AI The Somnium Files Review – As perfect as AI?
Platforms: PC, PS4, Nintendo Switch
Developer: Spike Chunsoft
Publisher: Spike Chunsoft Inc. / Numskull Games (EU/NA Physical release)
Release: 17th September 2019 (NA digital), 20th September 2019 (EU)
Kotaro Uchikoshi is one of the most fascinating directors and writers currently working in the Japanese video game industry. Being responsible for the Infinity (which I sadly never played) and Zero Escape trilogies, as well as the scenario of the anime/visual novel Punch Line, all of his
AI The Somnium Files puts you in the shoes of Date, a police detective, investigating the murder of a young woman, found dead and without her left eye, bound to a merry go round. Meanwhile, the 12 years old Mizuki is found in the pillar of said attraction, clinging to a bloody ice pick. So begins the search for the murderer, who soon continues his spree of removing eyes and killing his victims, as well as Date’s search for his memories which he lost 6 years ago for unknown reasons. An invaluable tool will be his secret occupation as Psyncer, someone who, with the help of a certain machine, is able to dive into people’s minds for six minutes and uncover what memories are hidden in their brains as well as his partner AI-Ball, a robot that replaces his eye he lost for unknown reasons.
Yes, AI The Somnium Files wears its sci-fi world and themes on its sleeves, proudly presenting its world caught somewhere in the transition between our current one and an advanced, almost dystopian one. While most rules we know still apply, some aspects, like the police division ABIS employing Date, his boss
Everyone who expected an almost philosophical view on the question how safe we and our brains are in this world, well, AI isn’t entirely about that, rather, it wants to put the brain itself as the center angle point and discuss what meaning it could and currently occupies for us. This could be the source of hidden information for the police force, maybe even the possibility to attack brains or utilize technology to manipulate us through them or far more emotional ones. Those are naturally never fully answered, rather merely brought up but work flawlessly with the rest of the story to give AI The Somnium Files this otherworldy sci-fi touch and get you to question the righteousness of it all quite regularly.
The other and almost bigger part of the story is the character-driven mystery. While the general cast may still seem like assembled clichés, AI The Somnium Files offers a far more consistent characterization for every single character once you’ve overcome the 3-5 hours long introduction parts. Instead of backloading many twists about their personality, it feels like we’re constantly learning something new about someone or the relationships to one another. This is partly because of the bigger cast as well, featuring many
Though, speaking of routes, actually, the game’s routes are more of dead ends. There’s one main route, which unveils everything, but in order to fully experience that one, you will have to complete every other route, making AI The Somnium Files more of a linear visual novel where you can merely choose the order in which to see the events. Since every path is focused on one single character most of the time and usually takes 4-8 hours to complete, it’s often a far shorter ride since there are no super long conversations, drip
Another thing the whole plot nails surprisingly well despite its many routes is the lack of
So, after praising how consistent, well-paced and thought-out AI The Somnium Files is, let’s thematize some of the
This is partly because of Uchikoshi’s tendency to go a bit overboard with his humor. While I adore some well-written puns, sex jokes, weird dialogue or absurdly fun combat sections, seeing how it became a running gag of telling Date there’s a porn book lying around somewhere so he runs to it in Mach speed, kinda steals his overall credibility. In short, there
Luckily, those are rare and the instances where humor actually works are all the more interesting, namely the Somnium levels. Over the course of the game Date will dive into many people’s heads, transporting him to their so-called Somnium worlds, constructed from their memories in often twisted ways. Controlling Date’s partner AI-Ball, in his almost beautifully feminine form (really good use of passive humor), these sequences are almost like
Since every world is pretty tiny and often quite obvious about the things you need to do though, worrying about this time limit is almost never necessary, especially since the game, in a true Uchikoshi fashion, also uses it for stylistic purposes to mix things up. Let’s say you’re in a hazardous Somnium, then interactions are expensive, punishing and kinda mean while friendlier ones are easier and also quite a lot funnier. It’s honestly surprising how diverse every single world is in its message, design, visuals, themes and hidden messages while offering a far more streamlined gameplay than the escape rooms for example, which I never found very interesting. AI The Somnium Files’ gameplay truly feels like it’s connected with the plot, world and message in a meaningful way and is just plain fun, entertaining and diverse.
As a sidenote though, the actual visual novel parts also feature some slight gameplay in the form of having to select topics or questions first by clicking on the character before any dialogue happens, something that doesn’t really make a difference but makes a decent job at capturing this detective vibe.
Speaking of visuals, AI The Somnium Files is a beautiful game, given we’re facing a Japanese visual novel. Again, made fully in 3D it’s once again a step up from the previous Zero Escape titles or Punch Line, featuring surprisingly detailed models that are well-animated in almost every regard. I’m actually loving the whole
Last but not least though, let’s talk a bit about the localization, which I found a weird mix between fun and almost too stiff. AI The Somnium Files’ Japanese script is filled with AI/eye puns and tons of references or wordplays that only work in Japanese (like AI-Ball’s Japanese name Aibou, being a pun on eyeball and the Japanese word for partner, who’s merely shortened to Aiba in the English version. Similar
AI The Somnium Files is a great visual novel mixed with consistently creative and engaging gameplay passages. While a few of Uchikoshi’s quirks as a writer go a bit overboard here and there, it offers an intriguing world that mostly manages to wander between thought-provoking and simply entertaining. It probably even became my favorite Uchikoshi title so far, something I had more than a few doubts about but in the end, it’s definitely one of the best mystery stories I’ve read as a (mostly) visual novel so far.