AI: THE SOMNIUM FILES – nirvanA Initiative marks the second title in what most thought would be a one-and-done mystery presented by infamous scenario director Kotaro Uchikoshi. After the mystery of the New Cyclops Serial Killings was neatly wrapped up, it seemed like the story of Date, Mizuki and Aiba were all neatly wrapped up. However, only a short time after the conclusion of Kaname Date’s first case, a new mystery has sprung up: a corpse, perfectly bisected into two, left at a crime scene with no murder weapon and no clues as to who did it. To make matters worse, the second half of the body often appears in a completely unrelated location six years later to the day.
With a rash string of murders taking place across two distinct timelines in AI: THE SOMNIUM FILES – nirvanA Initiative, it can be tough to keep track of how all of the pieces fit together. Through an ever-expanding story flowchart, players can keep track of the chapters they’ve played through and jump back to any previous sequence for a refresher or know where the next branching path will take place. AI: THE SOMNIUM FILES – nirvanA Initiative’s tale often follows a linear path before offering players a choice in how to proceed that branches the story at a few key points. However, these moments are far more limiting than the likes of The Nonary Games and even the first AI: THE SOMNIUM FILES title. Players will often play through Ryuki’s story six years in the past before switching over to see Mizuki’s investigations in what is considered the present time.
To delve into and obtain a target’s innermost secrets, Ryuki and Mizuki each have the talent to sink into the deepest recesses of one’s psyche, or Psyncing in the world of AI: THE SOMNIUM FILES. The player has six minutes to unlock those hidden secrets. Any longer than that and the Psyncer runs the risk of being absorbed by their target’s mind. Both narratively and mechanically speaking, this is a great puzzle that players must push through and solve with a strict time limit in force.
Much like the first game, these Psyncing sequences are carefully crafted puzzle experiences where the player must solve goals to break mental locks one by one before the time limit expires. Each action the player does, from taking a step forward to examining and interacting with key environmental objects, chips away at that six-second time limit. On the standard difficulty, there’s routinely more than a generous amount of time to solve your task and even do a little sightseeing while you’re in someone else’s dreams. Almost everything you can interact with that isn’t directly related to solving your task rewards the player with dumb gags or humorous dialogue exchanges between Psyncer and AI ball companion. Only rarely are there bad endings and moments of failure that force the player to either retry from the last checkpoint or restart the Psync chapter from the beginning. Customizable difficulty levels allow the player to adjust how gracious of a time limit they can have (the lowest difficulty level drops the time consumption down to just ¼), something that I reluctantly utilized in my hunt to interact with everything I could find and locate the five hidden eyeballs in each Somnium.
The other core gameplay segment to AI: THE SOMNIUM FILES – nirvanA Initiative comes from Virtual Reality reenactments of the crime scene and how the mystery transpired. By delving around in VR, you’re free to explore with objects of interest or move the body without fear of having a forensic team breathing down your neck. True to the heart and soul of AI: THE SOMNIUM FILES – nirvanA Initiative, these moments downplay the severity of the crime and trauma by injecting the moments with a humorous side. As the investigator, you’re forced to act out how the mystery played out, all the while having your AI ball companion berate your poor acting skills.
Occasionally you’ll be presented with a password prompt to test your knowledge of AI: THE SOMNIUM FILES – nirvanA Initiative, or rather what the player has learned from the various routes. These skill checks are meant to ensure that the player is paying attention or not delving into a story route before they’re ready to learn the truth. Early on, the player is asked to reveal the identity of Tearer, the mastermind behind the bizarre Half Body serial killings. The answers to this are revealed towards the end of specific story routes of Ryuki’s search six years in the past for answers, ensuring that the player gets to see multiple sides of the story before being able to answer the question. Successfully answering that question opens up yet another story route to see what’s happening in the present day. Some players may find the linear nature of how AI: THE SOMNIUM FILES – nirvanA Initiative to be limiting compared to Kaname Date’s investigations in the first title, but I find that the linear nature does fit well with the narrative that Kotaro Uchikoshi has assembled for this unusual sequel. There’s an enigma to this serial killer mystery that slowly gets revealed layer by layer until all truth is laid bare.
Kotaro Uchikoshi is no stranger to weaving together real-world phenomena as a backbone to his story. The Mandela Effect and Simulation Theory are a couple of concepts that are brought up on numerous occasions throughout AI: THE SOMNIUM FILES – nirvanA Initiative and it’s up to the player to determine how much of what’s discussed between characters pertains to the overarching story and how much are red herrings meant to get the player offtrack. I’ll admit, I dwelled too much on single lines mentioned by key characters for an entire chapter and was often left wondering if and how that would come into play and was often rewarded more often than left disappointed.
The one-off gags to AI: THE SOMNIUM FILES – nirvanA Initiative flesh out the story with humor to punctuate an otherwise somber story about murder and loss. If you pay close enough attention, chances are you’ll find some pretty interesting lines sprinkled in between the perpetually horny dialogues of Tama, Date, and other key players in AI: THE SOMNIUM FILES – nirvanA Initiative. Sometimes you might even find links between other Uchikoshi games if you look hard enough. If this is the beginning of Uchikoshi’s plan for world domination through a connected death game universe, I’m curious to see what comes next to bind all of his projects together.
I have to give both dub casts a round of applause in AI: THE SOMNIUM FILES – nirvanA Initiative. Whether you prefer to hear Kaname Date’s perverted antics from Greg Chun in English or Tarusuke Shingaki in Japanese, both vocal tracks do an exceedingly good job at downplaying completely absurd dialogues while on the other hand overreacting to whatever perverted nonsense Aiba and newcomer Tama are discussing. Even the numerous song and dance routines are available in whichever native language you prefer.
Whether you’re familiar with the original SOMNIUM FILES or not, AI: THE SOMNIUM FILES – nirvanA Initiative is a fantastic murder mystery that is impossible to put down. It’s subversive in all of the right ways and will keep players guessing right up until the final credits roll.
Reviewed on PS4 (code provided by the publisher).
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