AI: The Somnium Files is an adventure game that combines two classic story genres: the murder mystery and the buddy cop movie. Besides, the “buddy” for the main character of AI, detective Kaname Date, is not human. Or animal, by the way. Instead, it’s a snarky, quirky, super-powerful female artificial intelligence in the shape of an eyeball – called Aiba – that lives in its left eye socket and has a direct connection to its brain. This is our AI: The Somnium Files Review.
It is indeed an intriguing concept. Thankfully, the near-future sci-fi detective story that AI: The Somnium Files tells lives up to the promise of its unique premise and delivers a tremendous dialogue-driven adventure that will suck you in and won’t stop until all of its twisted mysteries are unraveled.
AI: The Somnium Files Review: About
- Platform: PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Microsoft Windows
- Developer: Spike Chunsoft, Chunsoft
- Publisher: Spike Chunsoft, Limited Run Games
- Genres: Visual novel
- Release Date: July 25, 2019
AI: The Somnium Files Review: Official Trailer Video
AI: The Somnium Files Review: Gameplay
The Date is a detective for a secret, an experimental police department in Tokyo called ABIS. When the body of his best friend’s ex-wife is found in an abandoned amusement park, the Date is quickly swept up in a complex investigation to find the culprit before they strike again. Along the way, he crosses paths with a sparkling emerging internet personality, her diehard fanboy, a Yakuza group, a corrupt politician, and the victim’s young daughter, among many other strange, exciting, and sinister personalities.
Having a smart AI that regularly feeds commentary into your brain may sound nightmarish. Still, Aiba comes with some special skills to help Date in his investigations: X-ray vision, heat detection, zooming to check-in distant places, and even the ability to Date to help with fast event style battles. But Aiba’s most significant role is to help Date get information from the different characters by acting as his avatar in their dream world.
Gameplay in the exploration and research sections of AI: The Somnium Files follows a reasonably typical point-and-click adventure game style: you look at objects in the environments for clues and talk to characters by making comments and asking questions. The way AI handles these sections makes you less likely to get stuck than in other adventure games. You only get the option to move to a new area when you have done everything necessary to continue the story in a particular location, which means you don’t have to go back or worry about missing something important.
While exploring the different environments will provide quite some clues, it is the interactions Date has with the different characters that propel the spinning mystery of AI. Each character you interact with is unique and memorable in its way. There is Iris, the cheerful aspiring internet idol whose mischievous personality Date causes much consternation; Ota, a devoted fan of Iris with many nerdy pursuits. So a slimy politician with a lot of secrets; Boss and Pewter, two eccentric personalities who work with Date at ABIS; and Mizuki, the daughter of Date’s girlfriend with a sour attitude and strength after her years.
At specific points in the story, you’ll encounter other game modes, such as interrogation scenes where you present evidence to a character and action scenes where you quickly press event-style buttons to help Date fend off threats. However, the essential parts of the game take place when the Date uses the Psync machine to explore another character’s somnium worlds. By using Aiba as an avatar, you interact directly with elements in these characters’ surreal, illogical, and often deeply disturbing dream worlds, with every action she takes taking precious time.
To solve the puzzles to progress through the somniums, specific actions must be performed on particular objects in a certain order – and since these are bizarre, often illogical dreamscapes, the solution is sometimes not obvious or contrary to common sense. You can earn and use items called TIMIEs to save time, but if the time gets shorter, it is best to restart. This means repeating many of the same actions and dialogs to get back to where you were but skipping all the previous time-wasting actions you tried before. If you don’t want to redo the entire event, you can go back to checkpoints within a somnium to save time by taking only the necessary actions.
However, you can only do this three times before you have to restart. What makes it even worse is that you are sometimes saddled with time penalty TIMIEs from specific actions, which means your next move will take significantly more time than usual and may even lead to non-winable situations. As a result, the six-minute time limit becomes a source of stress, discouraging you from exploring and appreciating the well-crafted dream landscape environments as much as you’d like, and sometimes as a roadblock to continuing the story.
In addition to revealing essential beats of the story, the somnium sequences serve another crucial purpose: depending on your actions within the somnium, the overall story will branch out from many different potential paths, with various events occurring in each branch of the story. Only seeing all the different story possibilities, good and bad, will reveal the whole truth behind AI’s saga.
Fortunately, you can jump to different points in the game’s saga whenever you want, so you can set one branch aside and pick up the other whenever you want – although there are roadblocks like particular plot points have not yet been revealed. While the different chapters of the story provide tantalizing tidbits of information and explain more about each of the main characters, you feel like you’re putting together an elaborate puzzle, making it all the more satisfying when big revelations take place.
Despite the occasional frustration of exploring his dream landscapes, the entire AI: The Somnium Files review becomes a fun, exciting, and engaging experience. The story is filled with intriguing twists and shocking surprises, and the characters and their bows inspire you to worry about what’s happening to them. The somnium dream worlds add a layer of psychological horror to the ongoing mystery, and Date’s and Aiba’s ongoing back-and-forth interactions provide frivolity to make any investigation all the more enjoyable. The unconventional detective story of AI is one you will not soon forget.
Thankfully, the near-future sci-fi detective story that AI: The Somnium Files tells lives up to the promise of its unique premise and delivers a tremendous dialogue-driven adventure that will suck you in and won’t stop until all of its twisted mysteries are unraveled.