From the mind of Zero Escape series writer Kotaro Uchikoshi comes AI: The Somnium Files. The basic premise has you play Date Kaname, a detective who starts off investigating the killing of a woman at a long abandoned park. He knows her, as his Boss helpfully tells us. “I had to tell you. You deserve to know.” So it begins.
It can be hard to discuss the story of a visual novel, when it’s the entire point of the game. Even more so when the mystery is woven into it. However, within the first 15 minutes, the character dynamic is quickly established, and I’m already eager to know more.
There are two distinct parts to the game. You have your real world investigation, the regular walk on the streets to find information. You’ll be chatting up people in various locations, prodding them as needed. Aiba, the AI who is also your eye – now try saying that really fast a few times – will assist you in various functions, like zooming in or x-ray vision. Aiba will be your closest partner, being Date’s eye and all.
The second half has you enter “Somnium” spaces. These spaces are within people’s psyches, with mental locks that close off access to memories or information. Poking around in Date’s dream for the introduction, it doesn’t seem like anything in it means anything to him. You see, he’s lost his memory of things from 6 years ago. I’m sure this won’t come up or anything… with Aiba’s help, in any case, you get their banter, and your basis for further investigations within the dreamscape.
You’ll get hints to unlock the locks within these dreams. Since dreams don’t need to make sense, I’m sure this is a good way to put the most obtuse puzzles in. You’ll have to interact with items as they become tangible to proceed. In the tutorial space, there’s plenty of time to mess around with the commands, to amuse both Date and yourself. Other spaces will have time limits, so you’ll need to watch out.
The character models are quite expressive, a step up from Zero Time Dilemma. I certainly don’t have many complaints on the presentation though the fuzzy high contrast that happens when idle in the Somnium areas might prove a little much for some. There is an instance where the dialogue choice gets cut off by the menu, which seems like a small oversight. Otherwise, keep your eyes peeled and just investigate everything you can. Incidentally, you can also view yourself as Date if Aiba emerges to act independently, and Date’s head will move along with the direction you are facing. It’s a nice touch.
If you’re a fan of the Zero Escape series, you’d likely find yourself a fan of AI: The Somnium Files as well. The Timeline feature from ZE returns here, so there’s plenty of branches for you to explore. Has Date really forgotten everything from the past 6 years? Is this first case the start of something more sinister (who are we kidding, it’s got to be, right)? Will Aiba and Date ever stop ribbing each other?
Well, you’ve got to play the game to find out.
AI: The Somnium Files
Deep dive into minds, a great experience backed by engrossing story and character banter.
- Timeline ensures a level of replayability to get to the True End
- Engrossing story and character interactions
- Fixed camera and slightly awkward movement can make exploration janky
A fantastic romp into the inner workings of the mind.