Games of the Year

AI: The Somnium Files

AI: The Somnium Files Screenshot 1
AI: The Somnium Files Screenshot 2
AI: The Somnium Files Screenshot 3
AI: The Somnium Files Screenshot 4
AI: The Somnium Files Screenshot 5
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In a near-future Tokyo, detective Kaname Date is on the case of a mysterious serial killer. Date must investigate crime scenes as well as dreams on the hunt for clues. From the mind of Kotaro Uchikoshi (Zero Escape series director), with character design by the Yusuke Kozaki (NO MORE HEROES, Fire Emblem series), a thrilling neo-noir detective adventure is about to unfold. STORY One rainy night in November, a woman's body is found at an abandoned theme park, mounted on a merry-go-round horse. She had been stabbed repeatedly, and her left eye was gouged out. Kaname Date of the Metropolitan Police Department arrives on the scene. He recognizes the woman. Suddenly, he hears a noise from inside the merry-go-round. He breaks into the merry-go-round's central column to find a young girl. And in her hands, she grips a bloody ice pick...
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Game Discussion

Review by Anonymous
Review from Steam

I need an Aiba in my life.

Review from Steam

I honestly don't know where to begin.
It's not a perfect story. It has a couple of headscratchers and some really glaring holes in logic, mostly ones that involve your ability to inspect things. Uchikoshi kinda expects the player to know Zero Escape trilogy prior to this and the game feels like a bit more polished and slightly less serious version of Zero Time Dilemma (or at least more self-aware)
But the bits that shine really do shine. The great parts of the story are just stunningly great. Ota's route and the good ending had me bawl my eyes out. The characters are all memorable and the music is wonderful, you would think Shinji Hosoe is back for that game, but nope. It's Keisuke Ito of Pokemon Mystery Dungeon, Yakuza 3 and Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night fame.
I think this VN made my life better and was a small step towards helping with depression.

Review from Steam

Play fully blind.
Click everything.
Laugh and cry.
That's all you need.

Review from Steam

This game doesn't take itself too seriously. This is the successor to the Nonary and Zero Escape games. It's a cheesy love letter while also being it's own masterpiece. It has a seriously deep, confusing plot that I didn't see coming until right near the end. It also has a lot of anime-trope moments that will leave you reeling in cringe for weeks to come. This game doesn't have escape room segments like previous games. This game is split in 2 halves of a whole gameplay. The first half is exploring each location at your own leisure (via point-and-click) to find clues. The second half is a time-rationing dungeon that puts you in a relavant environment and you must find all the clues before the time runs out.
It's not as dark or serious as 999, VLR, or ZTL, but it does present an excellent mystery.
I would recommend playing through the first somnium level at the very least. The rest of the game is very similar from there on out, so you can decide after that if you want to stick with it.

Review from Steam

AI: The Somnium Files was a game that I felt lukewarm about in the beginning, and obsessive about in the end. If the expressions on the character sprites or the unusual gameplay mechanics of the Psync sequences turn you off like they initially did for me, I implore you – PLEASE give this game a shot nonetheless. Like the Zero Escape series, this game offers a generous dose of complex concepts, mindfudgery and twists. And, again, like ZE, it is all executed in a well-paced, satisfying manner that leaves few loose ends. So – naturally – if you enjoyed ZE, I would HIGHLY recommend this (but if you haven’t played it, I’d still recommend – worst case is you’ll only miss an easter egg or two).
Synopsis! Without getting into spoiler territory, I’ll give a brief summary. The game takes place in a sort of neo Tokyo – one set in the future, though not quite to the level of dystopic. You play as special agent Date Kaname, who works for a police department known as ABIS, where you are called to investigate a murder at an abandoned amusement park. Date works with an AI assistant, known as Aiba, who resides in his left eye and helps him investigate using advanced functions like X-ray vision, magnification and thermography. Throughout the course of solving the mystery, Date interviews numerous people connected with the victim or the crime scene, and from there, well, many other mysteries unfold. A key component to ABIS’s investigations is the use of Psync technology, which allows “a Psyncer” to access a host’s “Somnium” (like a dream world) in order to gain insight on subconscious things that host may have witnessed or, simply, things they consciously don’t want to divulge. That’s about all I can say about the plot while avoiding spoilers… but trust me when I say there is more to the story than meets the “AI” (see what I did there? No? I’ll stop…)
Characters! I found the characters in this game to be VERY likable – if not early on, definitely later. Many of them get a satisfying amount of development (maybe not the receptionist… although Date would surely say she’s “developed”…), and with all the extra interactions and dialogues, they don’t feel two-dimensional. Date’s a good protagonist, although some of his comments can be heavy on the perversion, to the point where you’re just like “c’mon, maaan…” Seriously – it makes Sigma from VLR look like a saint. But by no means is Date frustrating or annoying. The other main characters all range from mildly enjoyable, to having me head over heels. PLENTY of “best girl” candidates. The kind and softspoken Hitomi is my decisive number one, but there are close seconds. Aiba is awesome – great balance of “straight man” and sheer playfulness. Iris is probably hit or miss for some people, but I find her incredibly fun and positive. Boss is cool as fudge and… well, she may make you wanna start skiing (a reference you may get later). There’s a plethora of others too, and they all make themselves very memorable. I also really like everyone’s character model too – for the most part, their designs are very distinct and far from dull.
Gameplay! There are four main modes of gameplay: investigation, interrogation, QTE, and Somnium. Investigation sequences constitute about 70% of the game. They’re linear for the most part – you’ll be cued when you’ve investigated enough and can move to a new location. There’s no guessing as to whether or not you’ve scoured an area to the extent you need. Investigation involves asking people questions and interacting with objects. In certain cases, you can also use Aiba to zoom in on far away objects, X-ray vision to see inside them, and thermograph vision to conduct heat mapping (which helps to identify if characters are lying, for example). These extra abilities are always triggered by some sort of event – you’ll never have to figure out if you need to use them or not. Investigations are laidback, full of PLENTY of things you can interact with (some of which will initiate some very entertaining dialogue and a slew of running jokes), and where much of the story is divulged. Interrogation sequences and QTEs are much smaller portions of the game. I liked the interrogations – they’re kind of Ace Attorney-style in that you present evidence to elicit confessions from someone. You can’t “fail” an interrogation, but you do get achievements for perfect execution. The QTE segments are… probably my least favorite. I found them very slow and lacking in input. For example, at times you’ll be surrounded by brigades of gun-wielding goons, but you’ll somehow have what feels like a whole five minutes to act and outdo them. And, erotic materials seem to play an unsettlingly large role in this.
The last mode of gameplay that makes AI unique is the Somnium sequences. When you psync with someone, you play as Date directing a humanoid Aiba to interact with objects in the host’s Somnium world, for the purpose of breaking open the host’s “mental locks” and uncovering their secrets. As Pewter will remind you without fail, you have six in-game minutes to execute this. With every object you interact with, you select one of a few actions to perform (e.g. if it’s a chair, you can sit on it, stand on it, tackle it, or throw it). Each one takes a variable number of seconds to perform. The goal is to play out the host’s story or experience to find out what they’re hiding, although I say this loosely as these sequences can be very bizarre, nonlinear and seemingly nonsensical. Logical answers aren’t always the right ones – sometimes it takes a more artistic, creative or interpretative approach. Which I totally dig, although the time limit discourages too much experimentation with actions and exploring the fascinating Somnium worlds. It can be frustrating to pick a wrong option and waste a bunch of time, but that's the worst of it. The presence of timies takes it another level. I won’t get into that here, but they add an element that requires one to strategize what actions they take beyond just “getting the right answer” (hard to explain without going in-depth with the concept – but ain’t nobody got spare characters for that).
Visuals & sound! Aside from the minor qualm I initially had with the mouth movements on the dialogue sprites (they looked a bit cheap, though even then I got over it), everything looks clean. It’s not state-of-the-art, but it all looks very good, especially as 3-D. The Somnium worlds were especially well-made – loved the tonal shifts among them and the creative ways that they were portrayed. The music – top-tier, as expected of a Spike Chunsoft title. Even though it’s not the same composer as the Danganronpa or ZE series, there’s just some kind of similar feel that ties the three franchises. The soundtrack ranges from super cutesy stuff like “Invincible Rainbow Arrow” (catchy as fudge), to somber scores like the one that plays at Matsushita Diner, to more horrifying tones like those from some of the Somnium worlds. The soundtrack aligns incredibly well with the settings presented.
And just a last note – I wanna point out the sheer attention to detail and artistry in this game. There are so many small details, moments of foreshadowing, subtle allusions, world-building and creative exposition that make this game feel “whole”. And I don’t know how much of this is a product of localization, but they find a slew of ways to slip an allusion to “AI” everywhere. This game is first class in that regard.
I would recommend this game to those who: 1.) enjoy slow-paced, dialogue-heavy content; 2.) like complex, very abstract mysteries; 3.) don’t mind a heaping spoonful of gore or perverted jokes; and 4.) value character development. It’s been a while since my outlook on a game changed so drastically upward from start to finish! And by no means do my words give this game enough justice – it takes playing it for yourself to truly understand how fantastic it is! Please give this experience a go!

Review from Steam

can't believe dancing made me cry so damn much

Review from Steam

the amount of sexual harassment in this game is the true crime

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