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AI: The Somnium Files – nirvanA Initiative Review

AI: The Somnium Files - nirvanA Initiative

Prefacing this AI: The Somnium Files – nirvanA Initiative review with light spoiler warnings to the original game from 2019; certain character fates from that game will be brought up from this point forward. This latest scenario picks up shortly after the events of the first game, as well as six years later.

Like most Kotaro Uchikoshi joints, AI: The Somnium Files – nirvanA Initiative is a mystery thriller that is steeped in philosophical themes and as expected for a game titled “AI”, it is deeply influenced by Asimov’s works. His penchant for twists and suspense is what has made him penetrate the west, a rarity for visual novel developers.

Much like Uchikoshi’s Zero Escape games, expect to solve a lot of puzzles, mini-games, and get to interrogate people. What can players expect from Uchikoshi’s latest ride? Find out in our AI: The Somnium Files – nirvanA Initiative review!

AI: The Somnium Files – nirvanA Initiative
Developer: Spike Chunsoft Co., Ltd.
Publisher: Spike Chunsoft Co., Ltd.
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PlayStation 4 (reviewed)
Release Date: June 24, 2022
Players: 1
Price: $59.99 USD 

Kotaro Uchikoshi’s AI: The Somnium Files – nirvanA Initiative centers on the half-body killings – grisly murders where the victims are cut in half from groin through their head.

The first victim happens to be Jin Furue; a CEO of a major IT company, has his two halves appear under different circumstances, six years apart. These events open a transcendental neo noir of epic proportions.

When half of Jin’s body is found, the setting is roughly several months after the first game. Players assume the role of Ryuki, an agent of ABIS, a specialized detective with a cybernetic eye implant. His augment is more than just a piece of tech; it also is his partner.

Tama is an advanced and very sexy AI that can also make display herself in augmented reality, can give Ryuki various vision enhancements, and relay useful information to the investigation. She often has witty and sexually charged banter with the straight laced Ryuki.

Together, they contrast and compliment each other perfectly. She has a delightfully crass sense of humor and has both a rack and bottom that’s befitting the widescreen format. When she projects her form in the dreamscapes of Somnium, the player controls her in third-person gameplay and everyone can get exceptional angles of her figure.

Somnium isn’t just where gamers can ogle Tama; it is also where the dream-logic puzzles are and where many story branches can split off. New gameplay modules are where players assume the role of the actual detective while exploring a 3D scanned simulation of a crime scene and must recreate the method of how the HB killer committed the murders.

The Somium itself varies from each person of interest. Every subject realizes their subconscious into an environment that the AI girls can explore. The rules vary depending on how the subject’s mind thinks and sees the world, which can lead to amazingly abstract and surreal visuals.

The catch is that sessions can only last a few minutes in the waking world. Time moves much slower when in Somnium and micro-seconds pass with every step and entire seconds pass with basic actions. There is a fail state while trying to solve these puzzles since there is a metaphorical sword of Damocles looming over the player while trying to decipher abstractions and their meaning.

Gaining time is possible and comes in the form of a “Timie”, which is functionally an item that is used while choosing an action in Somnium. Some Timies can reduce time by 1/4 or even make time have a flat cost of one second. There are also bad Timies which can increase the cost of time; thus demanding players plan accordingly and consider their actions carefully.

AI: The Somnium Files – nirvanA Initiative‘s puzzles are much more expansive than they were in the last game. Somniums can span multiple areas and even incorporate some swimming and environmental puzzles. Figuring out what to do is much more logical than the first game; players will be less likely to solve puzzles by brute force this time around.

When not plumbing people’s dreams, AI: The Somnium Files – nirvanA Initiative‘s gameplay is mostly a conventional visual novel with dialogue choices. What sets it apart from most is its incredibly slick presentation and style.

Graphical overlays, font choices and typesetting go a long way in setting the tone and mood. The music ranges from a slow and smoldering electronic beat, to a peppy J-pop song (in English no less!) and even has infectious dance sequences.

Even more impressive than the soundtrack is the shockingly good English voice dub. The casting is perfect for everyone- even the newcomers who are given the spotlight and must carry a substantial chunk of the story.

Mizuki is especially a complex character and in a less capable performer, she would come off as unlikeable. She can easily come off as snotty “girlboss”, but thanks to her actress, the moments where she must be vulnerable shine through and becomes likable.

Mizuki’s partner is Aiba, who is also an AI-ball like Tama. Together, they work towards solving the HB murders six years after the events of the first game. Mizuki’s scenario doubles down on the spectacle and is when AI: The Somnium Files – nirvanA Initiative really takes off and comes into its own when compared to the prior game.

The themes of this story explore many aspects of human psychology and the “world simulation”, theory. Uchikoshi’s sense of pacing and sharp writing keeps an unbelievably dense mystery focused.

There are many heady and philosophical quandaries presented as the quest unfurls, making the game stick with you, long after playing.

Foreshadowing is deftly applied to the early chapters that set up stunning revelations later on, leaving you feeling bewildered. Then you’ll smack yourself in the head for not realizing the truth before because it was ingeniously alluded to hours prior.

AI: The Somnium Files – nirvanA Initiative‘s story also manages to have action sequences that play out like QTEs from a Quantic Dream game. These moments are easily the least engaging aspect of the gameplay, but the scenes play out in the style of an over the top anime, with great animation and editing.

Mizuki proves to be an amazing fighter on top of being a genius level detective, and she can do it all with a lead pipe or her “evolver”, pistol.

If AI: The Somnium Files – nirvanA Initiative was an action game, Mizuki probably would play like a Devil May Cry game if the QTEs are anything to go by.

Agonizing and desperately trying to find something to latch onto that could be considered a real flaw- the weakest quality of AI: The Somnium Files – nirvanA Initiative could be its jarring opening hours.

The first few hours have to exposit copious information to bring newcomers up to speed. When this story begins, its only been a few months since the climax of the story of the previous game.

While AI: The Somnium Files – nirvanA Initiative can be enjoyed entirely on its own in a vacuum; gamers who played the last title will be able to appreciate certain call-backs and sly references, as well as see how beloved characters are doing now that the cyclops killer case is closed.

AI: The Somnium Files – nirvanA Initiative is one of Kotaro Uchikoshi’s best works yet. It is a grand and lengthy cyberpunk detective story with multiple endings and branching paths. Quality of life improvements make the experience easy to jump to various points on the story routes and players can take the story in extremely different directions.

The cast in AI: The Somnium Files – nirvanA Initiative is full of interesting and fleshed out characters that you’ll care about. Everyone’s motivations are deftly defined and everyone gets a moment to shine. AI: The Somnium Files – nirvanA Initiative is as perfect as a visual novel can get and receives our highest recommendation. Even ignoring its engrossing story, the gameplay alone is novel and explores concepts rarely seen in games.

AI: The Somnium Files – nirvanA Initiative was reviewed on PlayStation 5 using a copy provided by Spike Chunsoft Co., Ltd.. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here. AI: The Somnium Files – nirvanA Initiative is now available for Windows PC (via Steam), PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch.

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The Verdict: 10

The Good

  • Excellent visuals, great character designs all around and meaningful surreal imagery
  • Entertaining crass humor and superb acting that sells the dialogue
  • Branching paths and multiple endings that encourage replay
  • More 3D roaming puzzles to solve than before
  • An epic and twisting, insightful mystery

The Bad

  • In media res introduction may be a bit jarring for newcomers and veterans alike

About

A youth destined for damnation.