Coming from developers Spike Chunsoft, AI: THE SOMNIUM FILES is a weird game to try to explain. Part detective game, part visual novel and part puzzler, it certainly brings a lot of interesting ideas to the table. Originally released on Nintendo Switch and PS4 in 2019, now, two years late to the party, it’s time for the Xbox to get in on the action.
The game is set in a technologically advanced Tokyo, presumably sometime in the near future. I’m not sure the year is mentioned, but our hero, Kaname Date (pronounced like Dante), drives an old muscle car, so it’s not too far fetched. What he does for a job is pure science fiction, however, as he is a member of the Metro Police Department’s ABIS unit. ABIS stands for Advanced Brain Investigation Squad, and what Date can do is enter the subconscious mind of another person using a special machine and a technique known as Psyncing. Psyncing allows Date and his partner, Aiba (more on her later) to explore the “Somnium”, or dream world of the the other person, and within there they are able to hunt for clues and sometimes allow the people they are Psyncing with to be healed of mental trauma.
The story is very well written actually, and despite the obvious suspension of disbelief required to let you dive into someone else’s brain, it all hangs together very well. Date is looking after a young girl by the name of Mizuki, and he receives a call to go to an abandoned amusement park, where he finds Mizuki’s mother murdered. More worryingly, he also finds Mizuki hidden away with the murder weapon clutched in her hand. Did she kill her own mother? AI: THE SOMNIUM FILES opens from here, and we are left to try and figure out what happened to whom and with what.
This is the very definition of a game of two halves. There is the regular day job, if you like, where Date has to drive around to different locations, speaking to people and gathering information. The second half of the game is set in the psyche of others, where we control Aiba, left with a strict time limit to try and accomplish our goals.
I need to touch on Aiba here, as she is a big part of the story, and she is somewhat unusual. You see, Date lost his memories and his left eye six years ago, and Aiba is a replacement eyeball, who also happens to be sentient and able to hold conversations with Date. And that’s in addition to having a nifty line in zoom and X-ray vision. Weirdly, Aiba can also roam around on her own in the real world, looking like a teddy bear made of jelly. When they are investigating someone’s Somnium, Aiba can take on a humanoid appearance, modelling herself after Date’s own tastes.
In the Somnium sections of AI: THE SOMNIUM FILES, Date and Aiba have to investigate and cure “mental locks” that prevent them from accessing the truth. As these investigations take place in the subconscious, all the normal rules do not apply; literally anything could happen. As a plot device, I feel, there is a strict six minute time limit on these levels, as otherwise the person’s subconscious will absorb Date and he will never see the light of day again. Each action that Aiba takes – even walking around to find the next clue causes the clock to tick down – ensures there is a real sense of pressure to act quickly and decisively. Each time Aiba can interact with something, you are given a choice of courses of action, each of which has different time cost associated with it. It’s then up to you to tell Aiba what to do. Some of the puzzles in these sections are diabolical, and if you can resist the lure of internet walkthroughs, it’s worth persevering.
Graphically AI: THE SOMNIUM FILES manages to walk the fine line between having anime style graphics, but not descending into a total perv-a-thon. Obviously, all the ladies in the game, even Aiba, are very much idealised versions of women in the real world, but this is very much in keeping with this style of game, so I’ll let it slide. Sound wise the game is good as well, with very good voice work and acting throughout. All in all, the presentation is pretty slick throughout.
AI: THE SOMNIUM FILES has been an interesting game to play through. Whilst the visual look may not immediately be appealing, give the narrative a chance and you’ll become invested. Just don’t expect the theory you form throughout your play time to hold up…
AI: THE SOMNIUM FILES can be found at the Xbox Store