AI: THE SOMNIUM FILES – nirvanA Initiative Review – GameGrin
June 20, 2022
Worldwide conspiracies, secret cult-like organisations, AI girls that live in eye sockets, Pokémon rip-offs, and the power of dreams: Spike Chunsoft’s AI: THE SOMNIUM FILES – nirvanA Initiative truly has it all. Oh, it also has serial killings.
A sequel that stands on its own, AI: THE SOMNIUM FILES – nirvanA Initiative is a point-and-click adventure game with fascinating puzzle elements and a storyline that backs it all up. The title (and truthfully, the full AI: THE SOMNIUM FILES series, as its predecessor is also deserving of praise) fits in well with classic and modern point-and-click murder mystery games, such as the Ace Attorney series or Spike Chunsoft’s other series of the exact same genre, Danganronpa. Having said that, the title stands apart from other point-and-clicks, aside from its own predecessor, for one very important reason: the third-person perspective bits known as Somnium.
Somnium — stick with me now — is the place where dreams collide… by which I mean Somnium is the place where the police take suspects and the like and interrogate them by knocking them out — I am not joking — and straight-up invading their minds to search for subconscious clues and evidence. It’s a little messed up, to say the least, but forget about that now because YOU are the police, yeah! Basic human rights are fun to violate when it’s you doing the violating!
Of course, I’m joking (to an extent). Somnium, despite all the flaws in the fictional police system you find yourself a part of, is where the meat of the game happens. While there is a lot of exploration done and time spent during the first-person point-and-click portions, it all truly comes together in the dream worlds of the characters that the player will get to know and possibly care for. Each dream is moulded perfectly to the character it belongs to while still weaving seamlessly into the plot. And that’s not even touching on mechanics yet!
Somnium provides both an interesting experience and a refreshing take on decision-based gameplay. Depending on whether the player is on the Ryuki or Mizuki side of the story — I promise we’ll come back to this later — these portions of the game will be manned by either Tama or Aiba, two artificially intelligent beings that resemble women and live in the main characters’ eye sockets. It’s explained that people with these funky AI eyes (known as AI-balls) had their actual eyes removed, and honestly, it’s a little horrific to think about. Eye mutilation aside, these portions find Aiba or Tama, depending on your route, exploring the dreamscape and interacting with various items to progress the story and find valuable information. When interacting with an item, the player is forced to make a choice regarding it, usually nonsensical in nature since you are in a dream state. The player only receives “six minutes” (which can be stretched into over twenty easily if you’re insane, like me) to stay inside of Somnium, with each decision and interaction costing the player literal time. This portion of the game really kept me on my toes, as it was very suspenseful fighting the clock to solve the mysteries within the dreams while also trying out every single option just to see what happens out of curiosity. It’s also worth mentioning that when a Somnium is complete, the player can revisit it in a timeless mode known as Unlimited Psync.
Moving beyond dreams, the rest of the game is in first-person except for some cutscenes and the occasional quick-time events that are planted within them. Really, if the game has switched to a third-person perspective outside of Somnium, be prepared for things to get intense. As QTEs are often life-threatening experiences, missing them will cause your character to die and you will be prompted to retry the scene while your eyeball counterpart dramatically calls your name in the background. It really is a terrible day for rain~
The two protagonists in the game — and the points where the story splits in half — are Metro Police ABIS agents Kuruto Ryuki and Mizuki Date (the latter of whom was a main character in the previous title, AI: THE SOMNIUM FILES, then named Mizuki Okiura). The game follows Ryuki as he tries and fails to solve the strange Half Body serial murder case and slowly loses his mental health. On the other end is Mizuki, who has taken up the HB Case six years later with a need to solve the serial murders and possibly find the truth behind her now-missing guardian, Kaname Date, the protagonist of the first title. Both characters are truly unique in their thoughts, story, and dialogue, while the gameplay remains extremely similar. With that said, I preferred the Ryuki portions due to his personality, depth, and relationships with other characters.
Speaking of relationships, the biggest difference between the two protagonists is their relationship with their respective AIs, Tama being Ryuki’s and Aiba being Mizuki’s after formerly being Date’s. Tama and Ryuki’s relationship is honestly one of the best pairings I’ve seen in any videogame. They constantly banter in a lighthearted manner, often joke about romantic and sexual connotations and implications (talk about that “emotional chocolate”), and truly show care for one another multiple times. Their overly-intense-for-a-work-relationship relationship also parallels nicely with the first game’s pairing of Date and Aiba, with Tama being an overly sexual BDSM-themed jokester and Ryuki being rather dorky at times, similar to the horny Date and the nerdy Aiba. Unfortunately, Mizuki and Aiba’s relationship is a bit lacking compared to that of Tama and Ryuki’s, as well as her predecessor’s relationship with Aiba. This is explained by the circumstance, however. Kaname Date is missing and may possibly be deceased; meanwhile, his AI-ball quite literally rests in his adopted daughter’s face. Their relationship may be a bit clunky because of the emotional situation both characters have been put in, but Aiba and Mizuki still manage to connect and show care for each other.
This was originally the part where I finally dive into the story of AI: THE SOMNIUM FILES- nirvanA Initiative, but before I can do that, I gotta talk about the puzzles and the point-and-click elements. One of the more fascinating features of the game is that there are two point-and-click gameplay areas: casual life and crime scenes. While the player is out and about, interrogating suspects or just eating at a diner, they can click on nearly every object in a room and see witty thoughts or occasional dialogue and banter. Crime scenes, on the other hand, still have point-and-click action but now with puzzles involved. The player, with the help of their AI, must piece together the truth through puzzles that vary drastically in each area, some much easier than others. Not all puzzles are created equal. This is where my first big grief with the game happened.
There is a puzzle that I am not going to fully talk about because of spoilers, but let me tell you, I am PISSED over it. It is fully a maths problem with no hints, skips, or ways to back out of it, so I was STUCK FOR HOURS. I quite literally had to reach out to friends and my sister, the latter of whom is a mechanical engineering student, only for none of them to understand it at all. So I had to then message a higher-up at GameGrin — thank you, Ace — who then had to message the developer and publisher of the game, Spike Chunsoft.
Luckily, Spike Chunsoft’s people are rather speedy with replies and I got to very quickly discover that I was an idiot all along who couldn’t figure out to multiply downwards despite doing literally everything else. I’m mad about it and I’ll stay mad about it despite it 100% being the fault of my stupidity. Why? Because, as I said earlier, there were no prompts, no hints, no ways out, and to put the cherry on top, Tama yelled at me multiple times for getting it wrong but helped me in literally no way before eventually giving up on yelling completely. She was just really rude and I was stuck. The answer is really obvious once you know it, by the way, but that really makes it all worse.
But enough of that negativity! On to the story!
I don’t want to go into spoiler territory on this, so I’ll make it quick. AI: THE SOMNIUM FILES- nirvanA Initiative is an extremely interesting murder mystery with many endings, some of which I wasn’t even remotely prepared for (I will be seeing you at Atami, my lovely receptionist). I was constantly trying to predict the next event in the plot and always found myself pleasantly wrong, as the game is more creative than my mind; be glad I didn’t write it. I also found the characters to be incredibly well-written and endearing, each giving the story more depth simply by existing. Beyond that, the game does an amazing job of mixing dark, gritty topics with lighthearted humour and slice-of-life side plots, as well as using these things to misdirect the player. The story also makes use of Alternate Reality Games (ARGs) in a way that ties together the in-game world and the real world. Pretty funky, if you ask me.
Other places AI: THE SOMNIUM FILES- nirvanA Initiative excels in are aesthetic and sound design. The story involves talk of glitches often and the art uses this to its total advantage. The game is filled with disturbing, glitch-like moments, during which the art design truly shines. Even when the world isn’t tearing at the seams, however, each area and character stands out due to the personality they are given simply through the art alone; small touches in decor and clothing truly make each room and character pop. Along with that, the game’s adaptive soundtrack works perfectly with almost every environment the player will find themselves in. However, music is where I find my second and only other big gripe…
Every once in a while, an event will happen that will trigger a character of the teen girl variety to break out into song and dance — Once again, I am not joking. Unfortunately, and I don’t mean to be rude about this but it has gotta be said, the singing is really not good. I’m not saying that it is bad, but it is very much not good. I’m a bit snooty when it comes to music specifically, as I did go to college for music at one point in my life. I acknowledge that I am possibly being a bitch here. But oh my God, I could have walked into any college with an applied music program and have found better singers for these incredibly cringe-y song numbers that last anywhere from half a minute to three minutes — entirely too long for any game, even with a good singer. It’s the worst part of AI: THE SOMNIUM FILES- nirvanA Initiative for me and I wish it wasn’t happening each time it happens. It’s also worth mentioning that the lyrics for these songs are really awful. I can’t help but wonder if they come across better in the original Japanese version of the game because they don’t work well in English at all.
With that, however, I hold no other things against this title. In fact, I found it to be one of the most fun gameplay experiences I’ve had in a long time. I couldn’t put it down at times because of how interested I was and I ended up putting 32 hours into it within three days. That’s really intense for me. AI: THE SOMNIUM FILES- nirvanA Initiative — it really never stops being a mouthful — has multiple endings, branching paths, choices, and interaction options that I have yet to discover at the time of writing, but plan to reach soon as I continue to 100% complete it, as it is a game worth finishing fully.
Overall, AI: THE SOMNIUM FILES- nirvanA Initiative is great as both a sequel and a stand-alone title, catering to both returning fans of the series and brand new fans, who can even choose to avoid spoilers regarding the first game. I can truthfully say that this game deserves a place in the libraries of anyone who loves point-and-click games, murder mysteries, futuristic aesthetics, ARGs, and V-Tubers, as well as anyone who is looking for an in-depth story experience.