What Kind of Game Is AI: The Somnium Files?
AI: The Somnium Files is a Spike Chunsoft title that was released in September 2019. Other popular titles from the developer include the Danganronpa series and the Zero Escape Trilogy (999, Virtues Last Reward, Zero Time Dilemma). This is the newest development in a whole new storyline. While I wouldn't say it completely breaks away from a visual novel status, this game takes that genre to an entirely new level of adventure.
The functionality of this game is amazingly well done. It far exceeds its predecessors in interaction. The "mini-game" parts of this game are far more exciting and give the user a lot more control over a lovable character known as Aiba. You complete puzzles in a place known as Somnium, the subconscious of other characters.
Much like the Zero Escape Trilogy, there is a flowchart and you will encounter a number of different endings before completing the story. Again like the Zero Escape Trilogy, some of these endings will be locked until you've completed other certain related endings. Instead of the route being determined based on one decision alone, it will be based on the decisions and routes you take inside Somnium. Of course, this means that there are multiple ways to solve puzzles in some places.
This game is much more like Zero Time Dilemma in the sense that there is more visual storytelling and voice acting than in the previous games, or Danganronpa. Everything is voice-acted. Although you're viewing through the main character, Kaname Date's perspective.
Taking place somewhere in Japan, you play as a police officer named Kaname Date. He is part of a top-secret unit called ABIS, which stands for Advanced Brain Investigation Squad. Date is what they call a Psyncer: someone who psyncs with another person in order to investigate their dreams in search of clues.
Date has no memory of his life prior to 6 years ago when an incident occurred that cost him his left eye. 2 years later he was given Aiba, an artificial intelligence stationed in his left eye as a replacement. With it he can do many things on investigations such as thermal imaging, x-raying objects to see into them, and zooming in on things to inspect without being obvious. Aiba communicates with him through his brain and has many other functions as well such as receiving calls, searching the internet for information, or hacking into computers or phones.
With a serial killer afoot, you can see why someone with Date's abilities would be a huge benefit to the investigation.
Instead of minigames, or escape rooms, you psync with suspects or persons of interest in order to gain information. Date, and the person of interest are both entered into a state of sleep while hooked up to the Psyncing machine. From there you will be able to control Aiba to explore the dreams of the person you're psyncing with. Each somnium will be unique and will have its own unique mental locks that you will have to overcome in order to complete the process. You are also able to repair the mental state of the subject in some cases.
To get through the mental locks, you will have to solve puzzles by interacting with the objects that are highlighted. However, it is not that simple. You can only remain in somnium for six minutes. Unlike the Zero Escape series (in most cases) you are actually on a timer. Completing actions also consume time, which will be displayed under each action in the menu.
To add further to the challenge, you will be given Timies when you complete actions. Some are good, and some are bad. Good Timies can be selected to reduce the time it takes to complete an action. Bad Timies will increase the amount of time consumed by double or even triple and will force you to use them on the next interaction.
You can retry up to three times to go back to previous mental locks. Each unlock counts as one retry, so if you go back three mental locks you will consume your retry's. If you fail a psync you can restart it entirely. Again the way you go about solving puzzles at times determines your storyline route.
The flowchart is displayed more visually than in Zero Escape. Instead of returning to decisions, you're returning to a psync where you can then restart and make different decisions to take an alternate route. Some routes will be locked until you've completed others. As usual, I'm no fan of spoilers so you'll have to play through it yourself to find out where and when that's relevant.
I've completed two endings, and still, have tons of unanswered questions including who the serial killer is. I've played it here and there over the course of three days as a huge Danganronpa and Zero Escape Trilogy fan, I'm absolutely in love. The characters are extremely charming (especially Aiba) and the story is as exciting and mysterious as the previously mentioned games.
This game is extremely hard to put down, and I'm only doing so because of other personal reasons. I already know that I'm going to be heartbroken once it's over as I was with other games. I hope that this is just the first of a new series and that there will be more to come! I really cannot find a single thing bad to say about this game other than I had a few freezes during the second somnium event that was rather annoying. But these things will likely be fixed and I haven't encountered it again after completing several other psyncs. Overall, I'm extremely satisfied and look forward to completing all the segments!
© 2019 Heather Lengel