AI: The Somnium Files Review – AI For An AI
AI: The Somnium Files
Japanese games are weird. That’s really the one thing that came to mind as I pondered a hook for this review. They are just…so weird. The experiences you find when playing one can be summed up with words like crazy, bizarre, strange, silly, etc. But, if they can be one thing, they can certainly be unique. And AI: The Somnium Files was definitely unique.
AI: The Somnium Files is an adventure game by Kotaro Uchikoshi, a man well known for the Zero Escape series. He served as director and writer, while the characters were designed by Yūsuke Kozaki, whose work can be seen in No More Heroes. Now I didn’t know about either of these guys before playing this. I never played Zero Escape, nor No More Heroes, so this was a completely blind experience. Going into this game, I had no expectations.
And I wish I could experience it all again for the first time.
The story brings you into a near-future Tokyo where you play as Special Agent Kaname Date, a member of the top-secret ABIS, or Advanced Brain Investigation Squad. He has been called to the scene of a grisly murder in an abandoned amusement park, where a woman was found tied to a carousel horse, her left eye gouged out.
And this is where the game starts.
The scene before you is stylized with an art style that’s…not exactly unique, but welcome. It hits the line between anime and realism with cel-shaded characters and well-realized environments. The characters’ facial movements, while providing some funny reaction faces, can be a bit rigid and even inappropriate for the circumstances, but it didn’t detract from the game, no matter how many times the women characters gave me sex eyes with a sentence that required none.
Between Two Worlds
The gameplay is split into two sections, the first of which begins here: investigation. From a first-person perspective, you must look around at your environments from a static position to examine both objects and people, the latter of which you can converse with. Almost everything will have some sort of description (sometimes multiple upon subsequent presses) and/or a conversation between Date and those in his vicinity, including his peculiar partner: his cybernetic left eye housing an extremely advanced AI known as Aiba.
Aiba is your most trusted companion, able to do myriad tasks like looking up information in a flash, give directions in high-paced situations, act as a phone, and more. She also takes the role of Date’s foil, usually shaming him for perverse thoughts and stopping him before he commits certain actions. Together they work as a wonderful team, but even more so as a hilarious pair. Date and Aiba converse as he examines the scene before him. However, due to the investigation team still looking for footprints, he can’t analyze the body up close. But that’s no issue for Special Agent Date.
Talking smack isn’t the only thing Date’s left eye is capable of. It also zooms in on specific objects for a closer look, but it can even utilize Night Vision for low-light areas, Thermal Vision for lie-detection, and X-Ray for…boneyphile reasons. With this, he finds something quite strange about the crime scene: the murder weapon is nowhere to be found. While looking around for it, he uses the X-Ray to peek through the carousel door to find a young girl, clutching a bloody ice pick to her chest.
The girl is traumatized to the point of being unable to speak. But she knows something, so Date can only do one thing: Psync with her. This is where we get to the other section of gameplay: the Somnium. With the use of a machine known as the Psync, Date is able to enter the consciousness of another person and explore their dreams to find the truth. Within the Somnium, you play as Aiba in her humanoid form, running around, solving puzzles through dream logic that will eventually lead you to what you’re looking for. And in some cases, these dreams can split into two different routes, which will each lead the story in a different direction.
Now, the Somnium has limits: you have six minutes to do what needs to be done or else you’re mind is absorbed by the other’s consciousness, and interacting with objects chip away at the time you have left. Thankfully, the game gives you several mechanics to aid in this. One of them is the fact that time moves when you move, giving you the ability to think things through. In addition to this, interacting with the environment will give you TIME’s, or little bonuses that will change how long specific actions will take.
Both sides of the gameplay, while simple in concept, are more than enough for the story that is told. Through the gameplay, they tell a story that is wonderfully written, but it does have issues. Sometimes a tense scene can be ruined by attempts at humor, some of which land, others that don’t. A few lines here or there are a bit out of place, and a few story beats are a bit…ridiculous. Let’s just say…the power of horny can turn the tides of battle. You’ll find out. These issues can mar what is a fantastic narrative, but compared to the size of this story, they shouldn’t bother you too much, not to mention the fact that most of my issues stem from a single route. One route that goes down a road that is, for the most part, stupid and worthless.
And remember how I said that different routes in the Somnium will lead the story in a different direction? Well, this game comes with a flow chart that will track which paths your story took. These routes will take you in many separate directions, some of which may seem unrelated to the overall plot. What changes between them?
Well, that’s for you to find out! Each route has its own series of changes, mysteries and endings, packed with a cast of colorful characters, where even the minor characters have their own little quirks, brought to life by the spectacular voice cast, both Japanese and English, backed by an original score that is sure to emphasize the atmosphere. The game can go from silly and laid-back to dark and grisly within a heartbeat, a line it rides pretty admirably, and the music brings that in spades.
Where almost all the bases are covered for this game, there is one aspect in which, for the platform I played it on, it was not: performance. Now, I played on the least powerful of the three platforms you can get it on, the Switch, but I didn’t think the game would provide a graphically intensive experience. And it didn’t, but it still chugged from time to time, and not to mention the fact that some characters will just stop talking and stare at you as a display loads in the game’s UI. I’ve even been caught in an infinite loading glitch near the end, but it was quickly fixed by a reload.
Besides that, however, the game is a wonderful experience that I would recommend to any who are looking for a sci-fi murder mystery adventure. It’s filled with laughs, shocks, and even sad moments that got me to tear up a few times. Within the 30+ hours it took me to complete the game, I witnessed what I considered to be one of my favorite games of 2019.
And hopefully, AI was able to convince you to give it a look.
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Reviewed by Andrew (Freelance7) for the Nintendo Switch. Not provided by Spike Chunsoft.