” at weirdos on witness stands? Return to a slightly different but mostly familiar courtroom in developer Ethan Fox’s homage to the classic series, Nina Aquila: Legal Eagle. Nina’s first case, a brief tutorial, was released for free last December, and tomorrow the story continues in Chapter II: Broken Wings. Thanks to Ethan for giving me early access so I can bring you this spoiler-free review.
Legal Eagle’s tutorial establishes courtroom cross-examination mechanics that any Ace Attorney fan will recognize. It also introduces our heroine, the eyepatch-sporting Nina Aquila, as a young lawyer triumphantly winning her first case. But when we return to her story in Broken Wings, something’s clearly gone wrong. Nina’s mentor from the tutorial is conspicuously absent, occasional brief flashbacks hint at a major traumatic event as the cause of that, and Nina is sleeping on the floor of her messy office like a beaten down film noir detective. It takes the arrival of a green-haired stranger named Dylan, who offers to act as Nina’s sorely-needed assistant for free in exchange for her defending his friend against murder charges, to help her get her motivation back. Dylan’s friend Terry is accused of killing someone in a casino after arguing over the results of a card game, but Nina believes Terry’s earnest insistence on his innocence, and sets off to get to the bottom of it.
Broken Wings follows the basic Ace Attorney formula of alternating investigation and courtroom segments, but adds some fun new dynamics to the former. For one thing, you can walk around much larger maps while investigating, and bits of optional dialogue with random bystanders add a bit of flavour. Furthermore, Nina’s investigation leads to her getting involved in the very card game that may have motivated the murder—that is, a trading card game called Dragon Fantasy Arena that people are playing at the casino because it’s hosting an anime convention. It turns out that Broken Wings is simultaneously pastiching Ace Attorney and parodying other trading-card-game-focused media! I found a lot of the jokes surrounding this element of the plot especially funny, having grown up watching the 4Kids version of Yu-Gi-Oh. There’s even a battle minigame that Nina has to master if she’s going to convince the legendary duelists at the convention to answer her questions (or you can turn it onto the easier “adventure mode,” if you’d rather read the story without the extra complications). I won’t say too much more about any specific events in the game, but Dragon Fantasy Arena certainly adds some unique twists to the murder investigation.
The only parts of the game some readers might not like as much are fairly minor elements of its aesthetic and technical presentation. While Legal Eagle does an admirable job of adapting the RPGMaker engine for use in a different genre, many of the art assets it uses will be very familiar to anyone who’s played RPGMaker games before. And the choice of engine also means that it’s missing a lot of features that come standard in most visual novels, such as an adjustable text speed, a message backlog, or a dedicated skip read text function (although holding down enter will do for if you’ve accidentally selected the same dialogue option twice, like I did often). To be fair, not all of the Ace Attorney games have those features either, but including them could have added a bit more polish. Future episodes might be able to provide a bit of a smoother reading experience if they implemented some of the more text-focused RPGMaker plug-ins that are out there.
Also, as amusing and original as many elements of its story are, there were points when I felt like Broken Wings followed the typical Ace Attorney formula a bit too closely. For one thing, it sticks with the idea that court cases can only last a maximum of three days. And just like Phoenix Wright, Nina Aquila seems to be in the habit of delaying premature guilty verdicts by completely bluffing—when she’s not just luckily saved at the last minute by someone else showing up with new evidence. It’s certainly a formula that works, but after reading it so many times in the Ace Attorney series, I think it would be much more interesting to see writers experiment with it more. However, this is only one of several more episodes to come in the Legal Eagle saga, so it’s very possible that Broken Wings could be setting up the readers to expect that same structure every time, only to subvert it later on. And whether the series starts to stray a bit more from the style of its major influence or not, I’ll still be interested in reading it and finding out.
The end of Broken Wings is a fun and satisfying one that hints at a lot of interesting things to come in future episodes. If this review inspires you to play it, leave a comment and let me know what you think will happen! Personally, as a big Edgeworth fangirl, I’m hoping for some character development for his Legal Eagle equivalent, Chad Hawke. I’m really looking forward to seeing the continuation of Nina’s story, and I think most other Ace Attorney fans will enjoy it too.