[Review] AI: The Somnium Files – nirvanA Initiative
Release Date: June 24, 2022
Developer: Spike Chunsoft
Publisher: Spike Chunsoft
As a core gamer, I’d never thought I’d find my bearings at the helm of a murder mystery title, much less a point-and-click adventure, but AI: The Somnium Files – nirvanA Initiative is out now, and sometimes its just the right time to break the mold and start something new. I’ve spent a full week delving into the secrets and story twists, so let’s take a look together and see what I’ve been missing out on.
As a direct continuation after a previous title, this game’s opening is unique in that it allows the player to choose to skip spoilers for the previous entry, or allow them. As a first-time player of the genre, I found this to be not only thoughtful, but something I would grow to appreciate even more later on. The reasoning for this, you see, is that I’ve been hooked, unceremoniously, like a very gluttonous fish. Not something expected, a surprise to say the least, but the truth is the truth, reader, and here we are. So what, pray tell, is the reason I’ve fallen into the chasm of this series?
Set in a slightly futuristic Japan, the game opens up with a flashback to the previous entry, where the protagonist and their crew are on a game show. The power flickers off, panic ensues, and when it turns back on? Half of a body, from right down the middle, is laying unceremoniously on the game show’s floor. No one knows how it got there, or where it came from, but the body belongs to Jin Furue. Jin is a CEO and rather well known, but this half of the body isn’t what we are focusing on at the moment. No, not yet.
Six years after this first incident, the second part of the story – where we are now – takes place. The other half of Jin Furue’s body has been found on a school’s field, and it seems like the body has no decay, no evidence of long term storage, and appears to have just recently passed away. While we all are aware that six years is a long time for a body to remain in pristine condition, its impossible to think how this could be preserved. What kind of evidence can be uncovered? How did the body get there, and why was it placed where it was?
As a point-and-click game, the controls are simple. You can move the cursor around open areas and select them to investigate. All investigation points will light up with a banner when you’ve found them, and as you talk to people and other investigators about the case, dialogue trees will open and you’ll gather more and more information.
The protagonist is outfitted with an interesting AI companion, one that seems to have sentience and can help the player investigate with X-ray vision and other neat gimmicks. Also, she lives in your eye. Using these tools is easy to do, and if you missed dialogue, you can check an in-game log of all things said to the player and investigated.
So this seems like your standard visual novel, yes? It’s not. There are action bits, puzzles, dead ends, conspiracy theories, a cult and all manner of oddities to sort through. Unafraid to be macabre, the game allows the player’s AI companion to use an interesting feature – you can jump into the dreams of unconscious individuals and explore them. In these areas, its not unlike an old Tomb Raider game. You’ll solve puzzles and explore, but everything is on a strict time limit and all the things you do matter. As you progress in each of these areas you’ll unlock the mental locks in the mind of the dreamer.
Unlocking these can be hard – the only way to know how to do so seems to be to know the individual very well, otherwise a lot of exploration and guess work can be used, but remember that as long as you are moving, the clock is ticking down. By standing still, it will pause, giving you time to think about your next move and how to go about executing it. If you do happen to run out of time, you do get three chances to solve the puzzles before you get a game over, and you can always reload from a save and try again later.
Now, Furue’s murder is not the only one you’ll be investigating. You see, this is a serial case, after all. This is not the only half-body found, and this is not the only crime scene you’ll be seeing. The tension and mystery is addictive, and the twists and turns (there are many) in the plot are carefully calculated and explained rather well. Unraveling the tangle of events will take a lot of effort and research, and I even found myself taking actual written notes for this… something I don’t think I’ve done since playing Suikoden III on the PS2.
AI: The Somnium Files – nirvanA Initiative was a great introduction to the murder-mystery visual novel genre, but that’s not all there is. The puzzles, dungeons, and other elements make this sci-if adventure shine, and as a result I have already resigned myself to purchasing the first one, checking out the famed Doki Doki Literature Club, and finally getting around to seeing what Danganronpa is all about.
I cannot express enough that the experience AI: The Somnium Files – nirvanA Initiative offers was a great one. Sure, the twists and turns of the story were sometimes weird and unexpected, and the reasons that characters give for not divulging information sooner can be laughable at best, but what you get from this is not only a great story with fun gameplay. You get a window into what makes Japanese murder mysteries so great, you get a riveting experience that keeps you on your toes, and you get a feeling that I haven’t had in a long time. In short, you need to experience this, and it’s definitely worth full price.
AI: Somnium Files – nirvanA Initiative copy provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.