The original AI: THE SOMNIUM FILES reached Xbox shores a little later than other platforms, but my god did it deliver a delightfully sinister and quite bonkers investigative adventure at the back end of last year. Now though, a mysterious new case is on the table in its sequel, AI: THE SOMNIUM FILES – Nirvana Initiative. Will it be able to exceed the original offering and provide another worthwhile narrative to keep you guessing, or has the series already peaked?
Well, AI: THE SOMNIUM FILES – Nirvana Initiative doesn’t mess about as you’re soon faced with one of the most perplexing cases imaginable. There are also a fair few new features and ideas to take note of, which may improve the overall experience.
Set in a near-future version of Tokyo, a dead body – or more accurately, the entire left half of a body – is found within a stadium by Special Agent Mizuki. It belongs to famous CEO, Jin Furue, which makes the situation even more baffling because his deceased right half was sadistically showcased six years prior during a live-streamed game show. In fact, it appeared out of nowhere as if it travelled through time and space. Following this, even more half bodies would appear in strange places and despite the best efforts of those in charge, the culprit wasn’t caught. Nevertheless, the Half Body Serial Killer is seemingly back, but why now, and how is the half corpse of Jin still so fresh after all this time?
Firstly, don’t worry about having played AI: THE SOMNIUM FILES beforehand as this sequel has tutorials at the ready and tries its utmost to prevent giving away major spoilers from the previous story. There’s actually a ticker that appears at the top of the UI in order to inform you of anything worth knowing regarding character backgrounds and such. I’d certainly recommend playing the inaugural title though, for it’s a great game and you’ll then be able to appreciate any and all of the returning characters. Anyway, I’ll also do my best to avoid spoilers for the current outing as I delve deeper into the narrative.
Working for ABIS (Advanced Brain Investigation Squad), Special Agents Mizuki and Ryuki are the focal points here, with the former taking the lead on the reopened cold case and the latter assigned to investigate originally. Both of the Special Agents have a replacement eye, which is where the advanced AI Aiba and Tama come into play. These technologically advanced eyeballs give the protagonists instant access to all sorts of information and can enable the use of X-ray vision, amongst other things, which are useful when investigating cases.
The latest case is an intriguing one as the idea of a freshly sliced body turning up in two different places, six years apart, defies logic. Logic isn’t actually useful in Nirvana Initiative however, given how utterly bizarre the entire concept is. It can be morbid at times, with these weird murders happening, but then in another scene you’re getting an impromptu song and dance performance by a teenager in a diner. That’s without factoring in the process of diving into someone’s mind or the AI eyeballs aiding the protagonists’ every move. It ensures you’re always on your toes, not knowing what’s around the next corner, but on the other hand you may have trouble following what’s really going on.
As for the gameplay itself, well it’s split up into various aspects, ensuring none ever go stale. Conversing with colleagues, suspects, and persons of interest is the most straightforward side of things. This occurs in the real world, offering lines of questioning you can go down in order to garner anything pertinent to the case or to get a handle on a personality. Many items within each scene are interactable and doing so is always a fun pastime as the Special Agents’ AI usually has interesting insight to add.
I like that there’s a bit of something for everyone in the storytelling through these methods, with moments containing humour, excitement, shock, sadness, and more. Additionally, whether you’re a science geek, a conspiracy theorist, a joker, or a fan of idols, there are characters that will absolutely reach out to you too. I especially appreciate how quick-witted the newly introduced Tama is; I reckon she will make most folks laugh with some of her smartass comments and innuendos. Unfortunately, the inner thoughts she shares are quite lewd and it just seems inappropriate in certain situations, such as in a classroom with a couple of highschool students.
On the upside, the new Virtual Reality segments are pretty cool as you’re actually tasked with making deductions. It recreates the crime scenes in a VR space, for you to find clues and figure out what went down. Being able to switch between X-ray, thermal and regular vision means there’s an opportunity to discover aspects of a case that weren’t noticed before. In order to check whether you’re grasping the events which occurred, questions are asked and it ensures you’re a little bit more focused.
The most engaging feature of the lot though is being able to Psync and enter the Somnium’s of suspects or witnesses. Somniums are basically dream worlds in which you have a limited amount of time to deep dive into a person’s memories. The aim is to break through a series of Mental Locks and find the answers you’re after. You’ll control one of the AI ball characters that have been transformed into human form as you wander around and interact with objects or perform actions. Everything you do is draining the clock, with decisions costing various amounts of time, so efficiency is key unless you wish to fail.
Firstly, the designs for the dream environments are nothing short of excellent and the concepts really fit the personality of whomever you’re Psyncing with. Secondly, there can be more than one way to solve the Mental Locks, which is great because it has the potential to see the story diverge as a result. And finally, the inclusion of Keys to try and aid your mission is a very welcome addition. These riddle-like clues give genuine direction for what you’re meant to do, thus avoiding the frustrations of its predecessor.
Actually, Nirvana Initiative tackles a few of the aspects that some may have thought were a stumbling block previously. Quite simply, developers Spike Chunsoft made the decision to allow players to choose difficulty settings to suit their playstyle. Whether it’s a more forgiving Psync experience or extra leeway during the quick-time events, user-friendliness is on the agenda and allows more people to enjoy the narrative if nothing else.
Moving on though there are a couple of features still yet to be mentioned, but that’s mainly due to the fact I could take or leave them. The ‘Wink Psync’ is a streamlined version of a proper Psync, giving you a quick look into someone’s mind during a conversation. And then there’s a weird Tamagotchi style mini-game, where you raise an Eyeballie by answering questions. In return, you get Eyeballs, a currency used to buy sexy outfits for the AI ball human forms as well as concept art. Not for me, but then again I do have a drawer full of dead Tamagotchis from my youth, so it’s to be expected.
When all is said and done, AI: THE SOMNIUM FILES – Nirvana Initiative is a brilliantly bizarre sequel that attempts to right some wrongs and introduces a handful of great new ideas. The complex case, the intriguing characters and the unpredictable nature are all reasons to delve in. And if that’s not enough, then the branching storyline and multiple endings will keep you going for hours and hours. The main downsides however, are in relation to how strange the plot is, which makes it tricky to grasp everything that’s going on. Oh, and the wildly inappropriate comments which are occasionally spewed out don’t help.
If you enjoyed the original, there’s no doubt you should get on the case in AI: THE SOMNIUM FILES – Nirvana Initiative, and if you didn’t then maybe the easier difficulty will make it a better experience for you.
AI: THE SOMNIUM FILES – Nirvana Initiative is available to buy from the Xbox Store